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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

EDITORIAL 27.10.09

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya




month october 27, edition 000334, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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






































































The CPI(M) is in utter confusion about how to respond to the Maoist menace. Till Left extremism made its presence felt in a big way in the tribal belt of West Bengal, exemplified by the violence in Lalgarh where Marxist cadre have been at the receiving end of Maoist cadre on the rampage, the CPI(M) was loath to take a stern, leave alone strong, line and condemn the brutalities practised in the name of 'class war'. Indeed, the CPI(M) was vocal in its criticism of police action against Maoists in other States, most notably in Chhattisgarh, while 'intellectuals' patronised by the party were in the forefront of fending for the Red terrorists. Even after Lalgarh erupted in macabre violence, the CPI(M) was reluctant to label the Maoists as criminals; instead, it advocated a soft line. The reason for this ambivalence are two-fold: Denouncing the Maoists would amount to denouncing 'class war' which still remains the mainstay of the CPI(M)'s claimed ideology; second, having supped with the devil in Nepal by leveraging its position in UPA-I before it fell out with the Government, the CPI(M) couldn't possibly afford to be seen as distancing itself from the Maoists in India. It is this hangover of the past that has come to haunt the CPI(M) today, forcing a cleavage between the West Bengal unit of the party and the central leadership, which too stands divided. West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is willing to invoke the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and launch a major offensive against the Maoists, not least because his party's cadre are demanding tough action. This is not necessarily supported by Mr Bhattacharjee's colleagues in the Left Front Government, especially those who represent the CPI(M)'s allies. At the central level, party general secretary Prakash Karat, signalling his support for Mr Bhattacharjee, has said "Maoists are not leftists" — hence it is fine to break ranks with them. We are yet to be told what Mr Sitaram Yechury, who was desperate to see Nepal turn into a Maoist dictatorship, thinks about the thugs who kill remorselessly.

It is this confusion that has hobbled the West Bengal Government, forcing it retreat in the face of Maoist belligerence. It is nobody's case that the State Government should have abandoned the abducted police officer and left him to the mercy of his Maoist captors. But the manner in which it caved in and agreed to free suspected Maoists rather than attempt a commando operation (as was planned) betrays both lack of political commitment and absence of courage in the face of adversity. Mr Bhattacharjee now says that it was a mistake to accept the Maoists' demand for a prisoners' swap and that he wouldn't do it again. That is easier said than done. Given the rapidly unravelling situation in West Bengal, he could be faced with a similar crisis again. What would he do then? Would he refuse to accept the Maoists' demands? How would he justify the turnaround? Over the past 30 years the CPI(M) has converted the police into an extension of the party. The civil administration is in a shambles. The morale of the people is at an all time low. But there is no end in sight to Marxist chicanery and doublespeak. Never mind Mr Karat's waffle, the CPI(M) is yet to come out openly against Maoist brigandage and endorse the political consensus that already exists on what needs to be done: Crush Left extremism with an iron fist.






For any Asterix fan nothing could be a greater milestone than seeing the comic book hero turn 50. The cunning, diminutive Gaul and the other lovable characters from the famous village on the Armorican coastline in what is today northern France that defiantly holds out against Julius Caesar's Roman Empire are perhaps France's greatest export to the world. It is a measure of things that come October 29 France's elite Patrouille de France Air Force acrobatic team will be displaying its skills in Paris to commemorate Asterix comics' golden jubilee. So what is it that makes Asterix such a fascinating read even today? Over the years, the theme of the comic book has come to represent several things from French nationalism to the fight against globalisation. On the whole, it would be fair to say that it is the concept of the small guy holding out against the high and mighty that has endeared readers the world over. Besides, the quality of the illustrations and the humour that the comics encapsulate are matchless. Credit should also go to the translators of the comic book series, which boasts of being available in 107 different languages, for being able to retain the charm of Asterix whether one reads it in Mandarin or Portuguese.

Although Asterix and his friends trudge along as proudly as ever, purists will assert that the comics have lost a certain amount of sheen since creator Rene Goscinny passed away in 1977. Even though the characters and their affable personalities remains the same, the stories of the subsequent comics as written and put to pictures by co-creator Albert Uderzo lack a certain amount of dynamism that the early Asterix adventures had. Case in point, Asterix and the Falling Sky which was released in 2005. What was an attempt to contemporise Asterix by pitting him and his friends against aliens from outer space fell flat on its face. And with Albert Uderzo having sold the rights to Asterix, god only knows how many such experiments fans will have to put up with. What future creators of Asterix must keep in mind is that they should not tamper with the successful formula of the comics. What readers want and have come to love are the wit and play of words that Asterix comics are known for, the famous feasts that Asterix and his friends have at the end of each adventure, magic potion and loads and loads of Roman bashing. For, Asterix is essentially an underdog story where the protagonists fight their nemesis for pride and honour, and to preserve their way of life. This is what works. As Asterix turns 50, we hope that it will be more of the same. Let us hope that the sky does not fall on our heads by Toutatis!



            THE PIONEER




At the risk of sounding churlish, one must say that with only single-largest party status in Haryana and just half-way mark for the Maharashtra coalition, the Congress is no runaway success in the recent Assembly elections. This ground reality could thus inhibit the winner-takes-all syndrome in governance. Of course, the BJP is a clear loser, with a demonstrated inability to get its act together.

Maharashtra leader Gopinath Munde, frustrated at his family failure in the polls, pleaded for a younger leadership at Central level. To scuttle this line of thinking, Mr LK Advani promptly secured the long-pending resignation of the Leader of Opposition in Rajasthan, Ms Vasundhara Raje! As he did not tell her to maintain decorum by offering her resignation letter to party president Rajnath Singh, it is likely that factionalism in the BJP will increase in the coming weeks. With the West Bengal unit chief also resigning, more State level changes seem likely.

This article is not about elections, but seeks to reflect how at both national and local levels the BJP not only lacks the ability to set an agenda, but also the modesty to try to understand and ameliorate the problems of the common man, much less the larger national interest.

Last week, the Income Tax Department put out a story in a major newspaper that income tax refunds would hitherto be paid directly into the bank accounts of taxpayers to avoid interface between individuals and officials. Actually, the direct refunds began some years ago after the IT Department had to deal with large-scale bouncing of its own cheques! Instead of posting the refund cheques to taxpayers, low level employees would visit homes near the expiry dates and demand a cut before handing over the cheques. Later, the RBI would dishonour the cheques for expired validity. These would pile up in the Department, generating extra work and in-house scandal.

This year, the IT Department used accountants to ask taxpayers for 10 per cent of the refund amount for quick release of the same. In August, refunds were posted only to the accounts of those who paid up; official letters were received in September/early-October; those who did not pay did not receive the refund. This is a huge scandal, and the deluge of complaints must have forced the IT Department to promise justice to all. Yet the BJP failed to take note of such a disgraceful development right in the national capital.

The BJP was similarly unperturbed at the phenomenal price rise after the 2009 general election, much before drought struck the country. Barring token noises, the army of economic thinkers in the party remained silent spectators to every atrocity, from the manipulated rise in the stock market without genuine recovery in the real economy, to the growing menace of crony capitalism, and the spreading tentacles of private corporates in the economy and polity, to the detriment of the citizen.

Way back in the centuries BC, Kautilya advocated state ownership of natural resources, and a state-moderated paradigm within which trade and private capital would operate. This was the practice in all Hindu kingdoms in ancient India, and remains a satisfactory model for our times. Today, as two siblings make a public nuisance of themselves regarding the pricing of a national resource, the BJP does not see fit to demand a serious national rethink on the nature and extent of private participation in the exploitation of natural resources.

There are growing whispers that exploration studies by agencies like ONGC are hushed up and some years later, private sector participation is invited in 'promising sectors' which naturally yield a 'find.' If true, then as a corrective measure all reports of exploration studies should be made available on the internet. There must be greater transparency about private sector participation -- what expertise do the private parties bring which Government lacks; how much real capital is injected by private corporates and how much is Government loan; how much loan is paid back and how much gets written off quietly; what percentage of profit and how much management control is given to the private party vis-à-vis its real investment.

The private sector is established in the consumer sector, but Delhi has suffered disasters in infrastructure development. A freak storm blew off the roof of the new international airport — something unheard of anywhere in the world — but political parties behaved like zombies, and the shoddy private firm remains in saddle. The city's pride, Delhi Metro, was compromised by being forced to appoint a shoddy but powerful private contractor to build the piers which collapsed; the road in front of a Metro stretch developed a seven-foot hole in which a motorcyclist nearly died; hundreds of crores of foreign funds for cleaning Yamuna disappeared in a black hole — but the BJP took it in its stride. And when it became internationally obvious that the Commonwealth Games are in jeopardy because of slow and shoddy work, the BJP rushed to defend the Delhi Government!

Three successive Delhi Assembly elections were lost because of a cussed refusal to take up issues like electricity privatisation which is literally ripping off consumers. The Delhi Government mocked citizens by sacking the CEO, pleading and then denying a software glitch. It got away because no one asked why there was no improvement of service after over 10 years of privatisation, why no new transformers were installed, why there is no reduction of loss and theft, why electronic meters were changed twice, and why inflated bills followed each change of meters. If inefficiency and losses justified reckless privatisation of the public sector (including profit-making concerns), surely reverse nationalisation is called for as BSES fails abysmally? Far from leading the charge, the BJP is silent even about a possible privatisation of the city's water supply.

Delhi's street cleaners narrate tales of outsourcing of civic services (sanitation, transport) to private firms owned by sitting MPs. This calls for public disclosure and a national policy regarding the desirability of firms owned by MPs or MLAs taking Government contracts.

Hindu varna dharma barred concentration of political and economic power in the same classes; this is being violated to the detriment of citizens and the state. The BJP's real problem is a secret resistance to Hindutva. It must purge itself of non-performing leaders across generations and uphold the Hindu ethos in the best interests of the people.







Richard Goldstone, the primary author of the infamous Goldstone Report, is now trying to distance himself from the way in which the report is being used to single out Israel for condemnation. Most recently he criticised the United Nations Council on Human Rights, which commissioned the report, for the contents of its referral to the Security Council. This is what he said: "The draft resolution saddens me as it includes only allegations against Israel. There is not a single phrase condemning Hamas as we have done in the report."

Goldstone, as usual, is trying to have it both ways. The truth is that the report itself barely criticises Hamas. Indeed, the summary — which was intended as a Press release — is replete with condemnations against Israel but never once criticises Hamas. Instead, it gently criticises "Palestinian armed groups," as if to suggest that these were vigilante grassroot killers who were not sponsored by and doing the work of Hamas. The text of the report devotes infinitely more space to condemning Israel than it does to condemning Hamas or even "Palestinian armed groups." It is not surprising, therefore, that the resolution of the UN Council, which is intended to briefly summarise the report, would focus its attention on condemning Israel. Goldstone, who is a savvy and experienced international diplomat, had to realise this when he signed onto the report. The crocodile tears he is now shedding, in claiming that the resolution "saddens" him, is simply another example of him talking out of two sides of his mouth.

Goldstone did the same thing when he told the Jewish Daily Forward, "that his group had not conducted "an investigation," but rather a "fact-finding mission" based largely on the limited "material we had." Since this "material" was cherry-picked by Hamas guides and spokesmen, Goldstone acknowledged that "if this was a court of law, there would have been nothing proven." He emphasised to the Forward that the report was no more than "a road map" for real investigators and that it contained no actual "evidence," of wrongdoing by Israel.

That is certainly not what the report itself says. The report repeatedly accuses Israel of war crimes and other violations of international law. It concludes that Israel "violated" the law and that these violations "constitute a grave breach." It does not qualify its accusations the way Goldstone now seems to — at least when talking to Jewish audiences.








First it was a serving naval chief and then the incumbent air chief telling the media that India lags behind China in terms of military might. Fortunately the statements came from the highest ranking serving soldiers and not from a civilian source, or else it certainly could have posed a problem to the civilian 'whistle-blower' for leaking out 'top secret classified information', thereby 'affecting' the morale of our troops.

It would be worthwhile to make an assessment of the scenario since 1997-1998 to the present day. Even in 1997-1998, as reported by Military Balance, the disparity between India and China was too glaring to go unnoticed. The Middle Kingdom's 20,90,000-man Army (including 120 infantry divisions); 2,80,000-strong Navy; 4,70,000-strong Air Force; 8,500 main battle tanks; 61 submarines; 54 fighting ships and 3,740 combat aircraft could not be matched by India's 9,80,000-man Army; 55,000-sailor Navy; 1,10,000-strong air warriors; 3,314 main battle tanks; 17 submarines; 25 principal surface combatants and 777 combat capable aircraft.

Twelve years on China seems to have changed the power game with a substantial quantitative reduction, qualitative up-gradation and novel reorganisation, thereby trimming its Army to 16,00,000 men; Navy to 2,55,000 sailors; Air Force to 3,30,000 personnel; 7,600 tanks and 1,653 combat aircraft. The most spectacular rise of China appears to have taken place in the sea with the induction of three submarines with ballistic missile-launch capability. The number of tactical conventional submarines and ships has also gone up to 62 and 78 respectively.

In comparison, India too has risen to 11,00,000-man Army; 1,20,000-strong Air Force; 4,065 tanks and 47 fighting ships. However, India's submarine and fighter aircraft capability has been reduced to 16 and 603 respectively. This means less visible air warriors on the Himalayan frontier and a stretching of its water front defence.

All this boils down to the question: How does one cope with a — albeit unlikely — two-front eventuality? For an answer, one needs to understand the Chinese power-play to take corrective measures.

Clearly China is not in a mood to play second fiddle to anyone. Beijing wants to play an important role in the 21st century. It has waited for far too long in the 20th century — first fighting a two-front external war and a civil war, followed by an equally strenuous gestation period —to come out of its shell and shock the world with its prodigious performance in the Olympic Games in the 1980s followed by storming the world market with cheap consumer goods in the 1990s.

When Western capitalism was flourishing and flush with cash, China went slowly but steadily forward, capturing the world market with cheap, mass-produced goods. When the US-led world financial market collapsed, China's trillions of surplus dollars came handy to bail out faltering economies. The US today stands somewhat forlorn on the war front, wealth creation mart, World Bank management and the UN.

Since it is still too early to predict the future, conventional Chinese wisdom sees the world as "yi chao duo chiang" — one superpower and several great powers. Whether Beijing is obliquely referring to itself as the 'one superpower' or not is anybody's guess. But nobody can doubt that China is one among the 'several great powers', if not the first among equal 'great powers'.

And what does China do to attain further 'greatness'? By rightly showing its might on October 1, 2009, celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, thereby providing enduring images of its growing might. Thus far China has been biding time and developing its economy by following the former leader Deng Xiaoping's "hide the brightness, nourish obscurity" policy.

China's mounting confidence in its future is reflected in its 'concern' over the US's plight. In 2006 Wang Yiwei of Fudan University, Shanghai, wrote a provocative essay, "How can we prevent the US from declining too quickly?" The decline came in 2005 with Wall Street's collapse. China now sees a chance to step into the vacuum created by the downturn in the US economy. Beijing is well aware of its present runners-up position as none of the other powers like Russia, Japan, Germany, the UK, France, India, Brazil, Australia and South Africa come anywhere close to China's second place.

Hence, Prof Fu Mengzi of a prominent Beijing think-tank can confidently state that "the high point for US power was 2000". Song Hongbing, in his path-breaking book, Currency Wars 2, predicts that an "obscure international elite bankers and politicians will impose a global currency by 2024 and usher in an era of world government". According to him, the "US Federal Reserve supports the plan because it recognises that the dollar will be savaged by a bout of hyper inflation". It is not surprising that China's federal bank chief Zhou Xiaochuan has called for the eventual replacement of the dollar as the global reserve currency.

In the energy sector, too, China, with its surplus funds, has begun to invest in strategic destinations ranging from Venezuela, Brazil, Iraq, Iran and Sudan to the smaller fields of Africa and the mighty Russian fields. Competing with the US appears foremost priority for China which sees itself as a global power and India as a regional player. A part of China's strategic calculation certainly emanates from India-US bonhomie.

All said, however, Beijing's over-sensitivity to Tibet,Taiwan, Xianjian (Uighur) and the irritants in South China Sea, Vietnam, Japan and India, along with excessive dependence on export economics, will continue to be possible areas of concern in the foreseeable future.

The writer is an alumnus of the National Defence College of India and a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, London.







The unpalatable fact is that there was high voltage drama enacted by the Maoists, including its leader Koteswar Rao alias Kishenji, and the West Bengal Government as well as the Centre over one hostage —Atindranath Dutta. He, as the photographs will confirm, is a well nourished police officer in charge of the police station at Sankrail in West Midnapore district.

While two others died at the same police station, two other policemen were taken hostage — Kanchan Gorai and Sabir Mollah —from Dharampur and Pirkhana, also in the same district, there was no drama over their deaths and disappearance. Clearly there is a class divide between 'us' and 'them'. Dutta is so obviously middle class that his being taken hostage commands attention. The others are so obviously not 'middle class' that the absence of attention is entirely customary.

Kishenji agreed to send Dutta back unscathed because otherwise 'public opinion' would have swung from sneaking sympathy to equally hostile antagonism. The public whose opinion matters and cannot be taken for granted, bludgeoned, brow beaten and condemned into cowering silence is that of the middle class. The rest, including most of 124 listed as "martyrs" in the poll and post-violence between March and October this year in West Bengal belong to that silent majority who do not inhabit that elite space defined theoretically as the 'public sphere'.

Therefore, it was a duet that was composed between the middle class conscious Maoists and Marxists to broker a deal that could release one of their own, Dutta. The post-release performance of Dutta, media and family has been a three-ring circus. With their every move captured on camera, every tear and smile recorded for vicarious entertainment, the deliberate deflection of attention from two other policemen, Gorai and Mollah, it seems West Bengal has feelings only for its bhadralok.

If senior police officials are upset over the post-release drama, if they are frustrated because they were not allowed to at least attempt a capture or face off with Kishenji just when they had him holed up, pinned down and ready for the plucking on October 22 night, no one is acting on that. The shocker is that Dutta having done nothing, beyond as he claimed "kept his cool," has become a hero and while he parades around in the harsh glow of flash lights nobody is asking why he is not back at work.

Old timers have quietly and privately questioned the action of the State Government in countenancing such unprofessional conduct. These same old timers have then shrugged and answered their own query: Everything that is done is based on electoral calculations. The point that old timers wish to make is that Dutta has not been checked over after his being taken hostage. If he were a policeman in the real sense surely he gathered some intelligence that may be of some use or at least can go on active files in a situation where the Indian state is, as the Maoist supremo Ganapati declared earlier this week, locked in a war-like situation and Operation Venus is underway.

The conspiracy of class includes the usually strident Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee. After condemning the hostage taking and the attack on the Sankrail police station, Ms Banerjee has fallen conspicuously silent. The day the attack occurred, she spat venom at the West Bengal Government, alleged that it was a so-called attack by the Maoists and questioned the capacity of the State administration to protect the police force. The irony of her demand that the police force be protected obviously escaped her as much as it escaped her admirers and critics.

The commonplace 'normal' that expects the police force to protect rather than be protected, that expects a policeman to be differently dutiful and less a celebrity baking in media attention are measures that no longer apply in West Bengal. The parameters within which the normal, the usual, the ordinary and the routine, function have changed. While many would lazily suggest that everything has been "politicised," others would not even bother to wonder why the 'normal' is no longer applicable.

Critics of the CPI (Marxist) would vehemently assert that the 'normal' was distorted soon after 1977 when the party came to power in the State. Others less extreme would estimate that the 'normal' was distorted in the 1980s. To reckon when the abnormal became 'normal' is a matter that perhaps academics can explore; for the rest, an easy to grasp divide in before 2006 and after 2006, before Singur and Nandigram and the Trinamool Congress's ma, mati, manush push, the spectacular revival of Maoist politics and violence and one major casualty, the Nano car factory.

Since 2006, the 'normal' has become abnormal. A nearly completed factory shut down because of an agitation led by one and supported by other parliamentary parties. Maoists via its fronts or perhaps infiltrated People's Committees against land acquisition, against police atrocities have acquired an aura. Even though the Congress has questioned the Trinamool Congress's association with organisations attached to Maoists, there has been no political reckoning on this.

Despite the puzzling political equations, the credit ratings of every organisation have remained blue chip. The rating agency that is most respected is that of the Maoists; by rejecting the Constitution, declaring themselves outlaws, condemning parliamentary parties and their politics, the Maoists have acquired a halo. Their judgment matters and it is sacrosanct.







A $ 7 billion mining deal between Guinea's repressive military regime and a little-known Chinese company underscores China's full-throttle rush into Africa and its willingness to deal with brutal and corrupt Governments.

The deal announced last week by the West African country's military junta offers the company, China International Fund, access to Guinea's bauxite and other minerals and could provide major revenues to a Government facing international isolation. Guinea's soldiers opened fire on demonstrators late last month, killing up to 157, and raped women in public.

Human rights groups decried the pact. China's Government has declined to confirm it or answer related questions, and the company also refused to comment.

In many ways, the Guinea deal reflects established Chinese business practices in Africa, characterised by huge investments in a still-poor continent but also secrecy and often scant regard for labour and human rights.

China's defenders point out that other investors from the West, Japan, India and elsewhere are also major economic partners with less-than-democratic African Governments. In Guinea, Alcoa of the United States and Anglo-Australian Rio Tinto PLC are already major players in the bauxite business. Also, China has given aid, loans or investment to more than 17 African nations, some of which do have democratic Governments.

But China's practices have raised questions about whether the huge sums will hamper the progress of human rights and good governance in Africa, even as they raise the standards of living and line the pockets of some. China has given large chunks of money to corrupt and abusive regimes such as those in oil-rich Nigeria and Sudan, much criticised over abuses in the Darfur region. For example, China has a controversial $ 9 billion agreement with violence-plagued Congo.

"There's obviously mixed emotions with regard to China-Africa relations," said Kellie Jane Whitlock, of the South African magazine Corporate Africa.

Unlike companies from the recession-struck West, there are "Chinese companies that are still growing and looking into investing further into Africa," Whitlock said. The Chinese are "quite inclined to look after their investment and build their investment. They are serious about investing in Africa."

Scrutiny and mixed emotions are rising in Africa as the volume of China's dealings soar. Trade has soared 10 times since 2001, passing the $ 100 billion-mark last year. Estimates of Chinese investment in Africa range upward from $ 6 billion as China tries to lock up oil, gas, and other key resources for its resource-hungry economy. Estimates for total loans, investment and aid donations — often difficult to distinguish from each other — run closer to $ 50 billion.

Hong Kong-registered China International Fund has done big deals with another undemocratic African Government: Angola. The company, known as CIF, is building housing, highways and the capital's airport in Angola, which is one of China's leading suppliers of oil.

CIF is a private company, though its ultimate ownership is unclear.

But in embarking on these deals, it can count on high-level access to leading Angolan officials and a web of contacts to China's state-backed industries and companies, especially the Export-Import Bank of China, which funds many of the country's major overseas investments. CIF's directors are also believed to have ties to China's military and security forces, boosting their relationships with the country's communist leadership.

In the case of China International Fund and Guinea, it isn't known whether the company was working on the deal before December's coup that brought Capt Moussa "Dadis" Camara to power. The British think-tank Chatham House recently reported that CIF had been working on a $ 1.6 billion investment plan for the country spanning infrastructure, housing, mining, transport, tourism, and food production.

In exchange, the company would theoretically gain access to Guinea's plentiful deposits of bauxite, the raw material used to make aluminum, along with diamonds and gold. Mines Minister Mahmoud Thiam said the Chinese company "will be a strategic partner in all mining projects."

Mr Thiam also said that new power-generating plants, railway links, and planes for both international and local air transportation are part of the deal.

Founded in 2003, CIF appears to be among the boldest — and best connected — of the Chinese investors in Africa. The company's Hong Kong business registration lists it as 99 per cent owned by Dayuan International Development Limited, identified by Chatham House analysts as the parent company of China Angola Oil Stock Holding Ltd., which exports Angolan oil to China.

The remaining one per cent is owned by CIF's chairwoman, Lo Fong Hung, who is also one of Dayuan's four directors and whose husband, according to Chatham House, has been a director of the Chinese Government's two biggest investment arms.

CIF has become a broker for huge infrastructure projects in Angola, tapping financing from China's Exim Bank and secured by the African nation's oil revenues.








Russia's new military doctrine, which is to come into force in 2010, has provoked a heated debate, first of all because it stipulates preemptive nuclear strikes.

Moreover, it says that nuclear weapons may also be used in local conflicts in case of critical threats to Russia's national security.

The wording has encouraged some people to say that Russia intends to use nuclear weapons in conflicts with its closest neighbours — former Soviet republics.

A critical threat to Russia's national security can come from different types of conflicts, including a large-scale war with a block of countries, or a hypothetical territorial conflict with one or several militarily developed countries.

Since the armed forces of the former Soviet republics are not very efficient, it can be assumed that only the Baltic countries, which are Nato members, can pose a critical threat to Russia. Although there is zero probability of a conflict with a Baltic country, if such a war does break out, it will immediately overgrow the scale of a local conflict, and it is not a Baltic territory that will be Russia's target in this case.

A critical threat can also be created by an attempt by a more developed neighbour who is not a member of a Nato-type military alliance to use military force against Russia to settle a territorial dispute. Theoretically, such a conflict is possible with Japan if Japanese politicians seeking to use military force to solve the Kuril problem come to power there.

However, a critical threat to Russia is more probable in a larger war. Russia started speaking about the possibility of delivering preemptive nuclear strikes long ago, in the late 1990s after Nato bombed Yugoslavia. Russia subsequently held war games post-1999 simulating a military conflict with Nato similar to the one in Yugoslavia.

That war game showed that only nuclear weapons would save Russia in case of a Western aggression. The Russian Government subsequently changed the schemes of using nuclear weapons, especially tactical ones.

The new provision was sealed in two fundamental documents — the military doctrine and the national security concept adopted in 2000. They read that the use of nuclear weapons is justified and necessary "to repel a military aggression when all other methods of settling the crisis have been used and proved ineffective."

The decision looked logical at the time since Nato's military power was superior to Russia, and the situation has not changed much since then. On the other hand, the possibility of a dispute — let alone a military conflict — with Nato has decreased because Russia has launched a new round of dialogue with the bloc. But military doctrines stipulate basic provisions that do not take into account the current tactical situation.

It should be said that other countries, including the United States, are also considering preemptive nuclear strikes.

Russia's new military doctrine also has a clause on the use of military force to protect the lives and interests of Russian citizens abroad. This new addition to the Law On Defence was approved in the summer of 2009, and it will also be sealed in the new military doctrine.

On the whole, the new military doctrine reflects Russia's gradual movement toward Western standards of the use of military force. The ideological provisions of the Soviet Union's military doctrine — with the exception of the term "potential enemy" — have long been forgotten. Russia now intends to use its military force when and where necessary, and against any opponent.

The writer is a military affairs columnist based in Moscow.








THE vision paper unveiled by the Union Law ministry to overhaul the justice delivery system in India has the right orientation.


It has correctly identified the need to clear the backlog of 3 crore cases in our courts and bring down their pendency period from 15 years to three years. Some of the solutions it has outlined like filling up of judicial vacancies in quick time, operating three shifts in courts, and coming up with a national litigation policy will no doubt help redress these issues. A National Arrears Grid that monitors the process may well ensure that the proposals don't hang fire.


However, to overcome the shortage of judges, Law Minister Veerappa Moily has opted for a ' band- aid' solution rather than a lasting one. He proposes to appoint 15,000 judges for a contractual period of two years to the trial courts. A similar process will be adopted for the high courts.


This is not a long- term solution to our abysmal judge to population ratio of 10 per million population. It may help clear the present backlog of cases by 2011 but such a backlog is likely to pile up again in the future. Setting contractual judges high targets in terms of disposal of cases per year is also likely to affect the quality of justice, as experts have pointed out.


Besides, appointing lawyers, prosecutors etc as judges on an ad- hoc basis will raise questions about their fairness and integrity. After all, they will be hearing counsels who have all along been their colleagues and will be again after the expiry of their two- year contract.


The Chief Justice of India is right in pointing out that we need 35,000 more courts, besides better funding for the institution, if we are to tackle the problem that Mr Moily has bravely decided to take on.







THE meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao has brought down the high temperatures between the two countries by a couple of degrees. As Dr Singh has pointed out, the two countries will use all the established channels to resolve their problems. And they do have several existing tracks, though it is not clear why they are not proving to be more useful.


There is the 1993 agreement on maintaining peace and tranquility on the border. It has detailed provisions on how this should be done. But somewhere down the line the key suggestion — the working out of a mutually agreeable Line of Actual Control — has been put on the backburner. Perhaps there were expectations that the appointment of Special Representatives to resolve the border issue itself would make the idea of a mutually agreed on LAC redundant. Unfortunately, the SR process, too seems to be stuck.


The PM was right to insist that the Dalai Lama would visit Tawang. Whatever may be China's problems with the Dalai, the latter is also the spiritual leader of the Buddhists in our Himalayan areas. Any other course would have sent a wrong signal to Beijing.


There is something self- serving in Dr Singh pointing fingers at the media for accentuating Sino- Indian problems. The question he needs to ask is: who has been leaking information on the alleged Chinese border incursions to the media in the first place?







NO one put it better than the eighteenth century French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau when he described the institution of marriage as a social contract. While one can debate as to whether the institution has remained sacred or not, the fact is that it still is an agreement or a contract between two individuals to remain together as husband and wife for as long as they like.


There is something pernicious about the accusation by Hindutva and Christian groups in Kerala that girls from their communities are being enticed by Muslim men to marry them and forcibly convert them to Islam. There is a paternalistic suggestion that women cannot, or should not, make independent decisions on their own.


The preference of a marriage partner or the profession or conversion to this or that faith is a matter of personal choice and it's best left that way.








Rural politicians who dominate our state politics are often focused on exploiting cities rather than making them livable


MORE than two decades after the 1988 report of the National Commission on Urbanisation we still do not have a National Urban Policy. And it does not look as if we will have one anytime soon. As a first step towards gathering inputs towards such a policy the Planning Commission constituted a Task Force on Urban Perspective and Policy in 1995.


That task force is itself yet to complete its task. The instinctive reaction to this remarkably slow progress is to treat it as yet another case of bureaucratic lethargy and ministerial apathy. Unfortunately the problem lies much deeper.


The view from the ivory tower suggests that the problem is not difficult to grasp. The decades soon after Independence saw cities as essentially areas that needed to be decongested.


Policy then focused on setting up industries in less congested towns, preferably in backward areas.


The National Commission on Urbanisation in its potentially path- breaking report pointed out this was simply not working. There was an economic logic for large cities to become larger, a logic that has in recent decades fed the growing field of new economic geography.



India's major cities were becoming, whether planners liked it or not, engines of growth. There was thus a need for a new urban policy that would help our cities become more efficient, and yet liveable, engines of growth. This would involve policies that not just attracted capital into the cities but also created mechanisms that minimised the discontent inherent in change and ensured no one felt compelled to take their grievances on to the streets.


Once we step down from the ivory tower this apparently simple transformation runs into very formidable obstacles. The transition to an engine of growth requires the city to be seen as an economically independent entity. It could then decide which investments add to its overall benefit and which ones are, on the whole, a drain on its infrastructure and other resources. This would in turn help it manage its infrastructure in a way that benefits its entire population.


And to ensure that the benefit is not only equitable but is also seen to be so, there is a need for democratic mechanisms within the cities to determine its overall direction.


The first and, arguably, the most challenging roadblock to such a transformation is political. Cities today account for a disproportionately large share of the national economy.


The share of agriculture has dropped to below a fifth of national income taking the share of the rural economy down with it. At the same time the population of most states still remains predominantly rural.


Managing a state's economy then necessarily involves tapping the city's resources to take care of the interests of the state's population as a whole. This would be very difficult to carry out if the economic policy makers of a city are given complete autonomy to do what they like with the resources it generates.


On a more cynical note, there is also a self- interest based dimension to the political obstacle. Large infrastructure projects in cities run into thousands of crores of rupees. It would take a very confident chief minister to give up control over such a significant segment of the state's economy. And if we choose to give even a little credence to the rumours of kickbacks in a commercialised political milieu, the very political survival of chief ministers demands that they do not hand over power to autonomous city bodies.


And politicians are not the only vested interest against the transfer of power to an autonomous city body.


Industry too often finds it useful to deal with chief ministers who have the power to legislate. Most, if not all, Indian states have in place laws that allow them to take over land and hand it over to industry. Thus the staple plot of old Walt Disney movies where the big bad industrialist wants to take over the house of the poor old lady, does not work in India. Here it is the government that takes over the land, if need be with the loss of lives.



Challenging these deeply entrenched interests would be difficult in the best of times. It would require, among other things, large scale mobilisation of those who believe in the identity of the city and hence the need for its autonomy.


Such a city identity has been slow to develop in India. Migrants play an important role in the growth of Indian cities.


And most of them spend decades in the city while still retaining links with, and the identity of, their ' native place'. It also does not help that the non- migrants too often prefer to be mobilised around language lines rather than in terms of a city identity.


Thus those who do not have a vested interest in rejecting a city identity also do not have the inclination to fight for it.


Most decisions regarding large cities are then made by an informal alliance between the state level political leadership and industry lobbies.


Their focus is, quite predictably, on specific projects that suit both their interests. The political class has a stake in large infrastructure projects they can be identified with.


Industry too has an interest in some of these projects either because they are users of that specific infrastructure or because they are a part of that project.



Such iconic projects typically take up so much of the resources available to the city that there is much less left for essential infrastructure such as water or drainage. When large parts of the city are left without water or toilets they do become a political burden. But this political challenge is met, more often than not, by other iconic projects designed to suit a particular political interest. Massive statues of the appropriate icons, from Shivaji to Ambedkar to a host of poets, are a popular option.


At the heart of a meaningful response to the crisis facing our cities is the need to move away from the de facto policy of focusing on iconic projects to a policy that takes a more holistic view of the challenge of allocating the resources available to cities. For such a policy to emerge there is a need for all the interest groups, whether they are state and national level political leaders, industry lobbies, local elected representatives, and others to come together.


The creation of a mechanism where all those who are affected by urban decisions can be heard would help shift the focus away from iconic projects to a more comprehensive view of the challenges facing a city; that is from projects to urban policy. Unless such a mechanism that demands a specific set of urban policies is created on the ground, it is difficult to see how a National Urban Policy can be evolved, let alone thrust on unwilling interest groups in India's troubled cities.









THE general impression in West Bengal is that the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government is losing its war against the Maoists on all fronts. The CRPF operation in Lalgarh has been on for nearly four months now.


Yet no prominent Naxalite leader has so far been arrested. The Maoists are still killing CPM activists at will.


Politburo member Koteswar Rao is talking to the media on his cellphone, sometimes for hours at a stretch, from Lalgarh. Yet the police can't get anywhere near him by tracing his calls. The Peoples' Committee against Police Atrocity ( PCPA) leader Chhatradhar Mahato was arrested about a month ago. Yet the PCPA has been regularly holding public rallies in Lalgarh and even organising the villagers to gherao the police during raids.


Senior police officials admit that they are yet to squeeze out any vital information about the rebels from Mahato.


The raid on Sankrail police station in broad daylight last week and abduction of the Officer in Charge hit the headlines nationwide.


The way Koteswar Rao used the media to propagate his politics all through the 52- hourlong hostage drama, showed the government is losing the war against the Maoists even on the publicity front. He was able to halt the CRPF operation by hinting that the OC, still in their custody, might be killed. Then by releasing the OC he earned the sympathy of the family members of the police officer, who openly praised Rao for keeping his promise and not doing the officer any harm.


Senior home department officials now admit that the government is looking weak by having given in to the Maoists' demand and releasing 23 Naxalite sympathisers to ensure the release of the OC. The government must now show some success in combating the Maoists but this depends entirely on the Centre's ability to launch a pincer attack as soon as possible from across the Jharkhand border, they say.


Operations in Jharkhand are not forthcoming though, as was being believed even till recently.


The state will to go polls soon and no major operation can begin in the state till the polls are over. The news, revealed to the chief minister by the Union home minister last Saturday, is certainly unsettling for the state government.


In the meantime, the Maoists are increasing their strength in the state through fresh recruitments.


Around 2000 young boys and girls from West Midnapur, Bankura and Purulia recently underwent extensive military training near Bangriposhi in Orissa. The latest attacks on the CRPF at various places in Lalgarh and even the attack on the Sankrail police station were led by these youngsters, the police have come to know.





WHILE the ability of the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's government to tackle the Maoists is being publicly questioned, the CPM is facing a queer situation within.


A section of party leaders have begun asking whether the party is deviating from its Marxist ideology while trying to tackle the rebels.


When the Maoists say they are against the present Indian state, the CPM is in no position to criticise them because the party still describes the Indian state as an " organ of class rule of the bourgeoisie and landlords led by the big bourgeoisie," these CPM leaders are now saying.


The leaders also point out that the CPM is deviating from its party programme by relying entirely on the police in curbing rebel activities around Lalgarh. In fact article 5.16 of the CPM's party programme says, " The police forces are used as instruments of repression against popular movements." These CPM leaders are also pointing out that at least the party programme shares the Maoists' distrust of the Indian democracy being a " sham." The CPM's programme also says in article 5.18, "... When it comes to the struggle of the workers, peasants and other sections of the democratic masses, the fundamental rights virtually cease to apply for them." These CPM leaders, who are sharing their concern with leaders of other Left Front constituents, believe that the Front has completely given up its programme of class struggle and its sole objective now is to retain power.




Aloke. Banerjee@ MAMATA'S stand on the Maoists has surprised even senior Trinamool leaders.


Ever since the Maoists began eliminating CPM activists in the Lalgarh- Belpahari region, Mamata Banerjee has argued that the killings were nothing but a result of internal rivalries within the CPM. She even went to the extent of describing the kidnapping of the Sankrail police station OC and gunning down of two other police officers as " stage managed" by the CPM. To top it all, Mamata has demanded immediate withdrawal of the joint forces from Lalgarh, thereby officially going against the Centre's decision.


The CPM is training its guns on her accusing her of indirectly helping the Maoist cause. She has failed to keep happy even the Maoists, who are not fully satisfied by her demand for withdrawal of CRPF from Lalgarh. The rebels feel Mamata should step down from the Union ministry if she is truly against the operations in Lalgarh.


Sources close to Mamata explain that her refusal to criticise the Maoists and support the police operation would protect her activists in the districts of Purulia, Bankura and West Midnapur from Maoist attacks. Also, the rebels are exclusively targeting the CPM and this is to her political advantage.


Several Trinamool leaders, however, describe her tactics as suicidal. If the Maoists are allowed to grow further, they will surely begin attacking the Trinamool in order to grab political space. Also, she cannot afford to keep her eyes closed to the Maoist problem as she is hoping to become the chief minister in 2011, these leaders feel.


IS THE CPM losing the plot under pressure from all sides and a distinct possibility emerging that it may go out of power in the 2011 assembly polls? Former CPM MP from Arambagh, Anil Basu, has attacked Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee in condemnable language. Criticising Mamata's agitation in Singur, Basu told reporters, " We wanted to catch Mamata by her hair and drive her out of Singur. But the chief minister did not allow us to do so." Only two weeks earlier, Basu, who was denied a ticket by the CPM in the last Lok Sabha polls, had given an ultimatum to the local police saying if they did not arrest two Trinamool activists within half an hour, the entire Arambagh would go up in flames. The incident had provoked leader of the Opposition Partha Chatterjee to start a dharna in front of the chief minister's office. Even the chief minister had lost his cool and ordered the police to forcibly oust the leader of the Opposition from near his office.


The CPM is yet to offer any apology, not even for Basu's unparliamentary words against a woman politician.

CPM insiders said the choice of words was aimed at provoking the cadres. The Trinamool is making rapid inroads in the entire Hooghly district and the CPM activists are a demoralised lot. It is being thought necessary to whip up their spirit through such means, insiders say.


THE top brass of the state police have embarked upon a unique mission to improve the fitness levels of the policemen entrusted with the job of tackling the Maoists. From next month, senior officers would regularly meet the wives of constables and junior officers and request them to cook only healthy food for their husbands.

Director General of Police Bhupinder Singh has found out that about 30 per cent of police officers in the state were above 50 years and physically unfit.


Many of the young officers were not adequately fit either. The constables and officers in the Maoist hotbeds would now be put on a fitness routine and forced to shed their flab.







AFTER a period of 14 months, the Delhi High Court has advertised the vacancies for Delhi Judicial Services, but to the utter disappointment of many aspirants, the age limit for appearing in the exam has been reduced from 32 to 30 years.


This sudden change has been effected without even giving any kind of publicity to the aspiring candidates in advance.


This has resulted in thousands of dreams being shattered, and all those aspirants such as me who have been preparing for the exam since last year are left disappointed.


Worse, the age requirement is to be taken in consideration as on January 1, 2011 rather than on the same day of 2010, as under the service rules, the aspirant has to be within the age limit on January 1 following the date of commencement of examination which is now scheduled for January 31, 2010.


This makes the matter much more complex. Though the Supreme Court has time and again reiterated that the judicial recruitment ought to be conducted well within the rules governing the judicial services, if there is no regular or periodic judicial recruitment conducted by selection agencies, whether it is the Public Service Commission or the High court, why should hapless aspirants pay a heavy price for no fault of theirs by suddenly becoming ineligible for the examination?

Hemant Kumar via email



THIS is with reference to Anil Grover's piece on Bimal Roy (' Giving the master of silence his due', October 25). The review was fabulous and was a refreshing change in the newspaper from an overdose of politics and current affairs coverage.


One feels nostalgic and is literally transported to the bygone golden era of black and white Hindi films when a majority of directors were passionately involved with the craft of filmmaking.


Those were the times when filmmakers were more driven with art than commerce and almost all the movies were blessed with enchanting music penned on beautiful and meaningful lyrics.


It is said that Bimal Roy was so wedded to films that he would get best sleep when his pillows were stuffed with film reels. Great filmmakers like Roy were an institution in themselves without undergoing any formal training in filmmaking and some of his memorable films like ' Do Bigha Zamin', ' Biraj Bahu', ' Devdas', ' Sujata', ' Bandini', ' Parineeta', ' Kabuliwala', ' Parakh', etc, bear ample testimony to this fact.


It was sheer coincidence that Roy was also the cinematographer in the earlier K. L. Saigal starrer ' Devdas' ( 1935) directed by P. C. Barua.


His commercially successful film ' Madhumati' went on to win a record nine Filmfare awards which was eventually surpassed by Aditya Chopra's ' Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge' in the last decade.


The great lyricist Gulzar earlier known as Sampooran Singh Kalra started his illustrious film career under Roy's tutelage when he penned his first Hindi film song ' Mera gora rang layiye le' in another memorable film ' Bandini'. As the history of Hindi film industry is replete with thousands of films pepped with interesting stories, anecdotes and incidents, I would request you to introduce a regular column on old Hindi films so that readers could relate with the golden period of earlier films.


L. K. Chawla via email








Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Thailand was, by all accounts, frank and constructive. The sober tone of the rhetoric is welcome. It comes at a time when both sides have been trading charges, with China taking exception to not just the Dalai Lama's but even the Indian prime minister's decision to visit Arunachal Pradesh, while India objected to Chinese projects in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. It's a pity, however, that the meeting between the two heads of state should have been so preoccupied by damage control following the many irritants that have sprung up in the relationship, rather than taking it forward by focusing on burgeoning trade ties and the many common interests between the two sides.

The PM reiterated New Delhi's traditional stance that the Dalai Lama is free to travel anywhere in India, but it does not encourage political activity by Tibetan refugees. He also raised Indian concerns about reported Chinese plans to divert Brahmaputra waters, which could have incalculable effects downstream where the river flows into India. So far so good, but now it's up to New Delhi to build upon the convivial exchange between the PM and the Chinese premier at the forthcoming trilateral foreign ministers' meet in Bangalore, where the Russians too are invited. We don't expect the boundary dispute to be resolved at the meet. But at the least they shouldn't impede business flows between the two countries or come in the way of the further development of China-India ties.

India and China have more than a few common goals that they need to work together to achieve. They share deep economic ties with one another - China is India's largest trade partner, with bilateral trade set to hit $60 billion by next year. The two emerging economies banded together to articulate their position on climate change and have previously cooperated on negotiations with the World Trade Organisation. In the wake of the economic crisis, too, China and India have bargained for a larger say at global economic institutions such as the IMF in accordance with their status as two of the largest and fastest growing economies in the world.

While it would be counterproductive to hold the rest of the Sino-Indian relationship hostage to the resolution of the boundary issue, New Delhi also needs to push for movement here to the extent possible. If it, with Beijing's help, can extricate this thorn from the relationship, bad blood stemming from India's losses in the 1962 war will be washed away and the sky will be the limit for future ties between Asia's giants.







