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Thursday, October 29, 2009

EDITORIAL 29.10.09

 

Please contact the list owner of subscription and unsubscription at: editorial@samarth.co.in

 

media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

 

Editorial

 

month october 29, edition 000336, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

http://editorialsamarth.blogspot.com

 

THE PIONEER

  1. DARING THE STATE
  2. BLOWBACK HITS PAKISTAN
  3. A RISING CHINA BARES ITS FANGS – G PARTHASARATHY
  4. BURMA LIVES IN TURMOIL - DILBAG RAI
  5. WHO KILLED THE DOGS? - HIRANMAY KARLEKAR
  6. WASTELAND OF WEST BENGAL - SHIKHA MUKERJEE

MAIL TODAY

  1. MS BANERJEE NEEDS TO GROW UP
  2. TAMING THE MONSTER
  3. MEDIEVALISM
  4. UNCHECKED BUILD- UP IS DANGEROUS
  5. THIRD UMPIRE  - QAISER MOHAMMAD ALI
  6. SHOOT- OUT IN VADODARA
  7. BCCI HAS GOT ITS ACT TOGETHER ON MEDIA
  8. DDCA IS HIT WICKET ON CHAIRMAN'S LOUNGE
  9. HOW TO EMPOWER WOMEN IN INDIA
  10. OBSTINATE MINISTER FOR A MALLEABLE PM

TIMES OF INDIA

  1. CARROT AND STICK
  2. 40-YEAR TEEN
  3. CODE AND AFTER -
  4. BRANDS ARE BUILT ON THE RAMP
  5. FASHION HAS NO RELEVANCE -
  6. LOVE AND THE ZODIAC -

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. NO COMMON GROUND HERE
  2. NOW, THE BITTER PILL
  3. NEW IDEAS OF INDIA - SAMAR-HARLANKAR
  4. WILTING AT WINDMILLS - ASHOK MALIK
  5. QUEEN BEES

INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. GET BACK TO WORK
  2. ALL THIRD CLASS
  3. WHAT A FLIP-FLOP
  4. COME DECEMBER - MK VENU
  5. STERN WORDS ABOUT MEAT
  6. THE ENTIRE SPECTRUM OF ALLEGATIONS - RAVI VISVESVARAYA PRASAD
  7. MIDDLE EAST'S GOLDEN RULE
  8. AN OFFER YOU CAN'T REFUSE - YUBARAJ GHIMIRE
  9. CLIMATE COERCION

FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. DIDI, DERAILED
  2. FINANCIAL EXCLUSION
  3. RBI'S SIXTH SENSE ON STABILITY - SAUGATA BHATTACHARYA
  4. A PROBLEM OF CAPS VERSUS OBSCENITY - SANJAY BANERJI
  5. TRADE ON TRACK - MUKUL S MATHUR
  6. REPORT CARD

THE HINDU

  1. NREGS UNDER THE SCANNER
  2. THE STATE OF OCCUPIED IRAQ
  3. KEEPING INDIA'S OPTIONS OPEN AT COPENHAGEN - T. JAYARAMAN
  4. MANMOHAN READY TO MOVE ON 'HUMANITARIAN' TALKS AGENDA  - SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN
  5. KARADZIC: SERBIA'S MIXED FEELINGS  - MARK LOWEN
  6. CLIMATE CHANGE THREATENS AUSTRALIAN LIFESTYLE - TONI O'LOUGHLIN
  7. THE COMING OF AGE OF THE RIC TRIANGLE - VLADIMIR RADYUHIN

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. RAJDHANI ATTACK WARNING TO GOVT
  2. DROP THE 'N' IN NCP?
  3. BANGLA TRIPPERS - ANTARA DEV SEN
  4. TALK TO MAOISTS, BUT ALSO SHOW WHO'S BOSS - S. NIHAL SINGH

DNA

  1. CRIMINAL INTENT
  2. MAOIST TRAP
  3. BRAND MANMOHAN RISING - R JAGANNATHAN
  4. THE UN DITHERS WHILE AFGHANISTAN VOTES - PETER W GALBRAITH
  5. FINDING HARMONY
  6. NO MEAT PLEASE
  7. BEAUTIFYING THE CITY
  8. STRICTER MEASURES NEEDED
  9. UNKNOWN CONNECTIONS
  10. POSTERS ARE ART TOO

THE TRIBUNE

  1. CALL FROM BANGALORE
  2. FIRST ROUND FOR HOODA
  3. MURDEROUS MINDSET
  4. CHINA FLEXES MUSCLES - BY G. PARTHASARATHY
  5. MAN FOR THE CLEAN-UP JOB - BY UTTAM SENGUPTA
  6. BLAIR CAN'T REALLY BECOME PRESIDENT OF EUROPE - BY MARK STEEL
  7. RAILWAYS' MEGA PROFITS: HOW REAL? - BY ARABINDA GHOSE
  8. 'CHILDREN SHOULD LEARN THE ART OF A GOOD NIGHT'S SLEEP' - BY RICHARD GARNER

THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

  1. GAMUT OF IRONIES
  2. OF RIVERS AND MOUNTAINS
  3. WILL FURTHER SLICING OF ASSAM HELP? - PATRICIA MUKHIM
  4. BUSINESS STRATEGY IN A FAST CHANGING WORLD - DR B K MUKHOPADHYAY

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. EVERYONE LOVES A TAMASHA
  2. PRESERVE CODE'S INTEGRITY WHILE AMENDING DIRECT TAX LAW
  3. MAOISTS PULL A TRAIN INTO THE VOID
  4. CITY GROWTH: WHEN BIG IS NOT BEAUTIFUL - KALA SEETHARAM SRIDHAR
  5. TAKE A REALITY CHECK ON YOUR DESIRES - JANKI SANTOKE
  6. OVERALL MEDIA ENVIRONMENT STILL RELATIVELY UNCLUTTERED
  7. SLOWDOWN IS THE BEST TIME TO INVEST IN BRANDS
  8. A NEW PARADIGM FOR LENDING RATES - T T RAM MOHAN
  9. FOCUS ON DOHA ROUND TO PUSH GLOBAL RECOVERY - JAIDEEP MISHRA
  10. WE WON'T HEDGE BEYOND TWO QUARTERS OF NET INFLOWS: NAYAR - ANDY MUKHERJEE
  11. 'BAJAJ HAS THE POTENTIAL TO BE A WORLD-CLASS COMPANY' - LIJEE PHILIP & KAUSIK DATTA
  12. M&M LAUNCHES MINI TRUCK GIO PRICED AT RS 1.65 LAKH - RUCHITA SAXENA

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. RAJDHANI ATTACK WARNING TO CENTRE
  2. TALK TO MAOISTS, BUT SHOW WHO'S THE BOSS - BY S. NIHAL SINGH
  3. WHY MUST AMERICA BLEED FOR AFGHANISTAN? - BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
  4. DROP THE 'N' IN NCP?  - BY B. VENKATESH KUMAR
  5. BANGLA TRIPPERS  - BY ANTARA DEV SEN

THE STATESMAN

  1. THE WRONG TRACK
  2. TELECOM SCANDAL
  3. EMBROILED IN AFGHANISTAN - BY SALMAN HAIDAR
  4. TURN VEGETARIAN, CONQUER CLIMATE CHANGE: EXPERT

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. A FINE BALANCE
  2. TERROR RIDE
  3. THE LANGUAGE OF RIGHTS - ANDRÉ BÉTEILLE
  4. NATION WITH A COLD HEART  - NEHA SAHAY
  5. THE MAN WHO CAPTURED THE TRUTH
  6. DON'T LEAVE ANY STONE UNTURNED

DECCAN HERALD

  1. ABDUCTION WEAPON
  2. MANAGING RECOVERY
  3. THE MISSING LINK - BY DEVINDER SHARMA
  4. CRUCIAL REPOLL IN AFGHANISTAN - BY DEEPALI GAUR SINGH
  5. TENSION AT THE WHEELS - BY CHANDRASHEKAR SUBRAMANYA

THE JERUSALEM POST

  1. FAR FROM WATERTIGHT
  2. WASHINGTON WATCH: WHAT'S SO SCARY ABOUT J STREET? - DOUGLAS BLOOMFIELD
  3. FUNDAMENTALLY FREUND: DARE TO DREAM OF A REBUILT TEMPLE - MICHAEL FREUND
  4. RATTLING THE CAGE: SOME VICTIMS WE ARE - LARRY DERFNER
  5. MENDING A STRAINED ALLIANCE - ALON BEN-MEIR
  6. 'PRO-ISRAEL,' MY FOOT! J STREET IS AN ANTI-ISRAEL LOBBY - HARVEY SCHWARTZ
  7. A JEWISH TIN EAR - UZI SILBER

HAARETZ

  1. BEWARE OF STARS
  2. WHERE TO? - BY ARI SHAVIT
  3. WE'RE ALL GAYDAMAK  - BY GIDEON LEVY
  4. CLAIMS ISRAEL DEPRIVES PALESTINIANS OF WATER ARE GROUNDLESS - BY ISRAEL HAREL
  5. SAVE OUR SPIRIT  - BY RENEE LITVIN

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. ONGOING AGONY OF THE BANKS
  2. A WATERSHED DECISION
  3. TRUST, ANTITRUST AND YOUR VOTE
  4. THE NEW HAVEN MODEL
  5. MORE SCHOOLS, NOT TROOPS - BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
  6. TRANSCRIPTS OF DEFEAT  - BY VICTOR SEBESTYEN
  7. FOR EVERY IRAQI PARTY, AN ARMY OF ITS OWN - BY NAJIM ABED AL-JABOURI

I.THE NEWS

  1. BLITZED
  2. TURNING THE PAGE
  3. AFTER THEY'RE GONE… - ZAFAR HILALY
  4. IIU, ME AND YOU – II - FASI ZAKA
  5. 17 days in May 1998 - Ikram Sehgal
  6. THE FIGHT BACK - MASOOD SHARIF KHAN KHATTAK
  7. BEYOND THE BATTLEGROUNDS - KAMILA HYAT
  8. MISCONDUCT - TAYYAB SIDDIQUI

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. PRESIDENT TO SHED SOME POWERS. GOOD
  2. RAH-E-NIJAT SHOULD NOT BE LIMITLESS
  3. OBSERVANCE OF BLACK DAY BY KASHMIRIS
  4. SELF-RULE FOR GILGIT-BALTISTAN - ZAFAR IQBAL
  5. US-ISRAELI MILITARY TIES - DR ABDUL RUFF
  6. TALIBAN IN PUNJAB: BEGINNING OF END - QUDRATULLAH
    REVISITING GANDHI'S ASSASSINATION - MOMIN IFTIKHAR
  7. WHO IS YOUR NEIGHBOUR? - ROBERT CLEMENTS

THE INDEPENDENT

  1. STATE-OWNED MEDIA
  2. SAVING TIGERS
  3. CAGE MANNERS...!
  4. DEVELOPING GAS RESOURCES IN BANGLADESH - FORREST COOKSON
  5. AN ASIA STRATEGY FOR IRAN - KISHORE MAHBUBANI

THE AUSTRALIAN

  1. NEVER A BLACK AND WHITE MORAL ISSUE
  2. NOT SO EASY, MR RUDD

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. NOT A MATTER OF OPINION
  2. SOLUTION IS THE PROBLEM
  3. SHORT-LIVED 'INDONESIAN SOLUTION' COLLAPSES IN CHAOS
  4. SIZING UP THE FASHION INDUSTRY IS NO SOFT TASK

THE GURDIAN

  1. PARLIAMENTARY EXPENSES: OUT OF THE ASHES
  2. IN PRAISE OF… THE LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS
  3. NIMROD INQUIRY: FLAWED, SLOPPY, COMPLACENT

DAILY EXPRESS

  1. HIGH TIME FOR A CLEAN-UP
  2. A FORM OF APARTHEID THAT LABOUR DOES BELIEVE IN
  3. INTEREST IN NEW CREDIT CARDS? IT'S TOTAL ZERO - BY VIRGINIA BLACKBURN
  4. 2011 CENSUS IS INTRUSIVE AND UNNECESSARY  - BY LEO MCKINSTRY

THE KOREA HERALD

  1. PATH TO RECOVERY
  2. AFGHAN DISPATCH
  3. COAL STATES AND U.S. CLIMATE POLICY  - JEFFREY D. SACHS
  4. RECENT DEMONSTRATIONS DID NOT GAG MINORITY

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. DPJ GOOD TIMES CONTINUE
  2. COAXING AN EMPLOYMENT BOOST
  3. REPORTS OF THE DOLLAR'S DEATH ARE EXAGGERATED - BY BARRY EICHENGREEN
  4. HIROSHIMA BECKONS OBAMA - BY JOHN EINARSEN

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. GETTING TO WORK WITH A BANG
  2. JOIN THE RIDE OF OPPOSITION PLURALIST PARTIES - AHMAD JUNAIDI
  3. FATHOMING THE BIRTH OF `YUDHOYONOMICS' - FACHRY ALI
  4. IT'S NOT ABOUT THE MINISTERS, BUT HOW THE CABINET PERFORMS - WIMAR WITOELAR

CHINA DAILY

  1. VITAL STIMULUS CHECK
  2. LAW ENFORCEMENT GAMES
  3. ECFA VITAL TO TAIWAN
  4. LEAVE THE IVORY TOWER A PIECE OF PURE LAND

THE MOSCOW TIMES

  1. ALWAYS A DISSIDENT: REHABILITATING MARX  - BY BORIS KAGARLITSKY
  2. NO NEED TO GET GRUMPY  - BY CHRIS PATTEN
  3. GO, SOVEREIGN DEMOCRACY!  - BY GEORGY BOVT

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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

DARING THE STATE

MAOISTS THUMB THEIR NOSE


The seizure of the Delhi-bound Bhubaneswar Rajdhani Express for seven hours at Banstala in West Midnapore district of West Bengal by hundreds of Maoist-backed tribals masquerading as activists of the so-called People's Committee Against Police Atrocities exemplifies the security threat that the Left-wing extremists pose to the state. Although none of the passengers on board the train was harmed, by seizing control of the train the Maoists were able to demonstrate the ease with which they could challenge the authority of the state and garner publicity for their activities. It is not as if this is the first time that Maoists have blockaded a passenger train. Several local trains have similarly been stopped en-route or hijacked only to be freed later in Bihar and Jharkhand. But this was a Rajdhani Express. The Maoists knew that by seizing this train, even if temporarily, they would be able to make a huge impact on the national consciousness. On the face of it, it would appear that the Maoist operation was aimed at getting their ideologue Chhatradhar Mahato released in exchange of the passengers aboard the train. As much was conveyed through scribbles on the train bogies. But as soon as a joint force of the CRPF, State and Railway police personnel arrived at the spot, the Maoists fled. This makes it clear that the entire operation by the Maoists had been planned to essentially send out the message that they were capable of defying the state's authority whenever they pleased, and that there was little that the Government of the day could do about it. It is quite possible that the Maoists were emboldened to undertake this show of strength after the recent capitulation of the West Bengal Government to their demand of setting 21 of their comrades free in exchange for the abducted police officer Atindranath Dutta, OC of the police station at Sankrail.