There's finally some movement on tackling the mountain of cases that has clogged Indian courts at all levels. Law minister Veerappa Moily has unveiled a vision statement containing a package of reforms, whose primary objective is reducing the backlog of cases. There are over three crore cases pending in Indian courts, of which roughly 2.5 crore are in lower courts, 40 lakh in high courts and around 52,000 in the Supreme Court. The backlog has not only paralysed delivery of justice but also exacted a high economic cost. Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee said on Sunday that delays in the courtroom were shaving off 2 per cent from the country's GDP. This is mainly because of the inordinately long time an astounding 425 days taken to enforce a contract in India.

The law ministry's vision document envisages establishing a National Arrears Grid to ascertain the exact number of cases in every court and then take steps to reduce the pendency of cases from 15 to three years. It proposes to do this by increasing the number of judges, a move we have consistently advocated. With a sanctioned strength of 31 judges for the Supreme Court, 725 for the high courts and around 14,000 for the lower courts there are too few judges for India's huge population. According to the 120th Law Commission report, India's population-to-judge ratio is one of the lowest in the world.

Among the law ministry's proposals are filling up vacancies in courts quickly. It has suggested that some 15,000 judges be appointed in trial courts for a two-year term and they should work in three shifts. There are other suggestions that should also be implemented. Retired judges could be drafted to help tackle the shortage of personnel; the long vacation for judges, a relic from colonial times, should be curtailed; out-of-court settlements should be encouraged as much as possible; and there should be better pay for judges to attract the best talent from among the legal profession. The Law Commission has also rightly suggested that adjournments of cases be resorted to only if absolutely necessary.

None of these reforms can be postponed indefinitely. A dysfunctional legal system could prove to be the biggest impediment to India's growth. A legal system that is drowning in cases and takes years to deliver verdicts will severely undermine investor confidence. The reforms will of course require money. In this regard, the chief justice of India's suggestion to increase court fees, especially for commercial cases, to meet establishment costs could be taken up.







The prime minister's visit to Jammu & Kashmir provides a unique opportunity for New Delhi to build on the vision of Naya Kashmir outlined by Manmohan Singh during his earlier tenure. Kashmir is the ground zero of the India-Pakistan relationship. A signal from Singh on India's willingness to engage its troubled neighbour - in spite of its recalcitrance would generate tremendous enthusiasm within Kashmir. The Kashmiri people know through their own traumatic experience how essential India-Pakistan reconciliation is to ensure durable peace in the state.

For all Kashmir's apparently complex problems, there are in reality only four principal challenges that need to be addressed. First is the issue of the three dialogues that are vital to rebuild the culture of mutual respect, tolerance, accommodation and faith in peaceful conflict resolution. Last winter, we witnessed one of the most inclusive elections in the state's history. Yet only the myopic will suggest that popular alienation has ended or separatist sentiment is dead. The challenge is to ensure a larger dialogue with separatists and even former militant groups which need not delegitimise the elections or undermine elected representatives.

This should not be difficult to engineer if there is clear political will and the task of interlocuting is not left to intelligence operatives or retired babus. Dialogue must be unconditional and continuous and should address both political and humanitarian issues that could build confidence and trust (including the issue, for example, of the release of political detainees and ensuring a stricter enforcement of human rights).

Internally, it is also vital to build, through talks, a process of reconciliation between Ladakh, Kashmir and Jammu and the sub-regions. There has been growing regional and communal polarisation, which needs to be urgently addressed. The dialogue within should be complemented by restarting the New Delhi-Islamabad backchannel on Kashmir, to ensure that Pakistan has no incentive to subvert the internal track. This should, of course, take off from precisely where previously designated special envoys had paused in their discussions.

The second challenge is to arrive at a consensus on devolution and decentralisation of power. An important working group of the prime minister on J&K dealt with Centre-state relations, but it was unable to arrive at a breakthrough. This does not mean that we have arrived at a cul-de-sac. There are many proposals on the table, including those on autonomy, self-rule, self-governance and achievable nationhood. Sincerity of purpose, together with a creative play with many of these ideas, should make it possible to arrive at an agreement amongst the main stakeholders in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh on the quantum of political space needed, at every administrative level, for true empowerment of all the people of the state, and on the institutions and mechanisms needed to support this architecture.

These internal discussions must flow into the backchannel, which can then attempt to work out a non-territorial India-Pakistan settlement on J&K based on providing a similar political architecture on both sides of the Line of Control while working towards converting the LoC into a line of peace that allows free movement of people, goods, services and ideas. Cooperation in areas of mutual interest like water, transport, agriculture and education will require the creation gradually of trans-LoC mechanisms and institutions. Implementation of such an understanding should create conditions for a win-win solution without needing to address hard issues of political sovereignty.

An issue that is both controversial and essential to building peace is demilitarisation. Militarisation must not be confused merely with withdrawal of troops. It is a culture that legitimises use of violence and force, rewards machismo and physical aggressiveness, patronises intolerance and repression and is contemptuous of marginal groups. No one actor can be held responsible for J&K's militarisation, particularly over the last two decades, and no one action will change this reality. In many ways, militarisation is, to use Ashis Nandy's classic phrase, an "intimate enemy". All stakeholders, state and non-state, have an obligation to recreate a demilitarised culture of peace. What is required is deep introspection, a changed mindset and, of course, a change of heart and policy. A truth commission would be an ideal starting point. Symbolically, the withdrawal of troops from the main cities will send an immediate signal of the government of India's sincerity of purpose. But much will also depend on Pakistan's actions in ending sponsorship of violence as well as the ability of Kashmiris themselves to resist attempts that legitimise violence and force them to abandon once again their distinctly non-violent historic identity.

Finally, of course, is J&K's development, a central part of the prime minister's vision for the state. Other than improved connectivity and infrastructure, it is essential to give J&K's youth a greater stake in the country's booming knowledge economy. Given the geography of the state, and its growing endowment of skills, electronic exports of services may play a more significant role in its beneficial economic integration than the export of apples and handicrafts.


The writer is professor of international politics, JNU.







India made its first leap into space when Rakesh Sharma, an IAF pilot who received cosmonaut training, flew on board a Soviet spacecraft in 1984. The question is, how long do we need to wait for the next step an astronaut launched into space on an Indian spacecraft, designed by an organisation with advanced space capabilities such as the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)? Going by reports that the government is hesitating to release the money needed for ISRO to go ahead with manned missions, and factoring in that it'll take about a decade to go from mission conception to execution, we may have to wait quite a while.

It's a myth that space exploration is astronomically expensive. ISRO's budget for this year is about the same as the money the government had no hesitation in just providing to Air India Rs 5,000 crore. Yet the benefits of space exploration are enormous, compared to the benefits of keeping a failing airline flying. Opponents of ISRO like to put forth a false divide between funds for space exploration and funds for development. Think about communication satellites, which wouldn't have been possible if nobody had set aside funds for space exploration. Such satellites enable today's telecommunications revolution, which has enormous development potential as it is increasing Indians' phone connectivity by leaps and bounds.


For ISRO, the logical next step after acquiring facility in satellites and launch vehicles is manned missions. Space exploration cannot be left to automated craft alone, human beings are adaptable in a way that machines aren't. This century will see presently unimaginable advances in humanity's scientific and technical capabilities, some of which are bound to be in the area of space exploration or direct spin-offs from it (as communication satellites have already demonstrated). If India sees itself as an advanced scientific nation, it must find a way of positioning itself at this frontier by funding ISRO. It's really a question of political will rather than resources. ISRO's budget, after all, is 25 times less than that of the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).







An Indian on the moon sounds fantastic. Indeed, that's what our space scientists, undoubtedly among the best in the world, are aiming to do by 2020. Chuffed by the partial success of Chandrayaan I which managed to confirm the presence of water on the moon's surface, even though it had an aborted spin in space ISRO wants to send up a manned mission to the earth's only natural satellite. The catch? The central government is yet to approve ISRO's proposal.

The reason given by government sources for the delay is that at Rs 15,000 crore, the proposed mission is expensive. ISRO sought the go-ahead in 2008; the initial working budget was Rs 8,000 crore which progressively increased as the project plan progressed. The government, it seems, does not rank this endeavour high on its list of priorities. And that's not such a bad thing.

While investment in science and technology research is vital to any country's advancement, it must be weighed against all other initiatives social and economic that compete for a nation's resource pool. Let's face it: India can ill afford such an expensive flight of fancy when there are a hundred other pressing problems that its people face. It is quite literally a question of life and death as millions of our people struggle to simply survive. It might sound trite, but hunger, malnutrition, illiteracy and unemployment are the biggest challenges we face as a country. And the government would be right to prioritise these challenges.

This is not to argue that we must stay frozen in time where research and development is concerned. We must, however, factor in the returns that we stand to accrue in the projects we invest in. Anyway, it's not extraordinary to put an Indian on the moon, given that others have already been there. ISRO would be better off working on projects more relevant to our country's specific needs. Why reinvent the wheel and spend a bomb doing so?






The best Diwali gift one received this year was a wonderful hamper of coffee. It contained three packs of roast and ground (R&G) coffee, and a can of instant coffee. I gave away the instant coffee immediately, since my views on the subject of coffee are rigid and clear. Real coffee is made using roast coffee beans and instant coffee is a hopeless pretender. The packs of R&G coffee were a connoisseur's delight, with the label saying they used only the finest arabica beans. One of the packs contained classical coffee, a second boasted coffee with hazelnut flavour, and the third was spiked with nutmeg. This is instant symphony to the coffee lover's imagination. I spent the festival daydreaming of the wonderful morning cups that awaited me in the future. Indeed, there is nothing more pleasurable to contemplate than the warm aroma of coffee in the still hours of an early morning. It is dark outside my balcony when i heap roast coffee powder everyday into my traditional South Indian percolator, a steel vessel with two parts. As the boiling water seeps through the ground beans, aromas of heaven waft through the kitchen, and in the stillness of the dawn they wake up all my senses at once, gently and lovingly.

We discovered that paradise was near enough. I holidayed in Coorg, the heartland of Indian coffee, with my family. We stayed in a planter's bungalow, and the coffee we were served was intoxicating. "Sir, the blessings of river Cauvery make this coffee the best on earth," an old retainer told us with pride. While the coffee was wonderful, a small voice still reminded me that Colombian and Jamaican blends were generally regarded as the world's finest. This debate was finally settled when i visited Ireland. I came across a small quaint cafe called The Joy of Coffee while walking through the old quarter of Dublin. I asked the plump waitress for the best coffee they had. "We have Jamaican Blue Mountain or Deep Forest. I prefer the latter, it's so lovely," she said. I ordered the Deep Forest, and asked her where it came from. "Sir, it's a blend of the finest Indian arabicas from the deep forests of Coorg. Do you know these special beans were once reserved for royalty? Oh no doubt at all, it's the best."








As the nation continues to quarrel over how the State should act to stop Maoist violence, there are actions that need to be taken even as that debate rumbles on. First is the issue of bringing the State into areas where it does not, for all purposes, exist. These may or may not be regions now under the sway of Communist Party of India (Maoist) guerrillas and inhabited by their willing or unwilling 'citizenry'.


But these swathes of Indian territory have populations that are desperately poor, resources-deprived and without democratic power, to the point that these Indians don't know that there may be more to life in 21st century India than survival.


Let the State, in its avatars of state and central governments, go into these places on the map and tend to these people now on a war footing. If not only to make up for lost time, such a multi-pronged 'rescue operation' will also send out a quick and effective signal to all those disaffected with the basic functionings of India's democracy — and this includes non-violent discontents too — that the State is awake and serious about converting constitutional 'good vibrations' of providing universal welfare to flesh'n'blood reality.


There is nothing embarrassing about an aspirational global power utilising all that it takes to eradicate poverty from within its own jurisdiction. If such a massive operation is beyond our political-administrative capabilities — and it certainly seems that it can do with all the help it can get — then let non-governmental forces, including the army, also be brought in to implement this task.


After all, they are brought out of their offices and barracks for more recognised forms of disaster-management. This may sound dramatic, but high drama could be the right impetus to restart an abandoned project. Not all these regions are under the thrall of the CPI (Maoist). So to wait for reinforcements and protection to make visible and effective entries into many places requiring food, healthcare and water is not necessary everywhere.

Indeed, if there is any statutory message that needs to be sent out to India's desperately poor living in the outer reaches of the country's nationhood, it is that immediate aid is far easier to provide in places free of people waging a war against the State and its agents.


Setting up institutions of governance and administration, of course, will need longer time. But if fear and anger against those using poverty as an ideological tool of violence doesn't stir the State to rescue our 'most' dispossessed, surely national self-esteem can. Before a structure of systemic welfare can be erected, guarded and kept running permanently, short-time, immediate solace should be provided. And it would be such a relief to see the Indian State providing succour to the needy not because of an existential threat but because it has finally figured out that it's the right thing to do.







Boy, do these Chinese know how to play mindgames! While we are busy wondering whether it would be prudent to allow the Dalai Lama to visit the row of Tibetan handicraft shops on Janpath in New Delhi, and thereby risk bringing on a supply crisis of cheap toys and chicken manchurian (little realising that the latter is actually an Indian dish), the mandarins from the Muddling Kingdom are inundating India with cheap plastic globes that show Jammu and Kashmir as a separate nation.


While Arunachal Pradesh has been coloured pink along with the People's Republic of China on the map, these globes priced at Rs 100 a pop have already started to make schoolchildren ask uncomfortable questions about the United Nations Security Council 1948 Resolution 38 and whether Srinagar boy Qazi Touqeer deserved the top prize in the Indian TV talent show Fame Gurukul in 2005.


Yes, people are talking about Kashmir again — which they weren't before this paper highlighted China's territorial designs. As an anonymous intelligence officer told us emphatically, "It's a matter of concern." One wonders what maps are being sold in the independent nation of Tibet whose Head of State, the Dalai Lama, may be concerned about the advent of shoddy, foreign cartographers.








The setback to Pakistan-US relations over the Kerry-Lugar law could not have come at a more critical — even seminal — moment for the relationship and the region. Pakistan has embarked upon a decisive military operation against militants in South Waziristan. US President Barack Obama is struggling to take crucial decisions on the Afghanistan strategy in which Pakistan will be expected to play a pivotal role.


What should have been a moment to affirm the relationship by a legislative measure that enhanced economic assistance has become a catalyst for discord and turned into a public relations fiasco for Washington. An opportunity to re-calibrate ties was missed in the storm of protest that evidently neither Pakistani nor American officials saw coming.


It is ironic that the original authors of the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act, 2009, Senators (now Vice-President) Joe Biden, John Kerry and Richard Lugar, did not include in their various drafts (and the Senate version adopted on June 24, 2009) the provisions that have provoked so much resentment across the board: among the Pakistani public, opposition parties and the military. It was the House of Representatives' version spearheaded by Congressman Howard Berman whose intrusive clauses prevailed in the end. Not only did the welter of externally supervised prescriptions defeat the avowed principle of partnership, but they were justifiably seen by most Pakistanis as unacceptable encroachments on the country's sovereignty. It would be a mistake to judge the political fallout in Pakistan simply in terms of the parliamentary debate coming to an inconclusive end. More important is the negative impression this has left on the public mind.


The government's damage limitation effort resulted, after the Pakistani foreign minister's dash to Washington, in a Joint Explanatory Statement issued by the bill's Congressional sponsors aimed at facilitating an "accurate interpretation of the text". This persuaded few Pakistanis. Countries are bound by law, not declarations of intent. Moreover, the declaration did not address the core issues of public concern. The willingness of Congressional leaders to issue a statement to assuage opinion in Pakistan does raise an important question. Would timely communication that sensitised Congressional and administration leaders to the expected response in Pakistan have helped to remove and amend the controversial clauses? Why were Pakistani and American officials unable to anticipate these sentiments, thus avoiding damage to the relationship?


Three sets of factors explain the depth of the negative response: the substance of the conditionalities, the tone and language, and a backdrop of decades of mistrust.


The burden of history is well-known. The rollercoaster nature of the relationship — in which Pakistan has lurched from being America's 'most allied' ally to most sanctioned friend — is deeply embedded in public memory. Given the history of legislatively-driven sanctions and cut-offs in economic assistance and military sales, Pakistanis interpret laws that set unwarranted conditions as an echo of this unhappy past.


The crux of objections to the law turns on its intrusive and expansive benchmarking: linking security assistance to a plethora of conditions and obliging the US administration to monitor 15 different areas. Some official spokesmen argued that as these conditions don't apply to economic assistance, thus criticism is unjustified. This sets up a false dichotomy: conditioning any component of assistance means conditioning relations with the country.


The objections on substance involve the following:

The law mandates the US administration to monitor or secure cooperation from Pakistan in areas ranging from counter-proliferation (which, unlike non-proliferation, implies the employment of force), specified areas of counter-terrorism, and the way military budgets and promotions are made.


The Act sets up permanent benchmarks that will condition not just security assistance but also define the relationship in its other dimensions as well. In fact, this 'template' provides a framework within which bilateral relations could henceforth be conducted.


The conditions reinforce the perception that the US views its assistance to Pakistan as an instrument to determine aspects of its internal and external policies.


The conditions will hang like a sword of Damocles over relations much like the Pressler law did.


Under the shadow of these conditions, every action taken by Pakistan against militancy will be perceived in the country as dictated by Washington.


Similarly, the gratuitous language in parts of the law is exceptionable. The most telling comment on this has come from David Ignatius who wrote in the Washington Post that the final bill "had the tone of a diktat" reflecting "a special form of American hubris" and which became "a self-inflicted wound" for Washington. A Wall Street Journal editorial called the bill's conditions an unwarranted "thumb in the eye of Pakistani national pride".


The Obama administration would do well to reverse the damage by showing respect and encouraging the US Congress to also respect the sentiments of the Pakistani people and country's red lines of its sovereignty. On the Pakistani side, there is much that this affair has revealed about government dysfunction as well as its leadership's non-institutional conduct of the affairs of State and foreign policy, which have become a hallmark of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) administration.


Institutional dysfunction, the intensely personalised conduct of foreign policy, bypassing institutions and not taking parliamentary allies into confidence, all contributed to Islamabad's flawed engagement with the process leading up to the Kerry-Lugar Bill being adopted. Had this not been the case, the outcome may well have been different.


Maleeha Lodhi was Pakistan's Ambassador to the US and Britain and former editor of The News, Islamabad

The views expressed by the author are personal








The Reserve Bank of India, the country's paramount monetary authority, is to conduct its regular review of monetary and credit policy on Tuesday. On the face of it, there are several different actions which RBI governor Subbarao could announce. The policy rates could be raised sharply, or gently. There could be no change announced immediately, but the governor could indicate to observers, through his grave manner as he discusses inflationary pressure, that there might well be one before the end of the year. Or there might be no change. Or, of course, technically, monetary easing might be pushed forward, and the rates cut further.


But this apparent plethora of options in fact conceals a binary choice. Does the Reserve Bank believe that inflation is the concern that currently should be paramount? Or does it believe that the recovery of India's growth path is the most pressing problem? And within that is a subsidiary question, equally relevant: which of those two things does the RBI actually think it has a shot at controlling? The truth is that, for all the concern that is justifiably being voiced over inflation, the source of that is food price inflation. Under no reasonable permutation of economic forces does a change in policy rates transfer with any efficiency into lower food prices, and thus affect the component of inflation that is causing political concern. Our vegetables, our meat and our cereals are more expensive for reasons that are mostly supply-specific. Short of a massive, counter-productive demand effect from a monetary contraction, food price inflation will not ease.


We are left, therefore, with signals, not reality. Does the RBI wish to signal that inflation is more important than recovery? That is where the battle must be fought; and, if recent data is properly examined, the argument for sustaining loose money makes itself. Reports of recovery are greatly exaggerated. Industral data might have appeared optimistic, but the cheeriness vanishes if basic statistical procedures, such as seasonally adjustment, are performed. Policy rates below 5 per cent continue to translate into actual rates for "prime lenders" that are more than six per cent higher. Those are shocking numbers for a developing country looking to mobilise capital. Simply put, they must fall. The RBI must realise that to return India to a higher growth path, it must stay the course.







Reports that several surrendered Maoists in Andhra Pradesh are being hounded by their former comrades, and are going underground in fear, brings to mind the guru of counter-insurgency, Sir Robert Thompson. He famously argued that the Vietnam war would be won "by brains and on foot", not by air bombardment. In his classic study Defeating Communist Insurgency: Experiences in Malaya and Vietnam, he refers to facilitating the surrender of insurgent leaders to change the nature of the fight. In AP, that surrender effort is being jeopardised by the killing of a former Dalam commander, attempts on other Naxals, and fear amongst the retirees.


The reason why former comrades in Andhra Pradesh seem to be on the Maoist hit list is telling. Intelligence sources argue that with the expected government measures, Maoist leaders may want to retreat from states where they have roamed to Andhra Pradesh (where successful action has all but driven them out). They are worried that former members may reveal their hideouts — hence this preventative silence. This is precisely why the government must go all-out to protect them. Andhra Pradesh has been a rare success story in the fight against Naxals; that story must not be allowed to turn. Protecting surrendered Naxals is good strategy in other ways. Boots on the ground must be accompanied by a political strategy and a propaganda war. In this war of ideas, keeping the surrendered comfortable encourages serving Naxalites to defect, depleting the CPI (Maoists) in a way firepower alone cannot. Surrendered Naxals also provide the intelligence inputs and the symbolism to wrest the initiative. Besides, there is the moral question: insurgents surrender on the sovereign guarantee of protection; the state will be breaking its promise if it fails in this.


Robert Thompson was ignored by American commanders in Vietnam. The results were prophetic. More recently, it took the Thompson-inspired Petraeus counter-insurgency manual to turn around Iraq. As the government gears up to a coordinated strategy against the Naxals, Thompson's Defeating Communist Insurgency might be worth reading.






With the apparent extension of support of seven independents to the Congress party, Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda should now have no difficulty proving his majority in the new state assembly. The Congress had been widely expected to sweep the assembly elections, and it is perhaps an indication of its surprise at the final result that party leaders are involved in hectic consultations with the Bhajan Lal-led Haryana Janhit Congress to convince them to return to the mother party. A merger would give the Congress a guarantee of political stability in Haryana, and avert the possibility of supporting MLAs increasing their demands every now and then. But the current endeavour is interesting from an all-India perspective, as it puts the focus of the Congress's desire to re-integrate factions that broke away at different points.


Many Congress leaders, for instance, had suggested before the Maharashtra elections that the party replicate its experiment in Uttar Pradesh and go it alone in the state, and that the Nationalist Congress Party merge with the GOP. It did not quite happen that way, but the Congress inclination to reverse the fragmentation of the past two decades will remain an interesting political story to track. Indeed, not long after the general elections this summer, Ram Vilas Paswan, who had failed to be returned to the new Lok Sabha, confirmed overtures from the Congress, indicating that the Congress was looking to revive its old social coalition in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh by reaching out to parties once bred on strong anti-Congressism.


At one level, this indicates a confidence in negotiating with — and importantly in accommodating — old adversaries. This indication of a project to expand the party's political reach by absorbing smaller parties also adds traction to the Congress's inclination to go it alone in as many states as possible.








WEST BENGAL'S latest contribution to Left-wing political praxis — a mainstream Left government agreeing to get blackmailed by an extreme Left violent movement — has rightly raised questions about governability. Needless to add here that it is unlikely Maoist leaders are quaking in their sandals after Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's rediscovery of the state's basic duties.


But we have to look beyond Bhattacharjee. He is the man in charge at a time Bengal's prime political experiment is going horribly wrong. A large section of Bengal's political/ intellectual/ cultural elite gloried in the exceptionalism that the experiment was supposed to have engendered. Bengal was different. Yes it was. But just how difficultly different, from the point of view of sane political economy, is becoming apparent only now. This, as it were, is the proper historical materialist context in which to understand the surrender of people who put up Stalin's photograph to people who put up Mao's.


The political experiment was that the CPM in Bengal could construct a viable progressive model that would both take away the attractions of radical violent communism and be an exception to mainstream Indian politics.


The CPM tried to answer radical, violent communists, whose original leadership was in the CPM, through land reform. It sought to create a progressive exception to mainstream Indian politics by creating a political base on the back of labour intensive/ small plot cultivation and funneling the political support through the reinvigorated panchayat system. Both parts of the experiment appeared to be politically successful initially. But both suffered from a fatal political flaw: the assumption that cold-blooded hypocrisy will never be called to account. What is the big deal about hypocrisy in politics, it is legitimate to ask. The big deal is the CPM's kind of hypocrisy. Here's what makes it special.


The hypocrisy was that the CPM in Bengal never, ever extended its grand thesis of empowerment of the exploited beyond reallocating land and encouraging labour-intensive cultivation; the limitations of the second process as a transformative agent are well-known and the inevitable happened in Bengal's case as well.


We are inured to the fact that Bengal's social indicators are terrible. But let us ask why this should be the case when a state is ruled for more than 30 years by a party that swore by the aam aadmi long before the Congress discovered him. The CPM's blatant hypocrisy about its progressive agenda showed up brutally clearly in its lack of interest in building social infrastructure. Bengal should have been bursting at the seams with reasonable quality social infrastructure. It is not because the CPM in the state did not actually give a toss about real empowerment. Travels through Bengal's villages produce a kind of despair that you will never feel while driving through many other states that have always been host to very unprogressive politics.


Much mindspace is occupied by the CPM's late and horrendously unsuccessful attempts to give private industrial capital a more prominent space in the state. But think about the problem in a different way: When the CPM realised the economic limitations of the small plot-based agricultural model, it turned to industrial capital, it did not simultaneously attempt a late rectification of the inadequate social infrastructure problem. Of course, bringing in big industrial capital was a good idea; it's always a good idea. But the significant thing in this context is that it was the CPM's only idea. CPM still didn't think it was worth its while to invest political energy behind not just industry but also better primary education, better schools, tolerable rural roads.


When Bhattacharjee went big on private industry was therefore also when the CPM's special hypocrisy about its progressive agenda became absolutely clear.


That hypocrisy is now under political interrogation in the state and Bhattacharjee can do nothing at this stage to convince Bengal that the CPM is capable of changing. That's why the Maoists' violence in Bengal is much more potent than in other states. In Bengal, hte Maoists have the advantage of taking on a political party that has bluffed its way through for more than 30 years in the name of helping the poor and the exploited. The CPM in Bengal now lacks credibility in a specially horrific way that doesn't apply to established political parties in other Maoist-affected states. Bengal's government looks hapless, ineffectual in the face of Maoists fundamentally because politically the CPM is hollowed out.


It is funny, in this context, that the multinational intellectuals' letter to Manmohan Singh on the Maoists should make such a to-do about neoliberal economic policies. The Maoists' biggest tactical advantage is not the imagined depredation caused by market-friendly economic policies. It is in Bengal, where progressive policies have caused real deepening of deprivation.


More thoughtful interventions than that intellectuals' letter in the debate about the Maoists make the point that state failure to provide social infrastructure cannot be written out of the solution to the problem. This of course requires the caveat that Maoist leaders are not going to stop murdering


constables and poor villagers once schools and primary clinics are more plentiful and better equipped. The Maoist leadership is in violent, unlawful, murderous confrontation with the state and the state must respond accordingly. But better social infrastructure will certainly make the Maoists' job more difficult in terms of building a barefoot army.


The same rule applies to Bengal. Except that people who do not have access to halfway decent social infrastructure in Bengal have been fed a tall story for decades about their very own government looking out for them. There's nothing more the CPM can say that will make any real difference.


Bhattacharjee may not directly barter with the Maoists again any time soon. But his not giving anything to the Maoists matters much less than the CPM not having anything left to give to Bengal.








Why did the Congress-NCP win Maharashtra? If you say "Raj Thackeray," you have a point. After all his Maharashtra Navnirman Sena won in 13 Assembly constituencies that would have otherwise returned Shiv Sainiks. Raj also played spoiler elsewhere — in a full 40-45 constituencies, bellowed the bellicose BJP spokesperson. If these (possibly inflated) claims are to believed, a Raj-less scorecard for Maharashtra's 288-seater assembly would have been: BJP/Sena 136, Cong/NCP 112.


But think about it: after 10 years of universally agreed-upon poor governance by the Congress-NCP, is this all the state opposition can rustle up? Why does Maharashtra's opposition, even when, hypothetically, Raj-less, still fall short of a majority, with just a few more MLAs than the Congress combine? Any answer also answers another question: why has the Congress ideology, official plus rebel, only lost power once in Maharashtra, in 1995 to the Shiv Sena-BJP? (The others were Congress rebels: realignments within Congress, not an ideological break.) Why has the opposition to the Congress in Maharashtra always been so weak?


For an answer, consider the parties that have successfully opposed the Congress in other states: backward-caste or OBC parties (the RJD in Bihar, SP in UP), the Communists (Bengal, Kerala), parties that appeal to regional pride (DMK in Tamil Nadu, or Telugu Desam in AP), and of course the BJP. Where are their analogues in Maharashtra?


An OBC party in Maharashtra is handicapped by numbers; studies suggest that OBCs form 14.5 of rural Maharashtra. That's tiny compared to 37 per cent in Bihar and 55 per cent in Tamil Nadu. The largest caste formation in Maharashtra, the Maratha-Kumbis, consists of sub-castes that historians (and the sub-castes themselves) claim are analogous to OBCs. And they now dominate state politics without having to form their own party: of 2430 state legislators from 1962 to 2004, 55 per cent were Marathas.


Dalit politics in the land of Ambedkar is hampered by a relatively low population base (Maharashtra has 10.2 per cent Dalits; Mayawati's UP twice as many). This narrow base has to support multiple Republican Party of India factions whose personality-centric differences come in the way of any Dalit consolidation. The comrades have been even less of a factor in Maharashtra, despite the state's rich legacy of Communist leadership (including S.A. Dange and B.T. Ranadive). The once-vibrant trade unions in central Mumbai were killed by collapsing mills and marauding Sainiks. Today, even the few red pocket boroughs in Maharashtra are under siege. In this Assembly election, the Communists lost bastion Nashik, and returned only one candidate.


So to the Shiv Sena, a regional party if there ever was one, and one that has bettered the Congress before. It won power once, in 1995, as a BJP wave swept other parts of India. But this has proved the exception. As a rule, the Thackerays' urban (not to be confused with "urbane") preoccupations resonate with only a particular kind of Mumbaikar. Trapped as their politics is in the grievance and melancholy of a specific geography, they have never really inspired the rest of Maharashtra. No matter how hard the Sena tries, the agrarian travails in Vidarbha or caste assertions in the hinterland (the Shiv Sena was perhaps the only political party to oppose Mandal I) never really animates it as much as going after tambis, bhaiyyas, Bangladeshis and other "outsiders" to Mumbai does. This is the Sena conundrum: its Mumbai-blinkers never permit it to dominate the rest of Maharashtra (if it wins some votes), and in Mumbai it is undercut by its distilled image, the MNS.


This is the real reason why the opposition has failed in Maharashtra: the failure to have a non-Congress vision that talks to both Girangaon as well as Gadchiroli. The only alternative vision is so Mumbai-centric that it can never really challenge the Congress-NCP outside Mumbai (more so after the Sena's Konkan man Narayan Rane jumped ship).


That leaves the BJP, which has in Maharashtra allowed itself to be less visible than a more local shade of saffron. That could change. For the first time ever, it has won more Assembly seats than the Sena, despite contesting fewer seats. It is not the junior partner any more, and can legitimately stake claim to the Leader of the Opposition's chair. Will it use this to break away from the Sena's Mumbai-myopia and fashion a pan-Maharashtra alternative to the Congress?


The problem of course is that Raj Thackeray's success might force the Sena to reclaim the extremist space it has ceded to him, a problem that political scientist Suhas Palshikar identified way back in 1995 as the Sena being "a prisoner of its own past". If the Sena follows Raj, and the BJP follows the Sena, Maharashtra will continue to lack a non-Congress vision for the whole state — one that has a shot at power, one that keeps the government on its toes. No matter what your politics, that will be a genuine loss.








STANDING recently in the foyer of Melbourne's Supreme Court, I mettheuncleofLiepGony.LiepwasmurderedinSeptember2007by twowhitemen,whohadgoneseeking"aniggertotaketheirangerout on". They had beaten Liep to death with a metal pole they had taken with them. While we dare to admit it, Liep Gony's murder is a racebased murder, and it happened in Melbourne, Australia. At the time of Liep's murder The Australian newspaper asserted it was gang related. The then immigration minister Kevin Andrews asserted Liep's murder was linked to a failure of Sudanese people to integrate. Such statements only served to deny the reality... IwasnotpreparedforwhatLiep'suncletoldme.Whileacknowledgingmy sentiments and support, he stated he was deeply hurt. The hurt centred on the cold and indifferent nature of the defence counsel. Liep's uncle said that he could not understand why he referred to the perpetrators by name, but Liep as the "Sudanese boy". Liep is a person. Liep has a name.


....I had spent close to a year lobbying for change in legislation dealing with hate crime, a change that was then before the Victorian Parliament in the form of the Sentencing Amendment Bill 2009, to require that a court must have regard to a motivation of hatred or prejudice against a group of people in sentencing a offender ... It is aboutprovidinggreaterprotectiontoallofus,ofourrighttolive and enjoy a pluralistic and diverse community... The next, and perhaps most important step, requires a cultural change in the ranks of Victoria Police.


From a comment by Menachem Vorchheimer in the `Sydney Morning Herald'








The coyness with which Indian politicians desist from publicly describing Naxalites as terrorists is telling. But ask them privately, as I have of many, and a surprisingly large number of them have no compunction in saying that "encounters are the only way to deal with them." These anonymous endorsements for dispensing summary justice by way of staged "encounters" — where police and paramilitary forces are encouraged to gun down suspects in cold blood — also speak volumes about political correctness in the largest democracy on earth.


India has long been called a "soft state" when it comes to taking hard headed decisions in the national interest — that is, taking those decisions in time, well before years of festering brings the country to the brink of calamity. After years of the central government pretending that Naxalism was a state level problem, we are now at that brink nationally. In large swathes of the country today, the writ of the state has been replaced by that of the Naxals, who collect taxes, hold trials, issue punishment (including executions), recruit and operate a standing army, and are deeply dedicated to overthrowing the six-decade old Republic of India.


It is, of course, the failure of the republic to improve the lives of hundreds of millions of Indians that created the conditions for Naxalism to grow in the first place. This original sin has underpinned the guilt-ridden response of many liberals. Naxalism is not a law and order problem, goes the argument; it is a socio-economic one. The reality, of course, is that it is both. The tragedy is that the debate on how to deal with Naxalism invariably treats the problem as one or the other — that is, either a law and order problem, to be dealt with harshly, or a socio-economic problem, to be tackled with dialogue and development — when what is probably required is to do both.


The origins of Naxalism might lie in socio-economic injustices, but the movement has long since gone past the stage of fighting for social justice and development. In fact, and this is what the liberal viewpoint often misses out, the Naxalites today actively oppose any form of developmental activity, be it the construction of roads, schools, hospitals, anything whatsoever, with the cold-blooded aim of securing their turf. Their sole objective today is to ruthlessly keep hammering away at the organs of the state until the state is no more. The movement is explicitly committed to dismantling the republic, doing away with elections, closing down the media, and, by way of its sympathy for regional breakaway groups, chopping up the country.


So are they terrorists or not? The only stretch by which it could be argued that they don't meet all the characteristics of terrorists — as opposed to militants or freedom fighters of some kind — is that they do not officially target innocent civilians. But ask those who understand the problem best, those who have studied the Naxals' credo and have actually risked their lives in the frontlines, and they will tell you that there is no doubt at all.


Does that mean that dialogue with them should be out of the question, military-style action the only option? Not exactly. National policy must first distinguish that all Naxals are not equal. Many of the Naxal elite are college and university educated, they form the core of the CPI (Maoist) party, are its ideologues, and aspire to "come to power" some day. They must be tackled differently from the grunts, the disaffected tribals and other disenfranchised Indians who are the indoctrinated foot soldiers.


The central government has finally put together a grand plan, which will hugely increase boots on the ground to fight fire with fire. Those of us from Naxal-affected states had for years been wondering when Delhi was going to wake up and smell the coffee. Delhi seems to have not only smelled the coffee, but ingested a large dose of testosterone as well. But while hitting back with firepower is a necessary evil — necessary because the policy needs to have both carrot and stick — it will sadly not be enough.


The Naxals have been preparing for this day for years. They believe they have the upper hand in guerrilla type hit-and-run jungle warfare against the paramilitary forces being massed against them. They will also not hesitate to use as cannon fodder their cadre of foot soldiers. While the resolve of the Government of India will surely be tested, that of the Naxalites will not be, until and unless their core leadership, their ideologues, are engaged.


It is here that dialogue, track two discussions, could help. As in other militant movements — in the North East for instance — resolute military action combined with astute discussions could help to bring them into the mainstream. But there are those who maintain that dialogue is not the only complement to massive armed action. A retired civil servant with experience of such matters recently told me that "talks are a waste of time, but a hundred or more top (Naxal) leaders need to be wiped out by targeted action, just the way it was done in Punjab before the terrorism there could be solved, and exactly how progress has been made in Andhra Pradesh."


There is hidden irony in the underlying similarity of these vastly different approaches — talks vs. encounters — in that both doves and hawks are unwittingly saying the same thing: the massive armed action being readied now will run into expendable, and renewable, low-level Naxalites; what is also needed is a plan to tackle their leaders.


The writer is a BJD MP from Kendrapara, Orissa







The heavy clay-laced mud behind the cattle pen on Antoine Renault's farm looks as treacherous as it must have been nearly 600 years ago, when King Henry V rode from a spot near here to lead a sodden and exhausted English Army against a French force that was said to outnumber his by as much as five to one. No one can ever take away the shocking victory by Henry and his "band of brothers," as Shakespeare would famously call them, on October 25, 1415. They devastated a force of heavily armoured French nobles who had gotten bogged down in the region's sucking mud, riddled by thousands of arrows from English longbowmen and outmaneuvered by common soldiers with much lighter gear. It would become known as the Battle of Agincourt.


But Agincourt's status as perhaps the greatest victory against overwhelming odds in military history — and a keystone of the English self-image — has been called into doubt by a group of historians in Britain and France who have painstakingly combed an array of military and tax records from that time and now take a skeptical view of the figures handed down by medieval chroniclers.


The historians have concluded that the English could not have been outnumbered by more than about two to one. And depending on how the math is carried out, Henry may well have faced something closer to an even fight, said Anne Curry, a professor at the University of Southampton who is leading the study. Those cold figures threaten an image of the battle that even professional researchers and academics have been reluctant to challenge in the face of Shakespearean verse and centuries of English pride, Ms Curry said. "It's just a myth, but it's a myth that's part of the British psyche," Ms Curry said.


The work is the most striking of the revisionist accounts to emerge from a new science of military history. The new accounts tend to be not only more quantitative but also more attuned to political, cultural and technological factors, and focus more on the experience of the common soldier than on grand strategies and heroic deeds.


The most influential example is the Counterinsurgency Field Manual adopted in 2006 by the United States Army and Marines and smack in the middle of the debate over whether to increase troop levels in Afghanistan. Gen. David H. Petraeus, who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as the head of the United States Central Command, drew on dozens of academic historians and other experts to create the manual. And he named Conrad Crane, director of the United States Army Military History Institute at the Army War College, as the lead writer. Drawing on dozens of historical conflicts, the manual's prime conclusion is the assertion that insurgencies cannot be defeated without protecting and winning over the general population, regardless of how effective direct strikes on enemy fighters may be.


An extraordinary online database listing around a quarter-million names of men who served in the Hundred Years' War, compiled by Ms Curry and her collaborators at the universities in Southampton and Reading, shows that whatever the numbers, Henry's army really was a band of brothers: many of the soldiers were veterans who had served on multiple campaigns together. That trust must have come in handy after Henry, through a series of brilliant tactical moves, provoked the French cavalry — mounted men-at-arms — into charging the masses of longbowmen positioned on the English flanks in a relatively narrow field between two sets of woods that still exist not far from Mr. Renault's farm in Maisoncelle. The series of events that followed as the French men-at-arms slogged through the muddy, tilled fields behind the cavalry were quick and murderous.


Volley after volley of English arrow fire maddened the horses, killed many of the riders and forced the advancing men-at-arms into a mass so dense that many of them could not even lift their arms. When the heavily armoured French men-at-arms fell wounded, many could not get up and simply drowned in the mud. And as order on the French lines broke down completely and panic set in, the much nimbler archers ran forward, killing thousands by stabbing them in the neck, eyes, armpits and groin through gaps in the armour, or simply ganged up and bludgeoned the Frenchmen to death. King Henry V had emerged victorious, and as some historians see it, the English crown then mounted a public relations effort to magnify the victory by exaggerating the disparity in numbers. Whatever the magnitude of the victory, it would not last. The French populace gradually soured on the English occupation as the fighting continued in the decades after Henry's death in 1422, Mr. Schnerb said. Unwilling to blame a failed counter-insurgency strategy, Shakespeare pinned the loss on poor Henry VI: "Whose state so many had the managing, That they lost France and made his England bleed."








The West Bengal government's decision to 'not oppose' bail of arrested Maoist suspects, in return for a hostage being released, has been widely criticised. What should our strategy be in such situations?


Abduction and demanding ransom has been quite common in the strategy of Left extremist terrorists. In May 1991, as


Inspector General of Police, Anti-Terrorist Operations,(Maharashtra), I supervised police operations when a minister of the state government was kidnapped by a 'dalam' of the Peoples War Group in Gadchiroli. The demands included the release of arrested cadres, suspension of police operations, withdrawal of armed police personnel, and the release of a deputy dalam commander facing trial. Backed by the then chief minister, we secured the release of the hostage after two weeks without conceding any demand.


In December the same year, when a Naxalite dalam in Bhandara district kidnapped two engineers of the Atomic Energy Commission from their camp located in the jungle, with full support from the state government, we secured their release through operations without conceding any demand. Relentless pressure on the dalam with active support from the villagers resulted in their being freed after a week. My team and I remain deeply impressed by the strength and stoicism shown by the family members and colleagues of the hostages.


Andhra Pradesh has seen many kidnappings over the years. There, as elsewhere, the demands have almost always been for release of arrested cadres and withdrawal of police. The AP Police have done excellent work for nearly four decades containing the armed revolution of the Peoples War Group. While developing responses to abduction and ransom demands, the sacrifice of the police personnel of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and other affected states, cannot be ignored. How a situation is handled sends a message and certainly has a big impact on morale.


In the last three decades, kidnapping and ransom scenarios have been many. Years ago when the daughter of a minister in the Jammu & Kashmir government was abducted, it was widely alleged that all concerned capitulated without a semblance of resistance. During the abduction of popular film star Rajkumar by the brigand Veerappan, the victims' fans and sections of the public in Bangalore did not cover themselves with glory when they thoughtlessly put pressure on the Karnataka government to get their hero released at any cost. The release of terrorists in exchange for the passengers of the hijacked Indian Airlines plane to Kandahar has been widely criticised as a show of weakness.


The exercise of the 'soft option' has detractors worldwide. It is contended that by conceding these demands in exhange for hostage lives, criminals will be emboldened to adopt kidnapping for ransom as routine strategy. They advocate the approach described as "no ransom policy". It is said to have been accepted in the USA, though there is doubt whether it has been consistently applied. Israel has been adopting this policy strictly. In fact its security forces do not hold negotiations at all with kidnappers. In a circular written more than twenty years ago, the Commissioner of Police, London instructed that "no ransom" would be the standard policy and has advocated dialogue simultaneously with police operations, but that not a single demand forming part of the main ransom would be conceded. This letter had been circulated to all the states in India by the Bureau of Police Research and Development.


In a democracy like ours, adopting the "no ransom" approach is not easy. There will be enormous pressure on the officials and the political leadership. The responsibility on those who have to take decisions will be stupendous. It is, therefore, essential to evolve a national consensus on the "no ransom" approach through discussion across the length and breadth of the country. Concurrence of all political parties will have to be secured. There has to be agreement among all the states and between the Centre and the states culminating in a protocol on "no ransom" laying down steps and strategies for handling a crisis involving hostages and the demand for ransom.


Ours is the most terrorist affected country in the world. Left extremist terrorists are committed, organised and ruthless and therefore the most dangerous. If we are to stop them we, the people of this country, have to be tough and be prepared for sacrifices. We will be demonstrating our toughness and determination if we in one voice tell our governments that they should adopt the "no ransom" policy and that we are behind them.


The writer was former Director General of Police, Maharashtra







Dick Cheney has accused Barack Obama of "dithering" over Afghanistan. I suppose if the president were to quickly invade a country on the basis of half-baked intelligence, that would demonstrate his courage and decisiveness to Mr Cheney. In fact, it's not a bad idea for Obama to take his time, examine all the options, and watch how the post-election landscape in Afghanistan evolves.