How did things come to such a pass? Where was our intelligence machinery? What was the district administration doing? How could the Maoists so freely mobilise more than 500 people and get them to blockade a train without even being noticed? When houses in villages around Banstala were searched by security personnel, they were found to be empty. This clearly indicates that the Maoist operation was not a spontaneous one. There was a high degree of planning involved. So why did our law enforcement agencies not pick up on the Maoist activities in time to prevent them? There can be no denying that the rise in strength of the Maoists today has been in part due to the failure of our own security agencies. For example, the police station in Sankrail that had been raided by Maoists was hardly equipped to offer any kind of resistance to the ultras. The policemen at the station had locked away their outdated rifles because they felt safer doing so than keeping the guns with them. On the other hand, it can also not be denied that certain political parties have allowed the Maoists to grow to serve their own vested interests. These are people who have used the Maoists as a convenient tool to hammer their political opponents, all the while claiming that the ultras or their front organisations represent 'genuine' grievances of the people.


Being a democracy and fighting the forces that threaten the safety and security of the people are not mutually exclusive. No matter what grievances the Maoist thugs claim to represent, they must be dealt with the full force of the state. Otherwise, the Maoist malignancy will soon develop into full-blown cancer.

 

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THE PIONEER

BLOWBACK HITS PAKISTAN

DAILY BLOODBATH NOW A WAY OF LIFE


Pakistan is truly imploding even as its criminally ineffective Government, propped up by the US, and its terror-conniving Army, flush with American dollars, are increasingly pushed to the margins of a society now at the mercy of jihadis. Wednesday's devastating bombing of the main commercial area of Peshawar, including a market exclusively meant for women, comes on the heels of similar attacks over the past couple of months. No place or institution, it would seem, is now safe from the bullets and bombs of jihadis who have turned on their masters with a viciousness that is a measure of the hate which permeates the perverse ideology of radical Islamism — in Pakistan's case, it is what the Taliban preaches and practices betraying neither hesitation nor remorse. It has been said before, but it needs to be said again: The blowback of what Pakistan has done all these years unto India is claiming a terrible toll of innocent lives in that country. The mangled bodies of mothers and their children that littered the bazaar of Peshawar after Wednesday's bombing mirrored the remains of similar bombings — aided, abetted and funded by the Pakistani establishment — in Indian cities. Ironically, the slaughter coincided with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to Islamabad and US President Barack Obama signing into law a huge, no-questions-asked military aid package (which is separate from the recently approved $ 7.5 billion American 'civilian' aid) for the Pakistani Army to 'wage war on terror'.


It is entirely America's prerogative to decide the course of its engagement with Pakistan. It is also the sovereign right of the so-called civilian Government in Islamabad to twiddle its thumbs as Pakistan is blown into a thousand pieces. What is of concern is the impact this is bound to have on India's security concerns. A neighbour in ferment is bad news; a neighbour in rapid collapse is disastrous news. Yet, it need not have been this way. Despite its terrible track record of promoting cross-border terrorism to destabilise India, Pakistan has been offered, on more than one occasion, a hand of friendship and the sage advice to destroy, root and branch, the poison tree of jihad flourishing on its soil. But neither friendship nor advice has fetched matching response; on the contrary, Pakistan has spurned both, choosing to live in denial — a state of existence encouraged and enabled by the US. Hence, it is not surprising that even at this stage, when terrorists are striking with sickening regularity, Pakistan should make the outrageous claim that India is funding the Taliban! Nearly a year after 26/11, Pakistan has done nothing to bring the perpetrators of that crime to justice, nor has Washington kept its word that it would force Islamabad to do so. A fool and his money, we are told, are soon parted. In Pakistan's case, the idiom can be rephrased: A fool and his paradise are soon destroyed.

 

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            THE PIONEER

COLUMN

A RISING CHINA BARES ITS FANGS

G PARTHASARATHY


The mouthpiece of China's Communist Party, People's Daily, claimed on October 14, 2009, that Indians have become "more narrow minded". It accused India of "provocation" on border issues with China and asserted that as "nationalism sentiment" rises, Indians are turning to "hegemony" in relations with neighbours. People's Daily called on India to give a "positive response" to China's efforts to resolve the border issue. Pakistan was referred to as one of the countries suffering from Indian hegemony, as India allegedly sought to "befriend the far (United States and Russia) and attack the near (Pakistan and China)". The Chinese conveniently forget how they colluded against India with the Nixon Administration during the Bangladesh conflict in 1971 and with the Clinton Administration, after India's nuclear tests in 1998.


While China has sought to undermine India's relations with countries in its Indian Ocean neighbourhood, even going to the extent of transferring nuclear weapons designs and knowhow to Pakistan, India has yet to fashion a coherent policy on the fears that China's east and south-east Asian neighbours have of China's efforts to dominate the Asia-Pacific region. Assured by the support it received after a visit by Deng Xiao Ping to Washington, China launched an unprovoked attack on Vietnam in order to teach it a "lesson" in 1979. Deng proclaimed that the "lesson" was meant to be similar to that administered to India in 1962. China again used force against Vietnam when it forcibly occupied the Paracel islands in 1974. There was yet another military engagement between China and Vietnam, when China occupied the Johnson Reef in 1988. In July 1992, China occupied Vietnam's Da Lac Reef, establishing its first military presence there since the 1988 clash.

 

China claims that its territorial waters engulf three million sq km out of the total area of 3.5 million sq km in the South China Sea. Given these excessive claims, China is today engulfed in maritime disputes with Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Indonesia, Japan and both North and South Korea. Earlier this year, China complained about an official landing by Malaysia in islands it had claimed. In the same week, President of Philippines Gloria Macapagal Arroyo signed a decree laying claim to two Islands that China had claimed. In February 1995, China militarily occupied the Mischief Reef in the Spratlys Islands, which was claimed by the Philippines. A month later, Philippine forces seized Chinese fishing boats and destroyed Chinese markers in Mischief Reef. Malaysia and Vietnam have joined hands to counter Chinese expansionism by jointly submitting a proposal to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea questioning China's claims and definition of its continental shelf. Such belligerence prompts China's Asia-Pacific neighbours to seek a US presence in the region. India would be well advised to seek a more wide-ranging strategic engagement with China's Asia-Pacific neighbours like Vietnam and Philippines in response to China's policies of seeking to undermine India's relations with its immediate neighbours.


While intimidating its smaller neighbours on issues of maritime boundaries through its growing military strength, China finds its quest for hegemony hampered by two large Asian neighbours —Japan and India. It seeks to exclude the United States and India from regional fora by calling for the establishment of an East Asian Community. Concerned by such Chinese moves, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong asserted: "I think the US has to be part of the Asia-Pacific and the overall architecture of co-operation within the Asia Pacific". This fear of China is accentuated by the virtual paralysis in Japanese foreign policy. The Chinese have spread fears about a revival of World War II Japanese militarism and put Japan on the defensive by protesting about the visits of Japanese leaders to the Yasukuni shrine, which is dedicated to the memory of soldiers killed in service of the country.


Having emerged as the largest trading partner of Asia's three largest economies — Japan, South Korea and India — and a major trading partner of the ASEAN, China appears determined to combine its economic clout and its military potential to emerge as Asia's dominant power. Apart from using maritime power to enforce its territorial claims in the Asia-Pacific, China seeks to become a dominant player in the sea lanes of the Indian Ocean as well. Hence its proposal to the Commander of the US Pacific Fleet that in return for its recognition of American dominance in the Eastern Pacific, the Americans should acknowledge the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean regions as China's sphere of influence.


China's growing belligerence towards India on the border issue should be seen in this context of its determination to be the dominant power in Asia. Given Japan's readiness to succumb to Chinese pressures, Beijing's rulers see an emerging India, which shows the potential for rapid economic growth and is respected in the comity of nations as a stable democracy, as a challenge to its larger ambitions.


The unresolved border issue serves as a useful tool to keep India on edge and under pressure. China knows that no Government in India can agree to its claims on populated areas like Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh. Moreover, even though China acknowledged on November 7, 1955 that the "so-called McMahon Line" was the Line of Control in the eastern sector and reiterated this on November 21, 1962, Chinese forces increasingly violate this boundary.


One of the greatest failures of China's Communist Revolution is that despite Han Chinese constituting 91 per cent of the country's population, the Chinese are paranoiac about their ability to handle the nine per cent of their minority populations in the strategically important, Buddhist-dominated Tibetan Autonomous Region and in the Muslim majority Xinjiang Province. This, in spite bringing in Han settlers to reduce the indigenous populations to a minority.


Tawang is seen as symbolically crucial in Chinese eyes as a centre of Buddhist spiritualism. By laying claim to the whole of Arunachal Pradesh, China has put India on the defensive diplomatically and militarily. The Prime Minister told his Chinese counterpart in Bangkok that India regards the Dalai Lama as an "honoured guest" and a spiritual leader. Even as the dialogue with China continues, to maintain peace and tranquillity along our borders, India should not buckle under Chinese pressure and reverse its decision on the Dalai Lama's visit to Tawang. Firmness, together with restraint in rhetoric, and not appeasement, are required for dealing with a growingly jingoistic China.

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

BURMA LIVES IN TURMOIL

DILBAG RAI


The saga of Aung San Suu Kyi's non-violent struggle for democracy in Burma defies known descriptions of political courage, and with the country's military rulers now deciding to use her 'legal status' to their advantage in an unusual and clearly one-sided game of chess to restore 'democracy', the Nobel Peace Prize laureate faces a qualitatively new challenge to continue her non-violent struggle for democracy.


The deplorable guilty verdict handed out to Ms Suu Kyi in a case where she was accused of violating the country's security laws indicates the extreme lengths that Burma's military rulers are willing to go to keep her out of public and political life and are bent on a collision course.The denial of freedom again to the Nobel laureate by a kangaroo court in Burma is outrageous and deserves to be condemned in the strongest of terms.The Burmese junta's act of 'reducing' her sentence to another 18 months of house arrest — after a court sentenced her to three years of detention — is doubly outrageous. It is obvious that the junta is nervous. It wants to keep Ms Suu Kyi out of next year's polls.


Although junta had been forced by the international community to hold election to the country's Parliament next year, the manner in which it organised a constitutional referendum last year to pave the way for the poll gave enough indications about its intentions. But the experience of the 1990 election, swept by Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy and annulled by the junta, has made the latter nervous. It does not want to take any chances and will now use the verdict in order to keep her out of next year's poll, thus denying its people democracy and the rule of law.


Her long years under house arrest shows that the junta cares little about international opinion. Even threats of sanctions by the United Nations have not worked mainly because of opposition by China and sometimes Russia for which both the communist countries should be condemned.


The UN and other countries specially the US and the UK can help the cause of democracy in Burma only by putting more pressure on its leaders and their allies elsewhere, instead of doing business with the junta. Next year's scheduled parliamentary election provides one such opportunity.The world must use diplomatic and other means to ensure that the junta's will does not prevail yet again.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

WHO KILLED THE DOGS?

COPS MUST CRACK THE CASE AND ENSURE THE GUILTY ARE PUNISHED

HIRANMAY KARLEKAR


Delhi Police will be guilty of grave dereliction of duty if it does not track down the killers of stray dogs and birds, including kites and crows, in Delhi's Nizamuddin area with the utmost seriousness. That perpetrators of these most cold-blooded, painful and cowardly killings must not go unpunished, is only one aspect — albeit a very serious one-of the matter. There are other and even more serious implications with a possible bearing on the national capital's security. This becomes clear on remembering two things.


First, stray dogs are natural sentinels with a remarkable sixth sense, and raise an alarm whenever they see something suspicious. This happens particularly at night, when few people and vehicles are on the roads and the slightest movement or smell attracts their attention. That was why Mr Swaranjit Sen, when he was Director-General of Police, Andhra Pradesh, had asked police stations to adopt local dogs who would alert them of an approaching Maoist attack. For the same reason, terrorists from Pakistan coming into Jammu & Kashmir across the Line of Control, had asked the villagers and shepherds to kill their dogs, and killed those whose owners refused to comply. Punjab terrorists had also given the same order to villagers before they were put out of business by Punjab Police under the leadership of Mr KPS Gill.


Second, the killings have to be seen in the context of a serious escalation of the terrorist threats India has been facing since the early-1980s. In a recent report, "Top Indian politicians on Al Qaeda's hit list" (October 27, The Pioneer), Rakesh K Singh refers to two e-mail intercepts in September 2009, including that of a three-page letter, indicating that Al Qaeda and the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba planned to target India's President, Prime Minister, Cabinet Minister, Parliament besides important installations. He cites a letter by the Head of Branch of the CBI's Cyber Cell, which says that the e-mails originated from a server of the Pakistan Telecommunication Company and their contents had "serious security ramifications".


Besides, one can hardly rule out the danger of an attack, or a series of attacks, to scuttle the Commonwealth Games or during the Games — as during the Munich Olympics in 1972. The LeT and its political matrix, Jamaat-ud-Dawa'h, remain active and the latter's publications have reappeared in Pakistan under new names. As Delhi Police and the intelligence agencies are pulling out all the stops to prevent such strikes, the terrorists must also be trying to ensure their own success. The killing of stray dogs removes one potential obstacle.


This, doubtless, is a theory. But all investigations begin with theories. Given the enormity of what is at stake, it would be dangerous to dismiss the terrorist angle. Equally, one should not ignore the theory that attributes the killings to some inhabitants of Nizamuddin East's 'A Block' who have been abusing and threatening those feeding and caring for the dogs. The argument that they are too respectable to have ordered or implemented such a horrible crime does not wash. The mere fact that one lives in an upmarket block of an upmarket colony does not make one incapable of such an act. Besides, what guarantee is there that the killers, even if local residents, have not been acting on behalf of terrorists?


It is, therefore, imperative that the facts of the case are established and the culprits punished. If local agents of Pakistan-based terrorists have been behind it, their interrogation can yield intelligence which can prevent future attacks. Also, exemplary punishment of local residents who might have been responsible would not only meet the ends of justice but will serve as a warning to others who may be similarly inclined.


There is no reason why Delhi Police, which has solved many difficult cases, should fail to crack this one. The killings bear the stamp of organised effort. The poison and the food had to be procured, mixed and distributed all over 'A Block' of Nizamuddin East. Interrogation of the colony's security guards who are supposed to keep an eye on everything that is going on, meat-sellers and stockists of poison, sweepers who clean the streets and local shopkeepers whose establishments are clearing houses of information and gossip, can yield valuable clues, as can the regular police informers. One just needs the will and the effort.


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THE PIONEER

OPED

WASTELAND OF WEST BENGAL

THE STATE IS LOSING THE FIGHT TO GAIN A PLACE AMONG THE LOCATIONS THAT WILL POWER INDIA TOWARDS FULFILLING ITS POTENTIAL AS AN ECONOMIC POWER. ALONG WITH THE NANO, OTHER POSSIBILITIES TOO HAVE FLED AND THE RETURN OF THE MAOISTS SHOWS WEST BENGAL IS AN INHOSPITABLE PLACE FOR INVESTORS

SHIKHA MUKERJEE


The right to agitate to wrest concessions from an inert and insensitive authority is legitimate. The legitimacy of agitations that convert busy places bustling with new activities into wastelands is questionable.


Travelling down the Durgapur Expressway that links up with the National Highway, once upon a time the Grand Trunk Road, the desolate enclosed factory lands with sheds that are waiting for the ravages of time and climate to grow rusted is a painful reminder that West Bengal is losing the fight to gain a place, however modest, among the locations that will power India towards fulfilling its long delayed potential as an economic power. If the loss were confined to just one factory — the Tata Motors manufacturing facility for the Nano car, the waste would have been less visible and less painful.


Along with the Nano other possibilities too have fled. The busy expressway is reverting to a sleepy expressway. The dhabas and the restaurants, the parking lots for trucks and the burgeoning housing projects have all dwindled, waiting to die a natural death. Everything is there, but there is nothing to sustain the investments in eateries, parking lots, housing, godowns. Even the stands displaying garish buntings that truckers buy to adorn the behemoths have declined. There are fewer of them now than before.


All of this is a reminder that West Bengal had a future and that future has been killed off by competitive and ultimately destructive politics. Thirty years ago, there was a rust belt in West Bengal that stretched from Kolkata across the lush green acres of Hooghly, Howrah, Burdwan, the undivided districts of Midnapore and 24 Parganas. The rust was from factories that had shut down because the investors had decided that West Bengal was politically too volatile for comfortably doing business. During those years, the tea gardens too witnessed a slide. The jute industry limped, the engineering industry rusted.


The slow climb out of the deep well of despair took decades, hampered by ideological barriers against computerisation and modernisation that required the obsolete to be discarded and new machines and new ways to be adopted. Small engineering fled to several places including Pune, Ludhiana, Jalandhar. Policy ensured that the big public sector investments and the so-called big private sector investments were made in less developed places. West Bengal's economy languished.


Post 1977, there was land reforms that released productive energies in agriculture. For West Bengal that was consolation because economic activity picked up some pace, even though that pace was obviously slow. There were cautious efforts to lure back investors. Even after 1994 and the brand new industrial policy resolution that adapted economic reforms and liberalisation to fit the rhetoric of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), there was little forward movement.


The one big success was the Haldia Petrochemicals Limited and the almost stealthy entry of the IT sector. Possibilities began emerging, albeit hesitantly.


Then with a bang, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee launched his successful mission to bring in the investors. Tata Motors came and Singur despite the land row started off with the certainty that West Bengal would become a global destination since the Nano would be manufactured here. The Rs 1 lakh small car that challenged every big car maker in the world was all set to transform West Bengal's image even if not every segment of the State's economy.


The anti-land acquisition movement threatened and then killed the Nano project. It also produced a spectacular political revival of the Opposition, led by the Trinamool Congress and its leader Mamata Banerjee. The contested land located on the Durgapur Expressway is now a series of sheds awaiting the onset of corrosion. Beside the contested land other sheds too seem to be similarly unemployed. The traffic on the expressway is lighter. The numbers of trucks trundling along are fewer, and far fewer of them are waiting to move either up or down the road. Instead of hectic movement, if the Nano plant had survived the politics of West Bengal, there is a sluggish movement of goods. The toll gates look underused and there are fewer police manning them, because the traffic is light.


And now there are the Maoists. Even if the Maoists are spread across some 180 odd districts of India, even if the purpose of the Centre's crackdown on them is as Arundhati Roy claims to clear the way for international mining interests, the connection between violent ultra Left politics and West Bengal is special. The original Naxalite movement started here. The return of the Maoists is a reminder that West Bengal is an inhospitable place for investors.


Sweeping down the expressway two years ago, there was a lot of activity around Dankuni. Branded as the new Kolkata west of the original city, a township was in the making. The ugly sculpted horses on top of a gate that led from nowhere to nowhere marked the beginning of a brave new world. The horses and the gate remain, the housing project has slumped and DLF's investment has disappeared.


The wasteland is beginning to creep back and soon West Bengal will revert to its rust belt status. All activity will be political. For those who want to or must because they need to earn a livelihood, the multiple new train connections will speed an army of low cost labour out of West Bengal. Those who get left behind will constitute the miserable proletariat, ripe for political manipulation.

 

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MAIL TODAY

 COMMENT

MS BANERJEE NEEDS TO GROW UP

 

IF Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee is caught between a rock and a hard place, she has only herself to blame. In her obsessive desire to defeat the Communist Party of India ( Marxist) in West Bengal she has thrown all caution, principles, and even common sense to the winds. To charge that the Left Front government was responsible for the train hijack on Tuesday, even while the drama was being played out, was downright foolish. It was also irresponsible because she is the Minister of Railways and as such bears the moral responsibility for the safety and security of the passengers traveling in the railway system.

 

The problem for Ms Banerjee is that she is supping with the Communist Party of India ( Maoist) devil in a bid to defeat what she considers the bigger Satan — the CPI( M). But this can only be a Faustian bargain since there is no real identity of interests between her and the Maoists.

 

The latter probably see her as a naïve politician who they can use to further their own goals, the most important of which is the thwarting of the imminent police offensive against them. Ms Banerjee does not realise that the politics of extremism that the Maoists follow has no room for compromise, leave alone the politics of a Mamata Banerjee.

 

When she takes a partisan approach on the use of the paramilitary forces in Lalgarh or tries to drive a wedge between the West Bengal police and the government, she is playing straight into the hands of the Maoists. The loss of nerve of the CPI( M) in West Bengal has created a political vacuum, but the forces that are rushing to fill it — Ms Banerjee and the Maoists — could prove that the remedy is worse than the disease.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

TAMING THE MONSTER

 

BY increasing the statutory liquidity ratio in its mid- term review of the credit policy, the Reserve Bank of India ( RBI) has clearly signaled that the easy money regime introduced after the global financial meltdown last year, is on its way out.

 

The trouble is, that is about all that it has managed to signal. By voicing its concerns over inflation, but by leaving interest rates untouched for now, the monetary authority has clearly indicated that the government will be calling the shots on the timing and nature of unwinding of the stimulus measures currently in place.

 

With no less a personage than the Prime Minister himself stating that the time is not ripe for cutting back on stimulus measures, the RBI, clearly, was left with little room for maneuver. The other measures, like tightened norms for non- performing assets and higher risk weights for loans to the real estate sector can also be seen as signals of issues that the RBI is noting with concern.

 

But inflation, clearly, is the biggest worry.

 

The current surge in prices has been largely driven by supply- side imbalances and has not really been fuelled by the excess money supply floating around in the system. But if prices continue to rise unchecked, the excess liquidity added as part of the stimulus measures is only going to add fuel to the fire. Draining this out can be only partly managed by the monetary authority. The government will also have to do its bit by curtailing spending and taking other steps to narrow the yawning budget deficit.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

MEDIEVALISM

 

THE recent murder of a man by his wife's kin in Delhi's Narela area because he had dared to marry the girl despite being of the same gotra reiterates the horrible truth that large swathes of northern India continue to wallow in medievalism when it comes to matrimonial do's and don'ts.

 

Ominously, the instances of such ' honour' killings seem on the rise in recent times — three such cases have been reported from Haryana alone in the last one week.

 

Since the killers here are family members themselves, there is need for the state to immediately come to the aid of couples hounded on account of such antiquated thinking. Unfortunately, this has not been happening — the victim in the Narela incident had earlier been jailed for abducting the girl. Perhaps the authorities could also take up campaigns that highlight that there is nothing more dishonourable and repugnant than taking a human life.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COLUMN

UNCHECKED BUILD- UP IS DANGEROUS

 

WE can hope that the increasingly harsh tone that had crept into Sino- Indian relations has been checked by the sequence of meetings that Prime Minister Singh and External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna have had with their counterparts in Thailand and Bangalore respectively. Though neither India, nor China can afford a conflict, one side appears as though it is looking for one, and the other side is once again not ready.

 

Unless they have been changed recently, the political directive that the government has given to the armed forces is to maintain a posture of "dissuasive defence" vis-à-vis the Chinese in Tibet. This contrasts with the directive of maintaining a posture of "disuassive deterrence" in relation to Pakistan. The latter means that the Indian forces plan and equip themselves for possible operations in Pakistani territory. But the import of the former is clear: India has no plans for offensive operations in Tibet in the event of hostilities. Its plans would call for allowing Chinese forces into Indian territory and destroying them in battle there.

 

A huge component of this strategy devised in the 1970s was firepower. Unfortunately, that is precisely the area where the Indian forces are lacking. China on the other hand, has built up a formidable force of missiles, rocket and tube launched artillery and mobile units, all on display in the recent 60th anniversary parade. On the other hand, India's missile programme is distinctly limping and laggard, its deployed rocket artillery is confined to multi-barrel rocket launchers and its mountain divisions are in dire need of an overall upgrade. India has no self-propelled artillery and its towed artillery, even the modern Bofors F77B guns, are some two decades old.

The air force part of the equation once favoured India, but this has changed. First, the IAF combat capability has declined because acquisitions have not kept pace with the obsolescence of its fleet. Second, the Chinese air force's modernisation has advanced with great speed and depth, despite the informal embargo that has been imposed on it by the western countries.

 

But despite our weaknesses, 2009 is not the same thing as 1962. At that time the poorly equipped and badly led Indian armies literally lacked the knowledge of what was on the other side of the mountain. Intelligence was non-existent. Today, India has a sophisticated system of aerial and ground surveillance of the Tibetan plateau and ought to have enough fore-warning of a Chinese military adventure.

 

RISE

Even at the time, the outgunned and outmaneuvered Indian forces collapsed only in the Tawang sector.

 

At Walong in the east, they were forced to withdraw, but not routed.

 

In the west in places like Chushul, they fought heroically, laying down their lives to the man. Though the military balance is tilting against us, it is just about adequate for the defensive battle that we would fight in the event things get out of hand.

 

The rise of China is an inevitable reality; the 2008- 2009 crisis may have accelerated its growth. But there are also alternative interpretations of the figures of the Chinese economic performance which are not very flattering.

 

But there is little room for doubt over the fact of China's impressive military build- up. It is, in fact, quite open and purposeful — to ensure the defence of the sovereignty and integrity of China. This means the ability to prevail in the event of a conflict over Taiwan and keep a lid on the separatists of Xinjiang and Tibet. But, as The Economist has pointed out, the build- up has now gained a momentum of its own and Chinese capacities are beyond what are required for Taiwan or the internal security of its western regions. A large and capable military capacity could enhance the risk for countries like India which have disputes with Beijing.

 

SHIFT

It is through borders with these two regions that India comes into the picture.

 

The recent tensions between India and China can be seen as a function of the latter's insecurities regarding its minorities who people its geographically vast and resource- rich regions. But there could be other causes as well.There has been a clear shift in the Chinese position towards India since mid- 2005 when the Indo- US nuclear deal was announced in Washington DC. Just months before Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited New Delhi and had signed a far- reaching Agreement on Political Parameters and Guiding Principles to resolve the border issue. It had virtually spelt out the contours of a border settlement on the basis of a mutual exchange of claims — the Chinese would keep Aksai Chin and India would retain Arunachal Pradesh.

 

In June 2007 at the sidelines of a meeting in Berlin with Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi appeared to resile from Article VII of the agreement which had said that " In reaching a border settlement the two sides shall safeguard populations in border areas." Mr Yang now told Mr Mukherjee that the " mere presence" of populated areas would not affect China's claims on the Sino- Indian border.

 

It is from this period that the more strident Chinese line on Tawang, on the visit of Dalai Lama and the like seems to have emerged, though it has been amplified by the Tibetan uprising of last year which took place not only in the truncated region of what is Tibet today, but the large areas that the Chinese have hived away and renamed into other provinces.

Early on, Beijing recognised the Indo- US nuclear deal for what it was: A far- reaching agreement through which the nuclear pill that had been stuck in the throats of India and the US would be washed down and would enable the two to have normal, even strategic relations. Almost transparently, the US was wooing India and the aim seemed to be to balance the rising power of China.

 

OUTCOMES

India is unlikely to act precipitously on the border. This is as much a matter of choice as its current weakness.

It sees its best option as a need to settle on an " as is, where is" formula. On the other hand, the signals coming out of Beijing are not very good. Its military build- up has gone into overdrive, even as its attitudes towards India have hardened. This is bad news, as much for China, as for India.A unsettled border only provides opportunity for conflict, notwithstanding the interim agreements to maintain " peace and tranquility" there. China may be thinking that by outpacing New Delhi in building its national power it can get better terms in the future, or hawks in Beijing are contemplating administering New Delhi another lesson.

 

But things may not work their way.A combination of factors, or a single event could change things: The Chinese economy could stall, India could be provoked into building up its deterrence capacity, Taiwan may act up or the US could elect a hawkish president.

 

You don't need Sun Tzu to tell you that it is easier to start a fight, than to predict its outcome.

 

manoj.joshi@mailtoday.in

 

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MAIL TODAY

THIRD UMPIRE

QAISER MOHAMMAD ALI

 

Lele book promises spicy fare for allJAYWANT Lele, a former secretary of the Indian cricket board, was always known for his forthright views. On a few occasions his frank admissions may have created controversies, but they were always the honest opinions of a man who is unbelievably humble and down to earth in real life.

 

Having had his stint under the cricketing sun, Lele is now living a relaxed, retired life in Vadodara.

 

But he is in touch with his old friends, the best known among them being Jagmohan Dalmiya.

 

Lele's views on major issues remain as strong as ever — and at times revolutionary. And before the year is out, Lele is going to be in the news again for his upcoming book — attractively titled I Was There — that would surely make for interesting reading, going by the teasers he provided. He excitedly shows a copy of the manuscript. " Maybe in a couple of months it will be out. I have already given the publishers the manuscript. It is under print, you can say," Lele told M AIL T ODAY at his ancestral home, Sanmitra.

 

" It is about my experiences, my interactions with India team captains and coaches when I was in the board. The match- fixing scandal also took place when I was secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India ( BCCI), in 2000. I came across so many dignitaries, like Mr Dalmiya, Mr Asif Iqbal, Dr AC Muttiah, late Raj Singh Dungarpur, PM Rungta. I had some interaction with the government also," said the 72- year- old former BCCI secretary ( 1997- 2001) and joint secretary ( 1990- 1992 and 1993- 1997).

 

Without disclosing the exact nature of the chapters, Lele said he has also touched upon the Sahara Cup controversy of the late Nineties, when the Indian government advised the BCCI not to play against Pakistan in Toronto and Sharjah as relations between the two countries deteriorated. Due to India's pullout from Toronto, the organisers, International Management Group ( IMG) took the BCCI to the London High Court for breach of contract, and Lele had to appear in the court as board secretary.

 

" We had a five- year contract for Toronto, but in 1999 or 2000, we did not go and play any matches there. According to the terms and conditions, if we missed any of the annual series, they ( IMG) could demand $ 250,000 as compensation.

 

When we said we did not go because the government did not allow us, IMG said nothing doing and sued us," he said.

 

" I went with all the proof that I had, including the two letters from the government in which it had asked the BCCI to take ' appropriate decision' and pointed out that we were dependent on the government for so many things. This included grant of visas to foreign teams, the foreign exchange... " The judge understood the BCCI's predicament.

 

" The case was dismissed and we were not required to pay any compensation," said Lele, a former umpire.