The real question we should be asking in Afghanistan is not "Do we need a surge?" but rather "Do we need a third surge?" The number of US forces in Afghanistan in January 2008 was 26,607. Over the next six months, the Bush administration raised the total to 48,250. President Bush described this policy as "the quiet surge," and he made the standard arguments about the need for a counterinsurgency capacity — the troops had to not only fight the Taliban but protect the Afghan population, strengthen and train the Afghan Army and police, and assist in development. In January 2009, another 3,000 troops, originally ordered by President Bush, went to Afghanistan in the first days of the Obama presidency. In February, responding to a request from the commander in the field, Obama ordered an additional 17,000 troops into the country. In other words, over the past 18 months, troop levels in Afghanistan have almost tripled. An additional 40,000 troops sent in the next few months would mean an almost 400 per cent increase in US troops since 2008. (The total surge in Iraq, incidentally, was just over 20,000 troops.) It is not dithering to try to figure out why previous increases have not worked and why we think additional ones would.


In fact, focusing on the number of additional troops needed "misses the point entirely," says a senior military officer who has studied Afghanistan up close. "The key takeaway" from his assessment "is the urgent need for a significant change to our strategy and the way we think and operate." That officer is Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and that assessment is his now famous 66-page memo to the secretary of defense. The quotes are from the third paragraph. These changes in strategy have just begun.


To understand how US troops had been fighting in Afghanistan, consider the Battle of Wanat. On July 13, 2008, a large number of Taliban fighters surrounded an American base in the village of Wanat in the southeastern corner of Afghanistan. After a few hours of fierce fighting, nine American soldiers lay dead, the largest number killed in a single engagement in years. The strategic question surely is, "Why were we in Wanat in the first place?" Tom Ricks, the superb defense expert, points out that the area around Wanat is a mountainous region with few people, many of them hostile to outsiders. So, he asks, "Why are we putting our fist in a hornet's nest?"


In fact, General McChrystal has since pulled US forces out of Wanat. Washington Post reporter Greg Jaffe, reporting on the town a year later, concluded recently that "ceding territory to the Taliban is more effective than maintaining small, vulnerable bases in forbidding terrain. In the past several weeks, US commanders, based about six miles outside the village, have detected growing friction between Wanat residents and the Taliban commanders responsible for last year's attack." In other words, let the Taliban try to set up bases in these remote areas with prickly locals. NATO forces can then periodically disrupt the Taliban rather than the other way around.


Advocates of a troop increase act as if counter-insurgency is applied physics. General McChrystal's team, having done the mathematical calculations, has apparently arrived at the exact answer. There is no room for middle courses. It's 40,000 troops or no counter-insurgency. This is absurd, as is best demonstrated by the fact that senior military officers had assured me at various points over the past year that with the latest increase in troops (first to 42,000, then 68,000), they finally had enough forces to do counter-insurgency.







Legal reforms in India have long been held up at the desks of status quoist law ministers. Fortunately, M Veerappa Moily seems determined enough to break that mould, at least if the vision document that his ministry prepared and presented to the Chief Justice of India is an indicator. The minister seems to have got his focus areas absolutely right. Perhaps the most important of these is reducing the time taken to settle cases. To this end, the law minister has proposed increasing the number of judges at all levels of the judiciary. He hopes to bring down the pendency of cases from 15 years to three years. If necessary, he has proposed that judges work in shifts, possibly three a day, to speed up the process of justice. He has also taken the creative step of suggesting that law students, fresh law graduates and retired judges be utilised as much as possible to speed up the work of the judiciary. Apart from the broad thrust on speeding up judicial processes, the minister has also focused his reformist drive on the biggest litigant in India—the government—and the role it plays in slowing down processes. Government officials, both at the Central and state levels, must stop using courts to make the decisions that they ought to themselves. If the government withdraws a lot of its litigation, the pressure on courts will be eased considerably. But judicial reform is about a lot more than just speeding up processes. It is also about increasing accountability, particularly of judges. The proposal to videograph court proceedings is an excellent idea. A new Bill, which will ensure judges' accountability, will likely be introduced in the winter session of Parliament. Interestingly, all the sweeping changes proposed in the vision document have the agreement of major stakeholders, including judges. That should ensure least resistance.


The law minister also has some interesting ideas on improving India's image as a difficult destination for doing business. His proposals, which he discussed at an Idea Exchange with The Express Group, include setting up commercial courts in each high court that will deal with commercial cases worth more than Rs 2 crore on a fast-track basis. This will not only encourage foreign investors, but also help quickly resolve domestic disputes like those between the Ambani brothers. The one area, though, where the law minister needs to make a more radical change than he is proposing is the Bar Council of India. The BCI is meant to regulate the entire legal industry (and legal education) but ends up acting as an interest group more than a regulator—hence, the resistance to foreign law firms, for example. It's time that the government proposed an independent regulator for the legal sector that will operate at an arms length from both the government and the legal fraternity.






The hurdles faced by China's Longian Road & Bridge Ltd company in securing employment visas for its Chinese workers has led to a suspension of work on two important road projects in Himachal Pradesh. The company had earlier successfully bid for the World Bank-aided project in an open process. The company, which had started work on the 45-km-long Mehatpur-Una-Jahalera-Amd road in May and the 81-km-long Theog-Kotkhai-Rohru road in June last year, had submitted winning bids that were 16-32% lower than competitor Indian firms. The firm had brought Chinese workers on legitimate business visas for short-term project-related work, but the government now insists that they must return and apply for employment visas. This will simply delay the project—the government could have instead converted the visas of the concerned workers immediately. Now, the apple growers of Himachal stand to suffer as these roads were critical to their plans to transport produce from the farm to the market in the most efficient and most timely (apple is perishable) manner as possible. Our protectionism on Chinese labour is perversely hurting our local apple farmers. And that really is the lesson that the government must learn—protectionism may bring short-term political gains, but it will lead to a loss of economic welfare for the country as a whole. The government often tries to use the 'security concerns' shield to justify protectionism against China in particular. In the case of building roads, this argument has no basis at all.


The government's decision to restrict Chinese labour will have a negative impact beyond just this one case. Consider the fact that we do not have enough road-building companies domestically that can build all the roads, which our energetic roads minister wants to complete in record time. By imposing unnecessary conditions on foreign firms, there will be even fewer bidders for important road projects in India, hardly a desirable situation given the urgency of expanding and upgrading our road network. Also, if local firms are less efficient than their foreign counterparts, particularly from China, shutting out foreign firms and workers will simply mean that we will witness more time delays and cost overruns in the completion of projects. Competition, on the other hand, will be a force for good for Indian firms, too. At the level of national policy, India, which has hugely benefited from the large number of its skilled and unskilled emigrant workers, should by default take a more liberal approach to foreign workers. We can't preach liberalism to others while being protectionist ourselves.







We are close to reaching that point in the business cycle when the impossible trinity of macroeconomics is going to trouble a number of central banks, particularly RBI. Very simply, the impossible trinity means that a central bank cannot allow free capital inflows, keep a fixed exchange rate and run an independent monetary policy, all at the same time. It can, at best manage two, but must sacrifice the third. However, governor Subbarao, in a speech two months ago, reaffirmed RBI's commitment to managing the impossible trinity as best as possible.


Here's the complicated scenario that's building up for RBI on the eve of its credit policy statement. After the glut of the crisis, there has been a massive return of foreign capital inflows, primarily into the stock markets, which is putting upward pressure on the rupee. Not unrelated to the inflow of capital into India and other emerging economies, is the decline of the dollar, which is directly linked to investors increasingly opting to move out of the safety of the dollar now that the crisis has ebbed.


Of course, the decline of the dollar is commonly viewed as good for the global economy, and it indeed is. It should help address the imbalance between massive US deficits and huge surpluses in China, Japan and Germany, an imbalance that many view as the core of the financial crisis that unravelled last year. Going into the future, the US clearly needs to consume less and export more, and China, Japan and Germany need to consume more internally. A decline in the dollar vis-à-vis the yuan, yen and euro is the smoothest way to correct this imbalance. The only hitch is whether China, which has manipulated to undervalue its currency for years, is willing to revalue the yuan. If it continues to track and undervalue the declining dollar, much of the adjustment will not happen. Worse, it will force countries like India to bear the cost of an adjustment of the US economy, a cost which we in India may find expensive to bear.


India is not a surplus economy like China, Japan and Germany. And yet, over recent years, our dependence on exports as an engine of economic growth has only grown. The exports of goods & services together account for some 21% of GDP, which means that any squeeze here, will affect the probability of hitting 9% growth adversely. And it's not just growth—a lot of employment forms part of the Indian export equation, too. An appreciation of the currency beyond what is viewed as reasonable (say the Rs 42-45 range) may therefore be devastating for exports and economic growth. It may be politically impossible for RBI to justify letting the currency grow stronger than that even if that's what the free market would require it to do.


There will be another complication for RBI and that's the timing of its interest rate hike—what is now referred to as the exit strategy . If RBI proceeds to hike interest rates ahead of the US, this will attract another deluge of foreign capital, which will further increase the pressure for appreciation. And from all accounts, it seems clear that RBI is in a more hawkish mood than the US fed is—the latter seems committed to maintaining looseness in monetary policy for a while yet.


So, how will RBI manage its desire to hike interest rates ahead of the US, with maintaining a fair-value exchange rate and allowing capital inflows to enter? The simple answer is that it can't—the impossible trinity.


Two case studies from elsewhere in the world are instructive. Take the case of Australia first whose reserve bank was the first G-20 central bank to push the exit button by hiking policy rates. However, the governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia went on record saying that an appreciation of the Australian dollar was not his concern, and indeed not a concern for the country. Should Subbarao hike rates today or indeed anytime over the next few months before the US fed does, will he be brave enough to say the same?


Now consider the case of Brazil. Like India, Brazil has faced a massive inflow of foreign capital into its stock markets as recovery has taken hold and investors have exited US treasuries. This put enormous upward pressure on the Brazilian Real, something which would have hit Brazil's exports. The central bank could have cut interest rates to prevent an appreciation, but that is not in line with its autonomous monetary policy stance. Instead, it chose to curb capital inflows by imposing a 2% tax on the purchase of equity and bonds by foreigners. Almost immediately, there was some (but not massive) outflow of capital and the Real depreciated. In essence, the central bank chose to manage the exchange rate and keep autonomous monetary policy and sacrificed free capital flows. Will D Subbarao (or the government) be brave enough to impose a Tobin tax (a nuclear, last resort option really) on inflows so that he can hike interest rates and manage exchange rates?


One doesn't envy governor Subbarao's position. But if bravado is his only way out of a difficult situation, he may want to choose a third option. Consider an interest rate cut now—it will boost the economy, prevent appreciation and leave capital flows untouched. And he should shut his mind to irrational fears on inflation. It isn't demand/ credit driven yet and it won't be for many months. Take the right plunge, governor.







The creation of committees and reports is a hallmark of all bureaucracies. The RBI has just brought out for discussion another report on the benchmark prime lending rate to make it more relevant for users. We have had indicative rates for some time now which never really served the purpose but were still used since there was no alternative. The minimum lending rate (MLR) in the early reforms period prior to 1994-95 was probably the closest benchmark.


The basic issue which the RBI has with the BPLR is that there are several loans that are disbursed at a rate which is below the PLR. This makes the rate opaque. These sub-PLR loans are given to the 'super customers' who can actually access the Euro market or raise funds domestically at lower rates as the risk involved is minimal. Hence, while the PLR is supposed to apply to the best customers, there are still customers who are better than the best. This makes the concept of PLR quite irrelevant.


In fact, curiously, the average return on advances for a large number of banks is well below their announced benchmark PLR.


But why do we need a PLR? The idea was to have a reference rate that would add a modicum of transparency once the premium band was also announced. This is why the sub-PLR rate could not be renamed as the PLR as this would mean that the banks could not go beyond the band. The solution would, of course, be to increase the band in case the risk factor was high. However, if the band was say 600 bps, then the structure would become opaque as it would become too high. However, there were still exceptions to the rule in the case of consumer loans or credit cards. The end result was that it has created considerable confusion in the minds of all borrowers.


The Committee has spoken of the announcement of a base rate, BR, which would be calculated based on actual costs and return-on-capital. This should have been the formula for reckoning the PLR to begin with in case the banks were to ensure that every loan covered the cost of the funds that were being deployed. Briefly, the zero risk loans would involve the following considerations: cost of funds, operating costs, return-on-capital, provision for NPAs, opportunity cost of funds, cost of CRR and SLR.


Two issues arise here. The first is whether in banking, banks need to have a fixed rate for all, like we have for a finished good. It could be a good strategy to give loans to certain parties below the base rate and make good the same through higher rates to others as the borrower is superior, or there is a larger banking relation. This also makes sense if a bank is strong on non-fund based fee income where further cross-subsidisation takes place. Besides, the RBI has fixed norms for export finance to the PLR. Therefore, if the PLR is lowered, then there will be a loss on these special loans.


However, the Committee still talks of permitting up to 15% of incremental credit at sub-base rate. The RBI on its part should not add to the ambiguity by allowing such lending because if this was okay, the same could have been allowed with the PLR and a Committee was not needed to deliver the same result. Further, there is no sanctity to the 15% level. Either we allow sub-base or sub-PLRs lending or simply ban the same. By blowing hot and cold on the issue, the RBI is actually not sure of its own stance.


The second issue is broader. Should the RBI be involved with the pricing of loans by banks? In a free system, which is what we purport to be, banks should have the right to price their products and the


RBI should not be advising them on the same. There is, of course, a conflict here between freedom and transparency. However, if we ideologically agree to free pricing then banks should be asked to reveal their lower and upper ranges for various loans without fixing a band so that customers are aware of the same.


Our banking system continues to be heavily regulated by the RBI. Priority sector lending is the most evident manifestation of this regulation. Further, rates are specified for all banks on various kinds of credit such as exports, DRI, education, etc. In a deregulated set up such restrictions are not desirable and banks should have the freedom to charge rates that make commercial sense. By linking such credit to the PLR, the RBI was actually forcing the banks to maintain relatively higher PLRs or BRs. By removing such conditions, the market mechanism would lead to an optimal equilibrium.


The author is chief economist, NCDEX Ltd. These are his personal views








With both the Oberoi group and Max India promoter Analjit Singh confirming that talks for a stake sale in East India Hotels Ltd (EIH) are underway, speculation is now rife about what role Singh will choose for himself if he becomes a majority shareholder. The big question though is whether the Oberois would cede management control of the group which they have held for the past 75 years.


Oberois currently own 43% in the group and plan to sell over 17% to Singh. After that, at 46%, Singh's stake in the group would be more than the Oberois. The company has always tried to avoid outsourcing management of their hotels. Even when the larger industry trend was to strike management contracts with international hospitality chains, the Oberois kept away. In 2004, when PRS Oberoi struck a deal with the Hilton Hotels, it was only for sales and marketing of its properties. Moreover, only its Trident brand was attached with the Hilton tag, while the core Oberoi entity remained intact. The planned 15-year alliance lasted only four years, as the two parted ways last year.


Soon after, Hilton found a partner in DLF which offered them 26% stake along with management of their proposed 75 properties. Not just that, its alliance with Accor ended on a bitter note in 1997. Accor Asia Pacific MD Michael Issenberg later termed the four-year arrangement a bad experience.


There were reported talks of an alliance with Toronto's Four Seasons Hotels, which did not materialise. The tie-up with 'The Leading Hotels of the World' and 'The Leading Small Hotels of the World'—which are select associations of international luxury hotels also did not survive.


Globally, the trend with most international hospitality majors is to go asset light and strike more management and marketing deals, a model which the Oberois seemed to be following for long, but only by resisting other hotel chains from controlling their properties. If Singh's involvement in the group is even a little more than just a passive reaper it will be a huge aberration to what the Oberois have always stood for and guarded with all their might.







The East Asia Summit at Hua Hin in Thailand brought into focus the much-discussed proposal to convert the loose grouping into an East Asian Community (EAC) over the next two or three years. Both Japan and Australia have put forward their vision of this community, with some basic differences in perception. The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which is the core of the East Asian gathering, has over the past four decades grown, matured, and created new vehicles to spread its sphere of influence. The grouping, which now encompasses all the 10 countries in South East Asia, has set up a dialogue partnership with all the major powers. It went on to create a platform for ASEAN+3, an annual dialogue with China, Japan, and South Korea. Out of that came the East Asia Summit that brought in three more partners — India, Australia, and New Zealand. The proposal to form an EAC has obviously been inspired by the European Union, which has taken so much longer to evolve and consolidate, and is perhaps yet to iron out some basic differences. The ASEAN, which operates on the basis of consensus, naturally wants to be in the driver's seat of the proposed EAC. Two fundamental questions need to be addressed before the proposal could take shape — whom should it include, and should the United States have a role in it.


From the beginning, there appear to be major differences on both these points. One approach seems to be to start with the ASEAN+3 platform and then expand, when the stage is set. India naturally feels that there can be no Asian community without it. New Delhi may have ASEAN's full support in this. As Australia has come out with a proposal, it will not want to be left out of any major regional initiative that will account for half of the world's population and a bulk of its trade. The U.S., which is out of the East Asia Summit, surely wants to be a part of the EAC. But the problem is that it is not part of the region. There may be many opponents to Washington integrating itself with an Asian community, although the U.S. does have some supporters within ASEAN. Possibly, it may have little opposition to its getting the status of an invitee or a dialogue partner. Without rushing into another EU-like experiment, the Asian countries will do well to deliberate extensively and build a consensus before taking the plunge. Issues such as a common currency are bound to crop up in this search for a common identity or platform. Without getting confused with the concept of the Asia-Pacific forum (APEC), the EAC must build its own regional architecture and framework, looking at economic, social, and security issues.







The fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and the subsequent reunification of Germany were hailed by many as triumphs of western ideals of democracy and the free market over communism or state socialism. The then leaders of the western world, especially British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, were widely seen as leading the ideologically-driven attitudes and policies which purportedly caused the collapse of communism. There is only one snag to the story. Mrs. Thatcher was deeply suspicious of German reunification and did all she could to prevent it. In effect, she would rather have let the citizens of the then German Democratic Republic remain under communism than have a reunified Germany. According to the former West German chancellor Helmut Kohl's recently-published memoirs, Mrs. Thatcher attacked Mr. Kohl — at a dinner hosted by the French president François Mitterrand — for considering reunification. Further detail has also emerged; documents released by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) show that Mrs. Thatcher even claimed to speak for Western Europe and the United States when she bluntly told Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, the only person who might have prevented German reunification, that the west did not want that. Mrs. Thatcher was trying to mislead Mr. Gorbachev about the U.S. position, as the then president George Bush Sr fully backed Mr. Kohl.


The Thatcher crusade failed completely. Mr. Gorbachev soon came to support reunification, as did Mr. Mitterrand. Secondly, Mrs. Thatcher was opposed by her own foreign minister, Douglas Hurd, and by eminent British historians. Thirdly, none of Mrs. Thatcher's fears has materialised. The reunified Germany, which did not find the aftermath of reunification easy, has neither dominated the European Union nor looked at all likely to revive Nazism and aggressive nationalism. Indeed, German laws and policies against Nazism are implemented much more thoroughly than comparable laws and policies in many other EU countries. Neither has the general German political culture been affected. Germany has maintained the post-war consensus between government, labour, and capital and is said even by conservative analysts to be leading the west out of the recession. Moreover, the re-elected Chancellor Angela Merkel has not allowed her major coalition partner, the right-wing Free Democrat Party, any significant influence. The point is not just that Mrs. Thatcher was totally wrong about German reunification but that those who are beguiled by so-called conviction politicians would do well to remember that such figures are rarely what they seem to be.










The dust has settled somewhat over the Kerry-Lugar Bill. It has been signed by United States President Barack Obama and is now the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009. In Pakistan, the protests against the conditions attached to the legislation enabling an annual $1.5 billion non-military aid have quietened down.


With some exceptions, political parties and the media, which wanted changes in the "humiliating" language of the law, have expressed satisfaction that the U.S. Congress has attached an "explanatory note" even though the text remains unchanged. The note has no legal value, and was offered merely as a face-saver to Pakistan. As Senator John Kerry, one of the co-authors of the legislation, put it, the note only seeks to explain the language of the Bill. Most importantly, the Pakistan Army, which said it had "serious concerns" about the conditions in the Bill, also appears to have made its peace with it.


Those who triggered the intense debate over the conditions in the legislation — strengthening democratic forces in Pakistan, ensuring that it stops aiding militants who carry out terrorist acts against India and other countries, ensuring civilian control over the military, and ensuring non-proliferation — achieved none of their stated objectives. They wanted the government to reject the aid, or the U.S. Congress to rephrase the conditions, or President Obama to send it back to Congress for reconsideration. None of this happened.


But the debate did bring about some other changes, and in the light of this, some observers have questioned the real motives behind the protests. The entire one-month hysteria in Pakistan over the Bill, after it was already passed by the U.S. Congress, resulted in drastically altering the civil-military balance in favour of the military. It left the democratically elected Pakistan People's Party-led government considerably weaker than it was. It served to isolate President Asif Ali Zardari, and shattered the nerves of the government. It confirmed the Pakistan Army as numero uno.


The debate showed up Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (N) in clearer light. Despite his thunder about the need to keep the military subservient to civilian rule, his party chose to oppose a U.S. Bill that wants exactly this.


With some exceptions, the Pakistani media too, despite their pride in opposing military rule, made no bones about which side they were on over this issue, saying the government's "stupidity" in allowing the U.S. to impose such conditions left them with no choice.


In the 19 months that the PPP has been in power, the "KLB fiasco," as it came to be known, can be viewed as the fourth big internal battle on who really rules Pakistan. The answer is no secret, but each of the four battles has been instrumental in eroding the authority of the elected government bit by bit. Some blame for this definitely rests at the door of the elected politicians and the bumbling, crony government they have run since taking over in 2008, but by no means all of it.


The first battle was for civilian control over the Inter-Services Intelligence, the country's main intelligence agency. The second was the Mumbai attacks episode. It saw the nation rally round the security establishment rather than the government. The third came on March 16 this year, over President Zardari's stubborn refusal to restore Chief Justice Ifthikar Chaudhary. The nation as a whole welcomed the Army's put-down of Mr. Zardari in the matter forcing him to restore Mr. Chaudhary. It confirmed the Army's pre-eminent role in running the country, and the nation's acceptance of it.


The Kerry-Lugar Bill was the fourth. No one — not the opposition, not the media, not the Army — has yet been able to explain convincingly why the Bill became an issue at such a late stage, especially as its contents and passage through the various stages through the two Houses of the U.S. Congress had been in the public realm from at least five months.


In their frequent interactions with the U.S. State Department, the Pentagon and the military top brass, the Pakistan government, particularly the Army, never brought up the legislation or its conditions as a concern.


If anything, Pakistan wanted Congress to hurry up and pass the Bill. The campaign against it began only by the end of September, after both Houses reconciled their differing versions of the Bill, passed it and sent it to President Obama for his assent.


The media cast the first stone, painting the legislation as yet another failure of the government, directly blaming President Zardari and the Pakistan Ambassador in Washington, Hussain Haqqani. The PML (N) joined in later, reportedly after a secret meeting between Punjab Chief Minister Shabaz Sharif, the younger brother of Nawaz Sharif, and Army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. It was in the days after this meeting, news of which surfaced soon enough, that the PML (N) raised an outcry over the issue in Parliament and outside.


Amid the widespread anti-American and anti-government sentiment, the Pakistan Army's decision to go public, through a press release, about its "serious concerns" over certain clauses in the legislation, was clearly a populist and political move. It helped to consolidate the Army's own image — on the rise since the anti-Taliban Swat operation — as the last bastion of Pakistan's sovereignty and national interests, and showed the government, especially President Zardari, in a poor light by comparison.


Days later, when the attack on the Army headquarters took place, the media were all praise for the way in which the military dealt with it. Few questions were asked about how such a well-guarded location could have been targeted in the manner it was. As one report pointed out, the government could not pick up the courage to order an inquiry, nor did any opposition politician ask for one.


The gulf between the military and the civilian dispensation is now so wide that several armoured divisions can rumble through it. When Interior Minister Rehman Malik, a member of President Zardari's inner circle, visited the GHQ to lay a wreath for the soldiers killed in the attack, he was reportedly given the cold shoulder. No senior military officer turned up to receive him, and he was not invited to enter the main GHQ building.


It is worrying for many in Pakistan and outside that even as an enemy in the form of the Taliban is threatening to consume the country in an unrelenting orgy of violence, there is no let-up in the attempts to destabilise an elected dispensation. Moves are also clearly on to ramp up tensions between President Zardari and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani.


An embattled and weakened government now faces another divisive debate over the National Reconciliation Ordinance, the Musharraf-era amnesty law that helped Mr. Zardari shake off the corruption cases against him, enabling him to the presidency.


As ordered by the Supreme Court, Parliament is to take up the NRO and other Musharraf ordinances for approval in November. Although the PPP, with its allies, has the majority to have the ordinance endorsed by the National Assembly, the controversy that is sure to be generated over it can only be more debilitating for both the government and Mr. Zardari. As attempts to cut the ground from under his feet gain momentum, the PPP leader is once again reaching out to Mr. Sharif. Pakistan's political pot is bubbling up once again.


The noise over the Kerry-Lugar Bill and subsequent political developments have been instructive in a starker way than in the previous internal power struggles about the realities of the Pakistani state, its different power centres, its political parties and the nature of its "independent" media. Very often in the peak of the controversy, letters to the editors in newspapers seemed to have a better grasp of the forces at play and the issues at stake than journalists, politicians and the government put together. Unfortunately, they do not matter.









The United Nations Development Programme-sponsored 2009 Human Development Report on migration, "Overcoming Barriers: Human mobility and Development" has been widely acknowledged as a path-breaking study on human movement. Shattering the many myths around migration, the report concludes that most migration is in fact beneficial, and calls for supporting policies to ease barriers to free movement. Senior Assistant Country Director, UNDP, K. Seeta Prabhu. discusses the report with The Hindu


For long, we have battled with the idea of "brain drain," especially in India where emigrants have had to live with the guilt of leaving home. Your report on migration is emphatic that migrants enrich life both at the exit and entry points.

The HDR 2009, 'Overcoming Barriers: Human Mobility and Development', argues that being able to decide where to live is a basic human freedom. Migration can be a beneficial force but there needs to be a supportive policy environment for these benefits to be realised.


The report recognises that the exodus of skilled workers like doctors, engineers, and in the case of India, IT professionals, is a concern but these are symptoms of a system that is not able to provide enough opportunities for people. The solution is to address these internal constraints so that skilled professionals are motivated to stay within the country.


At the same time, we must recognise the positive effects of migration. In the United States for instance, data generated over a period of 50 years, from 1950-2000, showed that a 1.3 per cent increase in the share of migrant university graduates increased the number of patents issued per capita by a massive 15 per cent.


Countries of origin benefit in the form of remittances to families back home. As the HDR shows, in more than 20 developing countries, remittances exceed earnings from the main commodity export. In India, remittances have been estimated at $34,262 million in 2007 which is one and a half times the amount received as foreign direct investment. Besides there are "social dividends" in the form of women's empowerment and enhanced opportunities for the wider community back home as remittances are often spent on care for elderly parents or on home construction.


When we think of emigration, we are conditioned to think of North America, the U.S. in particular. Why is this so?

Data provided in the HDR indicate that while the magnitude of migration has remained stable at 3 per cent of world's population since 1960, the direction of movement has changed. In 1960, the share of migrants in North America and Europe was 19 per cent. In 2010 it is expected to touch 27 per cent, which perhaps explains the perception. However, the Indian reality is somewhat different. If we look at remittances to India, 27 per cent flow from Northern America, 12.8 per cent from Europe and a whopping 58.2 per cent from Asia (51 countries including Gulf countries). Seventy two per cent, or the bulk of emigration from India is to other countries in Asia.


Fears about immigrants taking away jobs persist, and have increased post-the global downturn. In the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, there are periodic calls from civil society to review and restrict immigration.

People's views about migration are conditioned by the availability of jobs. In the majority of the 52 countries covered in the latest World Values Survey, most respondents endorsed restrictions on immigration, but many emphasised that these restrictions should be clearly linked to availability of jobs.


The examples set by Sweden and New Zealand are worth examining. In New Zealand, under the Recognised Seasonal Employer Scheme initiated in 2007, employers in the horticulture and viticulture sectors are enabled to access seasonal workers from abroad and overcome the severe shortage of labour faced every season. In Sweden, the number of visas issued is expanded, conditional on labour demand. When demand for labour complements local demand then the issue is less contentious.


Negative perceptions about migrants persist and migrants are the first to be hit during times of economic crisis. However, fears that migrants reduce employment for locals and that they lower wages of local workers are largely unfounded, though there may be specific instances where it indeed affects locals. In fact, some studies show that the inflow of migrants stimulates local employment. Evidence from a research study in California commissioned for this report indicates that migration to specific areas was positively correlated with higher employment growth in sectors such as education services.


Your report suggests that official attitudes to migration have hardened in recent times and that pre-World War I governments were more supportive of migration which they saw as beneficial.

Security concerns post 9/11 have led to viewing newcomers from different backgrounds with some amount of suspicion as there seems to be a perception linking immigration with crime. The data do not establish such a link. In the year 2000, the average incarceration rate for locally born young men in the U.S was 3.5 per cent as compared to 0.7 per cent for the foreign born.


The data you have collected make a strong case for enabling migration. Do you see governments being responsive to the body of evidence you have provided? Or will this be just another report filed away and forgotten?

Human development reports have always been influential policy advocacy documents and receive a great deal of attention from governments the world over. Raising awareness and consciousness about the development impacts of migration is the best way to influence policies. As you would have seen, since the launch of this Report there has been an animated debate in the media over the issue of migration and the need for policies that are more responsive.


Increasing awareness is feasible because as the report shows, the reality of public opinion towards migrants is more complex than the rhetoric of public debate would have us believe.


Your report says migration hugely benefits poor people. But we often see poor people from the rural areas shifting to urban slums and living on pavements. Does this really qualify as better life? Also, internally we continue to see opposition to migration.

An important fact pointed out by the report is that internal migration far exceeds international migration – an estimated 740 million move within countries as compared to 214 million who move between countries. In India, the estimated number of internal migrants moving from one State to the other is 42 million; those who reside at a place other than their place of birth is as high as 307 million. Studies in Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh indicate that poverty rates fell by 50 per cent between 2001-02 and 2006-07 for households which had at least one migrant.


Overcoming Barriers recognises the challenges arising from rapid urban growth as a result of internal migration. Migrants families often end up in shanty towns and slums on the outskirts of cities, do not have access to basic minimum services, and face harassment and eviction. A review of the urbanisation experiences in Asia indicates that a number of governments continue to pursue policies aimed at discouraging in-migration to cities. Many countries have forcibly cleared slums and adopted 'closed city' policies. What needs to be recognised is that movement is driven by unfavourable circumstances back home — either in terms of falling living standards or weak support services.


The solution is to provide greater opportunities for livelihood as well as minimum levels of social services at the place of origin. Simultaneously, in the urban areas of influx, the Report argues in favour of equitable policies of pricing of basic social services and extension of these services to the areas where migrants live, even-handed regulation of the informal sector, outreach and support services such as language classes for migrant groups and regular independent audit and publication of municipal accounts.








It is 30 years since the film Mad Max was made, launching the career of Mel Gibson.


The film made a big splash at the time for its terrifying view of a world without oil, where gangs of grisly-looking people roam deserts in a post-apocalyptic world, killing each other to get their hands on the few drops of petrol that some have managed to produce in makeshift refineries. Social order has completely broken down.


Great film if you like that sort of thing but complete fiction, of course. Or is it? Three decades later, and I wonder if the film was, in fact, years ahead of its time.


Just think back to summer last year when oil prices spiked to $150 a barrel — 10 times the level of a decade earlier. In petrol stations in some European countries, people started to drive off without paying and drivers had to be banned from filling cars before they had paid up. In Britain, people stole heating oil out of the tanks that sit outside many houses in the country.


Imagine what would happen if prices rose to, say, $300 a barrel. Or higher. Not only would it become too expensive to drive unless absolutely necessary, but food would become prohibitively expensive to transport, goods from China would be too expensive to ship, and plastics, which come from oil, would be unaffordable. The cold turkey after more than a century of cheap oil would be painful indeed.


For developing countries it would be fatal — many could not afford energy at those prices.


Oil has fallen sharply in price since last summer, but this is only because the world tumbled into its worst recession in decades, clobbering industrial output and trade volumes, and therefore oil demand. What is curious, though, is that oil prices, having tumbled below $40 earlier this year, went back above $81 a barrel last week, their highest for a year.


There are plenty of possible reasons, such as the continuing fall in the value of the dollar, in which oil is priced, or the piling in of speculators who think a recovery will push up oil prices. Or you could reach for the old chestnut of supply and demand. Demand has fallen a lot, sure, but maybe supply is not what it used to be.


Indeed, take a graph of the oil price over the past couple of decades, chop off last year's spike to $150 and this year's plunge to $35 and you can see that oil prices have been on a steady upwards trend for a decade. The question is why?


An excellent new report, Heads in the Sand, released last week by the non-governmental organisation Global Witness — the group that first brought "blood diamonds" to the world's attention — looked in depth at what is happening to the supply of oil. And it is frightening.


The author, Simon Taylor, has spent two years working on this issue, in particular, analysing the forecasts issued late last year by the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA), in which it admitted for the first time that world oil supplies were about to start to dwindle just as demand from countries such as India and China is accelerating rapidly. The IEA had previously asserted that oil production would not peak before 2030 at the earliest. Now it thinks we might be very close to that point.


The IEA figures showed there could be a gap of 7m barrels a day between supply and demand by 2015. That represents about 8 per cent of the expected world demand by then, 91m barrels a day. The gap will grow as demand keeps growing. Taylor warns that world supply levelled off between 2005 and 2008, so quite where the new oil is going to come from is unclear.


Taylor takes issue with the IEA's recommendation that the world spend $450bn (yes, billion) a year looking for new oilfields that may or may not be there and so which render its forecasts overoptimistic. He thinks governments should admit they have ignored the problem and don't have a plan B.


They certainly need one. Britain's oil production, for example, has already fallen by half in the past decade and the IEA expects production from all other existing oilfields to fall by that amount between now and 2020. It warns that the world needs to find an extra 64m barrels a day of capacity by 2030 — equivalent to six times the current Saudi Arabian production. That seems unlikely given that new oil discoveries peaked in 1965. In 1984 world production overtook new discoveries for the first time.


Taylor also points out that the announcements of "big" discoveries by the oil majors in the past few years do not add up to very much — less than 2m barrels a day — and only if those fields contain as much oil as the companies reckon. But even then they still fall a long way short of replacing the 3.7m barrels a day the world is losing every year.


Many people think Canadian tar sands are going to save us. Well, even the Canadians don't think they can produce more than 3m barrels a day from the tar sands of northern Alberta.


This is nowhere near the scale of the problem, quite apart from the environmental degradation caused by tar sand extraction.



Taylor said the four key issues about oil — declining output, declining discoveries, increasing demand and insufficient projects in the pipeline — have been apparent for at least a decade. The U.K. government has done no work on future oil supplies, has no plan and barely acknowledges the problem, despite years of campaigning by, among others, the former oil industry geologist turned solar power entrepreneur Jeremy Leggett, who has written whole books on the subject of "peak oil."


Taylor says governments must move at lightning pace to reduce energy demand through greater efficiency and go hell for leather for renewable energy sources, although he knows it is probably too late to avoid a huge energy crunch within the next decade or so. That annual $450bn the IEA talks of would buy you a lot of renewables such as wind and solar power if it were not being spent chasing ever-harder-to-find oil and gas.


So what chance is there of the authorities moving quickly? Well, Britain's renewables "revolution," which the government loves to talk of, is simply not going to deliver the goods. In mid-October the Department of Energy and Climate Change closed the consultation on the "feed-in tariff" proposal it has been forced to introduce by backbench MPs. Feed-in tariffs have kickstarted renewables in many countries, especially Germany, by offering consumers a healthy price for electricity they feed into the grid.


The energy department will announce its decisions in about a month but, unsurprisingly, officials are aiming low. They want the tariff to offer returns on investment of 5-8 per cent. That's not enough. The Germans get around 10 per cent.


Alan Simpson MP, appointed by the climate change secretary Ed Miliband to oversee the tariff's introduction, wanted 12 per cent or more to allow the U.K. to bring about a renewables revolution. But he has been thwarted by officials. "It's designed to fail," he says.


And people who have already invested, and got one of the handful of grants available in recent years, are likely to be worse off under the proposal. This means early adopters of these technologies, who put their hand in their pocket to the tune of thousands of pounds, will be penalised. You really couldn't make it up. When the oil supply crunch comes, we are in trouble.


 © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009








 India's private airlines as well as state-owned Air India (which incorporates what earlier used to be Indian Airlines) are justifiably aggrieved at the way foreign carriers — many barely a year or more old — are allowed landing rights at 10 to 12 destinations in this country. For instance, all the Gulf airlines as well as others can fly to the hinterland — to places like Calicut, Kochi, Pune, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Nagpur and Amritsar, in addition to the four metros. They may as well be our national carriers! What does India get in return? Peanuts. How many destinations, for instance, can some of them offer in return for the 10 or 12 they get from us? With the absence of balance sheets and dirt cheap oil, a luxury airlines in this country do not enjoy, they can offer rock-bottom fares — which is certainly a boon to Indian travellers who can enjoy the privilege of flying overseas at a fraction of the price they would pay otherwise. But if the opening of Indian skies and destinations was desirable to allow true competition, where the consumer is king, then why are Indian carriers still being bound hand and foot with restrictive regulations which have been described by aviation veterans as unwarranted and unprecedented? Private carriers such as Spice and Indigo are profit-making airlines, but cannot fly abroad as they don't fulfil requirements such as having been in operation for at least five years or having a fleet of 20 aircraft. This was one of the reasons Kingfisher took over Air Deccan: it could thus operate overseas when Air Deccan completed five years. It is understood that this five-year requirement was put in place as private airlines at the time were folding up after a year or two of operation — so that the country did not tarnish its reputation internationally.


But whatever the reason, it has lost relevance as foreign airlines which operate in this country are not subject to such Indian rules. As a result, in the past four years, the seat capacity given to foreign airlines in the hinterland has seen a quantum jump — from 404,508 seats per week at the end of December 2003 to 1,212,909 seats per week at the end of December 2007 — an increase of 299 per cent. This is a landmark in 75 years of civil aviation in India. Between 1993 and 2003 the increase in seat capacity allowed to foreign airlines was 64 per cent per week. If this were not enough, between January and June 2008 the increase of seats per week was 2,27,929, or an increase of 16 per cent. The decision, therefore, to permit this 299 per cent jump in seats for foreign airlines to India's hinterland defies logic. The Indian carriers are not in a position to take advantage of reciprocal agreements, besides the fact that none of these foreign airlines can offer 12 destinations in their home countries. So what was the hurry to open our skies and so many destinations while crippling our own airlines? By the time they are ready to fly, the entry level will be very expensive. Air India, for instance, is said to be losing between Rs 6 crores and Rs 8 crores every day as a result. The government has told the national carrier to either perform or perish. Step-motherly treatment of this kind might only help ensure that our own airlines perish.








For some time now, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have been the organising framework for the activities of international organisations and donor agencies. It is probably not very useful any more to quarrel about their relative lack of ambition, their limited aims and absence of recognition of the structural causes of poverty and inequality. All that is well known; even so, simply because of their wide acceptance, the MDGs have become the goal posts for judging at least some development experience around the world.


So, even if these are very limited goals, it is worth examining how far they are actually being met. The most important of all the goals is probably the first one, which makes the grand claim of eradicating extreme hunger and poverty. This includes the following specific targets: halving the proportion of people who are absolutely poor; halving the proportion of people who suffer from hunger; and achieving full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people.


The table provides information on one aspect of the first target, the proportion of working people who survive on less than $1.25 per day in purchasing power parity terms, which is the currently accepted international line for determining poverty.


It is evident that the incidence of poverty among the working population increased (significantly in some regions) in 2008 compared to the previous year, reversing the pattern of decline that was evident over the previous decade. In extreme cases, this has even meant an absolute increase in poverty rates among the employed population over the period 1997 to 2008, such as in Oceania, or no change as in Sub-Saharan Africa. What is particular worrying is that regions with already high poverty incidence seem to have been particularly badly affected in the most recent period, including south Asia whose performance is dominated by India. East Asia (and within China) obviously has the most remarkable success in poverty reduction over the past decade, but even here the crisis seems to have led to a reversal, although less marked than elsewhere. Since unemployment rates have also been rising through the current crisis, the actual impact on poverty is likely to be even greater.


Part of the reason why the recent performance on the poverty front has been so disappointing relates to the inability to meet the second target, of reducing hunger. Perversely, the experience with respect to this target has been worse after it was explicitly formulated than before! In the period after the global food crisis of the 1970s, increased investment in agriculture and various other measures implemented across the developing world to ensure greater self-sufficiency in food led to some progress in reducing chronic hunger by the early 1990s. But according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), between 1995-97 and 2004-06, the number of hungry people increased in all developing regions except Latin America and the Caribbean, and even here it has reversed in the most recent period. East and southeast Asia also showed good performance in terms of falling numbers of malnourished people, but such numbers increased quite sharply in south Asia (by 50 million) and Sub-Saharan Africa (by 44 million). The surprise is that the growing prevalence of hunger and food insecurity was associated with relatively high gross domestic product (GDP) growth in several regions, such as India and countries in Latin America. The contrast with east and southeast Asia is a stark one, and points to the role of public policy in ensuring that aggregate income growth translates into better provision of basic needs such as food for the general population.


This reflects changes in policy stance across the developing world that led to a relative neglect of agriculture and domestic food distribution. This is why performance on the nutritional outcome indicators has been relatively poor. In some developing regions, the proportion of underweight children under five years has remained relatively high and shown very little decline over nearly two decades. South Asia is the worst performer, with the proportion of underweight children still around half, declining only marginally from 54 per cent in 1990 to 48 per cent in 2007. In Sub-Saharan Africa the proportion fell from 31 per cent to 28 per cent. East Asia shows the best performance, with the proportion declining from17 to seven per cent, and even in Latin America it fell to six per cent.


While this was the state before the global economic crisis, the crisis obviously made matters much worse. But, as the FAO has noted, the continued increase in the number of undernourished people during both periods of low prices and economic prosperity and the very sharp rises in periods of price spikes and economic downturns shows the weakness of global and national food security systems. The recent combination of higher domestic food prices, lower incomes and unemployment because of the global economic crisis has substantially increased food insecurity. As a consequence, the FAO now estimates that around 1.02 billion people in the world are hungry in 2009, which is the highest number since 1970.


Of course both poverty and hunger are critically affected by employment conditions, which is why the target of providing decent work for all is such an important one. This target too has been relatively under-achieved, and the recent crisis has exacerbated this unfortunate trend. Globally, unemployment rates fell only marginally during the economic boom of the past decade, from 6.3 per cent in 1998 to an estimated six per cent in 2007. In south Asia, southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, open unemployment rates actually increased over this period, despite reasonably rapid GDP growth. Then the crisis had sharp effects upon employment and has already caused very substantial increases in unemployment.


Clearly this MDG has not had much influence in determining appropriate policies in some regions, but if it does still serve to direct policy attention to this crucial area, it may still have some relevance.







On October 23, 2009, the destruction of the Mathurai Veeran Temple in Persiaran Kerjaya in Shah Alam region of Selangor again brings to the forefont the ongoing struggle within Malaysia between the ethnic Tamils and the Malay community. The destruction was reported in three local Tamil newspapers Tamil Nesan, Makkal Osai and Nanban. While these have reported the matter as being critical, there have been other reports that contradict this. The city council claims, that the premises was not a temple at all and that the destroyed compound was, in fact, a place where people went to consult petty fortune tellers. This is also reminiscent of the destruction two years ago of the Maha Mariyaman Temple also in the region of Shah Alam. This incident occurred just around the time of deepavali and later triggered the unrest that was led by the HINDRAF (Hindu Rights Action Force). These distinctions not withstanding, what the issue brings to light is the fact that the question of political spaces and freedoms for people of Tamil origin in Malaysia still remains an unfulfilled aspiration.


The recent reaction of the HINDRAF needs to be understood in the context of the growing unrest that has gripped Malaysia for the past few years. The HINDRAF emerged in 2005 as a radical voice against the marginalisation of the Tamil community. It mainly comprised of Hindu non-governmental organisations and was led by a group of lawyers of Tamil origin. Two important figures among them were P. Waytha Moorthy and P. Utayakumar.


In August 2007, Mr Moorthy, a lawyer by profession, filed a class action suit against the United Kingdom asking the queen to pay a fine of £4 trillion for having taken the Tamil community as indentured labour and leaving them in a political system dominated by Malay-Muslims. This was the first time that the Indian diaspora had asked the colonial government responsible for its resettlement, to pay a fine as compensation for the loss of its home and move to an alien country. The protest outside the British high commission, was crushed by the Malaysian government and the leaders were detained under the Internal Security Act, normally associated with acts of terror and extremism.


In July this year, Tamil rights activist, Mr Uthayakumar brought out a report titled "Malaysian Indian: Political Empowerment Strategy The Way Forward". Released from detention under the Internal Securities Act in May 2009, Mr Uthayakumar represents the leadership of the unfulfilled voices of the Malay Indian community which has over the years been systematically marginalised at the cost of the promotion of Malaysia's bumiputera policy. Uthayakumar's movement entitled the "makkal sakthi" or the people's power is a cry for recognition both within and outside Malaysia for the plight of the Tamil community in Malaysia. The HINDRAF has focused its ire upon the policies of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) which have promoted a linear version of promoting the majority Malay Muslim community.


HINDRAF as a political voice mainly emerged as an alternative to the Malay Indian Congress (MIC) which was one of the coalition members of the Barisan Nasional (BN). Led by the UMNO, BN comprised of several parties that formed the coalition at the Centre. This has remained at the helm of Malay politics since 1957. The MIC within the BN has been the political voice of the Tamil people for years and has been led by Dato Seri S. Samy Vellu. With allegations of corruption and little regard for the plight of the Tamil community the MIC today has lost its credibility as the voice of the marginalised sections of the ethnic Tamils.


The ethnic Indian community in Malaysia constitutes roughly eight per cent of the Malaysia's population. Among this the Tamil ethnic minorities constitute nearly 85 percent of the two million Indian community. And 80 per cent of the total numbers are Hindu in faith. From the time of Malaysia's Independence the ruling Barisan Nasional, found representation for the ethnic Indian community from the MIC. However, in the aftermath of the 1969 ethnic riots and the introduction of the 1971 bumiputera policy, the Indian community began to be more marginalised. The bumiputera policy or the sons of the soil, established an affirmative action policy for the ethnic Malay community. This policy had an advantage particularly as the New Economic Policy of 1971 was established to uplift the Malay community. Later revisions of this such as the New Development Plan (1991-2000) as well as the New Vision Policy (2000-2010), all targeted the promotion of the local Malay population. Moreover the recognition of Islam as the official religion also led to several cases where judiciary favoured the Malay Islamic community.


Added to this, the educational policy further isolated the Tamils. The community basically comprised of plantation workers who were confined to remote areas and the access to education was limited. Since education at the primary level was in the plantation, the medium of instruction in the schools was in Tamil and this restricted their entry into higher levels of education. In fact only around five per cent of the ethnic Indian community managed to receive a university education and this greatly hampered their ability to get jobs. The community as a result has remained educationally backward and also has not been able to lift generations of children born in the plantations to better standards of living. As a result problems relating to drug abuse and crime are endemic within the community.


For India, the question of Tamil aspirations in Malaysia have evoked a considerable response. In 2007 the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader M. Karunanidhi sought the Central governments intervention in the context of the arrest and detention of the Tamil protesters. However, at that time the Malaysian law minister stated clearly that the matter was an internal issue and did not have a foreign policy angle to it. In January 2009, HINDRAF's Makkal Sakthi presented a paper at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Chennai. It needs to be borne in mind that the dictates of foreign policy restrict a countries ability to influence the outcome of such domestic issues. Added to this, is the fact that India has close relations with Malaysia both bilaterally and through its engagement with Association of Southeast Asia Nations, which still continues to look upon matters of domestic politics as sacrosanct.


The issue is even more critical for Malaysia to resolve. Its declared policy of multiculturalism is likely to be severely eroded if the rights of minorities are not taken care of. As one sees the competing versions of ethnic nationalism of the Tamil struggle versus the majoritarian nationalism of the bumiputera policy, it is crucial for Malaysia to strike a balance and evolve a formula for civic nationalism in which the rights and status of all communities are protected and allowed to flourish. Until this can be achieved the plight of the Tamil community's aspirations will remain unfulfilled and the contestation for political space will continue.


Dr Shankari Sundararaman is an associate professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the School of International Studies, JNU.








When I listen to Ashtapadis — poetic literature from Gita Govindam by Jayadeva of 12th century, my mind becomes one with the eternal truth. When I read Herman Hesse's novel Siddhartha, my thoughts focus on the reality of life.


I don't pray regularly. And I love to identify myself as a human being, rather than as a person belonging to a particular religion. 


I consider some places as having divine tranquility, especially places of pilgrimage, where people come with positive energy.


I am not attached to any particular religion. I feel good if I am to treat all religions equally. And I can find the common spiritual undercurrents in all religions.


Whenever I get a chance, I visit places of worship, whether it is a church, gurdwara, dargah or a temple.


We need to survive amidst nature, whether we are praying or not, believing or not. So, I believe that nature always expects humans to survive through thick and thin. It is in love for life of ordinary humans that I find the highest seeking.


I feel indebted to nature and would like to fulfil the expectations that it has from me as a human being. I want to contribute to the society and fellow humans in whatever little way I can.


(As told to Arun Janardhanan)


 Padmapriya is a leading actress in Tamil and Malayalam movies. She is also a renowned classical dancer.








Both the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been on the decline for the past 10 years and their defeat in the Maharashtra Assembly elections was inevitable. This defeat is glaring given the lacklustre performance of the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) ministries for the whole decade.


The deterioration of the BJP started with Lal Krishna Advani leading the party. The Shiv Sena's decline was heralded by Uddhav Thackeray's appointment as the executive president of the Shiv Sena. His cousin Raj Thackeray's revolt made all the difference. The Assembly elections have proved to be a body blow. Nobody will be surprised if an exodus from the Shiv Sena begins.


It is convenient for BJP and Shiv Sena leaders to hold Raj Thackeray responsible for their miserable performance but the fact remains that a lack of leadership has plagued them. It is not only Uddhav Thackeray who could not manage his party but Gopinath Munde and Nitin Gadkari of the BJP also made a mess at the state level. Pramod Mahajan was not a leader but a fixer. These two are neither leaders nor fixers..


The quarrel between the Thackeray cousins is personal and not about principles. The Shiv Sena had become a family concern and as brothers or relatives fall out in the corporate sector, the same thing happened in the Shiv Sena. Raj Thackeray had blamed the Shiv Sena for neglecting the interests of the Marathi people and their language, but it was he who enjoyed the limelight and privileges for a good part of the party's existence.


He is much more brash and as these days such brashness and rabblerousing are paying, he has won 13 seats in the election, defeating the Shiv Sena candidates in some Sena strongholds. The Shiv Sena has lost Mumbai, where it was founded. As both the cousins fell out over personal ambition and gains Raj took up the path of extreme chauvinism and accused the Shiv Sena of betraying the cause. Uddhav immediately changed track and, in a bid to outdo Raj, stated that all trains from North India bringing labourers should be sent back. Both Uddhav and Raj did not explain what to do with the trains from the North India bringing wheat and groundnut oil from Gujarat.


In the degraded political climate in Maharashtra such emotional trash has given Raj some success which has been extolled by the media — both print and electronic. They expected a miracle from Uddhav but now they have found a new messiah in Raj.


The Lok Sabha election has indicated that voters in general are inclined to prefer the Congress and were fed up with the antics of several parties. They have some faith in the leadership of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi. Speaking about Maharashtra, voters were not amused by the daily mudslinging by the Thackeray cousins, though some newspapers relished it. Voters also had lost confidence in the BJP's national and state leaderships. The forecasters who were confident of the ruling front's defeat in the rural areas forgot that the government paid more than the minimum support price for cotton and increased the prices of other produce.


This time the Congress and the NCP do not have to depend upon the so-called Independents as they have has achieved the magical figure of 144 seats. Even if, as is usual with the Congress, the new ministry might get involved in internecine feuds and some might threaten to defect, the ministry would have ample scope to draw on those who are rebels in their respective parties.


The Congress and the NCP have done well in some regions of the state but not all. Both the parties did badly in Vidarbha, but scored well in Marathwada. The NCP lost ground in Pune, which was thought to be its citadel.


This comfortable position of the front might generate complacency. But it should not be blind to the fact that the voters picked this front because they had a poor choice. This is a vote by reluctance, and not of enthusiasm or conviction. That a dozen ministers and half-a-dozen ministers of state have lost their seats is proof enough of the miserable performance of the last two ministries.


People have seen that the two parties in the ruling front have always been at loggerheads. There was no such thing as collective responsibility. Ministers only cared for their own constituencies, and not the whole state. At least, two of the disgruntled were absorbed in dislodging the chief minister only to get into his chair. Fiscal discipline has been given a go-by for some decades.


There was a time when the cooperative sector enjoyed pride of place. Now it is a burden on the state.


The cooperatives' overdues have piled up, including of those controlled by ministers or their relatives. Several ministers shamelessly used their authority to salvage bankrupt cooperatives, like banks, sugar factories and milk societies, by emptying the treasury.


The state is lagging behind in the development of infrastructure. The electricity shortage is chronic. Education from the primary level till university is in poor shape. Himachal Pradesh could boast of 100 per cent female literacy but Maharashtra's record is woeful.


A thorough clean-up of both parties is overdue. Some time ago a newspaper reported that Rahul Gandhi has a scheme to effect a change. Maharashtra would certainly welcome such a move. But the immediate fear is that numerous relatives of Congress and the NCP leaders would be crowded into the Cabinet and nepotism would be officially recognised. But both parties should learn a lesson from the recent results, which saw the exit of a dozen ministers. If that is not done the ruling coalition will be wiped out in the next election.


The state is under siege by builders, the land mafia and bureaucrats. So affordable housing is a thing of the past. Because of these fat cats, young people might one day create a serious situation.


In the '70s, because of the CPI(M)'s suicidal policy of condoning the violent activities of their cadres, business and industry in Bengal moved out of that state.


If the Maharashtra government adopts the same policies regarding those who would take the law into their hands and carry out a vendetta against any group or community, then whatever happened in Bengal will be repeated in Maharashtra. Raising hell in or outside the Assembly has no place in a parliamentary democracy.


The Congress-led front might have won a majority, but the people are apprehensive about the future.








The official spin on prime minister Manmohan Singh's meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao is that India forcefully emphasised its point of view on the status of Arunachal Pradesh and also let it be known that the Dalai Lama, whose presence and politics irks China, was an honoured Indian guest. But there is a need to look beyond official statements.


Singh's statement that the Dalai Lama, the leader of the exiled Tibetans in India, is a respected religious leader is in line with long stated policy. It is hardly a secret that the Tibetan leader has been a guest on Indian soil for decades and it is also true that while he can travel anywhere, he cannot indulge in political activities. But given the recent contretemps between India and China — border incursions, belligerent commentary in the Chinese media, rising temperatures on both sides — such iteration is important and Singh had to make it.


China has been expressing its criticism about the Dalai Lama's proposed visit to the Tawang monastery in Arunachal Pradesh in November. For China, this is doubly grating since it claims Arunachal Pradesh as its own territory. China's foreign office spokesman had criticised Singh's visit to the state as part of an election campaign a few weeks ago. Singh thus had no option but to stress India's position on the Dalai Lama and also Arunachal Pradesh. But the fact that both the prime ministers took the first available opportunity, on the sidelines of an ASEAN conference in Thailand, to meet reflects their desire not to let the situation get out of hand.


Neither country wants to get into grandstanding and posturing that could lead to needless escalation. The best way to face up to China is to stick unflinchingly to one's position.

China will continue to needle India. But there is no alternative except steady dialogue, while keeping a sharp eye on China's intentions and actions.


Apart from Arunachal Pradesh and the Dalai Lama, there are other issues which concern India, including China's plans to divert the waters of Tsangpo (the upper reaches of Brahmaputra in Tibet) which could have calamitous effects in Assam or the Chinese businesses that are being set up in POK. Any concession that India gives therefore will have to be reciprocated by the other side. But by meeting at the highest level, both countries are determined to keep rhetoric down to manageable levels and continue with quiet diplomacy.







It is not surprising that the Supreme Court collegium has deferred the decision on elevating Karnataka chief justice PD Dinakaran to the apex court because he faces allegations of encroaching on government land in Tiruvallur. Dinakaran has denied the charges made in the district collector's report, and the chief justice of India (CJI) KG Balakrishnan has sought more details from the Tamil Nadu government. This is the correct step because Dinakaran should not become a victim of false allegations.


It is necessary to clear the air for the sake of higher judiciary in the country as well for Dinakaran's personal reputation. But it will be better if the CJI totally drops the plan to induct Dinakaran into the Supreme Court because anyone who raises an unseemly controversy such as this should not be made a judge of the highest court of the land. It is a matter of both propriety and credibility. Judges should be above both controversy and suspicion of wrongdoing.


Justice Dinakaran is claiming that his detractors are out to get him and that he is innocent. Without disputing his claim, it is reasonable not to consider him for the high post. A judge should ideally be acceptable to all sections, including the judicial fraternity, which includes the lawyers. It would of course be ideal if Dinakaran withdraws from being considered for promotion in the first place. He would have set a good example for the future selection of judges. There is a serious crisis about the credentials of judges and no one can clear the air more effectively than the judges themselves. It might be that the judge could end up as the proverbial sacrificial goat if the charges against him turn out to be false. But he would have contributed immensely to the cause of the high standards by which the judiciary is to be judged in the country.


Balakrishnan should take the initiative of setting up a precedent by laying down that no judge would be considered for the Supreme Court if there is even a hint of wrongdoing. The parliament cannot be expected to set the judicial house in order because politicians in the present vitiating atmosphere do not qualify to set standards of probity in public life. The judges need to lead the way.


It would be disastrous if the idea goes out that judges are a law unto themselves. The best way forward then is to drop the move to promote Dinakaran.








What does it take to get a policeman to face trial? What is it about policemen that governments go out of their way to see that they escape prosecution?


Prosecuting policemen is not easy. You need government permission; you need to counter the bogey of 'police demoralisation'; and you need lawyers who can overcome the loopholes left by the investigating agencies to allow their colleagues to escape.


It took years of struggle to overcome these hurdles and start the process of prosecuting just eight of the 31 policemen indicted by the Srikrishna Commission Report into the 1992-93 riots in Mumbai. But of the eight charged with murder, five were acquitted. The CBI investigation into one has been stayed by the Supreme Court and the senior most among them has just had his discharge upheld by the Bombay High Court.


The first time RD Tyagi was discharged from the case of murder filed against him by the Special Task Force set up to implement the Commission Report, the government played a very specific role. The STF simply did not inform Pheroze Vakil, the special public prosecutor (PP)appointed to handle Tyagi's case, about Tyagi's discharge application.

By letting the regular PP argue against it, the STF effectively blunted the prosecution case.


The STF, then home minister Chhagan Bhujbal's baby, could not have taken this step without instructions from him. The case against Tyagi had been the Congress-NCP government's showpiece, the basis on which they went around declaring that they'd implemented the Srikrishna Commission Report. Yet, when Tyagi walked free without even facing a trial, the government did not appeal. That was left to a victim of Tyagi's raid on the Suleman Usman Bakery.


Now will the same madrasa teacher — who still bears the scars of that raid — have to chase Tyagi to the Supreme Court? Because for sure, the State of Maharashtra will not. (Interestingly, while this victim is a living testimony to the assault by Tyagi's men, the STF did not even include "assault'' in the charges against them, though its own chargesheet has detailed descriptions of these beatings. That was the reason the policemen who did not fire inside the bakery walked free.)


Not that this government hasn't rushed to the Supreme Court in matters relating to the Srikrishna Commission. Last December, the Mumbai High Court, on a petition filed by Farooq Mapkar, ordered a reluctant CBI to take over the Hari Masjid case, in which then PSI Nikhil Kapse had been indicted for unprovoked firing. Mapkar was a victim of the firing. By July this year, the Maharashtra government had surreptitiously moved the SC for a stay on the CBI inquiry. It was again left to Mapkar, a bank peon, to rush to Delhi to oppose the stay granted last month. The Hari Masjid firing left six innocents dead. Justice Srikrishna described Kapse's conduct as "condemnable, brutal and inhuman.''


About the Suleman Usman Bakery raid, in which eight innocents were killed, he wrote: "The police acted in a manner not befitting the police force of a civilised, democratic state.'' Before reaching these conclusions, the Commission gave the police every chance to defend themselves. A battery of senior counsel cross-examined the mostly poor and illiterate victims who testified against these policemen.


Yet, the government of Maharashtra has repeatedly chosen to throw its weight behind these men, sending a clear message to the victims: your tormentors were right, Justice Srikrishna was wrong.


It would be tempting to conclude that this has happened because the victims are Muslims. But when it came to prosecuting SRPF inspector Manohar Kadam, indicted by the Gundewar Commission for ordering the firing that left 10 Dalits dead in Ramabai Nagar in 1997, the Maharashtra government acted only after a petition filed by activist Shakil Ahmed. When the high court suspended Kadam's life sentence, the government's last-minute, poorly-drafted appeal was rejected by the apex court. Kadam walked free.


Two lessons can be drawn from these cases. One, the government cares a fig about judicial commissions. That however, does not mean they have no value. They serve not only as a catharsis for the victims who testify in them, but also, in most cases, as the most authentic account of contentious violent incidents. The second lesson is that you don't need a Disturbed Areas Act for policemen to enjoy impunity. No government will prosecute policemen who act against minorities, Dalits, Adivasis, peasants and labourers.


From Punjab to Maliana, Nandigram to Gurgaon — policemen have got away with shooting and assaulting unarmed masses belonging to these categories.  But can victims and activists stop trying to get these policemen punished? That would mean conceding that might is right, that some Indians have less human rights than others.







Looking at the current state of affairs in Pakistan, it seems that the country is on its way to self-destruction. It may pull along, in this tattered and bruised condition for some years, but surely in its current state lies several lessons for all of us who are involved with being a "nation". Pakistan took the route that was soon after taken by Israel — religious identity as its founding principle.


The Indian subcontinent — whether or not the idea of India was a colonial construct — was ripped apart and the scars have still not completely healed. Indian Muslims even today bear the brunt of what their co-religionists did. But religious identity is, of course, not a strong foundation to take the weight of a nation. It may give you temporary solace after a struggle but it cannot build institutions.


Pakistan's problems of course go deeper and wider than that now. Its obsession with India has not allowed it to tackle problems within its own society. Nor has the obsession allowed it to be realistic, or even real. All the demons it is fighting today have come out of its desire to trump, better or bleed India. Its insistence on acquiring Kashmir has led it to foster terrorists and the awful consequences of that have now been felt around the world.
But as we watch Pakistan imploding with horror, we might also take some relief that for us some bogeys seem to have died with the night.


The results of the last few elections in India have shown that narrow religious or caste sectarianism is losing its appeal. The electoral losses being suffered by the Bharatiya Janata Party mean many things but paramount among those is the fact that Hindutva by itself is no longer a winner. The people of India are unconvinced and most likely, they want more.


There will always be people who want to be known by their religious identity and people for whom protecting this identity leads them to feel threatened, insecure and hostile towards the perceived enemy. Adolf Hitler used old Christian antipathy towards Jews to bamboozle the average insecure German and took it to its deadliest conclusion. A Holocaust-like situation can never be repeated — that is a promise the world made to itself. But morality and sentiment aside, no society will be able to survive on hatred because it is inimical to human progress.


The threat of religious fundamentalism has passed for now in India, it seems. True, these things are cyclical and it may emerge at any time, in any form. But the form invented by the Sangh Parivar and articulated by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal seems to have run its course. The fact that the BJP had six years in power and managed to do nothing more than rewrite history textbooks has often been credited to the fact that its coalition allies would not allow any more. The deeper answer lies in the fact that it could not form a government without allies —  even at the height of its success, the BJP's message had limited appeal. (I leave the events of Gujarat 2002 out of this reckoning because they speak to a different strain in our psyche.)


There is no cause for Hindutva-followers to start spitting fire and invective — they will only sound as sad as an aging Bal Thackeray blaming Maharashtrians for the Shiv Sena's electoral losses. Yes, all Maharashtrians do not subscribe to either Bal Thackeray or Raj Thackeray just as all Hindus do not subscribe to the BJP.


In India, at least, we do not have to be limited in our thinking by our religious belief, upbringing or traditions. So more and more as we watch Pakistan and say to ourselves "there but for the Grace of God…", we have to give thanks to our founding fathers who withstood the threat of religious identity and opted for another kind of nation. The Indian voter has not only fully understood this but also endorsed it. Life across the border is testament to the mistakes of others and how much we can learn from them.






Yaska (probably the oldest commentator on the Vedas) gives the following classification of the Vedic gods. "There are three deities: Agni, whose place is on the earth; Vayu or Indra, whose place is in the air; and Surya, whose place is in the sky.

In the Rigveda this number is increased to thirty-three, of whom eleven are said to be in heaven, eleven on earth, and eleven in mid-air. This is the number usually mentioned, though it is by no means easy to decide which are the thirty-three intended, as the lists found in various places vary considerably.
These deities are not said to be self-existent beings; in fact their parentage in most cases is given; but the various accounts of their origin do not agree with each other. Agni and Savitri are said to have conferred immortality upon the other gods; whilst it is also taught that Indra obtained this boon by sacrifice.
An interesting account is given in the Satapatha Brahmana of the means by which the gods obtained immortality, and superiority over the asuras or demons. All of them, gods and demons alike, were mortal, equal in power, all were sons of Prajapati the Creator. Wishing to be immortal, the gods offered sacrifices and practised the severest penance; but not until Prajapati had taught them to offer a particular sacrifice could they become immortal. They followed his advice, and succeeded. Wishing to become greater than the asuras, they became truthful.

Previously they and the asuras spoke truthfully or falsely, as they thought fit; but gradually, whilst gods ceased from lying, the asuras became increasingly false; the result was that the gods gained the victory. Originally the gods were all equal in power, all alike good. But three of them desired to be superior to the rest and they continued to offer sacrifices for this purpose until it was accomplished.

From Hindu Mythology, Vedic and Puranic by WJ Wilkins






From Stalin's "enemy of the people" to George W Bush's "enemy combatant", sinister labels with no clear meaning have inflamed fears and rationalised wicked deeds. Britain's police are not purging or torturing anyone, but their legally empty new phrase — "domestic extremist" — has something of the same eerie ring. Political activists are being branded this way, and then stopped, searched and spied on.

An alphabet soup of semi-secret intelligence units overseen by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Apco) all have their eyes trained on the supposed enemy within. Our investigation reveals how police photograph advertised public meetings, build dossiers of humdrum information on lawful demonstrators and issue officers policing protests with secret mug-shots of people to "look out for", including those who have no criminal past. Anton Setchell, Acpo's national co-ordinator for domestic extremism, responds to quibbles about all of this by blithely asserting that "everyone who has got a criminal record did not have one once".

We have already exposed the extraordinary range of data, including information on sexual activity, which is being collected on innocent Muslims. Now, we hear from peaceful protestors against war and climate change who have found their way on to police databases and then been followed.

Next month, the chief inspector of constabulary, Denis O'Connor, is set to report on the policing of protest. He must thrust the force's whole approach out into the daylight, and should also give thought to what legal protections are needed to balance the restrictive turn the law has recently taken.

The Guardian (UK)






The highly anticipated India vs Australia ODI series got off to a tremendous start, with the mighty Aussies securing a narrow four run win over the hosts at Vadodara ('What a start!', DNA, October 26). Chasing 293 to win, the Indians looked to be well out of the contest — until Harbhajan Singh and Praveen Kumar gave the Aussies a royal scare with their 84-run partnership. The Aussies might have won the hard-fought encounter, but at the end of the day, it was quality cricket that emerged as the biggest victor. One hopes that contests of this nature would provide a real shot in the arm for the beleaguered ODIs .

—Pradyut Hande, Mumbai


The edit 'Wires Crossed', (DNA,October 26) was a balanced view on the telecom scandal. No doubt the Congress party's newfound confidence after the recent victory in the elections to the three state assemblies is the driving force behind its show of defiance against the powerful ally, DMK. It cannot also be ruled out that the disgruntled elements in Karunanidhi's family may have provided a valuable lead to the government on the kickbacks in telecom licensing. It was Dayanidhi Maran who first raised an alarm over the 2G spectrum allocation when he was out of favour with Karunanidhi but later retracted from it when he was accepted by the family.
V Venkatasubramanian, Mumbai


The edit 'Enemy within', (DNA, October 24) has done a balancing act of viewing the Naxal problem from two opposite angles. The Naxals won the people's sympathy when they stood for the welfare of the poor. But now repeated attacks on various sections of the society have made them very unpopular. While tit for tat can be one way of handling the issue, speaking across the table is also not a bad idea. The only question is whether the Maoists are ready to talk with the government. Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra, and now West Bengal, are seeing the worst aspects of Naxal brutality. The Naxals should understand that in a civilised society there is no place for violence.

Ganapathi Bhat, Akola


The Shiv Sena chief, Bal Thackeray, has lambasted the Marathi manoos for stabbing him in the back ('Maharashtrians have stabbed me in the back: Bal', DNA.Sunday, October 25). The one-point agenda of Shiv Sena, when it was formed, was to protect the interests of Maharashtrians. However the lust for power and money subordinated the original cause. No wonder its disillusioned followers turned their backs on the Shiv Sena.
CS Pathak, Pune









Dr Manmohan Singh and Mr Wen Jiabao have shown statesmanship of a high order by agreeing to halt any slide-back in relations between India and China and instead look into the future. Apparently, neither have liked the angry noises the two neighbours made against each other during the last few weeks, but have rightly chosen to look for the best ways to have a relationship of trust and understanding befitting the two Asian powers.


Mature nations like India and China cannot afford to do anything that can prevent them from working together for peace and economic advancement of their region and the world. They have outstanding problems like the boundary dispute, but they have to find ways to cooperate with each other in areas where it is possible — climate change, trade and investment, etc. This realisation on their part could be seen when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao exchanged their views on different issues on the sidelines of the 15th ASEAN summit at Hua Hin in Thailand on Saturday and Sunday.


India and China "reaffirmed the need to maintain peace and tranquillity on the border, pending the resolution of the border question", as Dr Manmohan Singh pointed out to media persons. He underlined the need for both sides to "build better understanding and trust at the political level so that our relations remain robust and strong."


After all, India and China have to work as partners in progress. The whole world is watching the developments involving the two countries. Issues like building of a dam by China over the Brahmaputra, the coming visit of the Dalai Lama to Arunachal Pradesh and the Chinese refusal to grant proper travel visas to Indians from Jammu and Kashmir can be competently handled through discussions at the appropriate levels. There are official channels to take up the issues that crop up between the two countries. Exaggerating the differences through the media will only complicate the matters.


The policy of concentrating on issues of convergence between the two countries has paid dividends. The volume of bilateral trade between India and China has gone up considerably during the past few years. There are established groups that promote economic activities involving the two nations. If India encourages its companies to invest in China and welcomes any investment from the companies based there, the latter is also doing the same.


The two Asian giants should also hold as much discussions at the political and official levels as possible. This should be done besides promoting people-to-people contacts. These can create a congenial atmosphere for the resolution of the issues that have been defying a solution so far.








In the volatile politics of Haryana where chief ministers have traditionally had short tenures, Mr Bhupinder Singh Hooda can draw some comfort from the fact that he is the first chief minister to have entered a second consecutive term. But with the Congress having failed to get a majority, Mr Hooda is up against a formidable challenge in holding on to his "gaddi". For now, Mr Hooda has skilfully managed the support of seven Independents while the Haryana Janhit Congress of Mr Kuldeep Bishnoi with its six members is also gravitating towards the Congress. However, Mr Hooda's challenge has not ended with his swearing-in. The Independents will all demand their pound of flesh and Mr Bishnoi is already believed to be sending feelers offering support with strings attached, spoken or otherwise.


Mr Hooda's trump card is that his arch-rival, Mr Om Prakash Chautala, will find it extremely difficult to cobble together a majority. Mr Chautala's INLD, which has won an impressive 31 seats as against a mere nine in the earlier House, has a post-poll arrangement with the BJP which has four members. But Mr Bishnoi and Mr Chautala are at dagger's drawn and the former knows only too well that even if he were to make common cause with the INLD, his flock could desert him in favour of the Congress. Weaning the Independents away from the Congress would also be no mean task considering that the Congress has the advantage of being in power.


Yet, Mr Hooda can indeed ill afford to be complacent. He will have to learn to take his partymen along and knit the Congress together. It is common knowledge that the Congress could have done much better than it did in the assembly elections if the infighting had not played its role. At present, the main grouse that his detractors hold against him is that he is overly indulgent towards his own district, Rohtak, and tends to neglect other regions in the state. If he is to win back the support of all sections of his partymen he will have to work towards more balanced growth in the state. Indeed, for Mr Hooda the coming months will see the test of his skills and capacity to take his party along.








There is always something wrong when a cartoon turns into a caricature. When Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, therefore, whimpers and wallows in self-pity, people sit up and take notice. His public persona, after all, is that of a roaring tiger. But apparently stunned by the Sena's worst electoral performance in Maharashtra in the last two decades, Mr Thackeray has accused the Marathi Manoos of letting him down. In an editorial in the party mouthpiece, Saamna, the 84-year old lamented that he has been stabbed in the back.


The despairing Thackeray laments that he no longer has any faith left in either people, the Marathi Manoos or even in God. He evidently finds it difficult to swallow that while Mr Narendra Modi's appeal to Gujarati pride fetches him rich electoral dividends and while the aggressively pro-Tamil parties like the DMK and the AIADMK share the spoils in Tamil Nadu, his belligerence in favour of the Marathi Manoos should fail to work and deprive the Shiv Sena another opportunity to rule over Maharashtra.


Equally interesting is the reaction of Mr Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, the BJP spokesman, who professes to be as baffled as Mr Thackeray about the saffron party's dismal performance in the elections. Mr Naqvi followed the line adopted by Mr Lal Krishna Advani while blaming the voting machines for the party's debacle. Describing the EVMs as acting as the Electronic "Victory" Machines for the Congress, Mr Naqvi sought to cast aspersion on the electoral process itself.


Neither Mr Thackeray nor Mr Naqvi seem willing to concede that the electoral reverses could have anything to do with the kind of politics that had been resorted to. While Mr Thackeray is at least realistic enough to admit that his nephew Mr Raj Thackeray did him in, Mr Naqvi cannot obviously see beyond the fault-finding EVMs.

Politicians can and do produce many scapegoats for their political blunders — men or machines. They often remind people of the playwright who boasts the play to be a stupendous success but accuses the audience to have failed the play.









Renuka Prasad, an attractive 61-year old, has become an icon for cancer survival. Wife of a retired General and currently Joint Secretary of the Indian Cancer Society, she understands the trauma of losing a breast to cancer and undergoing chemotherapy. Counselling and hand holding, she comes on public platforms in India and abroad to raise funds and create awareness about the large number of young people suffering from breast cancer and losing their lives because they did not reach the doctor on time.


In fact, breast cancer has been identified as the biggest killer of urban women in the country, says Renuka. Some 40,000 women die of breast cancer ever year in India. While in the US and the UK women get breast cancer in their fifties and sixties, and that too is on the decline because of awareness and regular screening after a woman turns 40, in urban India it is on the increase and a lot of young people are getting it.


Yet a 100 per cent cure is possible if it is detected at an early stage, says Dr Ramesh Sarin, Chairperson of the Forum for Breast Cancer Protection and an oncologist at the Apollo Hospital, Delhi. Every year 100,000 women get breast cancer in India and 40 per cent of them die because it is detected too late or they are too shy to get themselves seen by a doctor. Eighty per cent of them reach the doctor after the second stage. Though mammography is a surer way of detecting breast cancer and is advised once a year, the number of women undergoing mammography on a regular basis is minuscule in India.


On October 2 this year, distressed by the large number of young people getting breast cancer, the Forum for Breast Cancer Protection, a group of doctors from the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, Apollo Hospital, Gangaram Hospital and the Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute in Delhi and radiologists of the city organised a car rally from Delhi to Agra to create awareness about breast cancer. In the city of the Taj Mahal, they sought the assistance of doctors, nursing homes, the district administration and NGOs in containing it. Many of those in the rally were cancer survivors, their parents, siblings and friends. A hundred nursing homes and hospitals of Agra offered a free check-up for breast cancer a day after the rally.


Renuka was a part of the team organising the rally. Leading the pack of cars was Sita Paintal, 79, who has chronic myloid lukemia (a cancer of the elderly) for four years now. A frail looking woman with immense spirit, this 79-year-old drove all the 300 km to Agra. Though her two daughters had come to join her on the rally, she would not let them take the wheel. The motivation to join the rally was strong. Her sister had suffered from breast cancer and died of it a year and a half ago. A former lecturer in Delhi's IP College, Sita Sibal, has been working for the disabled. She has worked for the National Association for the Blind and is now associated with Cancer Sahyog. She drove an Indica Vista and drew a lot of attention because of her commitment and energy despite four years with cancer.


The large number of young getting breast cancer and the hereditary nature of the mutating genes has been a major cause for concern. Dr P K Julka, professor of clinical oncology at AIIMS, said quite recently he had seen five young women of 21 to 25 years with breast cancer. Though there is evidence of an 18-year-old getting cancer, it is said to be very rare. When Shweta (name changed), who had just celebrated her 18th birthday with her school buddies, reported at the Tata Cancer Research Institute in Mumbai with a lump in her breast little did she realise that it would change her life. It was sheer luck that her mother insisted that she must visit the hospital for there was a history of cancer in the family and Shweta's aunt had died of cancer at the age of 45 just two years earlier. The lump deep in the tissues of the breast was already over 2 centimetres and Shweta had to undergo a masectomy and the trauma of getting disfigured in the bloom of youth. But she survived after the surgery and several rounds of chemotherapy.


The young woman, in her early thirties today, never got married. Her family and friends rallied around her and ensured that she pursued her studies and got into a career that has to some extent erased the painful memories of cancer at 18! But she continues to have her annual check-ups to ensure that she remains cancer-free.


Here again was evidence of the hereditary factor. But it was the alertness of her mother that saved Shweta's life. Dr Julka says the factors that can increase the likelihood of hereditary breast cancer include breast cancer before the age of 45, cancer in both breasts, male breast cancer and several cases of breast and/or ovarian cancer on the same side of a family. In fact the mutations that cause cancer have been identified as BRCA-1 and BRCA-2. The BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 gene mutations are linked primarily to breast and ovarian cancer, bur BRCA 2 mutations carry a somewhat higher risk for other cancers. But even without a family history there are chances of getting breast cancer.


In urban areas changing lifestyle has increased the risk factor for cancer. Breast cancer has overtaken cervical cancer in urban areas, but in rural areas because of poor hygiene there are more cases of cervical cancer. Obesity, consumption of fatty foods, delay in the age of marriage as well as in having children, not breast-feeding babies long enough and too much of estrogen in the system increases the chances of breast cancer.


If the first child is born after the woman turns 30, she is more prone to breast cancer. In fact, breast feeding provides protection against cancer. The scientific reason for this has yet to be established but it could have something to do with levels of estrogen remaining low in a lactating mother. Dr Shekhar Pant, the Vice-Chairman of the Forum for Protection Against Breast Cancer and a radiologist, says if a girl starts menstruating at 10 and has her first child at 45 years, there would be high levels of estrogen in her system. These days many working women tend to breast-feed their babies for just six weeks to two months and this means less immunity to breast cancer. Hormone therapy after menopause increases estrogen levels, so women should have regular check-ups after the therapy, says Dr Pant.


He also questions the myth that the radiation from mammography could lead to cancer. A federal drug administration risk/benefit analysis in the US where 10,000 persons who had undergone mammography were followed up for 29 years has conclusively proved that mammography does not cause cancer.


Self-examination regularly is one of the ways of detecting breast cancer though not the best. A 13-minute educational film on breast self-examination has been prepared by the Forum with the support of well-known television actresses like Sakshi Tanwar, Shweta Keswani and Apara Mehta who have lent voice to the film, and cancer survivors and their children have come forward to demonstrate how self-examination should be done. Not only is the film being screened widely but hundreds of CDs on self-examination are also being distributed.


So, mammography every year is advised by the Forum after the woman crosses 40 and even earlier if there is a history of cancer in the family. If the person comes to a doctor at the first stage, when the lump in the breast is just one centimetre, survival chances are high. When the lump is 2 centimetres it is the second stage of cancer and the treatment is prolonged. At the third stage when the lump is 4 to 5 centimetres, there is a 40 per cent chance of survival after aggressive treatment.


Counselling and family support are vital for all those going through cancer. In the case of breast cancer, men and women face several psychological and social problems. Men whose wives have breast cancer reject them as "katti, phatti women".


Though most people think of breast cancer as an ailment of women, men too get breast cancer but it is quite rare. Since male breasts have less tissue, their lump would be in the periphery. A senior army officer was diagnosed with a lump in his breast and had to get it out surgically. It was a traumatic experience and it took him years before he could talk about it.








SWINE flu has made its advent in the country when the cell-phone has already become inextricably grounded in the Indian soil. Or, it may be more appropriate to say that the device has been so ingrained in the national psyche that it is impossible to sever the electronic device from the ear even surgically.


Ever wondered why we have become so incurably addicted to this upbeat disease so easily, so fast. This is because we Indians are the most talkative people in the world. Before the arrival of the cell-phone we sought the lusty satisfaction of our native loquacity on the stage. Once the mike fell in our possession no Hercules could separate us from the volume-augmenting gadget. Now that privilege solely belongs to the politicians and the TV gurus.


At home, on the street, in the park, and the market, even in the public toilet, cell-phone is an un-divorceable life-mate of India's "generation x" and "generation y". It may be hard to decipher what turns the 24x7 use of cell-phone into a national epidemic, but one thing is certain that it is the closest instrument as an effective replacement of inmates of the house to satisfy one's lust for genetic talkativeness.


I see young boys and girls during walks holding the phone, as if riveted to the ear, engaged in endless harangues—even in early morning. It is not walk while you talk. It is talk while you walk. In our days, if anyone was seen sticking his hand to the temple, the sympathy-dripping query would be: Have you hurt your ear?


The genre of the Homo sapiens called the "politician" suffers from chronic vocal diarrhoea for which modern medical science has no cure. And if our own much-hyped Ayurveda had it, the disease wouldn't have been there in the first place.


A mantri once asked his private secretary to reduce his public speech from one hour to half an hour, which he conscientiously did so that his boss could impress the mongrel assortment of audience as a man of few words. But the honourable people's elected representative spent an hour delivering the public address. The restive audience conveyed that the impact was far from impressive. When he accosted his PS, the poor fellow told the minister that although the speech was timed exactly at 30 minutes, the respected "Sir", in his undiminished enthusiasm, had read out the carbon copy too!


Both the deadly afflictions, the cell-phone and swine flu, have come from the world's singular superpower. But the problem is that, although the cell-phone epidemic is much more dangerous than swine flu, those suffering from it don't rush to the hospitals for treatment. They run to the market for a recharge! If these unsuspecting teeming millions have survived the aural virus, God alone can save the country. Until then, Vande Mataram!








For centuries, Adam Abdi Ibrahim's ancestors herded cattle and goats across an unforgiving landscape in southern Somalia where few others were hearty enough to survive. This year, Ibrahim became the first in his clan to throw in the towel, abandoning his land and walking for a week to bring his family to this overcrowded refugee camp in Kenya.


He's not fleeing warlords, Islamist insurgents or Somalia's 18-year civil war. He's fleeing the weather.


"I give up," said the father of five as he stood in line recently to register at the camp. After enduring four years of drought and the death of his last 20 animals, Ibrahim, 28, said he has no plans to return.


Asked how he planned to live, Ibrahim shrugged: "I want to be a refugee."


Africa is already home to one-third of the 42 million people worldwide uprooted by ethnic slaughter, despots and war. But experts say climate change is quietly driving Africa's displacement crisis to new heights. Ibrahim is one of an estimated 10 million people worldwide who have been driven out of their homes by rising seas, failing rain, desertification or other climate-driven factors.


Norman Myers, an Oxford University professor and one of the first scholars to draw attention to the unfolding problem, estimated there will be more than 25 million climate refugees by 2050, replacing war and persecution as the leading cause of global displacement.


Africa will be heaviest hit because so many people's livelihoods are dependent upon farming and livestock. Many Africans use less water in a day than the average American uses to flush the toilet, so any further declines that might occur because of climate change could be life-threatening.


"Climate change is going to set back development and food production in sub-Saharan Africa at least a decade and perhaps two or three," he said.


It's a reminder that behind the science, statistics and debate over global warming, climate change is already having a deep impact on Africa's poverty, security and culture. And a serious global discussion about climate refugees has barely begun, in part over concerns about who will pick up the tab, some experts say.


So far there's no comprehensive strategy for coping with climate refugees, who are not yet legally recognized and receive no direct funding. As a result, those fleeing drought, flood and other weather changes usually end up in slums or refugee camps that were set up and funded for other purposes.


"If we were a corporation, climate change is what you might call a `growth area,' " said Andy Needham, spokesman the Dadaab office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.


The crisis is apparent at this refugee camp, which was built for 90,000 people and now houses three times as many, near the Kenya-Somalia border. In some cramped corners of the camp, 20 people live in an area not much bigger than a U.S. living room. With no room to expand, graves and human bones are being dug up to make space for new huts and much-needed latrines.


Most here are Somalis who have been fleeing insecurity since the 1991 collapse of the Siad Barre dictatorship. But U.N. officials estimate as many as 10 percent of Dadaab's residents are climate refugees. For newcomers, the percentage may be even higher.


"Lately the majority we see coming here are because of the drought," said Bile Mohamed Ahmed, a refugee who serves as an elected camp leader.


Rukiya Ali Abdirahman, 35, and her husband lived in a southern Somalia region that was largely untouched by clan warfare and fighting. The couple tended a small farm, growing food for themselves and selling the excess. But three years ago, the rainfall began to lessen. Crops failed. So they abandoned their home and came to Dadaab, where he works on odd construction jobs and she makes mud bricks.


"I would have been happy to stay on the farm and die there," she said. "We could have coped with the insecurity. But we couldn't cope with not having anything to eat. That's when we left."


Even some Kenyan farmers and herders have been driven into the camp by drought, though technically Kenyans are not supposed to register because they are not Somalis and not fleeing violence.


The Kenyan government estimates about 4,600 of its citizens are living in Dadaab. Officials are forcing them to either renounce their citizenship or leave the camp.


Kenyans in the camp say it's unfair to make them choose, because they are just as needy as those fleeing violence.


"The border has never meant anything to us," said one Kenyan herdsman, whose name was withheld for his protection. He lost 250 animals over the past three years. "There was no place else for me to go," he said.


Other climate refugees are flooding into Kenya's larger cities. Herders from tribes such as Maasai and Borano are now a common sight in Nairobi's slums, where many are forced to beg for money or take jobs as hairdressers and security guards -- something hard to swallow for a people who take pride in being their own bosses.


"It's painful to watch," said John Letai, a coordinator for Oxfam, the British aid agency. He said climate change is threatening the viability of the herdsmen's lifestyle, which is already struggling to find its place in the modern world. "Climate change is just adding problems to a way of life that is already injured," he said.


By one estimate, a quarter of Kenya's herdsmen have abandoned their livelihoods over the past century.


The migration of climate refugees to the cities is accelerating Kenya's urbanization, according to Oxfam, which estimates one-quarter of the growth in Nairobi's slums now comes from families fleeing rural areas. That influx is taking a toll on the city's health and education infrastructure. In a reversal of past trends, children in Nairobi's slums are now less likely to be immunized and less likely to attend high school than their rural counterparts, an Oxfam study found.


Still, the international community has been slow to react, or in some cases even acknowledge the existence of climate refugees. That's partly because countries suffering from climate change today are usually poor, underdeveloped and politically marginalized. There is also a debate in the West about how to distinguish climate refugees from those feeling disasters or poverty.


Bangladesh, which stands to lose up to one-fifth of its land to rising seas, has been at the forefront of pressing industrial nations to update their immigration policies and accept climate refugees.


But the UNHCR doesn't see climate refugees as part of its responsibility. Under the 1951 Geneva Convention, refugees are defined as people fleeing their country because of violence or persecution.


 By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post








A controversy is raging over the existence of 56 pillars that are standing in full glory and are covering the world-famous Tiananmen Square in Beijing. The Red regime has merely postponed its decision on the growing demand that they must be relocated to restore the two great monuments of China to their original glory.


There columns were raised in 1958 that made a permanent change to the world's largest open square covering nearly 4,40,000 square metre area with the entrance to the Forbidden City on one side, the great Hall of nation symbolised by the Chinese Parliament to the other side.


The square had been the venue for all national celebrations for the past sixty years as it was also a venue that reflected the first restiveness two decades earlier which was brutally crushed by the regime.


But the restiveness has returned. The ethnic clashes in the western parts of the country, especially in Xinjiang province, reflect that restiveness. The worst-ever ethnic clashes in the decade were seen in July this year.


Now twelve persons have been given the death sentence by the court in Urumqi, which is the capital of the province, for their role in violent clashes between Uygurs and the dominant ethnic group, the Hans, that had left more than 200 persons dead.


The controversy also reflects the growing political unrest with professionals displaying courage to demand from the government that it must remove their pillars and relocate them elsewhere.