 

 

SHOOT- OUT IN VADODARA

 

THE Moti Baug ground in Vadodara, which has hosted three ODIs, is an interesting place. It belongs to the Gaekwad royal family and also houses the headquarters of the Baroda Cricket Association ( BCA) and has a museum named after the Maharaja — MF Museum. The BCA office is also quite a place to check out as the building in which it is housed used to store guns in the days gone by. It is still called the Gun House, though the only firing that is now done inside Moti Baug is by batsmen and bowlers.

 

To reach the ground or the Gun Store, one has to walk down quite a distance from the main gate if you don't have a vehicle.

 

There is another gate through which you could reach the ground quickly.

 

But that gate is permanently closed. Someone said it opens only when members of the royal family visit the ground.

 

BCCI HAS GOT ITS ACT TOGETHER ON MEDIA

 

EVERYTHING about the Indian cricket board is surely not bad. The Board of Control for Cricket in India ( BCCI) may not have accepted in entirety the recommendations of Tata Consultancy Services, made a few years ago, to reform itself, but in some areas it is improving nonetheless. One aspect that is gradually improving is related to the media, though a lot still needs to be done.

 

Amongst the welcome steps taken recently is the publication of a souvenir on the ongoing India- Australia ODI series. The wellproduced — if not well edited — 16- page booklet contains messages from captains Mahendra Dhoni and Ricky Ponting, and BCCI president Shashank Manohar, thumb- nail sketches of the players of the two teams, profiles of grounds hosting the seven matches, and the indispensable statistics.

 

But the most interesting information is contained in the ground profiles. This includes the names of various enclosures, their capacities, size of the playing arena, the distance between the ground and the nearest railway station and airport, hotels within a range of two to three kilometres from the stadium, the modes of transport, and important contact details.

 

DDCA IS HIT WICKET ON CHAIRMAN'S LOUNGE

THE Indian Premier League and the recent Champions League have done more than just throw up new and exciting talent. The Twenty20 tournaments have also helped venues upgrade their infrastructure and come up with slick nomenclature. But along the way, some people have been rubbed the wrong way by their very own colleagues, leaving a bad taste in their mouth. For instance, some directors of the Delhi and District Cricket Association ( DDCA) felt embarrassed when they were reportedly stopped from entering the newly named Chairman's Lounge at the Ferozeshah Kotla, located above the teams' dressing rooms.

 

This lounge — slickly named as per the modern upmarket trends — was out of bounds for ordinary mortals and, interestingly, only those who wore wrist bands of a certain colour during different matches were allowed to enter the hallowed place. One DDCA official faced embarrassment when the security guards stopped him from entering the Chairman's Lounge because he was not wearing the mandatory wrist band.

 

During the eight Champions League matches at the Kotla, many high- profile people visited the Chairman's Lounge, which was spruced up for the occasion.

 

Visitors to the lounge included VVIPs like judges and politicians besides Lalit Modi, chairman and commissioner of the IPL and Champions League governing council, who was often shown on television interacting with his guests.

 

People wonder who the Chairman's Lounge has been named after. " In DDCA's set up, we have a president, vicepresidents, secretaries and directors.

 

Even the head of the BCCI is called president.

 

But we don't know why and how it's called Chairman's Lounge. Only the person who came with this brilliant idea can explain it," said a DDCA insider.

 

" Interestingly, we also have a President's Box, which is quite appropriate. But the question to be asked is whether there was any desperate need to have a Chairman's Lounge besides the President's Box and two other lounges that we have at the stadium — BCCI Lounge and Kotla Lounge.

 

The changing culture is clearly an offshoot of the IPL and the Champions League," he added.

 

Qaiser. ali@ mailtoday. in

 

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MAIL TODAY

INTERACTIVE

 

HOW TO EMPOWER WOMEN IN INDIA

 

THE Centre's decision to bring in an amendment Bill in the forthcoming winter session of Parliament to effect an increase in women's reservation in seats of municipal and Panchayati Raj bodies from the present 33 percent to 50 percent is seemingly a step in the right direction.

 

However, we need to look at it from a different perspective.

 

Although it has been over 15 years since urban and rural local bodies were given constitutional status along with the provision of reserving one- third of the seats for women, elected women members still lag behind their male counterparts.

 

On ground, there has been no significant political empowerment of women, which was the basic idea behind the legislation.

 

There have been cases when women elected as the sarpanch or the pradhan of a panchayat or a municipality have given all their powers to their husbands because they themselves are illiterate or they are proxy candidates propped up by powerhungry men of the village.

 

There have been instances where Dalit women, who have been elected chairpersons of local civic bodies, the other elected members in that institution, especially men from " higher caste" communities defy their orders or circumvent the duly established procedures only because they are still not prepared to work under anyone they consider from the lower caste or even an untouchable.

 

The first issue this new Bill should address is taking progressive social initiatives to make women from the depressed economic and social classes become politically aware and active, so that they become competent to manage their posts and powers.

Hemant Kumar via email

 

OBSTINATE MINISTER FOR A MALLEABLE PM

 

THIS refers to your report ' Raja refuses to resign on 2G Spectrum Scam' ( October 28).

 

The world's largest republic is witnessing a weird drama being staged by an obstinate minister who does not care for his credibility, is completely backed by mentor M Karunanidhi and is sticking to his post unmindful of the criticism from other political parties, and a silent and malleable Prime Minister.

 

The CBI raided Department of Telecom offices to ascertain the truth about the 2G spectrum scam which lead to a huge loss to the government. By some estimates this loss amounts to Rs 60,000 crore in government revenue, although conservative estimates suggest it is closer to Rs 22,000 crore.

 

A procedural error by the D. O. T officials supported by the minister needs a thorough investigation, and the UPA government should not interfere with the investigation, despite the fact that the minister was allowed a second term in the same ministry, thus overlooking his poor track record in his previous stint.

 

Our nation had leaders who resigned forthwith on account of the liability on accidents and scams on moral grounds. The public has to now witness this type of ministers clinging to the post and justifying the existence without appreciating the outcome of the inquiry.

 

The truth lies behind the complex web of regulations meant for the DOT and the spectrum allocations. The very fact that the government is resorting to unnecessary damage control shows that murky dealings could have taken place.

 

N. R. Narayanan via email

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TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

CARROT AND STICK

 

Within days of attacking the Sankrail police station in West Bengal, the Maoists have struck again. On Tuesday, Maoists along with armed members of a local political outfit, the People's Committee against Police Atrocities (PCPA), waylaid a train near the West Bengal-Orissa border and held the drivers hostages for a few hours before releasing them. The incident, coming so soon after the West Bengal government capitulated to the militants when it freed 22 suspected Naxalites in exchange for the release of an abducted policeman, reflects poorly on Indian security agencies. Moreover, railway minister Mamata Banerjee has muddied the situation by appearing to defend the PCPA and its actions since the group is an ally of her party.


The Indian state has allowed the Naxalite problem to fester for far too long. How long have we been hearing that Naxalites are the gravest security threat to the country, having spread to over a third of India's territory and claimed 600 lives this year alone? And this by some 15,000 Naxalites, many of whom are poorly armed. It seems that the government has finally woken up to the gravity of the situation. The Union home ministry has readied what would be the biggest-ever security operation against the Naxalites. Nearly 70,000 paramilitary forces have been mobilised to begin operations in Naxalite-affected districts. Operations are expected to last anywhere between one and three years. But it's not just Naxalite-infested areas that need beefing up of security. Studies have shown that at 145 policemen for every one lakh residents, India is way below the UN-mandated ratio. This situation needs to be rectified at the earliest.


Any concerted action against the Naxalites is bound to be controversial. The airwaves have been humming with commentators who believe that Naxalism is an expression of the deep resentment of marginalised tribals and the poor, and that development and not force is the solution. There is some truth in what they say. Tribals have benefited the least from the Indian state and its development policies. Worse still, their lands and livelihoods have been ruthlessly destroyed over time. This has created a fertile ground for Naxalites to flourish. Addressing the basic needs of tribals and the poor and winning their hearts must go hand in hand with operations to quell the Naxalites, something the government seems to have realised. It is planning to pump in big money for infrastructure projects in Naxalite-affected districts.


Naxalites, or anyone else for that matter, do not have the licence to take up arms. Rule of law is a prerequisite not just of democracy but also of development, both of which are negated when armed militias rule the roost. Anyone who breaks the law, whatever may be his motivation, must pay the price. The only way for Naxalites to have a place in this country is to play by the rules of our constitutional democracy.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

40-YEAR TEEN

 

Nineteen sixty-nine may be a pivotal year in history. Not necessarily because America sent a man to the moon or the Woodstock concert took place, but because something called Arpanet was born. A professor at an American university sent a message from his computer to another machine in Stanford a few hundred miles away, ushering in an information revolution the likes of which - as Arpanet morphed into the internet - mankind last saw centuries earlier with the invention of the printing press.


In 40 short years the internet has given us e-mail, instant messaging, social networking, blogs, video streaming and instant access to unimaginable quantities of information. Everything we wanted to know about anything is online and accessible at the click of a mouse. The printing press, for the first time, put the power of knowledge into the hands of ordinary people and human civilisation made a great leap forward. The internet as a medium is even more egalitarian - it is cheaper, faster and knows no boundaries. Fantastic things are possible on the Net. Students in Africa can access lab equipment in the US to perform experiments. Kids can learn from the best teachers, face-to-face, even when they're in a different country. Stargazers can map the moon right here on earth.

But perhaps the most radical shift caused by the internet has been in the way we read. Many angst-ridden paeans have been written about the book and its impending demise as a metaphor for the dumbing down of the human mind because of the Net. But while the internet has no doubt transformed the manner in which we consume knowledge, the sheer breadth of the resources at our disposal has meant that we access and absorb information more quickly than before.


And this is only the beginning. The internet may be 40 but it is important to remember that it languished till Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web many years later. It wasn't until 1993 that the first usable Web browser was launched. In 1998, we got Google and by 2001 Wikipedia, at which point over half a billion people were online. Today, the figure is more like 1.7 billion - almost a third of humanity. Fasten your seat belts, because we've only just begun to figure out the many ways in which the internet can be used. The only thing guaranteed is that it'll be a long - and exciting - journey ahead.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

CODE AND AFTER

 

In a remarkable act of consultative policymaking not often seen in India, Pranab Mukherjee released the draft of a proposed new direct taxes code on August 12 for public discussion. Repeated amendments of the 1961 Income Tax Act through the annual finance Acts and judicial interpretations of various aspects of the Act, or related Acts like the 1957 Wealth Tax Act, have resulted in a direct tax system that is complex, cumbersome and ambiguous. It has spawned a flourishing industry of tax accountants and lawyers, but for the public at large the system has been a nightmare. Hence, the decision to issue a fresh tax code has been widely welcomed. However, views are divided on whether the new code will achieve its goal of establishing a direct tax system that is simple, economically efficient, effective and equitable.


Some key proposals in the draft code are quite puzzling. In personal income taxes, for instance, the ceiling of the lowest non-zero bracket for taxation at 10 per cent has been extended from Rs 3 lakh taxable income to Rs 10 lakh. The ceiling for 20 per cent tax rate has been extended from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 25 lakh, and the 30 per cent rate will now be applicable only to annual income of over Rs 25 lakh as compared to over Rs 5 lakh earlier. In short, most income taxpayers will pay at rates about a third lower than at present. A similar drastic adjustment of the wealth tax is also proposed. While financial assets are being brought within its purview, a long overdue reform, the threshold is being raised from Rs 15 lakh to Rs 50 crore!


This lowering of rates has naturally been welcomed by the public. However, there are limits to how far we can go here without losing revenue and hurting the provision of sound infrastructure and essential public goods such as public health care, basic education, law and order, security and defence. The draft code mentions that income tax rates in India are already among the world's lowest, hence it is inexplicable why it has proposed a further drastic lowering of these rates. The claim of equity is also challenged in setting the marginal rate at 30 per cent only for taxable incomes above Rs 25 lakh in a country where nearly 70 per cent of the population lives on less than Rs 36,000 per year (about $2 per day).


The code points out that widening of the base, with most current exemptions such as interest on housing loans, medical benefits, travel benefits etc, being withdrawn, will help offset the revenue loss. However, there are no computations to show how much revenue the elimination of these exemptions will generate. On the other hand, one estimate indicates that lowering of the effective personal income tax rates and corporate tax and abolition of the securities transactions tax will together lead to a total revenue loss of as much as Rs 55,000 crore.


On the corporate tax side, the code proposes that companies are to be taxed at a flat rate of 25 per cent compared to the highest marginal income tax rate of 30 per cent. Global best practice is to equate these two rates as at present. Hence, the purpose of lowering the corporate tax rate is a mystery. On the other hand, the code has proposed a Minimum Alternative Tax (MAT) of 2 per cent of the gross value of assets, much higher than the usual MAT rates of 0.5 per cent to 0.75 per cent of assets seen elsewhere. This particular proposal has been heavily criticised and is unlikely to be retained in the final draft of the code. Dividends will be taxed at 15 per cent at the company stage, with no further taxation as income of the recipient. While avoiding double taxation of dividends, this in effect retains an iniquitous income tax concession since two individuals subject to different marginal rates of income tax will bear the same rate of tax on their dividend income.


There is a major change in the treatment of capital gains. The distinction between short- and long-term capital gains is abolished and capital gains will be taxed at the same rate as income. This is conceptually appropriate since a capital gain is indeed income. However, a capital gain is also the reward for bearing risk. In treating it the same way as other income, the code is significantly dampening the incentive to invest in risk capital. Is this the desired outcome or an unintended consequence?

Some of these issues will hopefully be addressed in the revised code. One neglected issue is the tax system's stability and predictability. Entrepreneurs often say they can adjust to any reasonable system of taxation provided rates and provisions are stable. It is the tax regime's unpredictability and year-to-year changes that they find difficult to handle. The new code does refer to stability as one objective. However, it is not clear how it will be achieved if there is still room for year-to-year changes in tax rates. Hopefully, the code's final version will address this issue.


The writer is emeritus professor at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, New Delhi.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

TIMES VIEW

BRANDS ARE BUILT ON THE RAMP

 

Another fashion week is upon us this week, this time in New Delhi. The papers are splashed with spreads of models showcasing the Spring/Summer 2010 creations of some of India's leading designers. If not content with seeing still images, you can catch live action on the telly -- not just on entertainment channels but on prime-time news bulletins as well. India has three annual fashion weeks aimed at the domestic and international markets as of now and just as the fanfare over one dies down, another drums up the fashion frenzy.


Some would ask: What's the big deal about fashion anyway, especially the haute couture variety? They would go on to argue that a disproportionate amount of media attention is bestowed upon an industry that only a minuscule portion of the general public buys into. However, the big deal about fashion is not misplaced.


Fashion designers across the world see their work both as art and business. It is as valid an industry as any other creative one. Just because we may not relate to, or understand, abstract or installation art, does not mean that they are not valid fields of work. After all, they also are spheres of not just artistic expression but legitimate economic activity.