Many had doubted the political correctness of raising these pillars to symbolise the ethnic unity of China in 1958 because their raising had turned the square into a prison-like place even though it attracts thousands of tourists each year. But the pillars underwent three changes since the raising of the monument to the People's Heroes and also the mausoleum of Mao Zedong in 1977.


But the tall columns, each weighing nearly 26 tonnes of cement and steel, have become eyesores as most people see them as redundant intruders in the landscape, particularly because of their decorations. The pillars are decorated with golden-coloured designs and painted red. There are insignias of different ethnic groups to represent their unity. But there was also an explanation in selecting these two colours, red representing the power of state and golden colour signifying the prosperity of the nation.


The government was to take a decision on their existence but has preferred to defer it. A staff member of the Beijing Beiao Grand Cultural and Sports Event Company, that has helped in designing and maintaining of these columns for over five decades, said, "They would remain where they are till the government takes a final decision on them."


Beijing-based architect Gu Mengchao says that the giant pillars are distracting and has ruined the landscape of Tiananmen Square. These columns have reduced the role of two monuments, including the Gate of Heavenly Peace. He wants that permanent structures on the square, including the reviewing stands on each side of the Gate of Heavenly Peace and the marble columns must be able to stand the test of time.


Another senior architect who is working with the Beijing civic authorities, Luo Zhongzhao, feels even more strongly the redundancy of these pillars because they have reduced to nothingness the two other monuments of greater historical importance the Great Hall of the People and the National Museum.


The pillars were raised to symbolise the ethnic unity, which stands shattered by the recent ethnic clashes in Tibet and recently in Xinjiang province. In any case, other buildings were already symbolising the national ethnic unity.


"We have no ideas when they were erected in the first place but the people must have a say since the square is recognised as a symbol of Chinese unity", says Luo. He finds many echoing his strong sentiments because the columns standing only 5.9 metres away from each other are conveying the message contrary to the original intensions as they reduced to the square to look smaller though it attracts every day thousands of visitors.


However, a cultural art critic, Zhu Dake, says that walking on the square covered from all four sides by these columns and with sentries guarding them to keep visitors away from these columns give an eerie feeling to every one as if they were walking in the courtyard of a prison and not in the great square of China.


Other critics add that these columns are said to represent 56 ethnic groups of China but many more ethnic groups are banging at the doors of the government to demand their inclusion in the list. Hence, the 56 pillars cannot symbolise the ethnic unity of China.







The judiciary's image has undergone a sea change in the past one year. This is reflected not only by the public perception but also by statements of the successive Law Ministers.


Addressing the Law Day function last year, the then Minister HR Bhardwaj said judges were discharging "divine functions."


A few months later, he changed his opinion, stating that in Britain judges were considered "angels," but it was not so in India.


On assuming office, M Veerappa Moily also held the judiciary in high esteem, stating that it was on a par with the best systems in developed countries.


The shocker of a statement came last week with Moily calling for "resurrection of the judiciary's credibility." This is viewed as a clear acknowledgement that not much is left of its image any longer.



Last week the JD-U announced the suspension of three of its MPs, including the lone Muslim member in the Rajya Sabha, Ejaz Ali. Two Lok Sabha members – Puranmasi Ram and Jagdish Sharma – were sacked by the party for setting up their kith and kin in the recent assembly elections, spoiling the chances of the party candidates.


But Ali was penalised for repeatedly attempting to create a rift between the JD-U and its senior NDA partner the BJP.


True, throughout the general election Ali was campaigning against L.K. Advani and embarrassing his JD-U.


But his ouster could have far-reaching repercussions on the party. Naturally, rival Lalu Yadav may go to town questioning the secular credentials of the JD-U shouting over the rooftops that Nitish Kumar prefers Advani/Sushil Modi to a Muslim leader.


But more importantly, Ejaz Ali was the JD-U's mascot leader of Pasmanda (backward) Muslims. Nitish Kumar and some of his supporters in the media had assiduously created and built up Ali as the symbol of injustice to the lower-caste Muslims.



For long Bhajan Lal was known in Congress circles as the man who helped the party tide over many a crisis. The hung assembly situation in Haryana has forced the Congress bosses to turn towards Bhajan Lal again.


This old-warhorse had once famously "ensured" that the minority Narasimha Rao government (1991-96) at the Centre survived its term.


For the uninitiated, Bhajan Lal was the man who saved the government and ensured that the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) led by Shibu Soren voted in favour of the Congress and saved the Rao government.


The Congress suddenly remembered the long-forgotten Bhajan Lal yet again because his Haryana Janhit

Congress has won six seats – crucial to form a government.


Old Congress loyalists have been deputed to contact Bhajan Lal.


A joke doing the rounds in political circles is that it is now Bhajan Lal's turn to receive from the Congress what he gave to Soren once to save the same Congress.


Contributed by R Sedhuraman, Ajay Banerjee and Faraz Ahmad








When the Assam Pay Commission submitted its report to the State Chief Minister on October 13, 2009 there was all round satisfaction expressed by all concerned and specially by the office-bearers of the employees' associations. The report is yet to be published. But certain surmises and inferences have been drawn from the public pronouncements of the Chief Minister and the statements of the Principal Finance Secretary which indicate that the scales of pay as recommended for the Government of India employees by the Sixth Central Pay Commission will be made applicable to the Assam Government employees also. There is, however, no definite indication as to which 'pay band' will be applicable to which category nor any clarification about the 'grade pay' to be paid to different groups of employees. What the employees are expecting is almost a three fold increase in the basic pay across the board. Whether this hope is really fulfilled will be known only after the publication of the full report. Another point which is still not clear is about the availability of funds for payment of salary and arrears to the employees. Some provision is reported to have been already made in the current year's State Budget. But the State Government is expecting the Government of India to assist in this respect.

An ethical question has also been raised in this connection. In a State where the per capita income is only Rs 23,308 per annum (as in 2008-09) which is less than Rs 2,000 per month per capita is it fair to fix the minimum salary of Government employees at a level several times that figure? The tax payers and even the common people may not like this if the full implications are explained to them. Another objection which has been voiced in the media is that most Government employees are not honest and sincere. Most employees are not considered to be sincere because they do not perform their duties diligently and with a commitment for the welfare of the people. Besides the general perception is that many Government employees demand illegal gratification for work done. Therefore, many people feel that before such a high pay revision is actually implemented there should have been an agreement between the State Government and the employees' associations to ensure that the State employees follow the Central Government time table both in respect of the hours of work and in respect of the holidays enjoyed. There should also have been a special pledge obtained from the State employees that they would refrain themselves from illegal gratification and demand of money from the general public. It must be realised that the political and the bureaucratic functionaries are paid only to serve the people, whom they must treat with courtesy, politeness and respect. There is time even now for the State Government to obtain such an agreement from the employees' associations. Besides they must give a pledge to refrain from illegal gratification. This should be done before actually sanctioning the payscales at par with the Central Government employees.








While the high incidence of cancer in the North-East is well-known, another peculiarity relates to a similar high prevalence of certain types cancer among the female populace. Data provided by the National Cancer Registry Prgramme (NCRP) confirms this worrying trend among women in the region – a development that calls for a more detailed survey covering more areas of the region. Such an exercise would be critical to the success of any strategy aimed at combating the menace. Cancer of mouth, esophagus, stomach and lung has been found to be much higher among females in certain pockets of the North-East compared to their counterparts elsewhere in the country. While factors such as tobacco consumption and food preparation are generally attributed to this, more study and research are needed for a comprehensive understanding of the dynamics. Genetic factors, too, are believed to have a role in causing cancer.

Along with health-related interventions, a sustained drive to boost mass awareness is highly imperative. It is regrettable that notwithstanding the abnormal prevalence of cancer, awareness on the dreaded disease continues to be alarmingly low in the North-East. In fact, this lack of awareness has been a perennial bane in effective treatment of the disease, leading to rising cancer mortality rates. While health authorities claim to have sufficient infrastructure for cancer treatment, the poor awareness level as well as misconceptions and myths associated with cancer invariably make the situation complicated. Cancer is very much a death warrant for many even today, whereas the fact stands that cancer is totally curable with early detection and treatment. Ignorance and misunderstanding often prevent early diagnosis and timely treatment. This is more widespread in the case of women suffering from breast and cervical cancers, as ignorance, misunderstanding and a sense of shame effectively debar the afflicted from taking recourse to timely medical intervention. The prevailing situation reflects poorly on the efforts of the Government and voluntary agencies in disseminating information on cancer. Doing away with the bottlenecks preventing early detection and timely treatment must form an integral part of the strategy to battle cancer. The Government should launch a sustained campaign on cancer awareness with special emphasis on reaching out to those in interior areas. NGOs and the media can assist the Government machinery in a big way in such an endeavour. While lowering the incidence of cancer might not be possible in the near future, cancer-related fatalities can certainly be minimized with some serious effort.








The first time I heard of Ivan Illich was a year or so after his epoch-making book on education, Deschooling Society, was first published in Britain by Calder & Boyars in 1971. Soon after, I had an irresistible urge to read the book because of the reviews it was getting. What intrigued me was the way the book had raised the hackles of many pedagogues who had very set ideas on what education and schools ought to be like. After all, the book is so radical in its approach that it questions the very need of schools. And yet it is a seminal book by someone who had spent the best part of his life as an educator and a priest – close to struggling and bewildered souls. Having read the remarkable book of just 116 pages, I presented copies to book-loving friends who I thought needed to be shocked out of their regimented notions about education. I shall come to Deschooling Society by and by, but before that I would like to say something about the man and how I got to meet him.

Theologian, educator and social critic, Ivan Illich was born on September 4, 1926 to Ivan Peter and Ellen Illich in Vienna, Austria. Ivan Illich's father was a diplomat from an aristocratic Christian family. His mother's family was Jewish. His school days were spent wherever his father was posted, but later on he went to the University of Florence and majored in Chemistry. But he changed track and did his Ph.D. in History on the work of historian Arnold Toynbee. He then prepared for priesthood in the Gregorian University in Rome and was ordained in 1951. Here he met Jacques Maritain, the Catholic philosopher who became his mentor and lifelong friend. In 1951, he went to the United States planning to study in Princeton University, but his interest quickly changed, and he plunged himself into work as a priest in a Puerto Rican parish in the US, eventually moving to Puerto Rico and becoming the Vice-Rector of the Catholic University at Ponce in Puerto Rico. Thereafter a series of very distinguished academic assignments followed in Bremen (Germany), Mexico and other places. There also followed a series of books. He resigned from active priesthood in the late 1960s after having attained the rank of monsignor when he was just 30 years old. I have always believed that Ivan Illich's greatness as an educator and a social critic stemmed from the fact that he questioned all established notions and beliefs regardless of how deep-rooted they were and how many millions reposed full faith in them. Had that not been so, a book like Deschooling Society would not have seen the light of day. Ivan Illich died in 2002.

My meeting with Ivan Illich was a happy bit of serendipity. I do not remember the exact year, but I think it was 1978. I was then head of the English department at the Regional College of Education in Mysore. Professor Illich had, for some time, nursed the desire to learn Hindi, but could never find the time in his busy schedule. I think he was then Vice-Chancellor of Mexico University. In desperation, he dashed off a letter to Dr D.P.Pattanayak, Director of the Central Institute of Indian Languages also located at Mysore. He said he wanted to learn Hindi in just six weeks. He said he did not mind putting in 16 hours a day and taking any number of lessons. He promptly agreed to take on the task of teaching Professor Illich Hindi. Dr Pattanayak, an eminent linguist known all over the world, had become a close friend. When he gave me the happy news I was delighted. I had a few questions to ask Professor Illich.

One evening Ivan Illich arrived dressed in rather rumpled white kurta and pyjamas. He was tall and lanky with a long nose. He was a bundle of energy all day long. His punishing regimen started the next morning. Four teachers were allotted to this very distinguished student. The student remained fresh as a daisy at the end of the day. The four teachers who I knew appeared to have been hit by a tornado by then. They looked like limp rags. "Six weeks of this!" they moaned. "We'll all be finished by then." I asked them what the problem was. "Questions," they said. "There are pointed questions all through the day. And there is not a moment of rest for any of us." But they agreed that they had never had student like him in all their lives. "Then why are you complaining?" I wanted to know. They said it was the hectic pace at which the teaching had to be conducted.

Professor Illich was sorry that he would have no time for questions or discussions since he had such a lot of homework. But one evening, over dinner, he made a concession. I was able get in a couple of questions edgeways. But generally even during meals he would be trying out his Hindi on whoever was willing to listen. No wonder, at the end of six weeks, he was able to speak simple sentences in Hindi, read Hindi newspapers slowly and even to write Hindi somewhat laboriously. As a language teacher of many years I consider this quite an achievement in just six weeks.

I said earlier that Ivan Illich was radical in his views. Deschooling Society is the book by which he is best known. By now that book must have had over a score of editions. It is a book where he has questioned every long-held belief about schools and education. Every page of the book bristles with valid questions that are bound to shake the conformist to the core, and yet I have come across many college teachers of the subject Education in my State who have not even heard of it. I fervently hope that Mr Kapil Sibal, our minister for Human Resource Development has read it from cover to cover. Very few will entirely agree that society can do without schools. But it is important to know what prompted someone as educated as Ivan Illich and as concerned about the future of humanity to make this anguished plea that if schools are going to be no better than they are today, society can do without such schools.

I wish I could discuss the entire book here. But since that is out of the question, I must content myself with a short excerpt from the book and one or two of the numerous arguments that fill its pages to suggest that we are not managing our schools the way they should be to impart real education. The opening paragraph of his first chapter entitled "Why We Must Disestablish School" is often quoted as reflecting the trend and tenor of his thinking. This is how it goes : "Many students, especially those who are poor, intuitively know what the schools do for them. They school them to confuse process and substance. Once these become blurred, a new logic is assumed: the more treatment there is, the better are the results; or, escalation leads to success. The pupil is thereby 'schooled' to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new. His imagination is 'schooled' to accept service in place of value. Medical treatment is mistaken for health care, social work for the improvement of community life, police protection for safety, military poise for national security, the rat race for productive work. Health, learning, dignity, independence and creative endeavour are defined as little more than the performance of the institutions that claim to serve these ends, and their improvement is made to depend on allocating more resources to the management of hospitals, schools and other agencies in question." The book is a marvelous amplification of the statements made in this opening paragraph. However, in the course of enlarging on some of these points he also comes up with some important and radical statements. One is that children learn much more outside school than they do in school anyway. Another is that even in a country like the United States there is colossal waste of public money in the name of education. He gives the example of how over three thousand million dollars were spent in US schools to offset the disadvantages of about six million children between 1965 and 1968. Illich claims that compared with their classmates from middle-income homes, these three million children had fallen further behind. He then seeks to explain this total failure in three ways:

1. Three thousand million dollars are insufficient to improve the performance of six million children by a measurable amount; or

2. The money was incompetently spent : different curricula, better administration, further concentration of funds on the poor child, and more research are needed and would do the trick; or

3. Educational disadvantage cannot be cured by relying on education within the school.

Illich also discusses how school education "modernizes" poverty in poor countries. Later on he refers to this process as institutionalization of poverty. Yet another aspect of school education he discusses is how the school curriculum in industrialized societies is strongly influenced by the manufacturer so as to stoke consumerism. And there are endless other pertinent questions that are raised about the present-day ritual called education. I got to ask Illich only two questions. One was whether he had loss of abilities and skills and the poverty of the human soul rather than mere material poverty in mind when he spoke of modernizing poverty. The reply was a laconic "Obviously." The other was whether present-day education tended to take away manual skills and to make people too reliant on others because this would make them better consumers of goods and services provided by others. The reply was again a laconic "Obviously." Illich was obviously a man of few words when he wasn't writing.








The discussion on global economic meltdown at various informal world forums like G-20 has concentrated more on the ways and means adopted and to be adopted by the affected nations to recover the economy without distorting the basic tenets of the exploitative economy already determined by the economic globalisation. World's leading economies appear to caution each and everyone that any endeavour to create a new framework by departing from the model of global capitalism which existed prior to (sub-prime crisis) global meltdown, would not only perpetuate further crisis in the economy but would create fresh instability in the international system. This opinion expressed by the group vouching for the cause of imperialism could be counted as an effective means to hide the malaise of capitalism before its innate contradictions and negative aspects catch the mind of the most distressed world population spread in the southern hemisphere.

Needless to mention that such an economic collapse in a capitalist system is not at all unprecedented. In the 1930s also such an economic depression took place and again after the end of World War II another bout ensued. Yet the cascading effect of sub-prime crisis induced economic depression obviously has touched deeper all independent economies entwined with global economic regime of liberalisation. All such economies had to pay heavily for the collapse of the system. Naturally people have reason to be doubtful on the pronounced aims and objectives of globalisation such as ending of trade barrier and free flow of capital from the opulent nations to the capital starved nations in order to ensure the so called equitable growth all over the world. Assuranced such as removal of poverty and hardship from the lives of myriads of world citizens and an end to unemployment could not be materialised by the new global economic regime. On the other hand concern has been expressed in various world forums that opulent class has grown at the expense of deteriorating economic condition of the majority of the world population. Worse of all a retrenchment and wage freeze have become a reality today. In the wake of such diametrically opposite reality to what had been assured of, it world have been prudent to discuss the innate contradiction of the world economic regime, because it has deviated from the proclaimed path of creation of a utopia for the have nots.

The latest global economic meltdown has a severe repercussion on the capitalist countries like USA and European nations. The federal government of USA was forced to infuse $ 2.3 trillion in order to ensure recovery of its economy. Yet its GDP has fallen by 2.6 per cent. France, Germany, Canada, Japan and Italy too have achieved a negative GDP growth rate of 3 per cent, 6.2 per cent 2.3 per cent 6 per cent and 5.1 per cent respectively. In contrast both India and China have achieved a positive growth rate above 5 per cent and 7 per cent respectively, in such a recessive condition. Of course a minus 6.5 per cent GDP growth of erstwhile socialist but now capitalist Russia should itself be a matter of study in context to the present situation. Our economist Prime Minister categorically stated in G-20 Summit that such resilience of crisis withstanding capacity of our economy in the face of global recession could not have been a reality, had his government not taken the reformative fiscal measures in 2008 and 2009 when the bubble of finance capital was about to burst. We feel that the diplomatic statement of our PM was yet another attempt to avert any discussion on the prevalent world economic governance in order to hide its malaise from public eye, because be it a nuclear deal or world economic regime his government's attitude somehow has been helping to consolidate the yoke of exploitation on the Indian masses dictated by the new world economic regime.

Much has been discussed on it and the discontent of the Indian people against economic hardship created by the present system has already been reflected in various protest movements we often appear to see on the street. However, for the best reason known to our ruling clique they have somehow failed to summon up moral courage to vouch for some radical change in the world economic system in the world forum. Interestedly, our PM in G-20 meet was quite diplomatic while narrating the performance of Indian economy during the ongoing recession. But he did not utter a word about the role of the Indian public sector in saving our economy from an otherwise inevitable collapse. Probably a revelation of such a blatant truth might draw him flak from his new group of rich friends in the world forum. The mystery behind the success achieved by China too could be attributed to the socialistic structure of its economy. It could unmove the trick of private finance capital efficiently because in the midst of globalisation of finance capital, China still has an absolute control on the economy. Chinese government has more money than the private capitalists with their international links.









It need not be a coincidence that the ongoing tour of India by the Australian cricket team coincides with the commencement of India's tourist season for the foreign traveller. If it's pleasant enough to play cricket during the day, then it should be quite comfortable for the foreign tourist to take in the sights and sounds of what our tourism department describes as 'Incredible India'. Three weeks of cricket-cum-tourism can add up to a memorable experience for those tourists who want to combine fun and games with sightseeing and shopping.


Packaged cricket-cum-sightseeing tours for the fans have now become the fashion. October-November of 2008 saw the Barmy Army — as English cricket fans are known — following the team led by Kevin Pietersen all over India. This year, the Aussie cricket fans will be following Ricky Ponting's team all over India while holding up and waving large toy kangaroos to demonstrate their unequivocal support for their team.

The Aussie-tour itinerary takes in the metros of Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad and the smaller urban centres. One can imagine the Aussie tourists not just enjoying the win at Vadodara but also going around the 110-acre Sayaji Baug Park and appreciating Nandalal Bose's murals of the Battle of Mahabharat and the story of that ultimate devotee Meera, depicted on the walls of the central hall of Kirti Mandir.

The second ODI begins on October 28 at India's Orange City of Nagpur where the fans could have themselves photographed at the Zero Mile marker, which indicates that this is the exact geographical centre of India. The sixth ODI is at Guwahati where the fans can take in the 10th-century Kamakhaya Temple and the Kaziranga game sanctuary, famous for the one-horned rhino. The final ODI is on November 11 at Mumbai, the ideal take-off point for the journey back home. The logistics might be demanding but what are travel agents for!







There is no doubt that the Pakistan army's assault on the Taliban in south Waziristan marks the start of what will be a key battle. Its outcome will have profound implications for the entire region. For that reason alone, for once, India has a vested interest in the success of the Pakistan army.


But a military success here, even though that itself is a severe challenge, will not mean a permanent end to the problem. For, the larger issue is the nature of the relationship between Islamabad and the tribal areas. The regions known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have for long suffered from Islamabad's policy of perpetuating the colonial system which basically envisages these areas as outside the ambit of governance and development.

And an unholy mix of state apathy, tribal customs, the decades of strife in Afghanistan — and the consequent use of the tribes as 'strategic assets' by the establishment — has led to the region becoming a headache for the extended south Asian region and beyond. And in the absence of systems of governance, with the state virtually non-existent, extremists have either enmeshed themselves into local power structures or simply supplanted them. Seeking only a pacifying, military solution then, will merely be the continuation of a historical mistake. Democracy must come to the region and Islamabad will have to learn to govern, instead of merely subjugating and abetting the conception of the FATA as a region historically immune to change.

The other problem, of course, is that terrorists are rapidly developing links across groups and regions. Most of the recent attacks inside Pakistan, for example, were carried out by groups based in Punjab. Pakistan's policy of differentiating between terrorists operating on its eastern and western flanks, and of elements within the security establishment still abetting the groups arrayed against India, was based on the fundamental misconception that different extremist Islamist groups would not, after a certain point, seek similar objectives. Tackling the Taliban in south Waziristan, thus, must be supplemented by going after the groups in south Punjab as well — and by initiating a far-reaching agenda of development and governance.








Addressing the joint session of Parliament to outline the vision of the newly elected government, President Pratibha Patil made two key promises, neither of which has been acted upon by the government so far. She promised "a public data policy to place all information covering non-strategic areas in the public domain... (which) would help citizens to challenge the data and engage directly in governance reform."


The importance of such a paradigm shift from the present Right to Information, administered through an Act that has already started to malfunction, to an obligation on the state to publish all non-strategic data is driven home by the controversy over spectrum allocation, which has led to CBI raids in the offices of the department of telecom.

Former telecom secretary D S Mathur had, it now has been revealed, refused to bow to political pressure to allocate spectrum, a valuable national resource, in a non-transparent, arbitrary fashion. Had a Duty-to-Publish policy been in place while this tussle between the secretary and the minister was taking place and being recorded in the files, that wrongheaded policy would have been nipped in the bud. It is time the government delivered on the promise made by the President to the people's representatives. In fact, the government should supplement a Duty-to-Publish policy with a requirement to subject all major policy changes to public consultation and debate.

The finance ministry is doing precisely that with its proposed Direct Tax Code. Sebi and Trai routinely undertake public consultations before drawing up policy. There is no reason why this should not become standard practice for all policymaking.

President Patil also made another far-reaching promise: "As part of process reform, all proposals to the Cabinet will have to report on how the proposal under consideration will enhance the goals of equity or inclusion, innovation and public accountability." To the best of our knowledge, Cabinet notes are yet to reflect this commitment to inclusion and better governance. Perhaps, we should file a query under the RTI Act to find out. Or, better still, the government would put this non-strategic piece of information in the public domain, fulfilling the President's promise!






Character, as we know, is mere contingency in politics. More evidence to that effect comes from Jharkhand. Remember the time during UPA-1, when the BJP led a vociferous agitation inside and outside Parliament against the induction of 'tainted' Shibu Soren — alias Guruji — of the JMM in the Union government? The saffron party had, in fact, also alleged that the UPA 'blatantly influenced' the probe against Soren. But with assembly elections round the corner, and with the BJP desperate for a ray of light in the dark tunnel of electoral reversals, a fresh character-cum-political appraisal of Guruji is on, inside the BJP.

Seeing the Congress' inclination to not entertain exaggerated alliance desires of battered regional parties, some BJP leaders are now claiming Guruji was — and could still be — their natural ally. The other factor for the rethink is the estranged former BJP chief minister Babulal Marandi, who is threatening to do a Raj Thackeray on his old party unless he is hoisted back to the top. Will the new 'gentleman' in Guruji respond to the 'principled' SOS for an alliance?


The dividing line between the bureaucracy and politics, which was always blurred in Uttar Pradesh, is becoming even thinner. The recent controversy over Shiva Kant Tripathi, a Mayawati acolyte, lodging an FIR against Samajwadi Party MP Amar Singh for alleged financial bungling has again found officials close to the chief minister in the thick of controversy. Indeed, Amar Singh even made a formal complaint to the Kolkata police claiming that bureaucrats Navneet Sehgal (posted as secretary to Mayawati) and ADGP Brij Lal were behind the conspiracy to frame him.

Singh claimed that Tripathi was in regular and direct contact with these two bureaucrats over the phone in the days leading to the FIR being registered. This is not the first time that Navneet Sehgal or certain other officers close to Behenji have been accused of playing political games. Neither is it just a malaise of the Mayawati regime — previous governments, notably that of Mulayam Singh Yadav, have also had bureaucrats who were more loyal than the King. Administration in UP seems to be about political strategies.



Those who watched 'Thakur' Rajnath Singh's daredevil SUV-lights-aided take-off from the Dumka airstrip were hoping the 'Dholpur Maharani' Vasundhara Raje would engage him in a truly royal battle when he delivered her the 'quit-or-get-sacked' order on his comparatively uneventful landing in Delhi. After all, we have been told for months that behind Raje's blue-blooded resistance against the party chief's bid to remove her as head of the Rajasthan opposition was the collective might of seasoned Rajnath baiters in the L K Advani camp.

So, her tame resignation after a mere 'letter bomb' was a fun-spoiler for those who had been promised a big bang. But then, we are yet to get a convincing explanation as to what prompted the army behind Raje to abandon her in the thick of battle. Is it that all those late-night collective show-of-strength visits to the Jhandewalan bosses from the Prithviraj Road war-room are producing only 'collateral casualties' like Raje as the real succession war enters a critical phase?








The recent price war initiated by some of the mobile operators and Trai's subsequent indication to enforce a per-second tariff plan caused considerable agitation amongst investors, leading analysts to de-rate the entire telecom sector. Are there reasons for panic?


The mobile usage charges typically depend on the volume of call minutes and the termination location. It reflects the marginal cost of carrying the call from the source to the destination. In general, calls terminated within caller's networks (referred to as on-net calls) are often charged less than those terminated in other operator's networks (i.e., off-net calls).

One reason for this is the termination charge (20 paise/min currently) to be paid to the receiver's network for off-net calls. In a larger network with more subscribers, a typical user is more likely to find the potential recipient also to be in the same network (also referred to as the network effect). Hence it is expected that users would prefer to subscribe to a larger operator's network to gain advantage of on-net call plans.

To counter this, new entrants with a smaller subscriber base need to offer very competitive tariff plans to attract subscribers, which is precisely what is happening today in the Indian mobile market. However, the average usage charges, especially for off-net calls cannot come down significantly due to the positive termination charges. Hence the new entrants suffer from both lower network effect and positive termination charges. However, there are strong reasons for new entrants to charge lower usage charges since the offered traffic on their network is much lower than the capacity of the networks. Since network capacity is perishable, the new entrant is better off charging a very low price and invite users to join the network and create traffic.

One of the successful methods the new entrants have used to attract new/ churned subscribers is the per-second billing as opposed to fixed time duration pulses. When more and more subscribers hook on to the network of the entrants, the network traffic also grows and the difference between capacity and offered traffic decreases.

It is at this stage that the network faces congestion and the operator is forced to increase the usage charges to maintain the quality of service. However by now the new operator would have hopefully built a large enough subscriber base to sustain itself. Hence the critical mass of subscribers that the new entrant needs for sustainability is when the network effect starts dominating the price effect. The entrants who could not accumulate the critical mass are up for grabs by the larger incumbent operators.

In general, the subscriber is involved in a two-stage selection process: first on the subscription plan and second on the usage volume plan. Since these two stages are temporally separated, users can adjust their calling behaviour after subscribing to the plan. Per-second billing provides the subscriber greater flexibility in controlling the volume of usage. After the user subscribes to the plan, there are carrier-level shocks such as network signal quality and user service experience, based on which the customer selects the volume of calls to be made in accordance with her expected utilities.

Thus it is important for the operator to provide complete information about the tariff plan to the subscriber at the time of subscription so that the net welfare including that of the operator is maximised. Without this clarity, subscribers are likely to bicker about operators deliberately dropping calls or increasing the call rates after a specific duration. The regulator would do well to get the operators to publish in detail all the conditions of tariff plans for the benefit of the consumers.

Will the incumbents follow the price war and embrace the per second tariff model? With mobile number portability due to commence in December and the fact that more than 80% of the subscribers are pre-paid without much loyal attachment to the operators, the smaller incumbents have no option but to follow to reduce the churn. The per-second billing is expected to reduce the average call holding time, thus decreasing the average revenue per user, with subsequent decline in profit margins.

When will the price war end? It is expected to continue until at least a couple of new entrants accumulate subscribers to reach the critical mass. With the current mobile density touching 40 per 100, there is still some room for a few new entrants to reach the critical mass in certain service areas. This will increase the number of active operators in the service area to 9-10. What will happen to the remaining 4-5 operators who have been given licence in 2007 is anybody's guess.

(Dr Sridhar is Research Fellow & Dr Venkatesh, CTO/CSO, Sasken Communication Technologies. Views are personal.)








The good news is that there is a fourth way out of the eternal triangle of belief, unbelief and riding the fences. That's the sham medical intervention technique called the placebo. But a placebo's effect is a measurable and observable improvement in health which cannot be attributed to any administered medication. Latin for "I shall please", it is an inert ingredient such as a saline solution or sugar pill that has no therapeutic value but still manages to produce a testable physiological effect similar to what would be expected of a pharmacologically active substance such as an antibiotic.


The idea of the placebo in modern times originated with H K Beecher in 1955 who evaluated 15 clinical trials concerned with different diseases and found that some 35% of patients were satisfactorily relieved by a placebo alone. Other studies since then have calculated the placebo effect as being even greater.

Some of these for example show that placebos are effective in 40% or even 50% of subjects with certain conditions like pain, depression, some heart ailments, ulcers and other stomach complaints. And, as effective as the new psychotropic drugs seem to be in the treatment of various brain disorders, some researchers maintain that there is not adequate evidence from studies to prove that the new drugs are more effective than placebos.

The trick, however, is that the patient has to believe that he or she is receiving medication that will alleviate the condition. In other words, if something is viewed as helpful, it can often heal. Like belief. That is, it's dependent on perception, expectation and motivation. For instance, studies have found that the colour and size of the placebo pill makes a difference. So does size, branding, past experience and price.

Interestingly, if a placebo is viewed as harmful, it can cause negative effects too, which is known as the nocebo effect. Like unbelief.


So if something that shouldn't be of any medical value can often result in a palpable metabolic response in the body, then faith obviously plays a big role in causing quantifiable change. Not to believe then would appear to be a no-brainer, since by doing so we opt out of a possibly viable solution. The fourth alternative, therefore, should be to believe in something knowing that there's nothing to believe in but knowing also that not to believe in that could be harmful.







Retail investors generally enter the stock market through primary market route, as they consider the primary market route as a safer path than the secondary market. SEBI has done well by reserving 35% of the issue size for retail investors for all the public issue. In the case of PSU disinvestments, the government can take full advantage by offering more than 35% to tap the potential of retail investors. Our market currently depends too much on FIIs and institutions, as retail participation in the market is well below 5%. To increase the depth of our market, we must tap the potential of retail investors who have increased savings rate and are looking at avenues to invest.

Retail investors are seeking to invest in fundamentally sound PSUs. If the pricing is correct, investors will take interest. The merchant bankers should price the issues correctly to attract retail investors to PSU shares. Most of the recent issues have been overpriced. If the pricing of the issue is correct, not only will there be large participation by retail investors thereby ensuring widespread holding of shares, but they may also hold on the shares unlike institutions and high networth investors who sell on the listing day. There is an increasing trend among FIIs and institutional buyers who subscribe to IPOs to offload on the listing day. This is not a healthy trend.

Equity cult should spread in India. For that to happen, the government should as a first step offer PSU shares at 10% discount to the issue price to the retail investors. This will act as a buffer in the event of market correction. It will not be out of place to mention that a few PSU disinvestments have in the past offered discounts wherein retail investors have taken interest in large numbers. They have also seen wealth creation over a period of time.

In a country with large population, it is very sad that even now we are unable to get enthusiastic retail participation. Therefore, in addition to the discount, the government should offer a minimum of 100 shares to all individual retail investors. In May 2007, in order to sustain the market confidence and also to ascertain the quality of IPOs, SEBI had mandated IPO grading. The rating agencies give rate companies on the basis of their fundamentals. Investors look at the rating for guidance and then at the pricing before investing.

Also, to help retail investors, SEBI introduced ASBA (Application Supported by Blocked Amounts) process, under which investors' money is not transferred from his bank account until shares are allotted to him. This is a welcome policy for retail investors.

We need to educate investors to help them understand the importance of investing in fundamentally strong companies. PSU companies can be the starting point for this purpose. The government should be willing to forgo a little premium. There is lot of liquidity in the market and PSU companies with good growth models with reasonable valuation will undoubtedly attract retail investors. The government will do well to help retail investors by offering PSU shares at a reasonable price. If it happens retail investors will have some thing to cheer about.








While I may argue that quota system is not in the interest of economic equality and the price discovery mechanism, it is also equally important to attract retail investors into the capital market. As a country, we have the highest savings rate but most of the savings are invested in risk-free securities or less risky assets such as gold.

Investments into capital market directly or mutual funds and insurance companies have been growing at a slow pace.

Good companies in good business and run by good management have generated wealth for all investors including retail investors. This power of compounding cannot be ignored if one is serious about creating wealth as well as preventing wealth erosion. Wealth erosion invariably is a result of inflation and failure to invest into wealth creating assets such as equity, mutual funds etc. It has always been a challenge to attract retail investors participation in the capital market.

As a country, we have been attracting a lot of overseas money in form of portfolio flows as well as direct investments into various businesses. We have seen increased level of confidence in our markets coming from those countries that are predominantly driven by retail investors looking for alternatives to fixed deposit that offer zero return in their respective countries. Japan is a case in point. Japanese retail investors are quite excited about investing in emerging markets in general and India in particular. When the so called global retail investors are deriving huge long-term benefit of investing in India, shouldn't our investors also prosper.

Consider the wealth generated by some of public sector undertaking IPOs over the past few years. An illustrative list includes Union Bank of India, Central Bank of India, Indian Bank and REC. During this process, even the employees of these enterprises (who are also retail investors) have made money on their investments. Therefore, it makes sense to provide retail investors sufficient opportunity to participate in the development and deepening of capital market and be given incentives for that purpose.

The retail portion sometimes go undersubscribed compared to oversubscription of the institutional quota. Probably, regulation can be much more vigilant to allocate unsubscribed portion of retail segment to institutional investors, and use that as a method to prompt increased retail participation.

Most PSUs are well managed, save for a few exceptions. More retail participation in such units can bring more ownership and accountability among the managers who run the company.

What also needs to be debated are ways to encourage new investors to enter the capital markets. I am in favor of affirmative action. Private sector companies could share this burden, but the onus to increase retail participation falls upon the state-owned companies. Discounted pricing of PSU IPOs for retail investors can be a reasonable starting point. We need to experiment with this a little more. Instead of a fixed 5-10%, the level of discount can be set dynamically in relation to the level of subscription. Hopefully, the 'gilt edging' of the risk-free profit will encourage more investors to enter the capital markets.








Everything should be made as simple as possible, noted Einstein, but not simpler. A new working paper at the Center for Analytic Economics in the US proffers a simple model of the Financial Crisis of 2007-09, along with implications for policy design. The model uses empirical evidence to highlight how a 'small credit correction' can provoke a 'major equilibrium shift,' and bring about a sudden collapse in the supply and demand for loans. It goes on to isolate two different kinds of policy interventions required as follow through.


What's suggested is that a stimulus package to restore the original supply of credit may not quite be sufficient in policy terms. In tandem, what's required is policy action to direct the credit market to a more stable, sustainable equilibrium, says the paper. It adds that the Reserve Bank of India's policy of raising the repo and the reverse rates — during the first three quarters of 2008, may have had an 'inadvertent beneficial effect.'

Then, the RBI policy move was designed as an inflation-control measure. But it also appears to have limited the ability of lenders to stay clear of the kind of 'recklessness' seen in credit markets in the US and other mature economies. The higher rates seem to have dampened exuberance and avoided the consequent Great Recession here. The paper notes that structured finance — the main cause of the global financial crisis — whereby mortgages are pooled, securitised and offloaded in tranches, was already happening in India.

Indeed, in mid-2008 there was some concern in policy circles that India may get its own version of the sub-prime crisis. That it did not come about may have much to do with the heavy public sector presence in our banking system, avers the paper. The very nature of Indian banking regulation may have also played a role, it is opined. What's stressed is a better empirical understanding of the demand and supply of credit in India. It should show how small shocks can aggravate a systemic crisis.

The model presented in the paper does not attempt to explain the financial crisis in terms of the bursting of a bubble. The proximate cause of the crisis, that began in the housing finance market in the US, and rapidly evolved into an unprecedented global downturn, is now seemingly well understood. There was a huge increase in sub-prime lending — mortgages given to borrowers with low credit ratings.

And as more and more homes came to the market, the prices began to fall — for the first time in decades. It led to heightened foreclosers, given the 'non-recourse' nature of mortgage lending in the US. Which meant that leading banks and financial institutions found their asset position thoroughly weakened, with the values of foreclosed homes lower than when the mortgages were actualised. Soon the institutions themselves were defaulting on their loans: there was a virtual freeze in inter-bank and inter-corporate lending.

However, there remain glaring shortcomings in the above explanation, as the paper elucidates. As an example, why would 'A' cease to lend to 'B', just because 'Y' did not get repayment for a loan given to 'X', it is questioned. What's outlined is a model with 'N' number of banks or financial institutions, each lender deciding whether or not to lend funds, and if yes, how much. A small shock causes a small decrease in credit supply.

But it can trigger a large cascading effect. Suppose one lender discovers its asset position is worse than it thought. The higher cost may result in this particular lender closing shop. It lowers the aggregate amount of lending in the economy. Which in turn may cause the second least-efficient lender to wind up operations, then the third and so on, till total lending activity verily collapses.

A stimulus package would then be necessary, but not quite sufficient posits the study. The second policy task is to induce a new equilibrium in the market–with nuanced intervention, co-ordination and proactive regulation–concludes the paper.

(A Simple Model of the Financial Crisis of 2007-9, by Kaushik Basu, working paper, Cornell University, August, 2009)







A 'shadow board' consisting of the brightest young minds has been formed at what is now Mahindra Satyam to serve as a wellspring of new ideas as its new owner looks to revitalise a company badly damaged by India's worst corporate scandal, CEO CP Gurnani said in an interview with ET . Excerpts.


What are the key priorities for your company at this juncture?

Our priority is to improve finances, put in place a robust corporate governance structure and focus on customers and associates. Audit firm KPMG is working hard to restate past accounts and the Company Law Board has given us time till June 30, 2010 to complete the re-statement. We have also strengthened customer-focus by adding more value to services that we offer. The most difficult part is accepting a new culture. Our 35,000 employees now have direct access to the CEO. Today, while I report to a formal board, I have also created a shadow-board of youngsters.

What is the role of the shadow-board? Do you share financial information on the company?

The board has a team of nine young professionals to help the management with ideas on how to make the company more profitable. Their mandate is to function like a normal board. While we do share data on market trends, feed-back surveys and so on. But the shadow board does not have access to sensitive financial information. This board has bounced off the idea that Mahindra Satyam should be marketed as a ICT firm to focus on Tech-Mahindra's skills in the communication sector. So we will bundle IT and communication services and market it to customers as ICT instead of pure-play IT.

Have your operating margins improved and gone at least beyond 3%? Are you offering any discounts to customers and what is your strategy to woo-back lost clients?

Our operating margins have improved beyond 3% as we cut costs by rationalising work-force and saving on lease rentals. Reports that Satyam was billing for non-existent employees were incorrect. Our pricing has been in line with the industry, but we are not in a financial position to offer discounts. We have not asked customers for a higher price, nor have customers asked for a lower price. Satyam lost nearly 100 out of its 500 plus clients after the scam-broke out.

We have appointed global strategy and consulting firm Bain & Co as our consultants and have a dedicated group to help evolve strategies to regain lost customers. The overall market signals for the IT services sector is positive now.







Anil Arjun, Group CEO, Reliance MediaWorks , earlier known as Adlabs, on the company's results for the quarter and the way ahead . Excerpts:


How would the remainder of the year pan out for entertainment players?

You have to look at it in perspective. When we spoke about it last quarter I talked about the resolutions of the issues; we have seen an 80% growth in this quarter in terms of our topline itself. Now if I look at the market performance in terms of the box-office, like I said, it has been a 20% growth in terms of box-office. What is important is that the realisation per film has increased by about 38%. If you look at numbers like for instance the wide release films, which are about the 500 print release, it has been about a 68% increase in topline.

You are still at a net loss level of about Rs 11 crore, while revenues have jumped. When do you start to see the bottomline becoming profitable?

We have seen a major improvement between Q1 and Q2, in fact our EBITDA from operations was a minus Rs 9 crore in Q1, and it has grown to Rs 35 crore in Q2; our loss was about Rs 65 crore and it is now down to Rs 11 crore. A lot of that has been attributed to the depreciation in the interest cost because we went through a very large capital expansion in the past one year. I see a lot of gain flowing from Q3 onwards. Clearly by the third-fourth quarters will reflect positively on our topline and bottomline.

Just give us a sense of the growth that's coming between the different segments that you are in. You have a camera rental and equipment rental business where you have been renting out equipment, the other side is the Reliance big screens that you have and of course the film business and programming business. Next 2-3 quarters, which do you think is going to be the one that's going to leave profitability for you in terms of revenue growth?
Our three business divisions of Exhibition, Film and Media Services and television software have been doing very well for us. The way our robust business model is structured is that we grow when the industry grows. As you have seen clearly from the way the Q2 has been for the business, the business has grown by 20% which reflects clearly on the numbers.

As an overall mix of the revenues roughly 55% comes from cinemas and about 25% comes from the film and media services and about 15% comes from the content space for us. All three are different segments; all three are very profitable for us in terms of the growth.

We work with a large number of films and with the production values going up in India the film and media services business which includes camera rentals, film processing, DI Labs, image processing among others is doing very well. Also these days the movie releases are planned well in advance and it gives producers and cinemas enough time to promote the films better which improves their box office performance. All these factors would keep strengthening our topline

What kind of capex are you looking at going forward because depreciation is something that's weighing heavily on bottomline numbers? Are there still investments left to do?

We would be commissioning our studios and our BPO by the end of the coming fiscal year. Going forward we expect to add another 100 screens in terms of our cinemas. There is a lot of absorption capacity in the market still for cinemas and that clearly is an area of thrust for us. And we will probably continue to expand that segment.

Any fund raising plans on the annual be it via debt route or equity route?