Who on earth buys those outlandish clothes that models don to sashay down the ramp, whether in Mumbai, Milan or Paris, one might ask. Most successful fashion designers do not depend for survival on their haute couture creations being snapped up. The ramp is just an arena where they build upon their brand. The real moolah comes from their more wearable lines and from the various fashion-associated products they offer -- jewellery, bags, other accessories and perfumes. Even those who cannot afford these pricey products feed into the industry by engaging in voyeuristic consumption. Fashion has its followers, let it be that way. Only philistines would imagine a world that venerates merely utilitarian enterprises.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

COUNTER VIEW

FASHION HAS NO RELEVANCE

 

It's that time of the year again. The fashion gods walk amongst us, swathed in exquisite fabrics, flaunting pret-a-supposedly porter magnificence beyond the ability of mortals to possess. Or, for that matter, understand. To most of us, the creations models display on the ramps at Mumbai or Delhi would merely be outlandish. To the arbiters of fashion and good taste who frequent such shows, they are, presumably, high art. If the designers and fashionistas wish to engage in some hieroglyphic displays, that is their concern. What is difficult to understand is the fawning attention paid to them by those of us in the vast majority who have no use for their creations and no intention of ever possessing any.


If high fashion is to be judged by the standards of the label it has appropriated for itself, our various fashion shows - and the industry as a whole - are in contradiction of all the principles that underlie the concept of art. Art of any kind is rooted in certain societal contexts. It might rebel against those contexts, it might push their boundaries, but it has relevance to them. The fashion that one sees on the ramps, on the other hand, exists in a vacuum. Various schools of visual, musical or literary arts have been accounted avant garde at their inception, but they have never been entirely beyond the reach of the common man. Anyone may read Henry Miller or appreciate John Coltrane's improvisations; many did even when they were considered new and unconventional.

Compare that to the fashion world. Is one ever likely to see those absurd creations on the street, or even in a far more rarefied atmosphere? Certainly, utilitarianism alone makes for a dull showing, but form cannot be divorced entirely from function. Yet, that is what designers insist on doing. And that is why it is time someone pointed out that the emperor's new clothes are, to put it mildly, rather silly.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

SUN SIGHS

LOVE AND THE ZODIAC

 

I have been thinking about my marriage for some time now - the last decade to be precise. But there is one single word that pops up whenever i evaluate my romantic chances: compatibility. How does one know whether one would get along with another? Simple! Ask her sun sign. I fell in love with the zodiac the day a copy of Linda Goodman's Sun Signs fell into my hands. But there was a tragic side to this fascination that directly affected my marital plans.


I discovered, to my horror, that a lot of signs were incompatible with mine! In one stroke it eliminated a huge list of childhood crushes as unmarriageable. Scorpios were too secretive, Virgos were too practical, Leos would compete with me for the limelight and Sagittarians would never understand my sarcasm. I greet any girl i meet for the first time with a smiling "So, what's your sun sign?" I don't even bother with the name if it's one of the wrong ones. Why punish her? She would just have to get used to the idea that this gorgeous, talented, hunk of a man is not destined for her.


I fantasise about writing matrimonial ads for myself that begin with 'If you're a girl and you're an Aquarian, marry me.' I discussed this with my friends and they were horrified. The guys started with "You can't just ask about her sun sign! What about whether they can cook and clean?" At this point the girls broke their bones so the conversation petered out. My parents tried to make me see reason, "If you fall in love with someone tomorrow, who cares what sun sign she is?" I answered morosely, "You would, as you would be handling the divorce proceedings a year later and subsequent alimony payments." I know it's silly of me to view people as simply belonging to one of 12 categories. I know that each person is a beguiling magic potion of traits. But until i find a way to gauge a girl in her entirety, is there any young Aquarian lady who would like to accompany me for a coffee?

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

NO COMMON GROUND HERE

 

Today it seems almost comical to remember that when the first India-China-Russia trilateral summit was announced nearly a decade ago, commentators spoke of the dawn of a new non-Western international order. The trilateral just completed its ninth foreign ministers' meeting in Bangalore and its conclusions were as meaningless as the previous rounds. India is a member of many such international formulations whose utility is apparent to no one.

 

Given that India's foreign and strategic institutions are stretched to the limit, it might make sense to question the purpose of remaining in such organisations, let alone joining new ones. Does anyone know what the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation accomplishes anymore? Does anyone know why the Brazil-Russia-India-China summits have been launched? The list goes on.

 

The standard answer is that India needs to have a foothold in such groupings on the off chance that this body may become a major source of influence. This is natural. Countries seek to be members of global rules-making bodies largely for fear they will have to conform to norms based on the interests of other countries. The short definition of a superpower: a country that sets rules for other countries. India has suffered in the past from not being present at the creation. It suffered decades of sanctions by not being an original member of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. It was sleeping when the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation organisation was created. Therefore, India should take no chances and sign up for everything that comes its way.

 

Nonetheless, it must be possible to assess the utility of such organisations in a sensible manner. The India-China-Russia trilaterals can never move beyond the superficial because there is more binding the members bilaterally than there is in the pool of interests common to all three.

 

The BRIC summit cannot speak for emerging economies if it includes a commodity-driven economy like Russia but excludes a more vibrant Indonesia. At some point, if a multilateral organisation is too far divorced from the ground realities of international relations, there should be a hard-nosed assessment of whether it makes sense for India to become a member.

 

Ultimately, there is also a simple truth that India is, to a large extent, too important these days to be excluded or ignored. An emerging economies grouping without India would sound absurd. A short definition of a rising power: a country that can be selective.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

NOW, THE BITTER PILL

 

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has diagnosed what ails the BJP. But will he launch a surgical strike?

 

As a veterinarian, RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat's healing instincts must come in handy when trying to treat that political animal called the BJP. But, even the good doctor seems to have thrown up his hands in despair saying that the saffron party must contemplate drastic surgery or even chemotherapy to save itself. His prescription has not found favour with BJP president Rajnath Singh who has had to swallow the bitter pill of electoral defeat in recent times.

 

Mr Bhagwat's remarks suggest that his patience with the patient has run out and now, in a twist of the old saying, the afflicted must heal themselves. But the BJP's stalwarts are so busy rubbing salt into each other's wounds that the party is in chronic pain. The question is if the party were to take up Mr Bhagwat's advice, who will wield the scalpel. Leader of the Opposition L K Advani has shown that he is not able to excise the ghosts of the past, Murli Manohar Joshi says he is a patient, not a doctor and as for the others, they have all become a headache for each other and the party.

 

So it makes horse sense for Mr Bhagwat to kit himself out and step into the theatre of operations himself. He has to make the BJP that is now grazing in the pasture into a thoroughbred capable of winning the electoral Derby. He will have to mount a surgical strike on the Cassandras in the BJP and inject new life into the party.

 

The main thing is that he seems to have diagnosed the ailment where others have failed. Otherwise, the BJP will have to wander around singing, "Oh doctor, I'm in trouble… (my heart) goes boom boody-boom boody-boom…"

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

NEW IDEAS OF INDIA

SAMAR-HARLANKAR

 

"When I was leaving for New York to do my Masters in Journalism at Columbia University, I always knew that I wanted to return home and I knew that I would. Call it patriotism or obsession or passion — for me my home is where my heart lies. And, that place is India. Its dust, grime, humidity, heat, warts and all, is like the masala in my chai, the tadka in my dal and the lasoon chutney in my vada pav. I could do without them, but then life wouldn't be so chatpata!"

 

I thought this typically Indian paean to, well, Indianness, was a good description of what being an Indian in 2009 was about. It's a happy, inclusive description that reflects the joie de vivre of a young, aspiration-filled India.

 

Recently, though, my thoughts about Indianness have turned darker, more pessimistic.


On the streets of Srinagar, every whisper of an atrocity — real or imagined — is enough to bring hundreds of smart, young men onto the streets, ferociously battling paramilitary soldiers. Look at their faces, contorted with rage in their now ceaseless fight for azadi. But like the 110 people who die in road accidents across India every day, Kashmir's angry, young men pour out with such regularity that their protests rarely constitute news.

 

On the streets of Delhi, it's rare to meet a woman from the North-east who hasn't been stared at, mocked or groped. It's equally true that every woman in Delhi has it bad. Only, most men from the North-east report another kind of hostility — to being different.

 

Any nation of 22 official languages is, you would think, a nation respectful of diversity. But this isn't a nation built on diversity. The British forced it on us. Even so, we were comfortable within our communities, cultures and ignorance. After 1947, we lived our own lives, without realising Kokborok is the official language of Tripura, or that Tamil Nadu has more meat-eaters than Uttar Pradesh.

 

India's great economic leap forced an unprecedented mingling. The internal migration of 307 million Indians (2001 census) is straining identity, culture and asking of us the big question: Who is an Indian?

 

India once looked on man as greater than any purpose he could serve, the Kannada poet Masti Venkatesh Iyengar observed. It is true that Hinduism is open to, moulds and accepts outside philosophy. That is why a Hindu will show up at a Sufi shrine, or pray to Infant Jesus, as she might to her Ganesha. But it has never been easy for Hindu society to accept outsiders.

 

"If the square rod sees a round hole, there cannot be attraction. If the round rod sees a round hole, there can be attraction. There should be a counterpart of values for attraction to arise." So said the ancient Hindu sage and philosopher Yajnavalkya, in conversations with his second wife Maitreyi (herself a Vedic philosopher) recorded for posterity in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, some of Hinduism's oldest scriptures, dating to a time before the 5th century BCE.

 

In Europe, freedom was about finding work and acquiring knowledge, to build institutions and permanence, to live well for today and plan for tomorrow.

 

For India, tomorrow was too soon. In many ways, it still is.

Life itself is transient, so it's all right to accept semi-finished roads, semi-permanent sidewalks and in general an ill-maintained country. It appears to override our desire for knowledge, self-improvement and acceptance of those not like us.

 

So, we stare at the outsider, deride his habits and degrade him and ourselves. We mock the individualism of the West and celebrate our community spirit. Yet we keep our home clean, and throw the trash out.

 

This is the pessimistic view: That we are unconsciously or otherwise still guided by fate or faith.
The modern view of India comes from people like former Infosys CEO Nandan Nilekani. "Some people might consider me a hopeless optimist here," Nilekani says in his book Imagining India, "but I think it is likely that we Indians are finally becoming more than what is defined by caste, religion, region and family, and are linking ourselves more closely by the nation of Indianness."

 

So, what is Indianness?

 

Bollywood? Sure, except it's nice to remember that a few hundred million people across the south and east of India get their cultural cues from Kollywood, Tollywood, Mollywood and — in Mizoram and Nagaland — from South Korea's Arirang TV.

 

The army? Sure, I am one of many whose heart swells when I see regiments parade down Rajpath on January 26. But there are equally many millions in Kashmir and parts of the North-east whose hearts sink when they think of this same army.

 

I really like that simple description of "being Indian" at the top of this column. It makes no grand claims, just a simple acceptance of what India tastes like, what it feels like. If that generates a feeling of togetherness, so be it.

That little passage is taken from a blog (http://theyellowindian.blogspot.com) written by a former colleague. She did return to India, "the first glimpse of the motherland giving me goosebumps all over". Her name is Arlene Chang — a Bambaiyya girl, and in her words, "a SUCKER when it comes to India".

 

Oh, when she traveled to the US and China, no one thought she was Indian. After all, her family migrated to Mumbai from Hubei province, China. 

 

What do you think? Let me know.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

WILTING AT WINDMILLS

ASHOK MALIK

 

As the BJP gropes for answers to explain its drubbing in Maharashtra as well as its wider atrophy, it is tempting to draw an analogy with Pakistan. The party leadership's instinct is — as it has been since the defeat in the May 2009 Lok Sabha election — to point fingers elsewhere.

 

In May, the BJP prime ministerial candidate argued that the party had not lost but only suffered collateral damage as the Left and the 'Third Front' collapsed and handed an advantage to the Congress. In Maharashtra, the BJP was cheated of victory by Raj Thackeray. Other villains have also been identified — the media; NDA partners who have not allowed the BJP to grow; the urban middle-classes that have rejected the party; the people of India for not being sufficiently alive to the dangers of terrorism; electronic voting machines.

 

Meeting shortly after the three-state verdict of October 22, the BJP parliamentary board reflected this sense of denial. There was little attempt to ascertain what had gone wrong. Is there a big picture emerging from all this? Actually, there

are four.One, the BJP is no longer a national party. It has no pan-Indian identity or credibility. It is strong in about half a dozen states where disparate entities have a certain appeal. If there is any commonality among platforms in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka, it's not obvious.

 

Two, the party HQ in Delhi has been hijacked by a cartel. They are out to convert their occupation of the BJP into a private business. If this entails undercutting uncooperative colleagues, so be it.

 

State after state has seen this phenomenon at work. In some — Haryana and perhaps Jharkhand in the coming weeks — the inspiration has been straightforward capital gains. In others — Rajasthan and the host of states that have seen Delhi-inspired dissidence — the motive has been replacing a strong local leader with an anonymous sycophant. Absolute command of the party bureaucracy is more important than winning a popular election.

 

Three, the national leadership of an all-India party is supposed to provide broader political direction and make trenchant policy interventions. After two Lok Sabha defeats, the BJP has to virtually reinvent itself. However, the party president and his camp followers are incapable of this. They have, instead, outsourced the task to the RSS. In its current form, the RSS isn't up to this job. It can't pretend, for instance, that rhetoric on cow protection or random pronouncements on China can magically metamorphose into electoral issues.

 

Neither is the RSS sufficiently alive to the role of personality in mass politics. It is fine to transfer a faceless plodder from Mirzapur or Nagpur to the office of joint secretary, Department of Agriculture, Government of India, and expect no one to notice. You can't make him a president of a national party and believe millions of ordinary voters will simply nod their heads.

 

Four, if this situation persists, there is genuine danger that in two or three years self-respecting state BJP leaders may consider the regional party route. Burdened by a national leadership that contributes nothing and only makes demands, state units could be forced into other options. Naveen Patnaik did just this when he junked the BJP and walked out of the NDA in Orissa. How soon before others do a Patnaik and walks out of the BJP itself?

Ashok Malik is Delhi-based political commentator.

The views expressed by the author are personal

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

QUEEN BEES

 

I say old chap, it was quite splendid to see old Lizzie lay out all that pomp and pageantry for our Pratibha. Felt like the old days again. Care for a spot of gin and bitters?


Yes, indeed, as old Phil said to businessman Atul Patel at the reception for Pratibha, there was a lot of his family in tonight.


Do you mean he thought all Patels were related? Oh, that's a bit of comedown for us.

 

Not at all, I think all the Windsors have an equine resemblance that could pass off for close relationship, even when they are from different families like Charles and Camilla.


Ah, how they must have spoken fondly of their plans for their boys?


Boys? Are you barmy? The two biddies have nothing in common on this. Pratibha laid her high office on the line to get her little 45-year-old boy Rajendra in to political office while Liz is determined that bonny prince Charlie will not get a foot in through the door, possibly even after she goes out feet first.


Do say: The son will never set on the empire.


Don't say: Pass the bangers and mash.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

GET BACK TO WORK

 

Ever since August 19, when the BJP expelled Jaswant Singh for his literary endeavours, one problem has been festering. Singh was appointed chairman of the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament when he was still a BJP member. But removing him from the post — without his consent — is proving impossible for the BJP. And since he has refused to quit, BJP members have simply boycotted meetings. Though it is put out that the BJP has ended its "official" boycott, its MPs were still missing from Tuesday's PAC meet.

 

Parliamentary committees are hardly the place to settle personal squabbles, and bunking work is an absurd way to protest Jaswant Singh's non-resignation. If the party wishes to discipline its own, or those who were once its own, it must do so on its own time, not on the nation's. That the committee in question is the PAC is particularly troubling. The PAC is charged with maintaining legislative oversight on executive expenditure; but the committee could do with some oversight itself. PAC members hardly, if ever, haul of the executive, or question their decisions. It is for good reason that critics allege that few legislatures have as little say in government expenditure as ours does. The BJP's attitude is further proof of how casually our parliamentarians regard this critical function.

 

Few sights are as pathetic as a sulking party shirking work. The BJP lost the recent general elections decisively, was trumped in the assembly elections that took place soon after, and its internal squabbles are the stuff of satire and parody. But if this is cause to sulk, it isn't cause to shirk work. BJP MPs in the PAC must get back to work, with or without Jaswant Singh. And the sorry light this episode has cast on parliamentary work ethics must serve as a wake up call for everybody else.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

ALL THIRD CLASS

 

The railway ministry has been told what's wrong. The Passenger Amenities Committee that has been set up — and is headed by the well-known painter Subhaprasanna from, where else, Kolkata — pointed out that train windows are frequently hazy, robbing a train journey of that sense of connection to the countryside that should be so central to the experience. It shouldn't take a painter's eye to see the obvious; but then, in a sector as unreformed and sarkari as the railways, what do you expect?

 

But it is another recommendation that deserves highlighting. "Specially designed luxury coaches," we are told, would be a good idea, as long as they are "exclusively meant for foreign travellers." This sums up what is wrong with much thinking, both about tourism and about railway (and similar) infrastructure in India. The first assumption is that, for tourism, somehow creating parallel systems that foreigners should use (an odd 21st century version of the old socialist "dollar shops"), setting up parallel costs at heritage sites, and so on, will somehow make tourists feel more comfortable. That is aside from the fact that, in practice, those running the systems find them impossible to run easily, as is the case with so many silly regulations.

 

And then there is what it implies for how we think about infrastructure in India. Nothing good, we seem to believe, can be given to us, because we will somehow spoil it. Indian tourists who can afford to pay shouldn't be allowed near the special coaches, because they will manage to ruin the experience. This flies in the face of what we have learnt over the last few decades; most recently the case of the Delhi Metro showed that the urban Indian is as capable of respecting the value of infrastructure when she recognises its worth as anyone else — and, indeed, of creating a civic culture around it. Maybe what holds back excellence in customer service and user-friendly infrastructure in railways, for example, isn't just sarkari incompetence. We should not underestimate the lack of trust for the Indian citizen — the customer — that goes with that.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

WHAT A FLIP-FLOP

 

The emperor refused to see he indeed had no clothes on till the little child blurted out the naked truth. In West Bengal, government and opposition have had the mirror held up to them umpteen times; but they are no wiser yet. The state of the state in Bengal has been analysed threadbare and deemed a fit case for Central rule. In handling the Maoists, the state administration has come unravelled, the absurd extent of which was on display last week in the Atindranath Dutta case. But worse was yet to come. On Tuesday, armed tribals led by Maoists seized the Bhubaneswar-New Delhi Rajdhani Express near Jhargram in West Midnapore, took the driver and his assistant hostage, and demanded the release of Chhatradhar Mahato, leader of the Maoist-backed

 

People's Committee Against Police Atrocities. However, the interesting and worrisome subtext of the incident was not so much the final nail in the Bengal administration's coffin but its implications for Union Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee and the state's main opposition, her Trinamool Congress.

 

After the humiliation of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's government, this assault on the Railways should have provoked, at least, strong words from Banerjee. She, however, made the same mistake that the Left Front has been making in Bengal — failing to attach the necessary concern and importance to another instance of Maoists getting their way. That the Rajdhani was stopped by the PCAPA does not wash. If the Trinamool on the one hand and Left Front constituents on the other keep milking the Maoists for local political one-upmanship, it defeats the Indian state's battle against the insurgents. Banerjee's first reaction was to blame CPM cadres for blocking the train in order to damage her image. On learning where responsibility actually lay, she declared her readiness for dialogue. Why? Just because the PCAPA and the Trinamool are on record for assisting each other? Because Banerjee feels a sense of indebtedness to or sympathy for them, even when it's common knowledge that the PCAPA is just a front for Maoists? What will it take for Mamata Banerjee to realise that she too, quite like her political rivals in Bengal, is playing dangerously with fire?

 

It is ironic that on Tuesday itself Banerjee had demanded military action against the Maoists, and politically opportunistic that her party and its motley crew of "intellectual" supporters continue distinguishing the "good" from the "bad" from the "ugly" in areas that have slipped

 

beyond legitimate administration. West Bengal's government and opposition have no clothes on. If they want to salvage any dignity, they have to come to sincere terms with India's biggest internal security threat and fight it. On current form, that appears to be distant hope.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

COME DECEMBER

MK VENU

 

Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh's recent utterances suggesting India should have a more constructive engagement with the developed economies on climate change issues has caused both confusion and consternation among India's policy wonks. Confusion occurred because he challenged the received wisdom that India must not yield any ground to the developed economies which are clearly responsible for over 70 per cent of the existing stock of greenhouse gas emissions globally. There was consternation because India needs its own carbon space in the future to meet the basic material needs of some 800 million people who are at the lowest end of the consumption cycle. For instance, the per capita energy consumption of 800 million Indians, equal to the combined population of the US and EU, would probably be less than 150 units a year, compared with 8,000 to 10,000 units per person in the West. So the conventional Indian reflex is to not yield an inch to the West on this score.

 

However, the apparent confusion caused by Ramesh has another serious dimension which cannot be ignored. There is a growing self-perception, especially among the urban middle classes, that India is now a rising global economy and must therefore behave like one. It must act responsibly and contribute to the global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. So the environment minister was probably reflecting this thought process emanating from a new, even if somewhat nascent, self-image of India. This self-image gets further reinforced when India becomes part of newly empowered groupings like the G-20, which is called upon to explore new frameworks to deal with issues like an alternate global financial architecture or climate change. After all, there has to be some shift in India's position from the 1970s when Indira Gandhi repeated ad nauseam at various global forums that, "poverty is the greatest polluter".

 

But poverty still remains a big polluter, though not on the scale it used to be. Consequently, it is a sort of split personality that India projects at crucial negotiations that deal with issues like climate change. So Jairam Ramesh was merely articulating the inner tensions of an "emerging economic power with considerable poverty".

 

Mind you, China has the same problem at these negotiations. It has officially projected that it would be a fully-developed economy by 2030. Yet, like India, in negotiations relating to climate change or the WTO, it projects a split personality. Some years ago both India and China stoutly resisted an attempt in the WTO to officially describe them as "advanced developing economies", so that the benefits going to the least developed nations could not be denied to them. This again results from the same paradox. Becoming rich, yet remaining so poor!

This is precisely what India is having to deal with in the run-up to the climate change negotiations at Copenhagen in December. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wants to cooperate with the US and EU, and does not want to be seen as a deal-breaker. Yet, political pressure is building up back home that India must not compromise an inch the future carbon space of 800 million poor Indians with a per capital income of less than a dollar a day.

 

The attempt at Copenhagen is to evolve a larger framework for standardised emission cuts by both the developed and developing nations so that the concentration of greenhouse gases is kept well under control. Currently the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is about 385 parts per million. It is estimated that global temperatures could rise by 2 degrees Celsius if the CO2 concentration goes above 400 parts per million. This could play far greater havoc with the developing nations with bigger populations.

 

But the key question is how to undertake cuts in a manner that the developed world pays for the adjustment costs as per the "polluter pays" principle. India's position has been articulated by the prime minister who has said our per capita emissions will not exceed that of the average of the developed nations. This has come to be called "the Manmohan convergence principle". This principle is expected to give India enough carbon space to accommodate its development imperatives.

 

India's per capital carbon emission today stands at close to 1.5 tonnes a year. The average per capita emissions of the developed world is around 10 tonnes. The convergence principle suggests that India's per capita emissions could move up from 1.5 tonnes and converge with the gradually reducing per capita emission of the rich nations at some point.

 

Of course this principle is not acceptable yet to the US and EU, who are loathe to even look at per capita emission as a basis of providing future carbon space to emerging economies like India and China. The US and EU want nations to agree to absolute emission reduction targets.

 

A recent empirical study by experts (in the Economic and Political Weekly of October 10) shows that if emission cuts suggested by America's proposed Waxman-Markey bill were followed, then the emerging economies' per capita emission would converge with that of the developed world by 2025 at about 6 tonnes of CO2. This means emerging economies like India will probably lose further carbon space beyond 2025.

 

So, even the Manmohan convergence principle appears to be a generous offer, as per this study which says the most optimistic scenario of emission cuts proposed by the West would ensure that the OECD nations would still account for 50 per cent of greenhouse gas stocks by the end of this century! This clearly shows that the developed nations do not want to compromise their own consumption patterns over a longer time period in the hope that emerging economies will play a bigger role in keeping further global warming under check. To say that there is an element of hypocrisy in their position would be a gross understatement. This hypocrisy is further reinforced in the latest data provided by the UNFCC which shows most developed economies have increased carbon emissions in the past ten years.

 

Among the signatories of the Kyoto protocol only France, Germany and UK have achieved carbon emissions at below their 1990 levels. This too has been met partly by using the carbon offset mechanism in which increased emissions are traded with the developing world. The way things are going so far, Copenhagen does not inspire much confidence.

 

mk.venu@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

PRINTLINE

STERN WORDS ABOUT MEAT

 

Should we turn vegetarian to combat climate change?

 

TOLSTOY, Gandhi and Bernard Shaw stuck to it. Seventh-Day Adventists espouse it as a sacred duty. But giving up meat eating is a tough discipline to follow. The most celebrated convert may have beenUptonSinclair,whoexposedinhumanworkingconditionsinthemeatpacking industry in his great novel The Jungle. He took up vegetarianismafterbeingconvincedof"thehorrorsofacarnivorous diet"bytheinventorofKellogg'sCornFlakes.Butherecanted.

 

Now Lord SternofBrentford,theeconomistandauthorofthe Sternreportonclimatechange,espousesamorepragmaticjustificationforatleastreducingtheconsumptionofmeat.Rearing livestock produces methane, which is 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as an agent of global warming. In a small way, Lord Stern dramatises the conundrum that hangs over the negotiations that have been taking place in Bangkok, before the CopenhagensummitinDecember.Methaneisstillproducedbylivestockrearedfor functions other than human consumption. In economies that are still heavily dependent on animals as both a source of goods for sale and a form of transport and in nations whose diets are mainly vegetarian in any case, Lord Stern's demand for behavioural change will seem at the same time both irrelevant and presumptuous. ...Agreements about emissions reduction are just part of the solution. Finding ways to live both wisely and well is the great scientific quest of our age. But that does not make a comprehensive deal at Copenhagen unimportant. It may be that the 192 governments agree a framework, the tortuous details of which are thrashed out later. Not that there is much time left.


The Kyoto Protocol runs out in 2012 and the deleterious impacts of climate change are already visible in some of the poorest plains of the Earth. As Auden wrote, time is short and history to the defeated may say alas, but cannot help nor pardon.

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

THE ENTIRE SPECTRUM OF ALLEGATIONS

RAVI VISVESVARAYA PRASAD

 

The telecom industry and their financial backers are worried that the raids by the Central Bureau of Investigation on the Department of Telecommunications, as well as on several telecom operators, would adversely affect the auctions scheduled for 14 January 2010 for third generation (3G) telecom services. The auctions for 3G and WIMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) have been postponed several times. Interest in the 3G auctions will probably not be affected seriously since it is the existing 2G GSM and CDMA operators (Bharti Airtel, Vodafone, Idea Cellular, Tata Teleservices, Reliance Communication) who are the serious players, and there is not much scope for a foreign standalone 3G operator. However, the WIMAX auction would be adversely affected since it is multinationals like Intel, Google, Motorola, Huawei, etc. who would be the key bidders.

 

Several political parties, especially the Bharatiya Janata Party, have called for the resignation of the Union Minister for Communications and Information Technology, Andimuthu Raja. Several telecom operators, including BSNL, have been accused of inflating the number of subscribers they have, in order to acquire scarce spectrum. Moreover, several telecom operators have been accused of passing off local loop revenues as long distance revenues, as well as off passing off value added services as internet operations, in order to save hundreds of crores in licence fees.

 

The main controversy arises due to the allocation of 2G telecom licences in January 2008, accompanied by 4.4 megahertz of start-up spectrum, on a First Come First Serve (FCFS) basis, at the same price of Rs 1,651 crores which prevailed in 2001. Raja argued that his decision to allot licences on the FCFS basis rather than holding auctions was based on the new National Telecom Policy of 1999. While it is true that telecom licences were awarded on the FCFS basis prior to 2003, a decision of the Union Cabinet of October 31 2003, when it introduced Unified Access Service Licences, had stated that all future licences should be auctioned. The Vajpayee cabinet had accepted TRAI's recommendations on UASL. In Section 7.39 of its recommendations on UASL, TRAI had recommended: "As the existing players have to improve efficiency and utilisation of spectrum and if the government ensures availability of additional spectrum, then in the existing licensing regime, they may introduce additional players through a multi-stage bidding process as was followed for the fourth cellular operator." This was accepted in toto by the Vajpayee Cabinet.

 

Moreover, a judgement of the High Court of Delhi in 1993 had ruled that the FCFS principle was arbitrary, unjust, and unfair. Justice D.P. Wadhwa had ruled on September 21 1993 in Home Communication v. Union Of India and Others regarding the allotment of time slots on satellite channels of Doordarshan: "The basis of first come first served for allotment of time slots on satellite channels is arbitrary. It is unreasonable, unjust and unfair." This was reiterated by Justice Anil Dev Singh of the High Court of Delhi in 1998. On the other hand, the High Court of Madras found nothing wrong in the FCFS principle when it dismissed a writ petition challenging Doordarshan's decisions on January 27 1993.

 

Raja's statement that nowhere did the TRAI explicitly state that the price discovered in the 2001 auction should not be adhered to in future is not wholly correct. Section 2.73 of the TRAI's August 2007 recommendations states: "In today's dynamism and unprecedented growth of telecom sector, the entry fee determined then (2001) is also not the realistic price for obtaining a license. Perhaps it needs to be reassessed through a market mechanism..." While it is true that TRAI's recommendation is vaguely worded and does not explicitly recommend auctioning of the spectrum, it certainly indicates that the spectrum could not be allocated in January 2008 at the same price that it was allotted in June 2001.

Raja's claim that he had the backing of the Finance Ministry is also not wholly correct. Former Finance Secretary (and currently governor of the Reserve Bank of India) Duvuri Subbarao had written to the then Secretary of the Department of Telecommunications, Dinesh S. Mathur, on November 22 2007: "The purpose of this letter is to confirm if proper procedure has been followed with regards to financial diligence. In particular, it is not clear how the rate of Rs 1,600 crore, determined as far back as 2001, has been applied for a license given in 2007 without any indexation... In view of the financial implications, the Ministry of Finance should have been consulted in the matter before you finalised the decision." Subbarao went on to instruct DoT to "kindly review the matter and revert to us as early as possible with responses to the above issues. Meanwhile, all further action to implement the above licenses may please be stayed."