Our board has approved rights issue of upto Rs 600 crore and very shortly we will be filing the draft letter of offer with SEBI soon. I would say within 90-100 days all the procedures will be completed.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




India's private airlines as well as state-owned Air India (which incorporates what earlier used to be Indian Airlines) are justifiably aggrieved at the way foreign carriers — many barely a year or more old — are allowed landing rights at 10 to 12 destinations in this country. For instance, all the Gulf airlines as well as others can fly to the hinterland — to places like Calicut, Kochi, Pune, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Nagpur and Amritsar, in addition to the four metros. They may as well be our national carriers! What does India get in return? Peanuts. How many destinations, for instance, can some of them offer in return for the 10 or 12 they get from us? With the absence of balance sheets and dirt cheap oil, a luxury airlines in this country do not enjoy, they can offer rock-bottom fares — which is certainly a boon to Indian travellers who can enjoy the privilege of flying overseas at a fraction of the price they would pay otherwise. But if the opening of Indian skies and destinations was desirable to allow true competition, where the consumer is king, then why are Indian carriers still being bound hand and foot with restrictive regulations which have been described by aviation veterans as unwarranted and unprecedented? Private carriers such as Spice and Indigo are profit-making airlines, but cannot fly abroad as they don't fulfil requirements such as having been in operation for at least five years or having a fleet of 20 aircraft. This was one of the reasons Kingfisher took over Air Deccan: it could thus operate overseas when Air Deccan completed five years. It is understood that this five-year requirement was put in place as private airlines at the time were folding up after a year or two of operation — so that the country did not tarnish its reputation internationally. But whatever the reason, it has lost relevance as foreign airlines which operate in this country are not subject to such Indian rules. As a result, in the past four years, the seat capacity given to foreign airlines in the hinterland has seen a quantum jump — from 404,508 seats per week at the end of December 2003 to 1,212,909 seats per week at the end of December 2007 — an increase of 299 per cent. This is a landmark in 75 years of civil aviation in India. Between 1993 and 2003 the increase in seat capacity allowed to foreign airlines was 64 per cent per week. If this were not enough, between January and June 2008 the increase of seats per week was 2,27,929, or an increase of 16 per cent. The decision, therefore, to permit this 299 per cent jump in seats for foreign airlines to India's hinterland defies logic. The Indian carriers are not in a position to take advantage of reciprocal agreements, besides the fact that none of these foreign airlines can offer 12 destinations in their home countries. So what was the hurry to open our skies and so many destinations while crippling our own airlines? By the time they are ready to fly, the entry level will be very expensive. Air India, for instance, is said to be losing between Rs 6 crores and Rs 8 crores every day as a result. The government has told the national carrier to either perform or perish. Step-motherly treatment of this kind might only help ensure that our own airlines perish.








Both the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been on the decline for the past 10 years and their defeat in the Maharashtra Assembly elections was inevitable. This defeat is glaring given the lacklustre performance of the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) ministries for the whole decade.
The deterioration of the BJP started with Mr Lal Krishna Advani leading the party. The Shiv Sena's decline was heralded by Mr Uddhav Thackeray's appointment as the executive president of the Shiv Sena. His cousin Mr Raj Thackeray's revolt made all the difference. The Assembly elections have proved to be a body blow.


Nobody will be surprised if an exodus from the Shiv Sena begins.

It is convenient for BJP and Shiv Sena leaders to hold Mr Raj Thackeray responsible for their miserable performance but the fact remains that a lack of leadership has plagued them. It is not only Mr Uddhav Thackeray who could not manage his party but Mr Gopinath Munde and Mr Nitin Gadkari of the BJP also made a mess at the state level. Pramod Mahajan was not a leader but a fixer. These two are neither leaders nor fixers.
The quarrel between the Thackeray cousins is personal and not about principles. The Shiv Sena had become a family concern and as brothers or relatives fall out in the corporate sector, the same thing happened in the Shiv Sena. Mr Raj Thackeray had blamed the Shiv Sena for neglecting the interests of the Marathi people and their language, but it was he who enjoyed the limelight and privileges for a good part of the party's existence.
He is much more brash and as these days such brashness and rabblerousing are paying, he has won 13 seats in the election, defeating the Shiv Sena candidates in some Sena strongholds. The Shiv Sena has lost Mumbai, where it was founded. As both the cousins fell out over personal ambition and gains Raj took up the path of extreme chauvinism and accused the Shiv Sena of betraying the cause. Uddhav immediately changed track and, in a bid to outdo Raj, stated that all trains from North India bringing labourers should be sent back. Both Uddhav and Raj did not explain what to do with the trains from the North India bringing wheat and groundnut oil from Gujarat.

In the degraded political climate in Maharashtra such emotional trash has given Raj some success which has been extolled by the media — both print and electronic. They expected a miracle from Uddhav but now they have found a new messiah in Raj.

The Lok Sabha election has indicated that voters in general are inclined to prefer the Congress and were fed up with the antics of several parties. They have some faith in the leadership of the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh and Mrs Sonia Gandhi. Speaking about Maharashtra, voters were not amused by the daily mudslinging by the Thackeray cousins, though some newspapers relished it. Voters also had lost confidence in the BJP's national and state leaderships. The forecasters who were confident of the ruling front's defeat in the rural areas forgot that the government paid more than the minimum support price for cotton and increased the prices of other produce.

This time the Congress and the NCP do not have to depend upon the so-called Independents as they have has achieved the magical figure of 144 seats. Even if, as is usual with the Congress, the new ministry might get involved in internecine feuds and some might threaten to defect, the ministry would have ample scope to draw on those who are rebels in their respective parties.

The Congress and the NCP have done well in some regions of the state but not all. Both the parties did badly in Vidarbha, but scored well in Marathwada. The NCP lost ground in Pune, which was thought to be its citadel.
This comfortable position of the front might generate complacency. But it should not be blind to the fact that the voters picked this front because they had a poor choice. This is a vote by reluctance, and not of enthusiasm or conviction. That a dozen ministers and half-a-dozen ministers of state have lost their seats is proof enough of the miserable performance of the last two ministries.

People have seen that the two parties in the ruling front have always been at loggerheads. There was no such thing as collective responsibility. Ministers only cared for their own constituencies, and not the whole state. At least, two of the disgruntled were absorbed in dislodging the chief minister only to get into his chair. Fiscal discipline has been given a go-by for some decades.

There was a time when the cooperative sector enjoyed pride of place. Now it is a burden on the state.
The cooperatives' overdues have piled up, including of those controlled by ministers or their relatives. Several ministers shamelessly used their authority to salvage bankrupt cooperatives, like banks, sugar factories and milk societies, by emptying the treasury.The state is lagging behind in the development of infrastructure. The electricity shortage is chronic. Education from the primary level till university is in poor shape. Himachal Pradesh could boast of 100 per cent female literacy but Maharashtra's record is woeful.

A thorough clean-up of both parties is overdue. Some time ago a newspaper reported that Mr Rahul Gandhi has a scheme to effect a change. Maharashtra would certainly welcome such a move. But the immediate fear is that numerous relatives of Congress and the NCP leaders would be crowded into the Cabinet and nepotism would be officially recognised. But both parties should learn a lesson from the recent results, which saw the exit of a dozen ministers. If that is not done the ruling coalition will be wiped out in the next election.
The state is under siege by builders, the land mafia and bureaucrats. So affordable housing is a thing of the past.


Because of these fat cats, young people might one day create a serious situation.

In the '70s, because of the CPI(M)'s suicidal policy of condoning the violent activities of their cadres, business and industry in Bengal moved out of that state.

If the Maharashtra government adopts the same policies regarding those who would take the law into their hands and carry out a vendetta against any group or community, then whatever happened in Bengal will be repeated in Maharashtra. Raising hell in or outside the Assembly has no place in a parliamentary democracy. The Congress-led front might have won a majority, but the people are apprehensive about the future.








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 healthcare. And reform is still on track. Right now it looks highly likely that Congress will, indeed, send a healthcare 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.

Like the bill that will probably emerge from Congress, the Massachusetts reform mainly relies on a combination of regulation and subsidies to chivy a mostly private system into providing near-universal coverage. It is, to be frank, a bit of a Rube Goldberg device — a complicated way of achieving something that could have been done much more simply with a Medicare-type programme. Yet it has gone a long way toward achieving the goal of health insurance for all, although it's not quite there: According to state estimates, only 2.6 per cent of residents remain uninsured.

This expansion of coverage has tremendous significance in human terms. The Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured recently did a focus-group study of Massachusetts residents and reported that "Health reform enabled many of these individuals to take care of their medical needs, to start seeing a doctor, and in some cases to regain their health and control over their lives". Even those who probably would have been insured without reform felt "peace of mind knowing they could obtain health coverage if they lost access to their employer-sponsored coverage".

And reform remains popular. Earlier this year, many conservatives, citing misleading poll results, claimed that public support for the Massachusetts reform had plunged. Newer, more careful polling paints a very different picture. The key finding: An overwhelming 79 per cent of the public think the reform should be continued, while only 11 per cent think it should be repealed.

Interestingly, another recent poll shows similar support among the state's physicians: 75 per cent want to continue the policies; only seven per cent want to see them reversed.

There are, of course, major problems remaining in Massachusetts. In particular, while employers are required to provide a minimum standard of coverage, in a number of cases this standard seems to be too low, with lower-income workers still unable to afford necessary care. And the Massachusetts plan hasn't yet done anything significant to contain costs.

But just as reform advocates predicted, the move to more or less universal care seems to have helped prepare the ground for further reform, with a special state commission recommending changes in the payment system that could contain costs by reducing the incentives for excessive care. And it should be noted that Hawaii, which doesn't have universal coverage but does have a long-standing employer mandate, has been far more successful than the rest of the nation at cost control.

So what does this say about national health reform?

To be sure, Massachusetts isn't fully representative of America as a whole. Even before reform, it had relatively broad insurance coverage, in part because of a large union movement. And the state has a tradition of strong insurance regulation, which has probably made it easier to run a system that depends crucially on having regulators ride herd on insurers.

So national reform's chances will be better if it contains elements lacking in Massachusetts — in particular, a real public option to keep insurers honest (and fend off charges that the individual mandate is just an insurance-industry profit grab). We can only hope that reports that the Obama administration is trying to block a public option are overblown.

Still, if the Massachusetts experience is any guide, healthcare reform will have broad public support once it's in place and the scare stories are proved false. The new healthcare system will be criticised; people will demand changes and improvements; but only a small minority will want reform reversed.

This thing is going to work.








For some time now, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have been the organising framework for the activities of international organisations and donor agencies. It is probably not very useful any more to quarrel about their relative lack of ambition, their limited aims and absence of recognition of the structural causes of poverty and inequality. All that is well known; even so, simply because of their wide acceptance, the MDGs have become the goal posts for judging at least some development experience around the world.
So, even if these are very limited goals, it is worth examining how far they are actually being met. The most important of all the goals is probably the first one, which makes the grand claim of eradicating extreme hunger and poverty. This includes the following specific targets: halving the proportion of people who are absolutely poor; halving the proportion of people who suffer from hunger; and achieving full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people.

The table provides information on one aspect of the first target, the proportion of working people who survive on less than $1.25 per day in purchasing power parity terms, which is the currently accepted international line for determining poverty.

It is evident that the incidence of poverty among the working population increased (significantly in some regions) in 2008 compared to the previous year, reversing the pattern of decline that was evident over the previous decade. In extreme cases, this has even meant an absolute increase in poverty rates among the employed population over the period 1997 to 2008, such as in Oceania, or no change as in Sub-Saharan Africa. What is particular worrying is that regions with already high poverty incidence seem to have been particularly badly affected in the most recent period, including south Asia whose performance is dominated by India. East Asia (and within China) obviously has the most remarkable success in poverty reduction over the past decade, but even here the crisis seems to have led to a reversal, although less marked than elsewhere. Since unemployment rates have also been rising through the current crisis, the actual impact on poverty is likely to be even greater.

Part of the reason why the recent performance on the poverty front has been so disappointing relates to the inability to meet the second target, of reducing hunger. Perversely, the experience with respect to this target has been worse after it was explicitly formulated than before!

In the period after the global food crisis of the 1970s, increased investment in agriculture and various other measures implemented across the developing world to ensure greater self-sufficiency in food led to some progress in reducing chronic hunger by the early 1990s. But according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), between 1995-97 and 2004-06, the number of hungry people increased in all developing regions except Latin America and the Caribbean, and even here it has reversed in the most recent period. East and southeast Asia also showed good performance in terms of falling numbers of malnourished people, but such numbers increased quite sharply in south Asia (by 50 million) and Sub-Saharan Africa (by 44 million).

The surprise is that the growing prevalence of hunger and food insecurity was associated with relatively high gross domestic product (GDP) growth in several regions, such as India and countries in Latin America. The contrast with east and southeast Asia is a stark one, and points to the role of public policy in ensuring that aggregate income growth translates into better provision of basic needs such as food for the general population.
This reflects changes in policy stance across the developing world that led to a relative neglect of agriculture and domestic food distribution. This is why performance on the nutritional outcome indicators has been relatively poor. In some developing regions, the proportion of underweight children under five years has remained relatively high and shown very little decline over nearly two decades. South Asia is the worst performer, with the proportion of underweight children still around half, declining only marginally from 54 per cent in 1990 to 48 per cent in 2007. In Sub-Saharan Africa the proportion fell from 31 per cent to 28 per cent. East Asia shows the best performance, with the proportion declining from17 to seven per cent, and even in Latin America it fell to six per cent.

While this was the state before the global economic crisis, the crisis obviously made matters much worse. But, as the FAO has noted, the continued increase in the number of undernourished people during both periods of low prices and economic prosperity and the very sharp rises in periods of price spikes and economic downturns shows the weakness of global and national food security systems.

The recent combination of higher domestic food prices, lower incomes and unemployment because of the global economic crisis has substantially increased food insecurity. As a consequence, the FAO now estimates that around 1.02 billion people in the world are hungry in 2009, which is the highest number since 1970.

Of course both poverty and hunger are critically affected by employment conditions, which is why the target of providing decent work for all is such an important one.

This target too has been relatively under-achieved, and the recent crisis has exacerbated this unfortunate trend. Globally, unemployment rates fell only marginally during the economic boom of the past decade, from 6.3 per cent in 1998 to an estimated 6.0 per cent in 2007. In south Asia, southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, open unemployment rates actually increased over this period, despite reasonably rapid GDP growth. Then the crisis had sharp effects upon employment and has already caused very substantial increases in unemployment.
Clearly this MDG has not had much influence in determining appropriate policies in some regions, but if it does still serve to direct policy attention to this crucial area, it may still have some relevance.








On October 23, 2009, the destruction of the Mathurai Veeran Temple in Persiaran Kerjaya in Shah Alam region of Selangor again brings to the forefont the ongoing struggle within Malaysia between the ethnic Tamils and the Malay community. The destruction was reported in three local tamil newspapers Tamil Nesan, Makkal Osai and Nanban. While these have reported the matter as being critical, there have been other reports that contradict this. The city council claims, that the premises was not a temple at all and that the destroyed compound was, in fact, a place where people went to consult petty fortune tellers. This is also reminiscent of the destruction two years ago of the Maha Mariyaman Temple also in the region of Shah Alam. This incident occurred just around the time of deepavali and later triggered the unrest that was led by the HINDRAF (Hindu Rights Action Force). These distinctions not withstanding, what the issue brings to light is the fact that the question of political spaces and freedoms for people of tamil origin in Malaysia still remains an unfulfilled aspiration.

The recent reaction of the HINDRAF needs to be understood in the context of the growing unrest that has gripped Malaysia for the past few years. The HINDRAF emerged in 2005 as a radical voice against the marginalisation of the Tamil community. It mainly comprised of Hindu non-governmental organisations and was led by a group of lawyers of Tamil origin. Two important figures among them were P. Waytha Moorthy and P. Utayakumar.

In August 2007, Mr Moorthy, a lawyer by profession, filed a class action suit against the UK asking the queen to pay a fine of £4 trillion for having taken the Tamil community as indentured labour and leaving them in a political system dominated by Malay-Muslims. This was the first time that the Indian diaspora had asked the colonial government responsible for its resettlement, to pay a fine as compensation for the loss of its home and move to an alien country. The protest outside the British high commission, was crushed by the Malaysian government and the leaders were detained.

In July this year, tamil rights activist, Mr Uthayakumar brought out a report titled Malaysian Indian: Political Empowerment Strategy The Way Forward. Mr Uthayakumar represents the leadership of the unfulfilled voices of the Malay Indian community, which has over the years been systematically marginalised at the cost of the promotion of Malaysia's bumiputera policy. Uthayakumar's movement entitled the "makkal sakthi" or the people's power is a cry for recognition both within and outside Malaysia for the plight of the Tamil community in Malaysia. The HINDRAF has focused its ire upon the policies of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which have promoted the majority Malay muslim community.

HINDRAF emerged as an alternative to the Malay Indian Congress (MIC) which was one of the coalition members of the Barisan Nasional (BN). Led by the UMNO, BN comprised of several parties that formed the coalition at the Centre. This has remained at the helm of Malay politics since 1957. The MIC within the BN has been the political voice of the Tamil people for years and has been led by Dato Seri S. Samy Vellu. With allegations of corruption and little regard for the plight of the Tamil community the MIC today has lost its credibility.

The ethnic Indian community in Malaysia constitutes roughly eight per cent of its population. Among this, the Tamil ethnic minorities constitute nearly 85 per cent.And 80 per cent of the total numbers are Hindu. From the time of Malaysia's Independence the ruling Barisan Nasional, found representation for the ethnic Indian community from the MIC. However, in the aftermath of the 1969 ethnic riots and the introduction of the 1971 bumiputera policy, the Indian community began to be more marginalised. The bumiputera policy or the sons of the soil, established an affirmative action policy for the ethnic Malay community. This policy had an advantage particularly as the New Economic Policy of 1971 was established to uplift the Malay community. Later revisions of this such as the New Development Plan (1991-2000) as well as the New Vision Policy (2000-2010), all targeted the promotion of the local Malay population.

Added to this, the educational policy further isolated the Tamils. The community basically comprised of plantation workers who were confined to remote areas and the access to education was limited. Since education at the primary level was in the plantation, the medium of instruction in the schools was in Tamil and this restricted their entry into higher levels of education. In fact only around five per cent of the ethnic Indian community managed to receive a university education and this greatly hampered their ability to get jobs. The community as a result has remained educationally backward and problems relating to drug abuse and crime are endemic.
For India, the question of Tamil aspirations in Malaysia have evoked a considerable response. In 2007 the DMK leader M. Karunanidhi sought government's intervention in the context of the arrest and detention of the Tamil protestors. However, at that time the Malaysian law minister stated clearly that the matter was internal. It needs to be borne in mind that the dictates of foreign policy restrict a country's ability to influence the outcome of such domestic issues. Also, India has close relations with Malaysia both bilaterally and through its engagement with Association of Southeast Asia Nations, which still continues to look upon matters of domestic politics as sacrosanct.

The issue is even more critical for Malaysia to resolve. Its declared policy of multiculturalism is likely to be severely eroded if the rights of minorities are not taken care of. As one sees the competing versions of ethnic nationalism of the Tamil struggle versus the majoritarian nationalism of the bumiputera policy, it is crucial for Malaysia to strike a balance and evolve a formula for civic nationalism in which the rights and status of all communities are protected and allowed to flourish. Until this can be achieved the plight of the Tamil community's aspirations will remain unfulfilled and the contestation for political space will continue.


Dr Shankari Sundararaman is an associate professor of Southeast Asian Studiesat the School of International Studies, JNU








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 bureaucratised 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.

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.


By arrangement with the New York Times









GIMMICKRY, as academic as it is political, appears to have dominated the continuing stalemate at Visva-Bharati University. Stalemate, did we say? This central university has been as good as closed for the past few days. Aside from an airy-fairy assurance by the authorities that the complaints against the Vice-Chancellor would be referred to the Centre, there has been little or no effort towards resolving the crisis. It isn't only the employees' union, called the Karmi Sabha, that is up in arms against the VC. Matters have come to a head with the Adhyapak Sabha (teachers' association) staying away from classes apparently to express solidarity with the union. Though overall, Santiniketan's academic circuit conveys the impression that it is sitting on the fence, it may have lent moral support to the employees' demand for the VC's removal and a probe into the misuse of funds. On the face of it, the entire campus appears to have gone against the VC. But diplomatically enough, the academics have stopped short of taking an express stand against the Cambridge-trained historian, Dr Rajat Kanta Ray. In the net, Visva-Bharati has been reduced to a locked-out campus.

Given the gravity of the situation, there can be no scope for contrived and almost comical photo-opportunities. Dr Ray's response, regrettably, doesn't match the enormity of the crisis. His fast-cum-meditation at Chatimtala recalls a similar gimmick after the murder of a student in the girls' hostel in January 2008. This time around, he is said to be awaiting "a message from Maharshi Debendranath Tagore (1817-1905) on how to deal with the crisis"! It is no disrespect to the memory of Rabindranath's father or the Brahmo Samaj to suggest that the Vice-Chancellor's recourse to near-divine intervention is no more than a repeat-stunt, one that is not even mildly comical in the context of the hugely disturbing implications for the university. His immediate objective may have been served with those posed visuals in a section of the media. Almost on cue, the chameleonic Subrata Mukherjee pulls up a chair, presumably to do the politician's bit and make the waters murkier.
There appear to be two major charges against the VC, aside from the general refrain that he is a non-resident vice-chancellor. The first, relating to the lending of Tagore's paintings at throwaway prices or in return for blank cheques, if widely reported, is yet to be probed. The second concerns as yet unspecified financial irregularities. Before the Comptroller and Auditor-General or the CBI  come up with their findings, the VC must clear the air. As Visva-Bharati stumbles from bad to worse, he presides over an institution that is a pale shadow of what it was conceived to be.







UNCOMPLICATED and pure spectacle, a highlight of her visit to London, ought to have been President Pratibha Patil's receiving the Queen's Baton from the British monarch later this week to launch the ceremonial count-down to the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi. Tragically, and in some ways insulting to both Heads of State, the sporting community will be more focused on the meeting between the president of the Commonwealth Games Federation and the head of the event's Indian Organising Committee. For unless major issues are resolved by Mike Fennel and Suresh Kalmadi, what promised to be a sporting festival could degenerate into fiasco. No patchwork will suffice, the time has run out for egos to remain inflated. While it does take two hands to clap, only those confused between patriotism and jingoism will entertain doubts over where the guilt lies. Well before Fennel's missive about serious delays had found its way to the public domain, every section of the Indian media had expressed apprehensions over the ever-so-visible slippages. Then Kalmadi's highly personal and highly publicised attack on the CWGF's pointman in New Delhi, coupled with his rejection of a federation-appointed monitoring panel, took things to a despicable low: the pique was palpable. Since then, obviously under directions from higher authority, Kalmadi has stepped back. The less strident Fennel has thus far stood his ground, the functioning of the local committee(s) will be monitored, Mike Hooper will stay on in New Delhi. Yet the core matter is not who will eat humble pie but whether a feast will eventually be served.
What is no less disturbing is that the Prime Minister seems reluctant to bite the bullet: working the "back channels" like appointing some officials and ministerial groups might clip the wings of Kalmadi & Co., but that does not ensure the Games will take wing. It is a telling reflection on his administrative competence that the sycophants that dance to the 10 Janpath tune are now clamouring for Rahul Gandhi to emulate his dad and "take over" the preparations, actually preparing a platform for him to go higher places. The media has extracted some promissory comments from Dr Manmohan Singh, but little indication of how he intends to deliver. When Rajiv stepped in it was to boost mamma's image, a "repeat performance" would not flatter Dr Singh.







WELL may Barack Obama iterate that Iraq "remains unfinished business'' and that his administration cannot afford to focus its agenda on Afghanistan. An ironic twist perhaps to the Nobel peace award. Equally might the British government reflect on its decision to start deporting Iraqi asylum-seekers, presuming that the country is safe. Yes, of course, Iraq may be safer but not safe. Sunday's blitz in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone is the deadliest since 2007. It comes as a severe jolt to the administration of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose political stakes are critically linked with the restoration of security of which there appears to be little. He has been prompt and swift in blaming it on his detractors, notably the Al Qaida and supporters of Saddam Hussein. Yet as head of the new dispensation, he must also accept the fact of history that Iraq's ancien regime has been devastated to nothingness even if Mr Maliki imagines that "it is the same black hands who are covered in the blood of the Iraqi people." The authorities in Baghdad seem to link the outrage with the one in August suspected to have been triggered by Syria. Indeed, the serial explosions have soured relations between Baghdad and Damascus, which has stridently denied involvement. However, what remains open to question is whether, as Iraq suspects, certain "foreign hands" are intent on destabilising the political process ahead of next January's parliamentary election, the second after 2003.

For all that, the bedlam and the butchery ought not to be a handle for US commanders to question their administration's decision to pull out troops who should not have been in that country in the first place ~ with the express purpose of tracing the WMDs that weren't. Close to seven years after the war, the Iraqi people have a future that ought not to be destroyed with the destructive agenda of a few. The political process must run its course and the parliamentary election be held. The Iraqi people deserve a future; they really do.







ISLAMABAD, 26 OCT: As many as 70,000 fake doctors in Pakistan are endangering the lives of millions across the country, a latest report has said.

'Some 70,000 quacks with bogus medical degrees are endangering lives across the country. While all those found guilty ought to be prosecuted and punished, more comprehensive preventative measures are also in order,' a report in the Dawn newspaper said.

An anti-corruption cell recently cracked down on Rawalpindi District Headquarters Hospital for allegedly hiring six fake doctors. Three of the six doctors were brothers and one of them was hired as a neurosurgeon. These 'doctors' are either not registered with the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council or hold phoney registration certificates, the report said. A noted doctor from Faisalabad, Dr Aslam Akhtar, recently presented a paper at the International Conference on AIDS where he said quackery and malpractices in healthcare are common in Pakistan and that a majority of people are treated by quacks. PTI








THE training of teachers underwent a significant change with the establishment of the National Council of Teacher Education in 1973. It is an advisory body that functions for the Central and state governments, and examines issues relating to teacher-education. It had little role to play in the formulation of overall policy. In 1986, the National Policy on Education (NPE) had recommended the need for a body with statutory powers to regulate teacher training institutions in the country. The National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) was formed as a statutory body on 17 August, 1995.

The NCTE has been entrusted with bringing about the coordinated development of teacher training institutions, including the setting of norms and standards on all teacher education courses from the pre-primary training to the post-graduate programmes. In the first decade of its existence, the NCTE was generally ignored by the states. Several legal verdicts rendered the degrees not recognised by NCTE as invalid. Chaos and uncertainty followed. Teacher training institutions were given the message that they could ignore the NCTE only at their peril.

The need for a strict quality control mechanism in teacher education is imperative. Those who received their teacher-training degrees during the nineties will recall that hundreds of candidates would take the B.Ed course in colleges with the minimal infrastructure. Classes were seldom held and practicals were farcical. A candidate was given a minute to perform in the classroom. Thus was his/her ability to teach assessed.

In the wake of the chaos that followed the de-recognition of B.Ed degrees, things have changed for the better. The NCTE has set certain minimum norms. A series of inspections during 2004 and 2005 made sure that governments and institutions, offering teacher-training degrees, took the NCTE norms seriously.


PROBLEMS have arisen ever since privately-run teacher training institutions mushroomed all over the country. Apparently the NCTE was not aware of this phenomenon; its quality control mechanism proved ineffective. The system of regular inspection was the immediate casualty. The NCTE now appears to be focused on recognising the new institutions rather than maintaining the standards of the recognised ones.

The lack of an effective monitoring mechanism has already affected the quality of training in the recognised institutions. Private institutions are charging atrocious fees. Merit is given a minor rating. There are several other glaring loopholes:

(i) Simultaneous use of the names of qualified teachers, especially principals, by multiple privately managed teacher-training institutions, in their application to NCTE for recognition. They are taking advantage of the dearth of qualified candidates.

(ii) The minimum salary norms are ignored in many teacher training institutions. Though the NCTE has issued a directive on salary payment through A/C payee cheques, many privately run institutions have circumvented this rule by asking teachers to return a part of their salary in cash. Most teachers who are at the mercy of the management have no option because they have to save their jobs.

(iii) The hiring of teaching devices, such as computers and projectors for NCTE inspections is often deceptive. Institutions that don't possess such equipment are also accorded recognition.

(iv) Since the NCTE appears to be following a "recognise and forget" policy, many institutions get away with the assurance to plug the loopholes. Once recognised, they forget the promises made.
(v) Some NCTE norms are difficult to meet under normal circumstances. For example, to be the principal of a B.Ed College or to head a B.Ed department, one has to hold a Ph.D degree in education and have at least 10 years of teaching experience, five of which should be in a recognised school and five in a teacher-training college.


THIS is a tall order since few Ph.D holders would opt for school teaching as a career, let alone for five years. Also, the compulsory requirement of 2500 sq metres of land to set up a B.Ed College with 100 teacher-trainees, makes it almost impossible to set up a new college in urban areas. And new colleges are essential to meet the demand for trained teachers.

(vi) Members of NCTE inspection teams, belonging to another part of the country, are often woefully ignorant of local educational norms. For example, during a NCTE visit to a government sponsored college in Kolkata a couple of years back, one member of the inspection team took the head of the B.Ed department to task for following an "outdated syllabus". He was ignorant of the fact that affiliated colleges under a university do not frame the syllabus of the B.Ed course.

(vii) Instances of some members of inspection teams demanding gratification are not uncommon.
(viii) Certain NCTE norms are absurd. One requires teacher-educators to be physically present in the training institution for at least 36 hours every week. This works out to a 6-hour day for 6 days. This schedule leaves a teacher educator with no time for research or library work. If strictly followed, this particular norm will encourage "note and rote learning" with no innovation in either content or methodology of teaching.
(ix) There is no effective interface between the public and the NCTE.

(x) The quality and content of instruction is not uniform in the absence of a standardised teacher training syllabi. There is little or no regard for ethics and quality. At a time when the country requires at least a million trained teachers, the NCTE ought to match quantity with quality. Since the "destiny of our country is shaped in the classrooms", as the Kothari Commission (1964) described it, the task before the NCTE is vital.








Is the dollar losing its status as the premier international reserve currency? Since the end of 2008, the US dollar has depreciated by 4 per cent against a broad range of currencies. Against the currencies of the United States of America's major trading partners, the dollar has depreciated by 6.3 per cent in 2009. (The rupee has appreciated by almost 2 per cent in 2009.) What is different this time, according to many economists, is that the US can no longer rely on the privilege of being the world's banker, which accepts short-term deposits (central bank reserves in US Treasury bonds at low interest rates) and makes long-term investments at high average rates of return. Combined with other political developments, like China and other emerging markets taking on bigger roles in global economic forums like the Group of Twenty, many see this as the end of America's economic and political hegemony.


The value of the US dollar and perceptions of global market and economic risks are inversely correlated: as risk aversion increases, the value of the dollar appreciates against other currencies as global investors flee to the safety of the US greenback. As risk appetite increases, however, and investors are willing to take bets on other global markets (mainly emerging economies), the dollar depreciates. But recently, this relationship seems to be less clear-cut; investors are now assessing the relative returns on dollar denominated assets against those on foreign assets. But the US dollar has been the primary reserve currency for 60 years, even when the gold standard was in place. Data on the composition of foreign exchange reserves show that for over 30 years, the share of the dollar in central bank reserves has never fallen below 50 per cent. Before the euro came into being in 1998, the German deutschmark and other European legacy currencies accounted for about 18 per cent of central bank reserves, and the Japanese yen for 9 per cent. The dollar, even today, accounts for about 62 per cent of all central bank reserves; the euro amounts to about 28 per cent, and the yen accounts for a paltry 3 per cent.


Five or six factors determine a premier global reserve currency: the size of the economy, its importance in global trade, the size, depth and openness of its financial markets, its convertibility and domestic macroeconomic policies. The euro area is as large as the US in terms of gross domestic product and is important in world trade, but the size and depth of the government bond market in euros are woefully short of the US version. It will be another decade before the Chinese yuan becomes a reserve currency; even in Hong Kong, it is used only in about 2 per cent of trade. To paraphrase what Mark Twain said when he saw his obituary in the New York Journal, reports of the dollar's demise may be greatly exaggerated.








Communist leaders are very unlike old soldiers — they would rather die than fade away. The top post in a communist party is, therefore, a lifetime appointment, which can be cut short only by a coup, death or an assassination. That is how it was for Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Ho Chi Minh, Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping and India's very own E.M.S. Namboodiripad or Harkishen Singh Surjeet. If the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is now thinking of fixed terms for its leaders other than the general secretary, its reasons seem to be other than a newfound love of organizational democracy. The CPI(M), which was once pro-Beijing as opposed to the pro-Moscow Communist Party of India, obviously did not take the hint from the Chinese communists. The Communist Party of China moved to fixed two-year terms for its general secretaries at the end of the Deng era. The CPI(M)'s late discovery of the virtue of regular changes in leadership suggests that it is a half-hearted attempt to reinvent itself.


The CPI(M) desperately needs to redefine its identity and political approach. The setback it suffered in the May elections to the Lok Sabha shows how ineffective its old politics has become. But it is still incapable of doing some simple things that a democratic party would have done in similar circumstances. Even the leaders of the so-called bourgeois parties routinely offer to quit in the face of an electoral setback. This is in the best tradition of accountability in public life. But Prakash Karat, the CPI(M)'s general secretary, has no faith in such liberal bourgeois traditions. It is thus no surprise that the fixed term that the party is considering for its leaders at different levels does not apply to the general secretary. The CPI(M) has opted for parliamentary democracy rather than armed revolution. Democratic politics demands that the party's top leaders also face the test of popular mandates. But then, what is a communist party without its caucuses?









The minister for human resource development, Kapil Sibal, is a man in a hurry. His haste would be welcome, if the government's proposals for higher education were not so scandalous. Amazingly, despite a few distinguished voices of dissent, there has been no national debate on the United Progressive Alliance government's plans. Existing state and Central universities, likely to be worst affected by the broom of change, seem reconciled to their impending marginalization. They are busy totting up the sops thrown in their way — including higher pay scales for which calculations are as yet incomplete.


The government proposes to set up 14 'world-class' Centrally-funded institutions, called national or innovation universities. "Unencumbered by the history or culture of the past" — I quote that government of India concept note — they will start on a clean slate in their pursuit of excellence. They will be "kept out of the purview of the regulatory oversight of the existing regulatory bodies in higher education in academic matters as well as regulations on maintenance of standards or minimum qualification requirements for appointment to academic posts". Each university will have a research endowment fund of over Rs 200 crore annually. Expenditure on research or teaching "shall be kept out of the purview of audit scrutiny as envisaged under the Constitution by the Comptroller and Auditor-General. An amendment to that effect shall be made in the Comptroller and Auditor-General's (Duties, Powers and Conditions of Service) Act, 1971". Chair professors may receive pay from endowments over and above their salaries, which will be decided through a negotiated agreement. In order to attract "the highly skilled Indian diaspora", the prohibitions enshrined in the Citizenship Act of 1955 (amended 2003) will be removed. Networks of Indian academics abroad will "source world-wide talent" for the innovation universities, thus converting the brain drain to a brain gain.


A sign at the Dachau concentration camp memorial carries George Santayana's chilling reminder, "Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it." Is it a good idea to be "unencumbered by the history or culture of the past", as we are advised the new greenfields universities will be? On what are these institutions to base their pursuit of excellence, modelled on the great universities of the West, none of which, we can be certain, would dream of rejecting the past? If they are not to be controlled by the country's regulatory bodies for higher education, nor required to conform to minimum qualification requirements for appointment, how can we be sure that they will indeed be 'world-class' institutions? Who determines that class? If no control is to be exercised over their spending, how can corruption, so endemic in our system, be kept at bay? If chair professors can name their fee, what is to prevent them from milking the Indian State for a few years before returning to their bases in the West? If NRI/POI networks are called upon to source talent for us, what can stop them from declining into cronyism and clientage? Or indeed, starting on such a footing?


Disturbing as these questions are — astonishingly, they have not sparked off a wave of protest — the set of assumptions behind the new proposals is still more worrying. First of all, the total bankruptcy of Indian higher education is assumed. I heard the former director of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations assert this on a public platform in London recently — a sad reflection on the morale of India's chosen representatives. Secondly, we must accept that our best researchers are abroad, and the academic system here will be magically invigorated by their return. Thirdly, starting from scratch in a new institution with unlimited funds and no checks is the answer to the ills of the old academic bureaucracy. Finally, we must not ask whether faculty and student recruitment will be bound by the same principles of social justice that are mandated in the public education system.


These assumptions are not just dangerous, they are wrong. But they are typical of a new Indian bourgeoisie anxious to climb on to the wagon of globalization, tired of being out-paced by the West and the new East, hoping that money spent on a few showpiece institutions will lure our potential Nobel laureates back and keep the young and ambitious at home. What is never acknowledged in all this brave talk about world-class universities is that the ills of education in India begin at the primary level, with poor school enrolment and high drop-out rates compounded by failures in health and nutrition. Sixty years after independence, the right to education bill has just been passed. While India had set itself (from 1966) the goal of spending six per cent of its gross domestic product on education, it has not achieved more than a spending rate of around four per cent. The present commitment is to spend five per cent of the GDP on education during the 11th Plan. Of this, about 0.37 per cent is spent on higher education (as against 1.41 per cent in the United States of America, 1.07 per cent in the United Kingdom, and 0.5 per cent in China). Enrolment in higher education is between a fifth and a 20th of that in other countries. Can 14 new universities fill that gap?


Over a long period of time, the state-funded higher education system suffered from deprivation and neglect, from lack of funds or bureaucratic obstacles to research and development, appalling infrastructure, poor rewards for faculty, and positive discouragement of earning from student fees, consultancy or private sponsors. Universities were gradually demoted to teaching shops, with more research being funded at specially created institutes (though despite this, the quality and quantity of research was always better within the university system). It is only quite recently that some of these problems have been addressed, infusing new enthusiasm and hope into universities which are beginning to reap the benefits of a more liberal funding environment.


Given the extraordinary constraints, it is better to speak of successes achieved against the odds than a general record of failure. High levels of teaching and research were maintained at many state and Central universities. Undergraduates were generally well taught and proved this by excelling when they went to the top institutions abroad. The Indian institutes of technology and individual departments in some universities like my own acquired international reputations. Belatedly, the University Grants Commission began to recognize this in terms of grants and incentives for research, faculty and student exchange with institutions abroad, and support for academic innovation. Despite funding disparities, state universities like mine repeatedly out-performed Central universities. But these measures, inadequate as they were, have been obliterated (just as the UGC is at risk of being superseded) by a flood of hyperbolic undertakings and promises — world-class universities, foreign educational service providers, new regulatory mechanisms for higher education, new educational hierarchies.


What does the new regime promise? First of all, a 'world-class university' cannot be created out of thin (or hot) air. An institution that turns its back on everything of value within the country and seeks only to draw its faculty and researchers from abroad has lost a fundamental point of principle. Funds alone cannot suffice. Even for the new IITs, which are at least mentored by existing institutions, it will take years — as the experience of selection committees shows — to build up human resources. Not all the best researchers are abroad, but even high salaries may fail to bring genuine distinction home to a new university, which can scarcely become world-class without it. We will get a flood of slightly lesser NRI minds, and a leeching of the best from existing Indian institutions. The rest will be snapped up by private universities and by foreign educational service providers, completing the rout of an already threatened public university system.


Education is a meritocracy, and achievement must be rewarded. But the proposed hierarchy will be created, not earned. The innovation universities, with high salaries and research funds, no CAG checks, and dream faculty (all of it?) sourced from abroad, will be placed ahead of the Central universities and IITs. At the bottom of the funding ladder, with lower benefits to faculty, will be the state universities (though some may be the best in India), constantly losing staff and researchers to more privileged institutes. A parallel market will offer teaching shops run by private players and outposts of foreign universities. For students, it may cost money to go where the money is. This depressing future attracts only the economists who have written on this subject earlier in these columns.


In a meeting with vice-chancellors of Central universities held on October 13, the minister reportedly expressed impatience at talk of faculty shortages, given the handsome emoluments on offer. "Upset at the Vice-Chancellors confining their presentations to the measures taken by them to put in place infrastructure and recruit faculty and other staff, he asked them to come up with vision documents charting a road map on how they proposed to turn the new universities into world-class centres of learning." How indeed? The minister has no answer, and seems to think that the magic phrase, the magic arrival of teachers from abroad, and magic money, can create a few world-class institutions.


'World-class universities' do not consist of a few Nobel laureates in their laboratories while the dal-roti teaching is done below stairs. All university teachers are entitled to funds and time for research. They should not be treated as lecturing machines working a six-day week in order to support the research of their 'betters'. If India wants to create world-class institutions, it must improve the ones it has. It has to reward genuine achievement at home, encourage new initiatives, create infrastructure, and promote the kind of international collaboration that already exists between the best institutions abroad and the best universities in India. Surprising though it may seem, there are many good scholars within the Indian university system who know what is meant by 'world-class'. They know that excellence is achieved, not bought.


The author is professor of English, Jadavpur University, Calcutta








Wherever one goes in India, there are wonderful buildings, monuments, estates, and open spaces that tell stories of diverse histories, motivations, aspirations and commitments that have come together, merging seamlessly into a gigantic jigsaw puzzle that never fails to boggle the mind. The forts, palaces and edifices that remind us of the many dynasties that ruled India through the centuries are protected by the Archeological Survey of India and identified with a small blue board that deems them special and stand-alone. Many others, spectacular and historic, some comparatively recent and therefore treated with less importance, that were taken over by the government of India or the governments of the various states in the Union post-Independence, have drastically deteriorated, as a result of shameful and often dangerous, neglect. The primary reason behind this lack of concern for valuable historical real estate is many human and administrative deficiencies.


Sadly, one always has to revert to the babu and his constrictive babudom. Aesthetics, a sense of history, a desire to conserve the plurality of an extraordinary national legacy, concern for cleanliness, appropriate management and more, are all non-existent in their work manual. For most, being 'modern' means replacing all the our special inheritances with polyester curtains, formica furniture, plastic plates and other such unhealthy, alien horrors. All this degradation began in 1947 when the colonial power, which had ruled us, retreated.


We inherited from them some marvels of architecture, some stunning hill stations, a wonderful fusion cuisine called Anglo-Indian food, a language, some customs and conventions, all of which blended with the diverse cultures here. But along with all that we inherited a bureaucratic machinery, and the ruler versus ruled mindset. Angrez sahibs went back home and a new breed of brown sahibs took the baton, altered nothing, not even the civil and police laws and acts, and continued to administer free India in the same exclusive fashion. Sixty-two years down the road, even after generation changes and cross influences of the world playing a role in transforming the patterns of society, that same breed of arrogant civil servants still rule and run amok.



The worst culprits amongst them, who continue to fight the change are the members of the Central Public Works Department — an arm of the government that has altered some of the best examples of period architecture and reduced them to musty, smelly and broken-down buildings that had once seen much pomp and splendour and good times. Today, in 2009, people have become far more alert and committed to caring, conserving, restoring and protecting their immediate environment as well as the public space.


Pressure is beginning to mount on government and on municipalities that are corrupt and do not deliver on their mandate. The babu is under fire. His disconnect with the requirements on the ground is not acceptable any longer. Inexperienced and unable to comprehend the real needs of historic buildings, for instance, these protectors of our heritage just do not fit the bill.


If we are to conserve buildings like the Victoria Memorial in Calcutta, and the Viceregal Lodge or Rashtrapati Niwas in Simla, we need to fashion a new set of rules and norms, a radically different parameter of operation with new and clean mechanisms that compel quality work without the interference of a minor babu who wants to make a buck on every renovation. We must teach the young in primary schools to venerate their past and learn from that rich canvas. The government babu must be removed from his dominant 'role' and the responsibility must go to an autonomous mechanism.







Why do financially independent young Indians still find it difficult to imagine moving out of their parental homes? And what is it like when they do manage to do so?


Earlier this month, a 22-year-old man from Sonarpur first shot his wife, and then himself, with a countrymade revolver the day after he had been scolded by his father for failing to become financially independent. The young man, an only child and a Higher Secondary dropout, was not only living off his parents after marrying the girl of his choice, but was also keeping bad company. Apparently, both he and his wife of 10 months had taken to drugs; so the father, disgusted with their lifestyle, had asked them to move out of the family home.


In India, a man living with his parents after marriage is usually perceived as a model son. The dynamics among the members of such a household may not always be pleasant or simple, but occasional compromise and mutual tolerance can go a long way towards domestic harmony. As long as the son and the daughter-in-law show a token respect towards the patriarch (or the matriarch) of this quasi-nuclear family, and happen to be financially self-sufficient and supportive, the question of their living apart usually does not arise. Very rarely would a father ask his successfully breadwinning son to move out of the house just because he wants the young man to find out what it is like to live entirely on one's own, deprived of the comforts of the parental welfare system.


Recently, while watching the film, Wake Up Sid, I was rather taken by the story of how an insufferable brat, spoilt by doting parents and unlimited wealth, comes of age. It was quite encouraging until the thumping disappointment at the end. After all the trouble Sid had taken by walking out of the family cocoon to face the big, bad world and get himself a job, it was anti-climactic to see him crawl back into his father's arms and mother's bosom the moment he finds his 'independence'. The film seems to suggest that without this sentimental reconciliation and return to the family, a reformed Sid would have somehow fallen short of the right sort of ending.


Independence, in Sid's case, as in the case of many young people like him, simply amounts to having a job. It seldom implies the prospect of living on one's own and managing the difficult, but unavoidable, cycle of cooking, eating, cleaning, washing, and shopping for oneself, of taking sole responsibility of the whole of one's life.


It is true that independence is an adult word; yet, it deserves to be planted, and nourished, in the mind from the earliest years. Only then can it mature into a way of being later in life. In the West, children are weaned from an age, and in a way, that traditional Indian society still finds appalling. Indian mothers tend to be excessively protective of their children, especially of their sons. Cloyed by such care, most male children grow up singularly unprepared to look after themselves. They do not have even the basic life skills. (How many boys can sew their own buttons?) Thanks to the adoring women hovering around them ever since they can remember, boys in Indian families often grow into men who consider self-criticism a waste of time. Girls, much less pampered and raised with the prospect of eventually leaving home, generally turn out to be more rounded, self-reliant individuals.


However, both boys and girls in urban, educated Indian families experience puberty, sexual awakening, and the first stirrings of romance in an environment of adult surveillance or a perpetual lack of privacy at home. Even after they start working, they find it inconceivable to live on their own in the same city as their parents. It is a huge social embarrassment, even shame, for the parents to accept their grown-up offspring wanting to live on their own. This makes it equally difficult for single men and women to earn their independence, although they may be earning a handsome salary at the end of the month. So, many of them move to other cities, using education or work as an excuse, but actually driven by the desire for privacy and by an unwillingness to inflict on their parents what they assume to be a grievous form of hurt. The less-fortunate are compelled to get married to be able to live out their private lives. If the relationship happens to be unconventional (inter-caste, inter-religion or same-sex), there could be endless suffering or forced defiance.


Yet, middle-class India can be unpredictable. In the Sonarpur incident, a neighbour tellingly points out that the parents hadn't objected to their son marrying a girl who was older than him, nor were they against the idea of their son and his wife living with them. They were only worried about their son's inability to look after himself, his wife and parents. As long as one grows up, marries, breeds and nests under the approving gaze of one's family, minor aberrations can be overlooked.









When I started living alone, one of the first problems I had to deal with was my fear — of creepy-crawlies, and of ghosts. It took me some time to get used to the fact that my mother was no longer at hand, ready with a slipper to deal the fatal blow, every time a roach flew in through the window. Left to my devices, I realized how helpless I was against the marauding hordes of red ants, the fluttering moths that inevitably settled on me, and the lizards that eyed me cunningly from every corner of the room. On mother's expert advice, I armed myself with bottles of Hit to bring damnation upon insects and reptiles.


It was not that I succeeded all the time. Hit took care of ants and roaches, but what about the fruit bats that would fly about the room in dizzying circles every summer? In the early heady days of my independence, a fruit bat, probably distracted by my shrill cries, landed in a bucket full of water. As it squeaked while drowning, I bawled at the top of my voice, unsure whether to feel more sorry for myself or for the dying creature. Thankfully that day, a friend had been close at hand, and he emptied the bucket with the still-alive bat on the street below, thereby earning the wrath of every passer-by.


Even more dangerous than the fruit bats are the lizards, which are my sworn enemies. I see a ghastly yellow head with beady eyes hanging from the ventilator and I know I am being watched. The horror does not stop at the constant surveillance. I often find objectionable brown and white droppings on the fresh bedsheet, which then has to be changed again. The other day, when I went to the kitchen for a drink, I saw a lizard wrapped around the filter tap, extending its pink tongue every time a drop fell from the nozzle. I was so disgusted that I decided to kill the fiend once and for all. But before I could be back with a weapon, the lizard cast me one disdainful look and disappeared behind the heap of utensils.


While I can plan various strategies in my fight against living creatures, I was, and still am, defenceless against the paranormal. The monster under my bed makes me freeze with every movement of its creaky body in the dead of night. A few days ago, when there was an earthquake in Calcutta at about 1:30 in the night, I was sure that the monster had transformed the bed into a rocking horse to give me a taste of its might. Just when I thought my head was going to spin backwards, as happened to the girl in the film, Exorcist, the rocking stopped, and I promptly fell asleep again.


Come winter, and I am treated to a thoroughly extraordinary phenomenon at dawn each year. The muezzin's call at the break of day comes interspersed with a busy drone, as if of a restless crowd in the agora. To my sleep-soaked mind, the hum seems to be the voice of history, preserved in the ether and released in waves in which I start floating as well. Sceptics have volunteered to unravel the mystery of these voices for me, but I am in no mood to listen. There is nothing like lying alone in bed in the morning chill, breathing in the scent of dawn, and imagining my inarticulate prayers, voiced by nameless presences, flying heavenwards.









A classmate of mine in college was a girl from Gangtok. For a large part of the six years she lived in Calcutta as a student, she found the city dusty, noisy and difficult to cope with. As soon as the vacations began, she would make her way back home, and not even invitations from friends to spend the Pujas with them would keep her back. Getting back to the comfort of her home was perhaps one of the things she looked forward to, in addition to wanting to see her family again. For someone as rooted in her place and tradition as she was, it was difficult to imagine that she would want to stay away from her people.


After the completion of our course and the final examinations, she went back home to figure out what to do now with life. At that point, she did not much like living at home. Having stayed away from a family set-up for six years, she found it tedious to stay in a space defined by the unspoken norms of an established family unit.


She is one of the most disciplined persons I've known, fully aware of her responsibilities and what she calls her "limits". From the way she conducted herself, it was clear that she laid down a strict set of rules for herself. But perhaps going back home and having restrictions imposed upon her by others was what she may have resented.


During the four months that I have lived alone I have felt it quite liberating to be able to live by my own terms. But what I felt liberated from I cannot quite answer because, strangely enough, my own terms have often been more rigid than the ones set by those with whom I lived earlier. I am now more careful about what I eat, for I do not want to fall sick, careful about how I spend, and I hardly ever stay out at night later than the limit allowed by my family. More than the fear of getting into trouble, I am afraid of being told, in case of any untoward incident, that the mishap took place because I chose to move away from my family, which would otherwise have shielded me.


I have often found it difficult to explain to people why exactly I moved out of home. Hardly ever do I find myself saying, "I moved out because I wanted to." Living alone invariably gets identified with going against an established family set-up, with a desire to do things that one wouldn't have been able to do living within a family. This may not always be the case, but living away from the family just for the sake of wanting to live alone is often felt to be something of an indulgence — even in my own mind.











The meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao in Thailand may have helped to bring down the level of tension between the countries but there was no progress on addressing substantive issues that contributed to the recent escalation of tension. A meeting between the top leaders of two countries on the sidelines of a multilateral summit cannot be expected to address contentious bilateral issues, and therefore the very assertion of the need for friendly engagement is itself welcome. The  relations between the two countries had been recently adversely affected by official protests, public statements and unhelpful actions from the Chinese side. The decision by the two leaders not to amplify the differences is therefore positive and might help to create a better environment.

Though there was no discussion, it is unlikely that specific issues were not mentioned at the meeting. The prime minister has himself stated that he mentioned the issue of the Dalai Lama's proposed November visit to Arunachal Pradesh to Premier Wen and reiterated India's position on the matter. Though India has always stated that the Dalai Lama is not allowed to engage in political activities in India, the Chinese contention is that his very presence in India is itself a political problem for them, especially when he visits Indian territory which Beijing claims as its own. It may not go unnoticed that the prime minister was very cautious in his statement on the issue. However the reaffirmation of the need to maintain peace and tranquility on the border and the agreement to use the existing mechanisms to resolve outstanding issues should be positive commitments. The decision to set up a hotline at the level of the top leadership and the recent signing of an MoU on climate change are welcome moves in this respect.

But the experience is that the two countries may have to go beyond the existing mechanisms for resolution of bilateral disputes. The many meetings at the official level have not substantially helped to resolve the boundary dispute and new issues are emerging. The bilateral engagement needs a political push for better and more visible results. The meeting between the prime ministers may not have been designed for that but more of such initiatives are needed. The scheduled meeting between the foreign ministers of both counties in Bangalore on Tuesday should give an impetus to the process.








With the largest number of diabetics in the world and the numbers poised to surge in the coming years, India is staring at a serious health crisis. According to the annual report of the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), India has 50.8 million diabetics, followed by China and the United States with 43.2 million and 26.8 million cases, respectively. Seven per cent of India's population will be diabetic by 2010 and this is expected to increase to 8.4 per cent by 2030. Diabetes is a silent killer. What compounds its impact is that it makes a patient vulnerable to problems like blindness, kidney problems, heart ailments, amputations and so on. It is the fourth leading cause of death by disease worldwide and one person dies from diabetes-related causes every 10 seconds. It has serious economic implications as well, for the individual, his family, the health system and the country. Studies show that the average patient uses up 70 per cent of his savings on treatment. Apart from the direct costs involved there are indirect costs resulting from loss of days of work.

Type-II diabetes is preventable. Stress, a sedentary lifestyle, obesity and consumption of unhealthy foods makes a person prone to diabetes. These should be avoided to keep the disease at bay. But there is a shocking lack of awareness of the disease, its causes and treatment even among the educated. Around 25 per cent of Indians are said to be unaware of a condition called diabetes, while 60 per cent do not know what it really means prior to being diagnosed with it. Had they known its seriousness and the costs involved, perhaps they would have taken steps to prevent it. Public awareness of diabetes needs to be improved.

Treatment of diabetes has improved dramatically in recent years providing hope to diabetics across the world. However, treatment remains expensive and beyond the reach of millions. Thus, while medical technology holds out hope, the costs snuff out any optimism. Insurance schemes for diabetics are now available in India. But the conditions they impose, negate the benefits. In most cases, diabetics don't get covered as their problem is linked to a pre-existing illness. Besides, how many in this country can afford the high premiums, anyway? Diabetes has become an epidemic. It is time the government woke up to the seriousness of the crisis in the country.









India's recovery from the steep economic downturn of 2008 has only just begun. No one is quite sure how long it will last and how strong it will be. But speculation is already rife that the Reserve Bank intends to raise the cash reserve ratio by half a per cent.

What is worse, reports of Friday's meeting between the finance minister and the governor of the Reserve Bank suggest that although both Pranab Mukherjee and Dr Rangarajan, the head of the prime minister's economic advisory council, have cautioned against any action that breaks the momentum of the recovery that may be setting in, the final say in this will be that of the Reserve Bank.

It is this, more than the impact of a future rise in the CRR that is truly disturbing, for it raises a fundamental political question: just who is governing this country? Who has the final responsibility for taking decisions that will affect the future of millions upon millions of poor Indians who scrape precarious livings day after day in the unorganised sector? Is it the democratically elected government of the country or is it an unelected group of 'experts' sitting in the  RBI in Mumbai?

It is obvious from the carefully unsourced leaks given to correspondents that the RBI believes it has the final say, and that Manmohan Singh's ministers are about  to plead helplessness yet again. The fig leaf that they are likely to trot out for its their surrender is, once again, the 1993 agreement between the ministry of finance and the RBI that in future the former would leave not only the management of the money supply entirely to the latter, ie never again resort to deficit financing, but also the control of inflation.

Since  the RBI can only control inflation by reducing the money supply, this amounts to controlling the rate of growth of investment, GDP and employment. Ever since the 1993 agreement, the RBI has insisted upon the widest possible definition of the latter role and on every occasion, the central government has yielded to it.

The RBI has not yet given any indication yet of what it intends to do, but the global rating agency, Moody's has nevertheless concluded that it will raise the CRR once again, citing the need to control inflation. The inflation is largely illusory for the wholesale price index has only registered a 0.9 per cent rise in the past year. But there has been a sharp, 8.3 per cent, increase in the prices of primary products because of poor monsoon.


And although it is elementary economics that reductions in money supply cannot control a 'cost push' inflation caused by physical shortages, this has not deterred the RBI from raising the CRR continuously from January 2007 to August 2008, even though virtually the entire rise in prices during that period was caused by mounting global shortages of food, a global speculative boom in commodity prices, and the diversion of a large part of the American soya and corn crop to the production of ethanol for use as a transport fuel.

Unfortunately, even if the RBI does not raise the CRR this week, there is every possibility that it might do so in January. Some months ago RBI governor Subbarao had said he expected inflationary pressures to re-emerge by the end of the year. And the government's recent polices have made this almost unavoidable.

The budget for this year contains a record Rs 4,01,000 crore deficit in the current account against a budgeted Rs 1,32,000 crore in the budget for 2008-9. As of now, the entire amount and any supplementary grants that the government may ask for will be raised through borrowings from the commercial banking system. This will, at the very least keep interest rates high and thereby prevent the second, and more important, phase of economic recovery. This is the conversion of a rise in consumption into a rise in investment.

Investment is already lagging far behind. Its most comprehensive measure —the rise in net bank credit in the economy — has been a mere 10.7 per cent in the past year against 22.3 per cent in 2007-08, the last normal year before the global recession. The last few weeks have seen the first stirrings of revival in investment, but a hardening of interest rates in January will almost certainly abort it.

Now that consumer demand is rising briskly, if production capacity does not also increase, there is a real danger of the country running into stagflation next year. One sure way to avoid this is to rely on deficit financing (creating new money) instead of borrowing from the commercial banks, to meet a part of the huge current account deficit this year.

The RBI could easily do this through open market operations, but since it has only held one auction for Rs 6,000 crore so far, there is little prospect of relief from this quarter. Come the year's end, the government has now to decide whether it or the RBI will decide the fate of the economy.









Every day, the critical December summit in Copenhagen grows closer. All agree that climate change is an existential threat to humankind. Yet agreement on what to do still eludes us.

How can this be? The issues are complex, affecting everything from national economies to individual lifestyles. They involve political trade-offs and commitments of resources no leader can undertake lightly. We could see all that at recent climate negotiations in Bangkok. Where we needed progress, we saw gridlock.

Yet the elements of a deal are on the table. All we require to put them in place is political will. We need to step back from narrow national interest and engage in frank and constructive discussion in a spirit of global common cause.

In this, we can be optimistic. Meeting in London earlier this week, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told the leaders of 17 major economies (responsible for some 80 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions) that success in Copenhagen is within reach — if they themselves engage, and especially if they themselves go to Copenhagen to push an agenda for change.

US leadership is crucial. That is why I am encouraged by the spirit of compromise shown in the bipartisan initiative announced last week by John Kerry and Lindsey Graham. Here was a pair of US senators — one Republican, the other Democratic — coming together to bridge their parties' differences to address climate change in a spirit of genuine give-and-take.


We cannot afford another period where the United States stands on the sidelines. An engaged US can lead the world to seal a deal to combat climate change in Copenhagen. An indecisive or insufficiently engaged US will cause unnecessary — and ultimately unaffordable — delay in concrete strategies and policies to beat this looming challenge.

Leaders across the globe are increasingly showing the engagement and leadership we need. Last month, President Barack Obama joined more than 100 others at a climate change summit at UN headquarters in New York — sending a clear message of solidarity and commitment. So did the leaders of China, Japan and South Korea, all of whom pledged to promote the development of clean energy technologies and ensure that Copenhagen is a success.

Japan's prime minister promised a 25 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2020, laying down a marker for other industrialised nations. The European Union, too, has pledged to make a 30 per cent reduction as part of a global agreement. Norway has announced its readiness for a 40 per cent cut in emissions. Brazil has unveiled plans to substantially cut emissions from deforestation. India and China are implanting programmes to curb emissions as well.

Looking forward to Copenhagen, I have four benchmarks for success:

Every country must do its utmost to reduce emissions from all major sources, including from deforestation and emissions from shipping and aviation. Developed countries must strengthen their mid-term mitigation targets, which are currently nowhere close to the cuts that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says are needed. Developing countries must slow the rise in their emissions and accelerate green growth as part of their strategies to reduce poverty.

A successful deal must strengthen the world's ability to cope with an already changing climate. In particular, it must provide comprehensive support to those who bear the heaviest climate impacts. Support for adaptation is not only an ethical imperative; it is a smart investment in a more stable, secure world.

A deal needs to be backed by money and the means to deliver it. Developing countries need funding and technology so they can move more quickly toward green growth. The solutions we discuss cannot be realised without substantial additional financing, including through carbon markets and private investment.

A deal must include an equitable global governance structure. All countries must have a voice in how resources are deployed and managed. That is how trust will be built.

Can we seal a comprehensive, equitable and ambitious deal in Copenhagen that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global temperature rise to a scientifically safe level? Can we catalyse clean energy growth? Can we help to protect the most vulnerable nations from the effects of climate change? Can we expect the US to play a leading role?

The best answer to all these questions was given last week by Senators Kerry and Graham: "Yes, we can."

(The writer is Secretary General of the United Nations.)









There are certain incidents in life that get ineradicably branded on one's memory. This is one such that has, with all tenacity,  clung on to my mind. It happened over two decades ago. I still remember that evening, wherein I was simply pottering around the house doing nothing. For, I had already done with my chores on that day's agenda.

Just to pep up my mood, I decided to call on my friend, whose place was within the strolling distance of my residence. After having walked halfway, I began dithering over whether to proceed further or retrace my step back home as I saw the star-strewn sky superimposed by dark ominous clouds scudding across overhead. Additionally, I could sense a sort of sepulchral silence on the streets. That apart I had this foreboding that I may get caught in the torrential rains.

With those stray thoughts, I managed to reach my friend's place, only to find out that she had gone out on her shopping expedition. By then, with sudden cloudburst, rains had started pounding on the roofs. My friend's father, rather a burly man with a very amiable demeanour, offered me a seat and kept me engaged in conversation.

Harking back to his early days, he recounted his sweat and struggle in life, and the mental turmoil countered by him in his past. All these sounded like a tear-jerker flick to me and I, with dewy-eyed, hung on to every word of his with rapt attention. Then suddenly he went off at a tangent and started rhapsodising on his newly-built palatial dream-house. He informed that he had shelled out an astronomical amount on acquiring the site and expended prodigious energy in overseeing the construction work. With pride palpable in his eyes, he even flourished the picture of his house. The house truly looked a veritable architectural marvel.

By then, the rains had stopped. After bidding au revoir to my friend's father, I came sauntering back home. And lo! The next day, I was indeed stumped by the staggering news that my friend's father was no more. The previous night, he had succumbed to a massive cardiac arrest. He had built an exquisite abode for himself, but couldn't even live till its house-warming function, which was slated two weeks later.

At that moment, I learnt a valuable lesson in life. Though money/wealth are of paramount importance, still they aren't the be-all and end-all in one's life. After all, of what use is that wealth, if it can't bestow a person with adequately long life, or save him from the diabolical clutches of death?








It's a dilemma for mainstream Israelis: How to resist capitulating to Arab violence on the Temple Mount - driven by irrational fears of Zionist plots against it - while not encouraging marginal Jewish groups who feverishly yearn to make the Arabs' worst nightmares come true?


Israel's "Third Templars" don't seem to care about the consequences of stoking an apocalyptic religious war with Islamic civilization - 56 countries, 1.57 billion faithful, most of them currently on the sidelines of the Arab-Israel conflict.


Jewish tradition holds that the Mount, site of Solomon's Temple (and the Ark of the Covenant) and later the Temple built by the returnees from the Babylonian exile, retains an intrinsic holiness. Disagreements among Torah authorities over which, if any, sections of the Temple plateau may be traversed without treading on the sacred ground of the Holy of Holies date back centuries.


To this day, most ultra-Orthodox Jews avoid the area. And yet for those who consider themselves part of the Jewish collective regardless of denominational or political persuasion, the Mount embodies the civilizational core of our shared past.


In 638, Arab invaders defeated the Christian Byzantines (inheritors of the Roman Empire) for control of this land. Within 50 years they had constructed the Dome of the Rock to enshrine the holy stone Muslims believe to be the place where Abraham prepared to sacrifice… Ishmael. Subsequently, the Aksa Mosque was constructed on the southern end of the plateau.


AFTER ISRAEL captured the area from Jordan in 1967, Moshe Dayan decided to be magnanimous in victory and continue the authority of the Muslim religious trust, or Wakf, to administer the site. Jews, previously barred by Muslims from reaching the holy places, were allowed to ascend the Mount during visiting hours. In keeping with Jewish tradition and in cognizance of Muslim sensibilities, they were, however, prohibited from conducting religious services.


This seemed the perfect compromise, enabling Muslims to worship at the shrines, as was their custom, and Jews (as well as tourists of all faiths) to visit the site for silent meditation and inspiration. The Orthodox establishment of the day, running the gamut from haredi to Zionist, opposed going up to the Mount.


Now a diverse group of mostly post-Zionist settler rabbis, messianic followers of the late Lubavitcher rebbe and practicing "Third Templars" - abetted by a smattering of ultra-right-wing Knesset members - have banded together to force the "hand of God." Ostensibly, they are calling upon the Jewish masses to ascend the Mount and assert a Jewish presence there; we suspect that what many of them really want is to "disappear" the Muslim shrines, put up a Jewish temple and recommence animal sacrifices.


Therein our dilemma: Step back from the Temple Mount, and Arab intimidation wins. Assert Jewish rights, and risk heartening a band of Jewish extremists high on a toxic potion of piety and politics. That even a "moderate" Palestinian leader like Mahmoud Abbas does not accept the Temple Mount as sacred to Jews further complicates the predicament.

ONE POSSIBLE approach is for the government to explicitly remind the Wakf that its administrative role on the Mount derives from the authority vested in it by the Jewish state. Successive governments have abdicated their fiduciary responsibilities by failing to monitor Wakf treatment of Jewish visitors and, most troublingly, looking the other way as the Muslim trust carried out unauthorized excavations.


In parallel, we want to clearly hear Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu denounce as folly the actions of those agitating for a Third Temple built on the ashes of the Muslim shrines. He should disabuse anyone who imagines that the antics of these "Third Templars" have support on the sane Right.


Given the Palestinians' endemic intransigence and quick resort to violence - including, it should be stressed, via malevolent inflation of tensions on the Mount - it is easy to be dismissive of all their grievances over Jerusalem. But sometimes, more sensitivity could be applied. The Palestinians are not always wrong to complain that municipal authorities are placing unreasonable demands on them in seeking building permits while facilitating scatter-site Jewish housing (with no security value) in densely populated Arab neighborhoods.


In the final analysis, Israeli sovereignty is best manifested by providing the same level of municipal services to all taxpaying Jerusalemites - and by insisting on the same adherence to the law from all.









Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has issued a presidential decree that elections will be held in January. This followed his decision to sign the Egyptian plan for intra-Palestinian reconciliation, knowing that Hamas would refuse to sign.


Abbas is demonstrating decisive leadership. After 20 years, he convened the Fatah conference that even Yasser Arafat feared would fragment the movement and destroy the struggle for national liberation. The conference ended in relative unity behind Abbas. With the exception of the blunder - from the Palestinian point of view - of briefly withdrawing the Goldstone report from the UN Human Rights Council, Abbas's popularity is higher than that of any other Palestinian personality.


Abbas is not a man of the people. He lacks charisma. He does not do well on the streets, working the crowd. He doesn't like to go into villages and meet the common people. He doesn't seek the photo-ops that most politicians go out of their way to create. He doesn't like being interviewed. He is much more comfortable within the confines of his Mukata headquarters in Ramallah. A relative of his told me that his favorite pastime is watching National Geographic nature films.


Israelis, politicians, journalists and Middle East analysts love to state that Abbas is weak. They say he lacks control outside the confines of his headquarters. The evidence they provide is that he lost Gaza to Hamas. Their conclusion is that we still lack a partner for peace on the Palestinian side.


These same people argued that we never really had a partner. They complained that Arafat played a double game of peacemaking on the one hand and terrorism on the other - Arafat's own metaphor of the olive branch in one hand and the gun in the other. They said there would not be peace until the Palestinians are led by statesmen and not revolutionary leaders.


Abbas is a statesman, yet Israeli leaders like Ariel Sharon described him as "a chick with no feathers" - apparently a reference to the conclusion that the man will never fly or have the support of his people.


With this humiliating description in hand, Sharon refused to negotiate with Abbas, and instead went forward with the unilateral disengagement that helped empower Hamas's claim that it forced Israel out of Gaza, while fanning the flames of anti-Israel sentiment that led to the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections.


MAHMOUD ABBAS is a leader, a strong leader, and he continues to prove this through his actions and words. He is dedicated to leading his people to statehood, liberation and peace. He opposed the militarization of the second intifada, and with great political courage stated during his first campaign for president in December 2004: "It is important to keep the uprising away from arms because the uprising is a legitimate right of the people to express their rejection of the occupation by popular and social means. Using weapons is harmful and has got to stop."


In February 8, 2005, less than a month after being elected following the death of Arafat, he spoke of "our adherence to the peace process points of reference, the resolutions of international legitimacy, the agreements signed between the PLO and the government of Israel and the road map. I stress our eagerness to honor and implement all our obligations. We will not spare any possible effort to protect this new chance for peace, which has been made possible by what we announced here today."

In November 27, 2007 in Annapolis he said, "I say to the citizens of Israel, in this extraordinary day, you, our neighbors on this small land, neither us nor you are begging for peace from each other. It is a common interest for us and for you. Peace and freedom is a right to us, inasmuch as peace and security is a right for you and for us."


More recently in the UN on September 22, he said, "I would like to affirm the following: Any Palestinian future government will abide by the past commitments of the PLO and the PNA in terms of agreements, especially the letters of mutual recognition dated September 9, 1993, between the two late big figures Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin. These two letters include mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO, denounce violence and adopt negotiations as a means to achieve a permanent solution based on the establishment of the independent state of Palestine next to the state of Israel."


ABBAS HAS implemented almost all the Palestinian obligations under the road map (Israel has not implemented any of its obligations). Abbas has consolidated the security forces and placed them under the full command of the political echelon that he and his prime minister, Salaam Fayad, control. He fired hundreds of officers who had militarized the intifada. He has worked hand-in-hand with US Gen. Keith Dayton in the training and deployment of a young generation of professional security personnel. He has reestablished law and order in the West Bank.


He has dismantled the infrastructure of Hamas and Islamic Jihad throughout the West Bank. He has closed Hamas and Jihad institutions, charitable associations, schools and terror cells. He has replaced Hamas and Jihad clergy in mosques all around the West Bank. His Palestinian Authority controls the content of the sermons in mosques all around the West Bank. He has removed the blatant incitement against Israel from the national television station. He has arrested hundreds of Hamas operatives, who are now sitting in Palestinian Authority prisons. He has refused to give in to public pressure pushing him toward reconciliation with Hamas under almost any terms.


He has demonstrated leadership time and time again. It is time to stop saying Abbas is weak. Abbas is perhaps the best Palestinian partner we could ever hope for. No, he is not a Zionist, and no, he will not adopt Israel's positions in negotiations. He will stand by his decision to bring the Goldstone report to the United Nations, against fierce Israeli pressure.


He is a Palestinian leader, not an agent of Israel. He will demand Palestinian rights in Jerusalem and he will demand that the refugee issue be negotiated and not conceded prior to negotiations.


Abbas is a partner for peace. Is Binyamin Netanyahu?


The writer is co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (








Over the weekend I read Start-Up Nation, the new book about why Israel has emerged as a global leader in hi-tech. Even if its authors Dan Senor and Saul Singer were not my friends, I would still say this book is the best ad for Israel in recent memory. Sidestepping the usual discussion of Israel as an embattled nation, it focuses instead on the invincible ingenuity of the Israeli people, and their vast technological contribution to the global economy. Where the Israeli army is discussed, the focus is not on soldiers chasing down terrorists but on how the Israeli military serves as a commercial networking tool for soldiers. So the book both informs and inspires.


Am I the only one tired of hearing only bad news about Jews and Israel? Remember the old joke about the Jew who loves reading anti-Semitic magazines? When asked why he says, "When I read Jewish newspapers, all I hear is that we're hated. When I read the anti-Semitic alternatives, they tell me we run the world!"


ISRAEL IS not a victim. Less so is it a tragic nation. Rather, as Start-Up Nation makes clear, Israel today is one of the most highly educated and technologically advanced nations on Earth, with one of the planet's fastest-growing economies. It's time that Jewish papers and periodicals stop with the tired, worn stories predicting Israel's imminent demise.


True, Israel has implacable, terrorist enemies, and yes, Iran is building a bomb which is an existential threat. That's all mighty serious stuff.


But is that all there is to the modern Jewish story? Is there not also a story of breathtaking success? If only the world could hear about Israeli universities ranking in the top 10, of its growing number of Nobel Prize winners, of Andy Grove, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates rushing to invest in Israel and how a crazy percentage of the world's computer chips are manufactured in the Jewish state.


The time has come for world Jewry to see Israel as the place where the limitless potential of the Jewish people is finally being made manifest. All we needed was for people to get out of our way, and just look at how we thrive. And we prosper not as a self-absorbed nation but as a people who make vast contributions to all of mankind.


In light of this, it is time for Israel to consider forgoing American economic aid. I understand the military aid; the country has an insane number of crazies who wish to destroy it. But the economic aid creates an unnecessary dependency, undermines the perception of Israel as a prosperous country and gives the US undue influence over Israeli policy. Surely we all believe that decisions governing Israel's right to defend itself should be taken by the Israeli prime minister rather than the American president.


There is more.


Many a Jew has wondered aloud why the Arabs got all the oil and Israel got none. What could God have been thinking in making despots and dictators like the Saudis and Libya's Muammar Gaddafi so insanely rich, while Israel has to struggle for every shekel it earns?


Only now to do we see the truth. Oil is the greatest curse ever to befall the Arabs.


By simply digging a hole and having money flow from the ground, the Arab states had little incentive to build universities or a hi-tech industry. And when the day comes - and it will - when the world finally finds an alternative energy source, these despotic regimes will collapse, returning to the sand from which they arose.


This isn't rocket science. All of us know at least one rich friend whose kids don't have to work, and who consequently became indolent. Israel has had to struggle for everything it has. No country has ever been more unjustly reviled or more continuously attacked.


Conversely, no country better inspires the world to ponder the infinite capacity of humans to rise from the ashes of despair and build a shining state on a hill.


Israel still has a lot of problems and a lot of enemies; it must remain hyper vigilant.


But it is time for the other side of the story to be told as well.


It is time that more books like Start-Up Nation begin to focus on Israel's colossal achievements.


The writer, founder of This World: The Values Network, has just published The Blessing of Enough and The Michael Jackson Tapes.








In last week's Presidential Conference in Jerusalem, President Shimon Peres declared that Israel's brain power "has no borders," and called for Israel to serve as a "global laboratory for pioneers" in five critical areas - clean energy, water use, biotechnology, education and internal security.


Israel has already begun bringing these areas together to create the modern algae-to-energy business. This summer's emergence of algae farming as the hot topic in global biofuels is beginning to transform the image of "pond scum" into "green crude." And that mental image of green gushers may help rally governments worldwide to take economic risks for environmental sustainability.


Last month, US President Barack Obama gave his first speech on global warming at the UN Summit on Climate Change. It was a call to mobilize the political will needed to forge a global agreement on curbing greenhouse gas emissions to avoid catastrophic climate change.


Now the world is awaiting word of what America and China - emitters of 40 percent the globe's greenhouse gasses - are willing to do.


China needs the freedom to use more energy and food to move its growing population into the middle class. America is looking for enhanced energy security and economic stimulus from clean technology. Our research indicates that the farming and processing of algae will be the first large-scale industry to tackle all these problems successfully, and without the need for ongoing government subsidies.


TODAY, TEAMS of Israeli cleantech scientists and engineers are inventing the tools necessary to make deserts bloom with energy crops while mitigating the worst of the electric power industry's greenhouse gas emissions. They are combining their cutting-edge knowledge of biochemistry, water management, desert agriculture and solar power to create this new industry.


We believe that algae farming in the US holds the promise of recycling one-fifth of its electric power industry's greenhouse gas emissions, slashing its need for imported oil by 2 million barrels a day, and spinning off significant quantities of sustainable feed for growing fish and livestock to support the caloric needs of the world's 6.5 billion people.


And the opportunities are even greater in China.


Algae is one of the world's fastest-growing plants, and can thrive without fresh water or fertile land. Unlike many other biofuel feedstocks, it would avoid conflict with food production and rain forest conservation. And, of course, algae eat CO2 in vast quantities.


Solar energy turns two tons of CO2 into one ton of algae. And the industry is learning to stand on its own two feet.


As President Obama spoke at the UN, the experimental vehicle Algaeus rolled into New York City. The Algaeus's 10-day inaugural trek showcased the ability to use today's automotive technology - hybrid engines and algae-derived energy - to cross North America on 25 gallons of fuel, getting 148 miles per gallon.


The trip served as the capstone to the "Summer of Algae," when energy giants Exxon Mobil, Pinnacle West and Dow Chemical each teamed up with corporate, university and government scientists to announce the launch of nearly a billion dollars' worth of algae farming projects. None of this would have been possible without the toolkit developed by Israeli scientists and entrepreneurs.


We endorse President Peres' call for taking Israel's scientific leadership to the next level. There is no time to waste.


Isaac Berzin is a senior faculty member of the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya. In 2008, he was named one of the most influential people in politics, business and science by Time magazine. Alan Leifer is a senior research fellow at the Lauder School, and is the former portfolio manager of the Fidelity Contrafund. This month IDC and Tufts University of Boston jointly launched a research project, Algae - to Be or Not to Be.








During Tel Aviv's 100th anniversary celebrations, almost every aspect of the city was celebrated. What was not celebrated was the fact that Tel Aviv was, and remains the country's capital of private enterprise. Private enterprise enabled the city - with the urban centers built in Jerusalem and Haifa and the 52 private settlements (like Petah Tikva or Metulla) to rescue the Zionist enterprise from the economic and social collapse caused by socialism.


When the Zionist settlement project was launched in Palestine, the Zionist leadership headed by Chaim Weizmann was determined to use it to create a new type of Jew - the antireligious, socialist pioneer who would then create a new nation and redeem the Jewish people from its exilic degeneration. With British cooperation, the Zionist Organization restricted emigration into Palestine to people holding "certificates" issued mostly to non-religious, anti-bourgeois, penniless young socialists. Only very few capitalists were permitted entry. As a result, in a decade the Left became a majority in Palestine's Jewish community.


THE ZIONIST Organization, through its settlement department, headed by the closet communist Arthur Ruppin and manned by a cadre of communists recently arrived from revolutionary Russia, allocated all the donations from capitalist Jews to collectivist (actually communist) kibbutzim and moshavim. For ideological reasons, they were to engage, without adequate training, in extensive dry farming. This in a country short of arable land and water, and in a period when the growing mechanization of agriculture shrunk it dramatically and the price of cereals sank.


Because the socialists believed that only farming was pure, honest work, and all other work, as Marx taught, was tainted by exploitation, the Zionist Organization gambled the future of its enterprise on a regressive economic system that was bound to fail, despite the billions in subsidies sunk into it.


By focusing on farming, the Zionist enterprise has also expanded the national conflict with the Arabs. Instead of expanding the economy through urbanization and industrialization that could provide plenty for all, socialist Zionism made scarce arable land, water and employment matters of bitter contention. The socialists also inflamed the Arab masses with their violent boycott of Arab labor and produce, and other provocations (the first murderous assault by Arabs on Jews followed a May 1 march by communists through traditionalist Jaffa).


The private settlements had a very difficult childhood. They overcame it with aid from the Baron Rothschild, and subsequently succeeded economically, demonstrating that it was possible to settle remote areas (such as Metulla and Gedera) by private initiative. It was not necessary to do so with failing socialist collectives.


Labor could not tolerate such success, and recruited "a class struggle force, well organized and strong to pursue a determined class struggle," which according to David Ben-Gurion "would unify the nation." Ben-Gurion and his comrades were then unabashed Leninists. "Class warfare,' Eliahu Golomb explained "is a struggle for political dominion." Labor hated town dwellers, the bourgeoisie - "the seltzer peddlers" as Ben-Gurion contemptuously called them.


The Zionist Organization, and later the Jewish Agency, supported Labor with all their means. The ZO and the agency financed the "economic" enterprises of the Left, the Hamashbir trade conglomerate, the construction giant Solel Boneh and Bank Hapoalim. With costless capital they could unfairly undercut private business. The ZO and the agency also financed the wild strikes and violent boycotts that according to Ben-Gurion would help build a workers' economy on the ruin of the private one.


When in the mid-1920s a recession hit Palestine following the collapse of Eastern European currencies and bankrupted Tel Avivian homebuilders, the Zionist Organization refused to help them.


Ben-Gurion and his comrades were happy to see these "capitalists" lose everything and leave the country. Like their ideological mentor Nachman Sirkin they believed that "bourgeoisie Zionism has no moral or national value."


Despite the ferocious war waged on it, private enterprise managed not only to survive but even to prosper, economically, culturally and socially; this despite the lack of natural resources or of a relative advantage, and despite the very poor human and physical infrastructure. The agricultural productivity of Petah Tikva alone was several times higher than that of all the collectivist settlements, and it employed thousands of Jewish workers compared to the few hundred working in all the kibbutzim and moshavim.


THE FAILURE of the Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency to quickly urbanize and industrialize Palestine weakened the Jewish community economically and politically. It thus lacked the clout to pressure the British to allow increased aliya (the British in fact used economic retardation as an excuse to curb it) and it lacked resources to attempt to save those European Jews that could be rescued before the war. It lacked the means to prepare for the 1948 War of Independence - one reason Israel suffered so many casualties.


If not for the relative success of Tel Aviv and the other towns and settlements, it is likely that the whole Zionist enterprise would have failed when the collectivist sector did. No amount of devotion and hard work could have saved the heavily subsidized collectivist projects. As Ze'ev Jabotinsky observed (in a 1929 piece "We the Bourgeoisie"): "The individualistic element in developing creativity is basic and inevitable; the entrepreneur and the organizer are the visionaries of real progress."


All this was not even mentioned in Tel Aviv's anniversary celebrations.


The writer is director of the Israel Center for Social and Economic Progress (ICSEP).








The appointment of Senator George Mitchell as special envoy to the Middle East in January 2009 elicited great expectations for progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track, particularly since the new American president, Barack Obama, eloquently communicated his intent to renew peace negotiations and end them successfully within his first term in office. After nine months and many trips to the Middle East, a plethora of meetings with the leaders in the region and even an Obama-Netanyahu-Abbas summit in New York last month, Senator Mitchell seems unable to report success to his boss.


There are several reasons for this outcome, some conjectural and some structural.


First, Obama's behavior has not been helpful. He has insisted on a comprehensive settlement freeze, which the Palestinians turned into a precondition for sitting at the negotiating table. So far it has backfired, indicating Washington's limitations in imposing its will on Jerusalem, as well as the diplomatic acumen of Netanyahu's government. Moreover, the arm-twisting to persuade Abbas to come to the New York summit further undermined the position of the weak Palestinian leader. On top of this, Washington rightly demanded that the Palestinian Authority defer the presentation of the infamous Goldstone report to UN forums. Yet Abbas's acquiescence in the American demand exposed him to the criticism of Hamas, the main competitor in Palestinian politics. All this hampered the PA's flexibility toward Israel and hindered the return to negotiations.


Second, in Israel, the Netanyahu government advocated a return to negotiations without preconditions - prima facie, a very reasonable position. Moreover, following Netanyahu's June 2009 diplomatic address at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, over 70 percent of Israelis, a very high figure, endorsed his policies on the Palestinian issue. This political feat made Israel less vulnerable to outside pressure. Furthermore, Israel gained American promises to secure Arab gestures as a quid pro quo for its concessions. Washington was unable to deliver, indicating again the limits of American clout in the region.


Poor Mitchell was sent into diplomatic battle when most of the region was quite impressed with Obama's rhetoric but was not convinced that words would be followed by deeds. Unfortunately, the heyday of American power and influence in the Middle East is over. When American diplomacy is not backed by "hard" power, the "soft" power extolled nowadays by Washington carries only little weight with the realpolitik-oriented Middle Eastern elites. Most capitals of the region regard Obama as weak. This does not augur well for Mitchell, as even the weak Palestinians are able to say "no."


THE TRUTH is that even a much stronger America cannot impose peace agreements. In 1991, the tough Secretary of State James Baker was successful in convening the Madrid conference, but the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian Oslo agreement and the 1994 Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty were the result of bilateral interactions with no American input. Similarly, Anwar Sadat decided to go to Jerusalem in 1977 when President Carter wanted him to fly to Geneva instead for an international peace conference. Outsiders have limited ability to induce change in how Middle Easterners conduct their business, as recent American experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan indicate.


American diplomacy can hardly make a dent in the schism within Palestinian society that is the main stumbling block for progress in peace-making. As long as Islamist Hamas has a powerful grip on the Palestinian ethos and Palestinian aspirations, and as long as its ruthless rule over Gaza continues, Palestinian politics are hostage to the extremists and are unable to move toward an historic compromise with the Jewish-Zionist national movement. Mitchell cannot even prevent a draft of a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation document that does not conform to Quartet demands (renounce violence, recognize Israel and respect past agreements).


The final obstacle for Mitchell is the nature of his mandate - the pursuit of an outdated paradigm, the two-state solution. Unfortunately, the desired outcome of the Oslo process, partition of the Land of Israel into two states - Jewish and Palestinian - was not achieved and this predicament is unlikely to change any time soon. The Palestinians failed the main test of statehood: monopoly over the use of force. They allowed armed militias to erode law and order in the areas under their control. This culminated in the bloody Hamas takeover of Gaza. Even Hamas in Gaza failed to acquire a monopoly over the use of force: witness the existence of the armed groups Islamic Jihad, elements of al-Qaida and certain clans. As noted, Palestinian society, be it in the West Bank or Gaza, is not entertaining reconciliation with the Jews. The shaheed (martyr) is still the role model in the Palestinian media and education system.


Mitchell, and with him a large part of the international community, fail to understand that the ethnic conflict being waged in the Holy Land will end only when the parties tire. So far, Israelis and Palestinians still have energy to fight for what is important to them.


Therefore, what is needed is a new policy paradigm. It is high-time to consider a return to the status quo ante of pre-1967. Jordan and Egypt are responsible states at peace with Israel that successfully ruled over the Palestinians. They should be induced to share responsibility for regional stability. The Palestinian potential for regional mischief is not only Israel's problem.


The writer is professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University and director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies. This article originally appeared on and is reprinted with permission.








The public search committee for candidates to succeed Attorney General Menachem Mazuz is expected to meet tomorrow under foggy circumstances. Its members do not know whether Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman's plan - to split the office of attorney general, passing on the authority on punishments to a "super prosecutor" - will be expedited, or if the current system will be maintained for a four-year period, during which a special committee will sit on the matter.

It should be noted that the proposal to divide the role of the attorney general, which is still on the table, suggests that the opinion of the attorney general on every matter should not bind the government and its ministers as it has to date. This idea originates in the ideology of the previous justice minister, Daniel Friedmann. Like his predecessor, Neeman is also seeking to downplay the role of the attorney general and transform him into a "giver of advice" - as if he were a private attorney whose clients can choose to ignore his recommendations or even replace him, eventually doing whatever they feel is best.

Crushing the stature of the attorney general's opinions and neutering their binding power will remove from the specter of the rule of law the watchdog in the halls of power, in a country where ministers tend to forget that, despite their high positions, the rule of law is still mightier. The modification being proposed is tantamount to the eradication of the legal-public standing of the attorney general, and transforming his role into a legal puppet.


Neeman's position runs contrary to widespread rulings of the Supreme Court, which have become part of the character of Israeli democracy, and which considers the attorney general the first among those enforcing the law on the governing authorities. The Supreme Court ruled that "The opinion of the attorney general on a legal issue reflects, from the point of view of the government, the present and existing legal situation." It also ruled that "The law is that the position of the government and of the authorities with regard to the content of the existing law is determined by the attorney general." This is so when the attorney general and his representatives are not simply "advisers" in the regular sense of the word, and "their opinions are binding on the government."

The justice minister is seeking to bypass the rulings of the Supreme Court through legislation. His dangerous plan can be carried out even if the splitting of the institution of the attorney general is put off until a later time.

Hopefully the government will avoid adopting this mistaken position, whose acceptance will constitute the "assassination" of a role which represents one of the cornerstones of the rule of law in this country.

That would be the case if the institution is split at this time, or if the binding strength of the opinions of the attorney general are canceled.








There are a thousand ways of starting an article on Israeli current affairs and they're all associated with issues of conduct and mess ups.

It could be Maccabi Tel Aviv and its petty cash box or the riddle of whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will really meet with President Obama in about two weeks. Why a riddle? Because the prime minister was invited to the General Assembly of Jewish Federations of North America, which will be held in Washington this year, and unless a meeting with the president is assured in advance, he won't go.

In the meantime, the meeting hasn't been set. It will be held only if it's clear that Bibi will have answers on the settlement issue. If Mitchell reports that Bibi has nothing new to say, Obama will make himself "too busy" to see him and Bibi will not degrade himself by coming to Washington without meeting the president.

Obama will not call Bibi to account for the Goldstone report. The administration has accepted Operation Cast Lead with understanding. If only for the reason that the American armed forces themselves are killing civilians in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and anywhere else they come into contact with civilians.

With all the changes in warfare methods, the day will come when the Geneva Conventions will have to be adjusted to regular armies' wars against terror groups, which mostly target civilians.


But until we get there, the subject and victim of the Goldstone Commission is Israel, which has been tarnished as responsible for war crimes, and perhaps even crimes against humanity. Were former prime minister Ariel Sharon to wake up today, maybe he would face the commission and maybe he wouldn't, but he would probably say it was one of Israel's most justified wars.

But if he could hear how many legal opinions Operation Cast Lead underwent, he would likely fall back into a coma from shock.

After eight years of restraint, the IDF launched its most legally inspected military campaign. It was reviewed by many, from Menachem Mazuz and his deputy to every brigade's legal adviser.