 

Raja also ignored a memorandum sent to him by then Telecom Secretary D. S. Mathur and then Member Finance of the Telecom Commission Manju Madhavan dated October 25 2007 which stated: "Existing criteria of entry fee was based on the entry fee paid by the fourth cellular operator, which was decided based on 3-stage informed ascending financial bidding at that time (year 2001). The Indian telecom sector has witnessed tremendous growth due to the continued liberalisation and has emerged as the fastest growing telecom network in the world. Therefore, the bidding / auction process will establish the entry fee based on current market perception."

 

A. Raja has a lot to answer for.

 

The writer, an alumnus of Carnegie Mellon and IIT Kanpur, heads a telecom consulting firm in Delhi

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

MIDDLE EAST'S GOLDEN RULE

 

It is crunch time on Afghanistan, so here's my vote: We need to be thinking about how to reduce our footprint and our goals there in a responsible way, not dig in deeper. We simply do not have the Afghan partners, the NATO allies, the domestic support, the financial resources or the national interests to justify an enlarged and prolonged nation-building effort in Afghanistan. I base this conclusion on three principles. First, when I think back on all the moments of progress in that part of the world — all the times when a key player in the Middle East actually did something that put a smile on my face — all of them have one thing in common: America had nothing to do with it.

 

America helped build out what they started, but the breakthrough didn't start with us. We can fan the flames, but the parties themselves have to light the fires of moderation. And whenever we try to do it for them, whenever we want it more than they do, we fail and they languish. The Camp David peace treaty was not initiated by Jimmy Carter. Rather, the Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, went to Jerusalem in 1977 after Israel's Moshe Dayan held secret talks in Morocco with Sadat aide Hassan Tuhami. Both countries decided that they wanted a separate peace — outside of the Geneva comprehensive framework pushed by Mr Carter.

 

The Oslo peace accords started in Oslo — in secret 1992-93 talks between the P.L.O. representative, Ahmed Qurei, and the Israeli professor Yair Hirschfeld. Israelis and Palestinians alone hammered out a broad deal and unveiled it to the Americans in the summer of 1993, much to Washington's surprise.

 

The US surge in Iraq was militarily successful because it was preceded by an Iraqi uprising sparked by a Sunni tribal leader, Sheik Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, who, using his own forces, set out to evict the pro-Al Qaeda thugs who had taken over Sunni towns and were imposing a fundamentalist lifestyle. The US surge gave that movement vital assistance to grow. But the spark was lit by the Iraqis. The Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, the Israeli withdrawals from Gaza and Lebanon, the Green Revolution in Iran and the Pakistani decision to finally fight their own Taliban in Waziristan — because those Taliban were threatening the Pakistani middle class — were all examples of moderate, silent majorities acting on their own. The message: "People do not change when we tell them they should," said the Johns Hopkins University foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum. "They change when they tell themselves they must."

 

And when the moderate silent majorities take ownership of their own futures, we win. When they won't, when we want them to compromise more than they do, we lose. The locals sense they have us over a barrel, so they exploit our naïve goodwill and presence to loot their countries and to defeat their internal foes.

 

That's how I see Afghanistan today. I see no moderate spark. I see our secretary of state pleading with President Hamid Karzai to re-do an election that he blatantly stole. I also see us begging Israelis to stop building more crazy settlements or Palestinians to come to negotiations. It is time to stop subsidising their nonsense. Let them all start paying retail for their extremism, not wholesale. Then you'll see movement.

 

What if we shrink our presence in Afghanistan? Won't Al Qaeda return, the Taliban be energised and Pakistan collapse? Maybe. Maybe not. This gets to my second principle: In the Middle East, all politics — everything that matters — happens the morning after the morning after. Be patient. Yes, the morning after we shrink down in Afghanistan, the Taliban will celebrate, Pakistan will quake and bin Laden will issue an exultant video. And the morning after the morning after, the Taliban factions will start fighting each other, the Pakistani Army will have to destroy their Taliban, or be destroyed by them, Afghanistan's warlords will carve up the country, and, if bin Laden comes out of his cave, he'll get zapped by a drone.

My last guiding principle: We are the world. A strong, healthy and self-confident America is what holds the world together and on a decent path. A weak America would be a disaster for us and the world. China, Russia and Al Qaeda all love the idea of America doing a long, slow bleed in Afghanistan. I don't. Yes, shrinking down in Afghanistan will create new threats, but expanding there will, too. I'd rather deal with the new threats with a stronger America.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

AN OFFER YOU CAN'T REFUSE

YUBARAJ GHIMIRE

 

As most rural parts of Nepal will be busy harvesting paddy crops, the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (CPN-M) will be spearheading what it calls the decisive 'third people's revolt' to capture power in Kathmandu. Soon after CPN-M Chief Prachanda's return from his weeklong visit to China, the party set a November 1 deadline, to launch the 'revolt' that aims to establish itself as the sole controller of power.

 

The Maoists have put forward clear pre-conditions should government and the parties opposed want to avoid such a revolt. First, Prime Minister Madhav Nepal, who they have declared a 'puppet of foreign lords', should quit. Second, President Rambaran Yadav should either publicly admit he was wrong in reinstating the army chief, sacked by Prachanda in his capacity as the prime minister in May, or the House should debate that move in a manner the Maoists want.

 

But the Maoists have thus far refused to accept most other parties' advice that if at all they are keen on debating the President's act, they must bring forward an impeachment motion.

 

As Nepal's unique parliamentary practice envisages an ideal atmosphere in the House — any obstruction or slogan shouting by members individually or in group lead to adjournments — Maoists have stalled its proceedings for the past three months. The government has not been able to have its budget passed because of such obstruction and now has less than two weeks time.

 

The consequence are obvious. In fact, Maoists have moved smartly in the past five months after Prachanda's resignation as prime minister. Driving away a 'puppet prime minister' from power is part of a move to establish what they call 'nationalism'. At the same time, Maoists have been able to project President Yadav as a dictator who went against a popularly elected government over the army chief reinstatement issue. They insist that the president's act must be reversed if the principle of civilian supremacy is to be honoured.

 

Prachanda has kept what transpired during his brief meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao a secret, but given China's search for a 'short term and long term partner or ally' in Nepal, it will be safe to assume that Maoists are top on its list. But with Maoists unable to define clearly whether they are a rebel party or part of the mainstream, it will be difficult for China to define the nature of the relationship. China has been telling Maoists that a long power vacuum left by the abolition of the monarchy could have dangerous consequences for Nepal.

 

That is being seen as a suggestion that if the Maoists cannot take over power immediately, they should not be the cause for destabilising the country. So Maoists seem to be in hurry to takeover power, even if through terror.

 

But the Maoists will still attempt to muster together the support of 301 members in the House of 601, to legitimately form the government. Alternatively, they have also sounded out Jhalnath Khanal, a pro-Maoist leader and Chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), that he would be acceptable as prime minister in place of Madhav Nepal, provided he condemned President Yadav's action.

 

The Maoists successful 'revolt' hinges on many factors and many are positive. First, pro-democracy forces are split. Madhav Nepal is weak and at loggerheads with some of his own party ministers including Defense Minister Bidhya Bhandari. On the other hand, PM Nepal is fast becoming unpopular in the eyes of the Nepal army which lacks arms and ammunitions. India has conveyed several times in the past year that it is willing to resume the supply of non-lethal arms and ammunitions, should the Nepal government make a formal request. But the prime minister, under pressure from the Maoists, and the United Nations Mission to Nepal (UNMIN) has avoided such a request.

 

A demoralised army that remains confined to the barracks because of peace agreement and a divided political spectrum, provide an ideal situation for the Maoists.

 

yubaraj.ghimire@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

CLIMATE COERCION

 

The editorial in the latest issue of the Organiser, titled "On climate change UPA dancing to US tunes," says: "The developing countries, led by India till now have held their position in trying to make the rich nations accept responsibility for the poison they spew. By suggesting that India should change its stand on the Kyoto Protocol, which calls upon all nations in the world to bear the responsibility equally, the minister [Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh] has attempted to break the spirit of the developing nations. The opposition has been quick in responding to the issue and the minister has tried to wriggle out of the loop, with the PMO playing the tune that it was only a suggestion. The political and public uproar hopefully has nipped the mischief in the bud."

It adds: "Nature care, love for environment and avoiding wasteful lifestyles are in-built in the cultures of Asia, especially India. While the developed countries pile up plastic and other wastes, the Asian countries firmly believe in recycling. Now those countries have started exporting their waste to us for recycling and dumping. On the GM crops issue too, the immediate beneficiary are the American MNCs, who have been trying to make inroads into India. The move has been resisted till now by several NGOs. But the government-appointed committee on GM foods has given the go-ahead for the commercial cultivation of brinjal, an Indian vegetable. One of the biggest threats of the GM crops and foreign seeds is that the variations of the vegetables will vanish and we would be left with just a couple of varieties that the seed manufacturer finds profitable. Former Health Minister A. Ramadoss has pointed out in a letter to the prime minister that India has more than 2,500 varieties of brinjal. The health concerns have not been addressed at all. The argument that more than half the brinjal crops are wasted due to pest attacks and hence need pest resistance seeds does not hold water because the same argument given in the Bt Cotton case has led to disastrous environmental problems. The cotton seeds that were modified for pest resistance killed several plants along with weeds and created damage to the biodiversity, which is yet to be measured and documented. Jairam Ramesh's reaction to the issue was curt: 'I'll not be blackmailed by the NGOs'. But can he be coerced by the MNC seeds lobby?"

 

Barrage of criticism

An opinion piece titled "Progress that destroys local livelihood" by Bharat Jhunjhunwala in the latest issue of the RSS mouthpiece says: "The water flowing to Bangladesh has been pushed into the Hooghly by the Farakka Barrage. Flow of water in the Hooghly has increased and small sized ships can now come into Kolkata. Cost of transport from the ports to Kolkata has been reduced and the entire eastern part of the country has benefited economically. According to Chanakya's formula, it was correct to make the Barrage because one should give up the village for the country. But, what is the meaning of 'country' here?"

 

He adds: "People take bath in the Ganga in Bhagalpur and feel happy... Dying family members are not getting the few drops of pristine Gangajal because flow of the Ganga has been obstructed. It seems that the decline of great cities like Kanpur, Patna and Kolkata in the twentieth century has been parallel with the making of Haridwar and other barrages on the Ganga. Whether there is a connection between the two events should be studied. The Main point is that assessment of a development project like the Farakka Barrage must not be reduced to economic benefits alone".

 

He concludes: "When Chanakya says 'give up one village for the country,' he is speaking holistically. A 'country' is first and foremost defined by its self-identity. The government, on the other hand, is equating the 'country' with [the] consumption of the middle class. True planning should consider alternatives to projects from a holistic viewpoint. The objective of providing more water to the Hooghly is entirely laudable. But this can also be done by dredging the Hooghly. That would also increase the flow from Kolkata to Diamond Harbour."

Compiled by Suman K. Jha

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

DIDI, DERAILED


Way back in 1999, when the prototype of an indigenous anti-collision device (ACD) was first tested in Goa, Mamata Banerjee was the railways minister. Next year, she travelled on a locomotive fitted with the prototype and approved its implementation for the Konkan Railway. Here we are a decade later; while the ACD is reportedly working with 99.9% efficiency in the Konkan corridor, it has yet to be implemented countrywide. Had that happened, the Goa-Sampark Express may not have rammed into the Mewar Express near Mathura last week, killing 22 and calling railways safety into question once again. We hadn't even begun to grapple with why the Mathura accident happened or what it said about negligence by personnel or about unreliable equipment, when the Rajdhani imbroglio occurred. An already unstable situation is now layered with Maoist nitroglycerine. A Delhi-bound Rajdhani Express was reined in around Bhubaneswar for over seven hours by PCAPA rebels demanding the release of their leader Chhatradhar Mahato, among other things. As much trouble as the passengers endured, things could have gotten much worse if the rebels had proved more obdurate. Because, in the end, they gave way before the crisis escalated. Nitish Kumar, Bihar CM & former Union railways minister, said that the vast railways network across the country makes it very, very difficult for the Centre and the states to provide security along all the tracks. There are two security issues we must address here, one concerning the railways machinery and the other concerning the Maoist apparatus. On both fronts, the state's failures have been indefensible. Anchoring the two together is minister Mamata.

 

She is asking for President's rule in her state once again. What she will have a hard time tackling is that the group that stopped the Rajdhani, the PCAPA, is one that enjoyed her party's support until a short period ago. Brickbatting between the CPM and Mamata, therefore, looks likely to put safety on the backburner once again. Meanwhile, two side-effects are likely to be exacerbated. First, the Maoist factor will keep taking an increasing toll on industry—beyond the railways—if it's not reined in. For example, about 66% of India's new steel capacity in the next decade is expected to come from Orissa and Jharkhand, but this won't come to pass if the Maoists have their way. Second, specifically on the railways front, a comparison with China is saddening. The rail revolution there is being compared to Americas' transcontinental transformation in the 19th century—safer, speedier trains are helping to even out development across the country. In India, meanwhile, signalmen and stationmasters are still warding off all dangers with green flags.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

FINANCIAL EXCLUSION

 

If there is one place where the licence-permit raj in India continues to flourish, it is in the financial sector, with RBI playing the role of apex arbiter. Tuesday's credit policy review took an important, even if small, step towards dismantling that licence raj in the sphere of expansion of bank branches. Curiously enough, in a reminder of the old days of quantitative controls for industry—firms had to take permission from the government before expanding capacity—banks were required to seek permission from RBI to open additional branches. Now that requirement has been relaxed for Tier-3 to Tier-6 cities—the former is classified as having a population of 50,000. This is a good move for both banks and customers. People in smaller cities, even villages, will finally have an opportunity to be 'financially included' and will be able to open bank accounts more easily. Banks will be able to tap business opportunities in abundance in parts of India where they haven't set foot so far. Fortunately, RBI's decision applies equally to all scheduled commercial banks—there is no special treatment for PSU banks. Ironically, though, RBI hasn't chosen to liberalise similar norms for Tier-1 and Tier-2 cities. Here, banks will have to continue to seek permission, a completely unjustified anomaly in the process of liberalisation.

 

RBI's control mindset has on earlier occasions too damaged the cause of financial inclusion. RBI took a baby step towards allowing business correspondents to operate on a mobile basis and actually travel beyond branches to open accounts. By restricting the area of operation to 15 km from a branch, RBI unnecessarily put a spoke in the wheel of a very good idea. Globally, even in relatively under-developed economies like Kenya, governments and central banks are permitting newer and more innovative ways to foster financial inclusion—banking through mobile phones is big draw in Kenya. For a country like India, which is endowed with superior skills in information and communication technology, it is a shame if we choose not to use technology to further financial inclusion. RBI must surely give up its innate conservatism and let more Indians gain access to modern banking and finance. The central problem with RBI, like the government until liberalisation in 1991, is that it confuses regulation with control. Of course, banks and financial companies need to be monitored and regulated for standards and transparency, but that can easily be done without imposing sledgehammer controls. Governor Subbarao and his team have taken the first tentative steps to easing quantitative controls—they must think bigger and bolder.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

RBI'S SIXTH SENSE ON STABILITY

SAUGATA BHATTACHARYA

 

Reading RBI's 2009-10 mid-term policy review is a bit like watching the film The Sixth Sense; every re-visit reveals a new dimension. The purpose of this column is to attempt at motivating the choice of the measures as well as a look at the implications. This is not, unfortunately, a blinding revelation; much is already in the policy statement itself, which is one of the best written and cogently argued documents from an official agency. The RBI, besides signalling a change from its erstwhile expansionary stance, has also sought to balance concerns on inflation and growth, support the central and state governments' massive borrowing programme, even while seeking a revival in credit offtake from banks and de-risk the banking sector (and financial intermediation in general).