Israel wasn't the one to choose Gaza as its battlefield, Hamas did. Despite this, the IDF is probing about 100 complaints, 25 of them already in the Military Police's hands. At the end of the operation a team headed by a senior officer who did not take part in it investigated it.

But according to Goldstone, every response to a terror attack, from the Park Hotel to blowing up buses, is disproportionate.

As infuriating as the Goldstone Commission's conclusions are, the primary guilt lies with the government, which refused to cooperate with the commission. Perhaps it could have reduced the damage by doing so. Ehud Barak, who led the objection, adopted the second part of Disraeli's statement "never complain and never explain." As one who treats the civilian Bibi with the same scorn former defense minister Moshe Dayan used to treat former prime minister Levi Eshkol, it was he who pushed Netanyahu to avoid cooperating with the commission.

Senior jurists believe Israel erred in boycotting the commission, and Bibi is erring even more in accepting Barak's dictate. After all, he is the prime minister.

The right thing to do now is to set up a functional examination committee to look into each incident listed by the Goldstone report, stressing that we're doing it to remove the stain that commission has cast on us. For our part we have already drawn the conclusions, but it is also important that the world hears what we have to say. The international damage done to Israel, accompanied by condemnations and boycotts, requires a convincing response.

Thus Bibi's hint to the veteran Washington Post interviewer, Elizabeth Morris "Lally" Graham Weymouth, is understandable. He said we're examining the possibility of setting up an independent investigation committee to probe the accusations against us in the campaign in Gaza. Although several ministers agreed with Bibi that this could minimize the damage already caused to Israel, Barak insisted that such a committee would not be formed.

It is not clear what Barak is afraid of. But despite his high IQ, he is only the defense minister. He is not the prime minister, nor will he be. According to pollster Mina Tzemach's survey released over the weekend in Yedioth Ahronoth, if elections were held today Bibi's Likud party would rise to 33 Knesset seats and Barak's Labor party would be reduced to seven (Kadima would maintain its strength).

From setting up an examination committee that won't be a whitewash to carrying out the commitment to remove illegal outposts - Bibi must internalize that he is a prime minister with a sound backing and do what is best for Israel.









The recent riots on the Temple Mount instigated by the Islamic Movement force us again to turn our attention to the Israeli Arab community. How many times does it need to be said that the most important challenge facing Israel is the integration of Israel's Arab citizens into Israeli society? That the government needs to place priority on providing a climate where Israel's Arab citizens enjoy not only equal rights, but also equal opportunities, and share equally with the Jewish citizens of Israel the obligations of citizenship. In other words, that they feel at home in Israel. How often does it need to be repeated that a large minority community that feels alienated from the country it lives in is dangerous to all concerned?

The explanation for the years of neglect by Israeli governments are two-fold. The "law" of Israeli governance is that you do the urgent first and the important later. Setting a policy for the integration of Israel's Arab citizens may be important, but compared to the multitude of problems constantly facing the government, it does not seem urgent.

Second, there is the false belief that once Israel has reached an agreement with the Palestinians, the problem of Israel's Arab citizens will solve itself. Some even argue that it can only be dealt with at that time. This is hardly self-evident. There is no law of physics, or for that matter of political science, if it can be called a science, that links the two issues. On the contrary, it seems that when and if an agreement is reached with the Palestinians, the integration of Israel's Arab citizens, if not resolved by that time, will become even more difficult to resolve than it is now.

Many of Israel's Arab citizens appreciate the fact they live in a democratic society, which provides many educational opportunities, where the rule of law prevails, and where women have been liberated. It is therefore doubly painful to them to sense that there is no full equality for them, that in many areas they are discriminated against.

But there is an Arab movement that does not share that feeling at all, that does not seek equality in Israel, and whose objective it is to destroy the State of Israel. That is the Islamic Movement, an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.

It is actively engaged in inciting the Arab population to hate Israel and its Jewish citizens. Frequently the incitement leads to riots like the recent ones in Jerusalem.

Every year the movement holds a mass rally in Umm al-Fahm under the banner "the Al-Aqsa Mosque is in danger." The rally is attended by tens of thousands and there the lie is spread that Israel is planning to destroy the Muslim holy site, and that Israel's Muslims and Muslims throughout the world must mobilize to prevent this sacrilege.

The fact that Israel scrupulously provides for freedom of worship at all holy sites does not matter to them. The lie is being spread and believed by many.

A few years ago the Islamic Movement initiated the building of a mosque in Nazareth opposite the Church of the Annunciation, a Christian holy site, announcing that this mosque was going to tower over the church. The whole project was illegal: There was no building permit. Nevertheless, construction began, and prayers were already being held on the building site.

It was only after much hesitation that the government finally insisted on enforcing the law and prohibited the pursuit of this grandiose project, designed to spread hate between the Muslim and Christian communities.

In working toward the integration of Israel's Arab citizens in Israel's society, the government must clearly differentiate between law-abiding citizens and those who are working to undermine the State of Israel.

The Islamic Movement is a subversive organization that is attempting to undermine the State of Israel. Most of the Israeli Arabs who have engaged or planned to engage in acts of terror were members of the Islamic Movement and products of its educational institutions. It is a movement engaged in sedition - inciting to rebellion against the authority of the state.

Sedition is unlawful, and the Islamic movement should be declared illegal. That would not only avert a growing danger but also send a clear signal to Israel's Arab citizens that respect for the law and the country's institutions is an essential element in the process of integration into Israeli society.








There was a time, years ago, when a certain balance was created between the public and private sectors. In the public sector salaries were relatively low but workers had job stability and extensive benefits. In the private sector, in contrast, pay was high but there was no job security and benefits were much less substantial.

Today the situation is different. The public sector has the private sector beat by a mile. Its pay is higher (except at the top), and it offers job security - critical in times of crisis, when the private sector is downsizing - as well as many benefits and a good pension. This we learn from reports on public sector and civil-service pay released yesterday and last week, respectively.

Defense Ministry staffers stood out among all government workers. Their average salary is 45 percent above that of others, at NIS 18,300 a month - which is higher than the average for most private businesses.


Teachers' salaries turn out not to be as low as presented in the recent wage disputes. The average teacher's salary is NIS 9,116 a month, and their annual three and a half months of vacation - the dream of every wage-earner - must not be forgotten.

There are also a few tricks that raise civil service pay sky-high, such as accruing unlimited vacation days and the possibility of cashing in sick days, that don't exist in the private sector. That is how former prisons commissioner and current Transportation Ministry Director General Yaakov Granot, received the salary equivalent of hundreds of vacation and sick days in 2008, catapulting his salary to as much as NIS 121,000 a month.

For the past two years physicians have been at the top of the pay scale. Out of 1,000 top earners in the civil service, 850 are physicians. Nine out of 10 of those receiving the highest wages are physicians earning more than NIS 60,000 a month.

The same is true in the public sector. The five highest-paid officials in the public sector are directors of health maintenance organizations, tipping the pay scale at around NIS 90,000 a month. But that is not the whole picture, because the report does not add physicians' earnings from their hospital work to their work at the kupot holim health maintenance organizations, which raises their total wage package considerably. Gaps in pay among physicians are huge. Young doctors, who work long shifts and are constantly on call, earn NIS 9,000 a month.

And speaking of wage gaps, we come to universities, where a recent contract was signed for a 24-percent pay hike. However, the raise was distributed so as to give faculty with seniority a higher percentage than their younger colleagues. Thus it is not surprising to find senior academics earning NIS 50,000 to 60,000 a month.

Like every year, the stars of the report are officials in the major government monopolies: The navigators in the Ashdod and Haifa ports take home NIS 70,000 a month, the highest earners at the Israel Electric Company make NIS 60,000 a month, flight controllers working for the Israel Airports Authority earn NIS 50,000 a month. They do not earn such sums because they have special knowledge, or because they are in high demand in the private sector (as is the case for physicians), but rather because they can shut down an essential monopolistic service.

Bank of Israel staffers also starred in the report, with wages as high as NIS 50,000 to NIS 60,000 a month, much more than the pay of their counterparts in the Finance Ministry, whose work is no less important. The wage director at the Finance Ministry, Ilan Levine, devoted a special chapter to them in the report. It is interesting that the research department at the Bank of Israel has never published a study of the exaggerated pay in the Israel Airports Authority, the Ports Authority or the Israel Electric Corporation - because it is obvious that people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

The economic problem is that the better labor conditions are in the public sector, even surpassing those of the private sector, the worse it is for the economy. That is because growth and employment do not come from the public sector, but rather from the private sector, which must be encouraged and developed to attract young people so that we will not become the State of the Electric Corporation and the Land of the Bank of Israel.







Critics of Human Rights Watch's work on Israel raise three main points. First, they say we disproportionately focus on Israel, and neglect other countries in the Middle East. Second, they claim our research methodology is flawed - relying on witnesses with an agenda. Third, as recently expressed by our founding chairman Robert Bernstein, they argue that we should focus on "closed" countries such as China rather than "open" societies like Israel.

I reject all three claims.


Human Rights Watch currently works on seventeen countries in the Middle East and North Africa, including Iran, Egypt, Libya and Saudi Arabia. Israel accounts for about 15 percent of our published output on the region. The Middle East and North Africa division is one of 16 research programs at Human Rights Watch and receives 5 percent of our total budget. Israel is a small fraction of what we do.

Our war coverage in the region has documented violations by all sides. No international human rights organization has done more to highlight the war crimes of Hezbollah and Hamas, challenging their leaders and the Arab public to think critically about the unlawful conduct of these groups. Our Civilian Protection Initiative, launched five years ago, has sought the support of Arab civil society leaders to discredit terrorist attacks.

The research methodology employed in these wars is the same we use around the world: in-depth private interviews with multiple witnesses. We corroborate their accounts with field visits, ballistics evidence, medical records and other means. Unfortunately, since late 2008, the Israel Defense Forces have refused to meet with us or answer any of our detailed written questions.

The problem of witness intimidation is not new, and we take it into account.

Contrary to the claims of some critics, in Gaza we found there were Palestinians who would speak about violations by Hamas. Palestinian victims and witnesses of abuse were the primary source for a report we published on Hamas torture and executions - a report cited publicly by the Israeli government.

We apply the same international human rights standards to all countries, open and closed. We work extensively on China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Iran, but we also investigate abuses in the American criminal justice system, police killings in India, "disappearances" in Sri Lanka, and migrants' rights in Europe. All governments, regardless of their political system, are obliged to uphold the same international norms.

At the heart of our critics' arguments lies the view that we should hold Israel to lower standards. There is no dispute that the country was founded on the ashes of genocide and is surrounded by hostile states and armed groups. But some believe that these circumstances give Israel's democratic government the right to take whatever steps it deems necessary to keep the country safe.

A country's conditions do not remove its obligations under international law, though. Whether a state is an aggressor or acting in self-defense, whether it faces a regular army or insurgents that commit abuses, the laws of war apply, imposing a duty to minimize civilian harm.

And being a democratic country prevents Israel from committing wartime abuses no more than it stopped the United States from torture and unlawful detentions at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.

The serious Israeli abuses we documented also put the country at greater risk. By failing to hold those responsible to account, Israel increases anger and resentment among the Palestinian population and in the wider Arab world, and undercuts moderates who wish to pursue peace.

Our critics have every right to challenge the substance of our findings on Israel or any other country, though they rarely find errors. But if they want to challenge repressive regimes and combat armed groups that terrorize civilians, they will not serve that cause by trying to exempt Israel from human rights laws that are the best defense against such abuse. Nor does it help to attack those organizations that are working to uphold those laws around the world.

The writer is executive director of Human Rights Watch.







The consensus among economists is that the recession is over, and, technically, the herd is probably right. Corporate profitability has been boosted by job cuts, pay cuts and a drive to restock depleted inventories. Immense federal stimulus has jolted the economy.


But what happens when those measures run their course? The economy is going to need more government support, or it is bound to be very weak for a very long time — and vulnerable to a relapse into recession. Unemployment is expected to worsen well into next year, exceeding 10 percent. Foreclosures are expected to rise, which will push home values down further. Hundreds of small and midsize banks are likely to fail in coming years. State and local governments face budget shortfalls in 2010 that are as bad or worse than this year's.


Yet Washington is not providing a coherent plan for effective stimulus. The Senate has been hamstrung for nearly a month over the most basic relief-and-recovery boost: an extension of unemployment benefits. The Obama administration has called for an expensive crowd-pleaser of dubious effectiveness: sending every Social Security recipient an extra $250.


And Washington is mired in a warped political debate. Congressional Republicans say continued economic weakness is proof that February's stimulus package failed. Lawmakers in both parties fret that large budget deficits preclude more stimulus, lest the burden of debt outweigh the benefit of deficit spending.


Both arguments are wrong. If anything, ongoing economic problems are a sign that stimulus needs to be bolstered. Deficits are a serious issue, but the immediate need for stimulus trumps the longer-term need for deficit reduction. A self-reinforcing stretch of economic weakness would be far costlier than additional stimulus.


The Senate could take a step in the right direction by extending unemployment benefits without further delay. That is the single most effective way to boost consumption — which, in turn, preserves jobs — because it creates spending that would otherwise not occur.


Next, Congress and the administration should agree on ways to ease the dire financial condition of the states. Most important is continued aid for state Medicaid programs, which would ensure vital services, support jobs and free up money for other needs. Governors will begin to prepare their new budgets in early 2010, and those budgets will be in effect for a year, starting in July. So the states need to know soon what to expect from the federal government through mid-2011. As long as the states are suffering, any economic recovery efforts by the federal government are undermined.


Other measures being floated are less effective than unemployment benefits and aid to states. Many of the $250 checks to Social Security beneficiaries will not be spent quickly, because many recipients have no pressing need for the extra money. Proposals by some lawmakers to extend and expand the $8,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers are even less well targeted. Since it was enacted in February, only an estimated 15 percent of buyers who claimed the credit needed the money to make the purchase. It's not stimulus when you pay people to do something they would have done anyway. It's waste.

To be highly effective as stimulus, cash aid must be targeted to needy populations. The housing market would be better served by a reinvigorated attempt to reduce foreclosures, including, at long last, reducing principal balances for the millions of people who owe more on their homes than they are worth.


Without another round of effective stimulus, the worst recession in modern memory will likely become — at best — the weakest recovery in modern memory. Another boost to federal spending that is targeted and timely should not be too much for politicians to deliver.







Radovan Karadzic, accused of ordering some of the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II, is still tormenting his victims. More than 160 Bosnian Muslims traveled to the Hague for the start of the former Bosnian Serb leader's war crimes trial on Monday only to have him boycott the proceeding.


Judges with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yuogoslavia adjourned the session and promised to begin on Tuesday with or without Mr. Karadzic in the dock. The trial must go ahead. After so many years of anguish, the relatives of the thousands of who were killed deserve a chance at justice.


It took 13 years and enormous international pressure to persuade Serbian authorities to finally arrest Mr. Karadzic. (He was living in Belgrade posing as a New Age healer.) He faces 11 charges of war crimes and genocide, for his role in the 43-month siege of Sarajevo, the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica and the so-called ethnic-cleansing campaign against Bosnian Muslims and Croats.


Slobodan Milosevic, the murderous former Yugoslav leader, played similar games with the war crimes court for four years, only to die of a heart attack before a formal verdict was rendered. Mr. Karadzic seems equally determined to mock the court and draw things out. He refused to send a lawyer to Monday's hearing, refused to enter pleas, demanded more time to prepare for trial and — unsuccessfully — claimed immunity from prosecution, asserting that he had cut a deal with the former United States peace envoy, Richard Holbrooke, in 1996. Mr. Holbrooke has denied this. The court must accord Mr. Karadzic appropriate rights, but it cannot let him control the process.


Mr. Karadzic's trial is not the only unfinished business in the Balkans. His wartime military chief, Gen. Ratko Mladic, is believed to be still hiding in Serbia — 14 years after his indictment. We doubt the claims of Serb officials who say they don't know where he is. He also must be apprehended.


The war in Bosnia is thankfully over. But the peace deal enshrined a political system that continues to promote division rather than much-needed conciliation. The United States and European states recently proposed a comprehensive plan to stabilize Bosnia and clear the way for the country to join the European Union — including by breaking down official ethnic divisions and improving the rule of law and human rights practices. Persuading Bosnia's leaders to choose that route will be as important to exorcising the Balkan ghosts as bringing war criminals to justice.







The sheriff of Cook County, Ill., grabbed headlines earlier this year when he sued Craigslist, the online classified advertising forum, for allowing posts that he said promoted prostitution. A federal judge in Chicago wisely threw out the suit last week. As Congress has recognized, if an Internet proprietor had to police every posting that a third party put up, the cost would be enormous — and it would likely stifle communications.


Craigslist warns users that offers or solicitations of prostitution are prohibited. Sheriff Thomas Dart argued that its "erotic services" section still included numerous listings for paid sexual services, including some using code words. The company made voluntary changes after the suit was filed, including conducting a manual review of the listings. Late last year, before the suit was filed, it started charging for those ads in an effort to appease critics.


Even without these changes, Craigslist was operating entirely within the law. The Communications Decency Act of 1996 protects "interactive computer services" — ranging from small bloggers to giant Internet service providers — from liability, in most cases, for speech they did not help create.


The legal question before Judge John F. Grady was not a difficult one. Last year, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, whose decisions are binding in Illinois, ruled in a fair-housing case that Craigslist cannot be held liable for its users' illegal real estate listings. As Judge Grady rightly concluded, the same logic applies to adult listings.


Other law enforcement officials, including several state attorneys general, have attacked Craigslist recently for its adult listings, despite its immunity under the Communications Decency Act.


This is the wrong approach. Sheriff Dart told the court that his office had conducted sting operations using Craigslist that led to numerous arrests on prostitution and related charges. He seemed to think it was an argument against Craigslist, but it actually shows why suits like his are unnecessary.







Now that President Obama has declared swine flu a national emergency and manufacturers are warning that vaccine production is running far behind schedule, is it time to panic? Almost certainly not. Swine flu is spreading rapidly, but the virus appears no more virulent than a seasonal flu virus. If current trends continue, it will kill or hospitalize fewer people than would be harmed in a normal flu season.


Millions have already been infected with the swine flu virus. It has killed more than 1,000 Americans and sent more than 20,000 to the hospital. While that is frightening, the final tally is still likely to be less than in a normal flu season, when the circulating strains typically cause around 36,000 deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations.


The president's declaration of an emergency was a procedural maneuver to make it easier for hospitals, should they be swamped with sick people, to transfer them to alternate sites for triage and treatment.


The availability of swine flu vaccine is running way behind the original expectations, in part because federal health officials were overly optimistic in predicting how much could be delivered rapidly, and in part because manufacturers have experienced production difficulties. Only 16 million doses of vaccine are currently available. By late November, that number is expected to rise to 66 million, still not enough to meet expected demand.


While there is no reason to panic, there is also no reason for anyone to let down their guard. People should take normal precautions, including washing hands, covering their coughs and staying home when they're sick. There is always a possibility that the swine flu virus will come back in a third wave early next year, possibly in a more virulent form. Production problems seem to be easing and federal officials say that there should be ample supplies of vaccine by then to protect virtually everyone who wants protection.








One of the most cherished items in my possession is a postcard that was sent from Mississippi to the Upper West Side of Manhattan in June 1964.


"Dear Mom and Dad," it says, "I have arrived safely in Meridian, Mississippi. This is a wonderful town and the weather is fine. I wish you were here. The people in this city are wonderful and our reception was very good. All my love, Andy."


That was the last word sent to his family by Andrew Goodman, a 20-year-old college student who was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan, along with fellow civil rights workers Michael Schwerner and James Chaney, on his first full day in Mississippi — June 21, the same date as the postmark on the card. The goal of the three young men had been to help register blacks to vote.


The postcard was given to me by Andrew's brother, David, who has become a good friend.


Andrew and that postcard came to mind over the weekend as I was thinking about the sense of helplessness so many ordinary Americans have been feeling as the nation is confronted with one enormous, seemingly intractable problem after another. The helplessness is beginning to border on paralysis. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nearly a decade long, are going badly, and there is no endgame in sight.


Monday morning's coffee was accompanied by stories about suicide bombings in the heart of Baghdad that killed at least 150 people and wounded more than 500 and helicopter crashes in Afghanistan that killed 14 Americans.


Here at home, the terrible toll from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression continues, with no end to the joblessness in sight and no comprehensible plans for fashioning a healthy economy for the years ahead. The government's finances resemble a Ponzi scheme. If you want to see the epidemic that is really clobbering American families, look past the H1N1 virus to the home foreclosure crisis.


The Times ran a Page A1 article on Monday that said layoffs, foreclosures and other problems associated with the recession had resulted in big increases in the number of runaway children, many of whom were living in dangerous conditions in the streets.


Americans have tended to watch with a remarkable (I think frightening) degree of passivity as crises of all sorts have gripped the country and sent millions of lives into tailspins. Where people once might have deluged their elected representatives with complaints, joined unions, resisted mass firings, confronted their employers with serious demands, marched for social justice and created brand new civic organizations to fight for the things they believed in, the tendency now is to assume that there is little or nothing ordinary individuals can do about the conditions that plague them.


This is so wrong. It is the kind of thinking that would have stopped the civil rights movement in its tracks, that would have kept women in the kitchen or the steno pool, that would have prevented labor unions from forcing open the doors that led to the creation of a vast middle class.


This passivity and sense of helplessness most likely stems from the refusal of so many Americans over the past few decades to acknowledge any sense of personal responsibility for the policies and choices that have led the country into such a dismal state of affairs, and to turn their backs on any real obligation to help others who were struggling.


Those chickens have come home to roost. Being an American has become a spectator sport. Most Americans watch the news the way you'd watch a ballgame, or a long-running television series, believing that they have no more control over important real-life events than a viewer would have over a coach's strategy or a script for "Law & Order."


With that kind of attitude, Andrew Goodman would never have left the comfort of his family home in Manhattan. Rosa Parks would have gotten up and given her seat to a white person, and the Montgomery bus boycott would never have happened. Betty Friedan would never have written "The Feminine Mystique."


The nation's political leaders and their corporate puppet masters have fouled this nation up to a fare-thee-well. We will not be pulled from the morass without a big effort from an active citizenry, and that means a citizenry fired with a sense of mission and the belief that their actions, in concert with others, can make a profound difference.


It can start with just a few small steps. Mrs. Parks helped transform a nation by refusing to budge from her seat. Maybe you want to speak up publicly about an important issue, or host a house party, or perhaps arrange a meeting of soon-to-be dismissed employees, or parents at a troubled school.


It's a risk, sure. But the need is great, and that's how you change the world.








Humans are overconfident creatures. Ninety-four percent of college professors believe they are above average teachers, and 90 percent of drivers believe they are above average behind the wheel. Researchers Paul J.H. Schoemaker and J. Edward Russo gave computer executives quizzes on their industry. Afterward, the executives estimated that they had gotten 5 percent of the answers wrong. In fact, they had gotten 80 percent of the answers wrong.


Fortunately, for those who study the human comedy, the epicenter of overconfidence moves from year to year. Up until recently, people in the financial world bathed in the warm glow of their own self-approval. Hubris in that world always takes the same form: The geniuses there come to believe that they have mastered risk. The future is an algorithm and they've cracked the code.


Over the past year, the bonfire of overconfidence has shifted to Washington. Since the masters of finance have been exposed as idiots, the masters of government have concluded (somewhat illogically) that they must be really smart.


Overconfidence in government also has a characteristic form: that of highly rational Olympians who attempt to stand above problems and solve them in a finely tuned and impartial manner. In moments of government overconfidence, officials come to see society not as a dynamic and complex organism, but as a machine, which can be rebuilt. In such moments, governance and engineering merge into one.


Examples of this overconfidence abound. But let us pick just one: the effort to cap financial compensation.


Back in the days of Wall Street overconfidence, the financial titans believed that they deserved to give each other G.D.P.-level pay packages, even though there is no evidence that such packages improve performance. Now in disgrace, Wall Street firms are rewriting their rules, but the Obama administration has decided it should take control of compensation reform. Nobody seriously believes high pay caused the financial meltdown; it was bubblicious groupthink. But cutting executive pay just polls so well.


Every great action can be done in a spirit of humility or in a spirit of overconfidence. Regulating pay in a spirit of humility would mean rebalancing the power between shareholders and executives, without getting government involved in micromanaging individual pay decisions.


But this is not a moment of humility. Treasury officials are now making individual pay-package decisions across an array of different companies — and they must have really big brains to understand the motivational psychology of all those different people. The Federal Reserve, meanwhile, has decided to police banks and veto pay deals that lead to excessive risk. Those experts must have absolutely gigantic brains if they can define excessive risk years before investments pay off.


The best and the brightest in government are now rewriting existing pay contracts and determining that certain firms will be compelled to pay much less than their competitors. They're not leveling the playing field, as a humble government would do. They're making it less level in complicated ways.


Reality, of course, has a way of upending finely crafted plans. The effort to cap golden parachutes in 1989 perversely caused companies to increase their golden parachute packages right up to the legal limit. A 1993 law to cap C.E.O. pay led to greater use of stock options and encouraged riskier behavior.


In advance of the current new pay restrictions, 12 out of the 25 highest-paid executives have already left A.I.G., and 11 out of 25 have left Bank of America. We'll never know how much future talent was dissuaded from working at these ailing firms.


Citigroup used to have a really high-performing energy unit. But under the new salary regime, the bank wasn't permitted to pay the chief of that unit what he thought he was worth. Citigroup was forced to sell that profitable unit at bargain-basement prices to Occidental Petroleum.


These rules probably won't even have a big effect on executive wealth. They'll just drive compensation into back channels and risk-taking into unseen parts of the market.


Again, the issue is not whether government acts, but whether it acts with an awareness of the limits of its knowledge. Sometimes we seem to have a government with no sense of those limits, no sense that perhaps government officials don't know how to restructure General Motors, pick the most promising battery technology, re-engineer the health care system from the top, or fine-tune the complex system of executive pay.


Furthermore, when extending federal authority, the Obama folks never seem to ask how Republicans will use this power when they regain the White House. The Democrats trust themselves to set private-sector salaries and use extralegal means to go after malefactors, but would they trust a future Dick Cheney?


I hope they know what they're doing. Because when a future Cheney comes into office, I'm pretty sure he'll be coming after columnists' salaries first.









AS one of the few fans still starry-eyed and silly enough to believe that some sliver of integrity remained in Sportsworld, I applauded David Stern, the commissioner of the National Basketball Association, in 2005 when he engineered a ban on players entering the league's draft directly out of high school. I assumed that teenagers, no matter how great their potential, were far too young to make the transition to the pros, their baby-faced awkwardness palpable and painful to witness.


Yes, there was LeBron James, whose entrance into the league in 2003 from his high school in Akron was seamless. But for every James, I figured, there have been all too many who had terribly stumbled. (Disclosure: I co-wrote a book with James about his high-school career.)


So I was pleased that, as part of a new collective bargaining agreement with the players' union, rules were established requiring American players to be at least a year removed from high school and a minimum of 19 to be eligible for the N.B.A. draft. This meant that young superstars would generally go to college, at least for one year. Beyond simply advancing their skills, I thought, it might turn them on to the value of an education, maybe enough to stay in school longer.


Now, with another N.B.A. regular season beginning today, the issue still rages, with ramifications that go directly to the heart of whether any professional sports league has actual concern for its athletes beyond a smokescreen of clever spin. And in looking back at Stern's decision, I am now convinced that we got punked.


Stern, to his credit, said that it was a business decision to give players another year of development before being drafted. But it also sounded like genuine altruism on his part when he said that it was time to get N.B.A. scouts and general managers out of high school gyms. This effort to insulate teenagers from scouts seemed particularly necessary for professional basketball, in which players, regardless of age, seem even more removed from the real world than athletes in other sports.


Perhaps this was a way for Stern to start to come to grips with the reported statistic that close to 60 percent of N.B.A. players ultimately go broke. Or to help rectify what a professional agent once told me: that some players, after suddenly coming into money and buying houses and cars for themselves and their family and their posse, were still so naïve about life that they had no idea there was something called income tax. Maybe Stern was actually embarrassed by the paucity of college graduates in the N.B.A., about 20 percent. But I should have known better.


The honest move by Stern would have been to keep the old rule in place. Raising the age actually flew in the face of statistics showing that drafted high school players were relatively successful on and off the court. Did anyone truly believe that sending them off to college for a year would make any real difference, emotionally or academically?


Stern raised the age in large part because N.B.A. owners and general managers resented the amount of time it took to train players straight out of high school. He did it because owners did not like the possibility of players becoming free agents, able to join any other team in the league, in their early 20s. My guess is that he also did it to appease the National Collegiate Athletic Association; you could hear the whining that the N.B.A.'s version of cradle-robbing was denying the college game great players who could sell out arenas.


There are disaster stories of players entering the draft from high school and failing spectacularly. But as tragic as the stories are, they are an exception. A study by Michael McCann, a professor at Vermont Law School who is an expert on sports and legal issues, pointed out that of the 21 high school players who declared for the draft from 1975 to 2001, four became superstars — Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Jermaine O'Neal and Tracy McGrady — and only four never made it to the N.B.A. This trend held with the high school draft classes of 2002 through 2005, the year the ban was put in place: of the 26 players drafted, 20 were still playing through last season and three have become superstars: Amar'e Stoudemire, Dwight Howard and James.


The frequent argument that players drafted straight from high school are more prone to quickly get into trouble because of their age has also proved wrong. According to a study by McCann in 2005 of the most recent 84 arrests of pro players, more than half the arrestees had spent four years on a university campus but only 4.8 percent never went to college (even though players without any college experience made up 8.3 percent of the league population).


As for high school students not being ready for the pro game, Jon Nichols of the Web site crunched the numbers for the years 1996 to 2006 and discovered that players drafted out of high school had better efficiency ratings — a measure of overall play based on a player's points scored, rebounds, steals, turnovers, fouls, shooting percentage and other statistics — during their rookie seasons than players drafted as college juniors and seniors.


One thing is clear: raising the minimum age to 19 hasn't helped the players in any way. Superstars may go to college for a year, but for most it has nothing to do with getting an education. As the legendary coach Bobby Knight has pointed out, these players can retain their first year's college eligibility without ever going to a class after their first semester.


Perhaps the greatest paradox is that some superstars actually do get turned on to the importance of college, but only after they have already left for the N.B.A. Shaquille O'Neal got his degree from Louisiana State eight years after leaving it; the former New York Knicks Larry Johnson and Allan Houston also eventually got diplomas. But when you are faced with a season that can go as long as eight months, fitting in school work is a precarious juggling act.


In professional football, the general requirement is that an athlete be three years removed from his high school graduation date. That may sound more caring than the N.B.A. rule, but it's actually pragmatic: football players need those years to develop physically for the pros. If enough of them had bodies mature enough to make the transition straight out of high school, the N.F.L. would likely change its rules in a second.


Now Commissioner Stern says he wants to push the N.B.A. age limit up to 20; once again, don't be fooled. Such a change would mean that superstar players get two years in college to further sharpen their skills. That would certainly make the N.C.A.A. happier as well as the N.B.A. owners who reap the benefits of a free farm system.


But the right decision would be to abolish the N.B.A. age limit. Equally important, professional sports leagues and the N.C.A.A. should stop jumping into the same Jacuzzi together, turning the idea of "student-athletes" into a farce, padding university coffers and keeping the pro owners from having to pay for the grooming of young talent.


If David Stern truly cared about his players' well-being, he would advocate that all the silliness over the sanctity of the college academic experience stop and that N.B.A.-bound players get some share of the millions of dollars they generate: in the greatest capitalistic society in the history of the world, this may be the greatest inequity.

And if the N.C.A.A. truly cared about improving colleges instead of settling for the extra year before eligibility that Stern is talking about, it should use its considerable influence to demand that both the N.B.A. and N.F.L. foot the college's bill for training pro athletes by paying a given amount each year for each player successfully drafted from college. The money would go into a fund for academic scholarships at the colleges these players attended. It wouldn't perhaps turn young superstars into student-athletes, but in today's hideous economic times, it might turn some deserving teenagers into students.


Buzz Bissinger is the author of "Friday Night Lights" and the co-author, with LeBron James, of "Shooting Stars."







The shooting of the Balochistan education minister is the latest episode in the violence that continues mercilessly in the country. A Baloch nationalist organization has claimed responsibility for the action. The city of Quetta, where the minister was shot down outside his house, is now rocked by tensions between opposing groups as the provincial government announced a three-day period of mourning. The fact is that we have too many strains running through our society. The discontent in Balochistan has been left unaddressed for far too long. Over 18 months after the PPP government took charge in Islamabad, little has been done to tackle the issues of the province. The result has been an upsurge in incidents of violence such as the one that took the life of a man who enjoyed considerable popularity as a politician. His status as a PPP leader may have been one factor why he was targeted. Mr Shafiq Ahmed Khan becomes the second provincial minister to be assassinated within two months. Others too are in danger of attack. In the current volatile situation we face, this will only add to the instability and unrest encountered everywhere.

It is possible that as we descend into further violence, the Baloch nationalists are taking their cue from the Taliban and using similar tactics to make their own voice heard. The targeted killings in Quetta have expanded over the past few years. So too have incidents of kidnapping. The lack of law and order makes us feel as if we were living in a jungle with the state unable to perform its most fundamental duty of protecting life and ensuring safety. The question many of us ask is if there is a way out of this mess. The government's priority must be to map out such a route. Otherwise it will face only greater and greater disquiet. As one part of a wider action aimed at eliminating militancy, the problems of Balochistan need to be squarely faced. Potentially, there is still space for dialogue between various political forces. But as the divide we see now grows, there is a possibility that this space will narrow, making it more and more difficult to persuade groups to sit together. This would be a recipe for further violence and chaos claiming new lives.







Turkey and Pakistan have long enjoyed the best of relations. The Turks have come to our aid in time of need more than once, and few who saw their response to the October 2005 earthquake will forget their generosity and dedication. Today, we face a national crisis that is not a natural event as is an earthquake, but entirely manmade, and in the midst of this crisis we need to know who our friends are. The real friends, not the fair-weather variety that drift off at the first whiff of trouble or who make pledges that seem to take forever to fulfil. The Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is on a two-day official visit to Pakistan, he addressed a joint session of parliament on Monday. On Sunday last the two nations decided to comprehensively upgrade their strategic partnership and improve cooperation across a range of headings – politically, economically, diplomatically and most crucially today, in the area of security. A 'higher level cooperation council' is to be established to address these international agenda-items.

It was the unanimity of views that characterized the discussions between the two sides which touched a wide range of the problems that plague us that has struck a welcome note. We are both Muslim states and both relatively youthful, but have evolved down slightly different paths. Turkey sits at the gateway between east and west whereas we are clearly in the east. Turkey is a republic with a predominantly Muslim population -- and a secular state with a history of parliamentary democracy. As we do, it faces internal difficulties most notably with the largest of its ethnic minorities the Kurds. Where we differ is that Turkey has, despite its difficulties, achieved an internal balance and, perhaps more difficult, a balance between east and west as well as between the secular and the religious aspects of the national persona. This has eluded us throughout our short history, and the 'rough patch' we are currently going through is just the latest manifestation of our failure to resolve fundamental issues of identity, statehood and governance. The hand of friendship and cooperation that Turkey is extending to us is one we can take with confidence. Turkey is one friend that we can look to in the knowledge that they will still be there even when the going gets rough.











According to the UN, some 180,000 children – including both IDPs from South Waziristan and those forming a part of host families – have been immunized against measles. Other vaccination campaigns are on. Many of the children from South Waziristan have never been inoculated before. Most families have not received any external help at all. This then is the first time they will experience the possible benefits of humanitarian aid. A part of the isolation of South Waziristan – and other tribal areas – is of course due to the fighting that has ravaged them for years. But this alone is not the reason for the deprivation people suffer. The FATA areas are some of the most backward regions of our country. Literacy stands at just over 17 per cent. Barely three per cent of women have any schooling at all. In many parts of the FATA areas, there is a single doctor for every 7,000 or 8,000 people.

The IDPs, who have for years lived a life of immense hardship, are reported to have received the food and medicines and blankets, offered to them by humanitarian agencies, with immense gratitude. But these basic needs are their right. It is the duty of the government to deliver these to them. The failure to do so has certainly been a key to the rise of militancy that we have seen in these areas. Had these people been empowered, they would not have allowed the Taliban to take so strong a hold. For the future we must work towards incorporating these areas in the mainstream of our country. The disparities we see between various parts of our country give rise to a sense of injustice. We need to eliminate this discrimination immediately. Otherwise we will not be able to defeat the militancy that today endangers our very survival as a state.







Martin Niemölle was a German pastor and theologian in 20th-century Germany. Arrested and imprisoned by the Nazis before the war, his most famous work was a poem he wrote criticising the inactivity and apathy of German intellectuals and society to the growing menace of Nazism. The poem reads as follows:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out -- because I was not a communist;

Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out -- because I was not a socialist;

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out -- because I was not a trade unionist;

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out -- because I was not a Jew;

Then they came for me -- and there was no one left to speak out for me.

For all the apologists and ostriches in the country – yes, I am talking to you, Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan –

re's an updated, localised version of the poem.


First they came for the Indians, and I did not speak out -- because I was not an Indian;

Then they came for the Ahmadis and Shias, and I did not speak out -- because I was not an Ahmadi or a Shia;

Then they came for the cricketers, and I did not speak out -- because I was not a cricketer;

Then they came for the soldiers and police, and I did not speak out -- because I was not a soldier or policeman;

Then they came for me -- and there was no one left to speak out for me.


Really, after last week's attack on students at the International Islamic University in Islamabad we are now at that stage where they are coming for all of us. You would imagine this would, at the very least, unite the political and military establishment against the scourge of our country – an evil that threatens the very existence of Pakistan. Yet, our political and military masters remain divided and fractious as ever on the issue. Red herrings, hidden hands and obstinate denials abound from their forked tongues. We had the spectacle of Interior Minister Rehman Malik last week blaming the Indians for the terrorist atrocities. All Imran Khan can do is bang on about US drone attacks. And, as Fasi Zaka rightly pointed out last week on these very pages, Nawaz Sharif remains completely silent on the subject of extremism. How different from his earlier incarnation this year as the defender of the oppressed during the culmination of the lawyers' movement?

But you only get the leaders you deserve. We too must blame ourselves. For too long we have tolerated intolerance. Bigotry and religious cant have been allowed to bloom for fear of hurting people's sensibilities.

We are also a nation that loves to live in denial. Whether that is denying the incest that can occur in our families, or the child abuse that happens in our homes. We deny our relationships and true nature from our parents, wives and children. Our lives are built upon secrets and lies. Like an alcoholic or drug addict who refuses to accept we have a problem, our nation suffers from a collective chronic inability to accept and digest the truth. This is our problem. These are our terrorists. Until we can accept that we will continue to deny or believe Muslims or Pakistanis are involved. These are M-on-M killings – Muslim on Muslim. Let's admit that. And once we do, as the cliché goes, the truth shall set us free.

Yet, go to any drawing room soiree and the right-wing apologists bombard you with ignorant gossip. They'll cosy up to you and blame everyone but Pakistanis for the attacks. It's the Indians, they'll whisper. It's the Americans, the Jews, the Chinese and so and so forth. By apologising, or denying our responsibility in these attacks, these right-wing nationalists are harming the country they purport to love. The UN World Food programme and the WHO polio immunisation campaign have become 'legitimate' targets for these fanatics. Heaven forbid the poor of Pakistan are fed, or immunised before becoming cripples! But then I guess the children of Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif are already well-fed and healthy.

Logically it just doesn't make sense either. There are very few things that can unify Sri Lanka and India, or Iran and the US, for that matter. Yet militants from this country have targeted all of them. Do any of these countries, especially our neighbours, want a nuclear unstable Pakistan? Why would it be in their interest? Did the Indians attack themselves in Mumbai last year? Was it the Indian army that trained Dr Usman, the leader of the attack on GHQ? No, it was the Pakistani army – where he was employed for several years.

Let's say it again -- these are our militants. This is our problem. Some of whom have been trained, funded and developed by the very security apparatus that is now fighting them. Let's pray that the policy of underwriting and supporting jihadi groups by the intelligence agencies has now been dropped forever. And the reason the problem has been allowed to metastasise and the cancer to spread has been the ongoing denial of our leaders. It was well-known that the Musharraf government was happy to go after Al Qaeda, but reluctant to target the Taliban. During his tenure the army still saw them as potentially useful pawns in a deadly, real-life, game of risk. The Taliban were created and kept on ice for our army's incessant need for 'strategic depth' into Afghanistan. This Cold War mentality must finish now. India is not our enemy. Our Cold War mentality and strategies are. It has been them that has created this Frankenstein monster that has come back to hurt us and kill 200 innocent people this past month.

I started this column with a quote concerning World War Two, so I will end with one from that period. At the height of the Nazi menace, Winston Churchill formed a National government in the UK. His cabinet was made up of politicians across the political spectrum – Labour, Liberals, as well as Conservatives. It was a united cabinet, fighting a united threat against Britain's very existence.

During Britain's darkest days (literally because of the blackouts), when bombs rained down nightly on the industrialised cities of the UK, Churchill with his cabinet united behind him, made a speech to the House of Commons to stiffen the spines of the British people. It ended thus:

"We shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender".

With suicide and car bombs in our cities, it's time our political and military leadership united, and displayed similar leadership against the militant threat. No equivocation. No justification -- just strength and determination. Is Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan or Asif Zardari our Churchill? Seventy years on from Martin Niemölle, is there anyone to speak out for me?








We know that Pakistanis are not alone in the world, when it comes to being more than a little miffed about how their country is treated by the United States. The hullabaloo over why there is so much anti-Americanism in Pakistan, however, is a bit mystifying. The implicit insistence that high levels of anti-Americanism in Pakistan are unacceptable seems to reek of hubris. US officials, both bureaucrats (like Ambassador Ann Paterson) and politicians (like Congressman Howard Berman) have grown increasingly testy in recent weeks, trying to perfume the world-famous love letter of the American people to Pakistan (formerly known as the Kerry Lugar Bill). If the incredulity of Americans trying to convince Pakistanis that their country is Uncle Sam's little love-muffin seems a little ridiculous, it's because it is. Only committed Orientalists would insist that a country of nearly 180 million be starry-eyed about America's thus-far unproven, newfound wisdom about Pakistani democracy. Proconsul Dick Holbrook should get over it. And so should Howie Berman. Pakistanis aren't the only ones that don't trust the US government.

Nevertheless, Pakistan would be best served by some introspection on the whole anti-American routine. The sad truth is that "Go America Go" and anti-American narrative in Pakistan is a microcosm of the quality and texture of public discourse in Pakistan--irrational, without evidence, and oftentimes, downright malicious and ill-intentioned.

It seems Pakistani mistrust of the United States is rooted in the US drone strikes to take out Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders hiding out in Pakistani territory. That is understandable, given the high number of innocent Pakistanis killed by these strikes, and the brazen absence of any contrition or remorse on the part of the US government. but anti-Americanism has always existed among some segments in Pakistan, but it has never been quite so universal, or quite so pronounced, as it has been in the last two months.

No doubt, Pakistanis should be proud to be proud, and should reserve the right to like or dislike countries on the basis of how they perceive those countries treat Pakistan. However Pakistanis should also be smart while they're being proud. If anti-American rhetoric is masking other more important and more urgent problems--dare we say, Pakistani problems--then the rhetoric is poisonous and need to be shunned.

Anti-Americanism in Pakistan has two dimensions, in particular, that make it a rather poisonous instrument in the public discourse. The first is that anti-Americanism is itself marked by incompetence, and in turn masks Pakistani incompetence. The second is that anti-Americanism easily displaces responsibility for Pakistani problems, from Pakistan's leaders, to the abstraction of the American beast. In short, the second dimension is about accountability, and how anti-Americanism prevents such accountability.

Two of the most recent big-ticket stories in the country amply demonstrate the competence problem in Pakistan's anti-American odyssey. The Blackwater controversy and the Kerry Lugar Bill both demonstrated the failure of Pakistani public discourse to produce viable and defensible positions, and thereby losing the opportunity to engage audiences in the United States that might actually be amenable to Pakistanis' concerns, and who might have actually enabled a true dialogue between Pakistanis and Americans at large.

In the case of the Blackwater controversy, the national public discourse was aimed at a demonisation of the United States, rather than a serious examination of what was actually taking place in terms of the presence of private US security contractors in Pakistan. The controversy failed to ever truly define, what, if any, laws were broken, or, indeed, what moral or ethical problem the presence of private security contractors presented for Pakistan.
Is there a fair public policy debate to be had in Pakistan, on the legitimacy and legality of private security contractors from another country working in Pakistan? Most definitely. But the manner in which the issue has been discussed thus far has done two things. First, it has turned off and alienated rational Pakistanis who seek evidence before unleashing nationalist tirades against another country. Second, it has largely de-legitimised the entire subject matter altogether--once a topic is coloured with an irrational taint, it is difficult to have a substantive discussion about it, even if the data and evidence to conduct the discussion is in place.