 

First, this was more a "credit" policy, a banking policy, than a monetary policy, per se. It has also sought to increase the role of the banking sector as the main transmission channel for monetary policy. As our readers will now be aware, RBI chose to maintain most of the key signalling policy rates (the repo and reverse repo, and the bank rate). Note that I have not included the CRR, since although the system CRR was held, an incremental charge was added by bringing in funds borrowed by banks from the Collateralised Borrowing and Lending Obligation (CBLO) repo facility. However, this is likely to be a transient charge as gradually tightening liquidity will reduce the quantum of borrowings. Even otherwise, the incremental CRR at current borrowing levels is likely to be small.

 

It also chose to increase the SLR from the current 24% of bank funds to 25%, in a move many seem to consider surprising. Maybe the element of surprise should have been lower. Remember HTM? The clamour for increasing the ratio of government securities held by banks in their held-to-maturity portfolios had been increasing and stock markets had apparently actually begun to believe this to be a fait accompli. This was sought to provide comfort to bond traders in managing their accounting losses (how will be the subject of a separate column) with the objective of facilitating the absorption of future market issues by the government. This step, however, would have been quite deleterious to the process of subjecting intermediaries to market discipline, of which accounting is a key pillar. The SLR increase was an alternative comfort, much less problematic. The impact will be small, largely applicable to a narrow set of banks; a large part of the system already has SLR holdings well over 27%.

 

A big deal is being made out of RBI's quenching the multiple liquidity and refinancing facilities opened during the early days of the financial crisis. Although a statement of intent on the exercise of an exit option, these would be largely non-operative; most of the measures were not being used at all; some had not been used even during the peak of the liquidity shortage. Of the measures withdrawn, the facility of export credit refinancing might become a problem later on, though. The interest rate on the refinancing facility was the repo rate (4.75%) and banks can now access funds at much cheaper rates. If there were, however, to arise a liquidity shortage in the future, this facility might need to be accessed, if cheap export credit needs to be maintained. But this is a minor quibble; a refinance facility can then be reinstated.

 

The set of measures related to banks' provisioning of NPAs and standard assets is clearly the outcome of a regulator worried about potential increase in bad loans, particularly given the significant build-up of restructured assets. An emphasis on financial stability is never far from a regulator's mind these days, after the harrowing experience of the last couple of years. Non-residential real estate lending has also remained a sensitive area, and the run-up in equity markets is clearly seen as a precursor to increase in real estate prices. Commercial real estate is seen as particularly vulnerable.

A very significant action, related to the above measures, which seems to have escaped general notice, was the imposition of a year's lock-in on loans, before which they cannot be securitised. This will have an adverse impact on banks' business, but RBI's motivation is apparent. Mutual funds have been major buyers of these securitised loans. Based on their learnings of the global financial crisis, RBI will have perceived the gradual emergence of a 'shadow banking system', just as the SIVs and hedge funds were in developed markets. This move also needs to be seen in conjunction with the cap on sub-base rate loans that has been proposed in the earlier draft report of the Working Group. That had raised the worry of diversion of significant business away from banks towards other entities, particularly mutual funds.

 

As we had noted earlier, this was a complex exercise in balancing various objectives in a very uncertain environment, where a small mis-step can have a potentially magnified systemic impact. The review carried this off with élan.

 

The author is vice-president, business & economic research, Axis Bank. Views are personal

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

A PROBLEM OF CAPS VERSUS OBSCENITY

SANJAY BANERJI

 

Mukesh Ambani's recent decision to take a voluntary salary cut of 66% has drawn reactions from all corners. Politicians and ministers lauded his action, saying it had sent a message to other CEOs in the country to follow in his footsteps. Others, mostly gurus with unstinting faith in free markets, expressed strong opinions against government inteference in executive pay. They believe that such pressures on corporations for fixing CEO pay grossly interfere with market mechanisms, which may be inequitable but always promote efficiency, freedom and fairness from the viewpoint of stakeholders.

 

The Obama administration, much to the chagrin of free market supporters in the US, is initiating attempts to place caps on the salaries and perks of bosses of those financial firms that had received tax payers' monies as a part of the general bailout plan. In the UK, the refusal of Sir Fred Goodwin to return a part of his obscene pension settlement (£700,000 per year), following his company RBS's loss of £24 bn, still incites public memory.

 

CEO pay has become very controversial only since the 1990s, that witnessed an unprecedented rise in CEO compensations in all countries, with the US and Western Europe taking a huge lead in this area. CEOs in India, according to a study, on an average, earn 200 times more than an average worker.

 

Much of the current debate in India and elsewhere is misplaced because the focus here is on the salary, which is just one of the components of the total compensation package. Granting of stocks and options in short durations, lavish bonuses and perks together with handsome severance payments, and other fancy items such as golden parachutes adorn CEO pay packets. Such heterogeneous components, especially the ones with contingent features like severance payments, which get triggered only in extraordinary circumstances, make it very hard for markets to place a value on the total sum.

 

The problem is even more complicated because some of these components are not tradable at all and one cannot impute any direct monetary figure to them. Imagine the value of severance payments linked to stock price movements. The number of free and private rides in company helicopters or memberships in exclusive clubs could also serve as illustrations. Lack of comparable benchmarks and proper valuation instruments make CEO compensations anything but driven by market mechanisms. All we have is a set of contracts that CEOs enter into with their organisation, and such transactions have little market counterparts. This makes the argument of market forces determining CEO packages completely vacuous and goes against the spirit of free markets.

 

The process which sets CEO compensation establishes this line of reasoning on even firmer ground. Typically, the board of directors sets up a compensation committee that makes recommendations after comparing remunerations of cohorts in the industry. These are subject to shareholders' approval. Though the process appears to be fair, it is far from being ideal in practice. First, in many corporations (in the US in particular), the CEO is also the chairman of the board of directors. Second, many reputed empirical studies have documented that boards of directors and CEOs serve in one another's companies in reverse categories, which makes this nexus another instance of the old boys' network.

 

Finally, the process of electing the board of directors is often marred by staggered boards (not all posts are filled up at the same time) and multiple voting rights—with owners having more votes than others (in most European as well as Indian and Chinese companies), straight rather than cumulative voting patterns (where small shareholders have a say) and costly proxy contests if a group of shareholders challenges the incumbents. Shareholders may have the right to vote on many issues, but neither can they propose a nominee nor do they enjoy a binding vote on CEO compensations. There are exceptions, but such is the general state of corporate governance in greater parts of the industrialised world. And Indian corporate sectors, with their web of family ties, are certainly not unfamiliar with these processes.

 

An absence of transparent valuations of the various components of pay packets together with faulty processes for selecting the directors who form compensation committees, reveal many flies in the ointment. Unless the stock exchanges introduce reforms—for example, information disclosures and a fair voting system for electing directors—it is a fair observation that CEO packets only reflect the power of vested groups, who interfere with the forces of competition—the hallmark of free market capitalism.

 

The author is reader in finance at the University of Essex

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

TRADE ON TRACK

MUKUL S MATHUR

 

Asian economies are the fastest growing markets in the world today. A majority of the Asian economies—accounting for 30% of world's merchandise trade—are experiencing growth that will stimulate transport demand in the region till 2025. There is a need for the government to take corrective measures for strengthening the railway systems in the region.

 

Around 35 countries have operational railway systems in Asia contributing to more than 30% of the world's railway network. More than 90% of the total passenger transportation is produced in China, India, Japan and Russia and more than 85% of the freight transportation output is accounted by China, Russia, India and Kazakhstan. In spite of an important role played by these five railways, there is a lack of efforts both at bilateral and multilateral levels, reflected in an unbalanced rail development in the region.

 

Intra-Asia trade projections of 2005-25 indicate that the highest percentage growth will be between South Asia and Southeast Asia. Also, the future projection of container traffic, which is today the unit of international trade, supports the trend. The intra-Asia container traffic is projected to go up by 3.5 times by 2025 from the 2007 level of 16 million TEU's and the movement between Asia-Europe is likely to go up by 2.5 times in the same time frame from 15.5 million TEU's. As India-China-Asean triangle accounts for a majority of Asia's merchandise trade, a positive approach beyond political compulsion will be required for international rail corridor development and containerisation in the region. Not only rail corridors on Asean-China-Europe and Asean-India-Europe routes will have to be made a reality but growing trade between the two Asian giants also requires a thought on possible Indo-China rail link.In the future, adoption of new technology for enhancing the railways capability and reducing the cost of operation will be a key focus area for a balanced rail development. The future for Asian Railways indicates an environment full of opportunities; however a broader vision will be required for balanced regional development.

 

The author is head of Asia Regional Office, International Union of Railways

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

REPORT CARD


This is the second working paper* by the Macro Team in Icrier on the state of the Indian economy

 

The review has shown that the industrial sector, which underwent a severe downturn in 2008-09, is beginning to recover from early 2009-10, but it is not yet clear that the pick-up is underpinned by a strong revival in real demand. The monsoon failure has created uncertainty as to whether demand growth will be sustained. The fiscal stimulus has helped in substituting for lost private demand to some extent and prevented a steeper fall in GDP growth. However, we do not expect a further boost over and above what happened already so far from fiscal expansion. While the growth in the non-agricultural sector in the current year would be somewhat higher than last year, a marked decline in agricultural output is expected to bring down this year's growth in GDP below last year's level. In this context, high inflation, which has emanated from the agricultural shock and may be spreading to non-food products, will pose a big policy challenge. At a time when last year's aggressive monetary loosening measures seem to have just started boosting growth, the central bank may have to start tightening sooner than later.

 

Mathew Joseph, Karan Singh, Pankaj Vashisht, Dony Alex, Alamuru Soumya, Ritika Tewari and Ritwik Banerjee, The State of the Indian Economy 2009-10, Working Paper No 241, Icrier, October 2009

 

REPORT CARD

 

There is a strong feeling that India is becoming very innovative, especially in the West. This study* takes the reader through the empirical evidence on whether this is indeed the case since the reform process of 1991:

India is definitely on a higher economic growth path. There is evidence to show that innovative activities in the industrial sector have shown some significant increases during the post-reform process. Hi-tech industries now contribute over 5% of India's GDP. The innovative activity is, of course, restricted to a few hi-tech industries. There is even some macro evidence to show that the productivity of R&D investments in India is higher than in China, although this proposition requires careful empirical scrutiny before firm conclusions can be reached. This rise in innovative activity is largely contributed by the domestic private sector if one takes into account all the indicators. Within the domestic private sector innovative performance is largely confined to the pharmaceutical industry. In short, India's national system of innovation is to a large extent dominated by the sectoral system of innovation of its pharmaceutical industry and as such this trait is not widespread. Increasingly, MNCs operating from India are also contributing to enhancing the country's innovative performance. This is very likely the consequence of ever increasing FDI in R&D. Most of the MNC patents are in the IT industry. In short, it may not be incorrect to draw the conclusion that India's pharmaceutical and IT industries are becoming innovative, although domestic enterprises are more active innovators only in the former industry, while it is the MNCs that are active in the latter industry.

 

Sunil Mani, Has India Become More Innovative Since 1991? Analysis of the Evidence and Some Disquieting Features, Working Paper 215, Centre for Development Studies, September 2009

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

NREGS UNDER THE SCANNER

 

The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (2005) differs from the other poverty alleviation measures in two significant respects. Where most welfare programmes cast the state in the role of benefactor offering handouts to the poor, the NREGS is built around notions of citizenship and entitlement. Secondly, the NREGS also facilitates disclosure by means of regular social audits. These audits, mandated to be done by the Gram Sabhas, are intended to identify and plug pilferage and corruption, which in turn, helps build awareness and confidence in beneficiaries who learn, over time, to become vigilant and assertive. Institutionalised social audits are vital if a programme of the dimensions of the NREGS is to succeed, and as much was the objective of a sample 10-day social audit conducted recently in Bhilwara by the Aruna Roy-led Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan in close collaboration with the Rajasthan government. Over a fortnight, social auditors, fully backed by government machinery, minutely examined NREGS documents like job cards, muster rolls, and technical and financial sanctions and interacted with thousands of beneficiaries.

 

The Bhilwara social audit exposed irregularities; indeed it underscored the NREGS's susceptibility to corruption. Yet significantly, it also provided the answer to the problem. There can be no better certificate for the audit than the resistance it faced from the panchayat staff who obviously feared being held to account. The sarpanchs (village heads) sat in dharna, made their displeasure public at the 'jan sunwais' (public hearings), and demanded that they be spared punishment for wrongdoings. That the demand was backed by a Minister from the Rajasthan government points to the difficulties involved in breaching local power structures, now doubly more influential for the huge funds made available by the NREGS. Bhilwara alone got Rs.330 crore this financial year from the State's budget allocation of Rs.9,500 crore. The monitoring mechanism under the NREGS must function robustly, not only to silence critics who argue that influx of funds on this scale can only lead to more corruption, but more importantly to reach the programme's numerous benefits, both financial and social, to the target group. Among other things, the Bhilwara audit team found that guaranteed employment had reduced distress migration by the Bhil tribal community, and raised wage levels across the private sector. With so much going for it, the NREGS is also a potential election winner — which ought to make it an article of faith with every politician.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

THE STATE OF OCCUPIED IRAQ

 

The suicide bombings in Baghdad on October 25 were the worst in the city for over two years. They reveal serious holes in Iraqi security as well as the continuing political problems posed by the United States-led military occupation of Iraq. The facts are that a van and a minibus, each carrying a tonne or more of explosives, passed through several checkpoints before being detonated near the Justice Ministry and several provincial council buildings. Trucks are banned from Baghdad during daylight hours without military permits, which are to be examined at every checkpoint. The terror vehicles got through in what looks like an expert attack. The Defence and Interior Ministries are investigating possible collusion or negligence by Iraqi security forces. The estimated death toll is 155, including several children at two day-care centres in the Justice Ministry building. Over 500 people were injured and an unknown number are missing. The buildings of the Justice Ministry and the Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works, both seven storeys high, were destroyed in the blasts, as was a third government building.

 

Responsibility for the attacks has been claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq, an al-Qaida affiliate. The political consequences are far-reaching. Immediately after the attacks, Iraqi party leaders reached agreement on a law for the general election, which is due in January; the politicians had been haggling for weeks. Agreement over the counting system for votes in Kirkuk is still awaited, and there is no sign of a deal between Baghdad and the Kurdish regional administration over oil revenues. Secondly, the work of the devastated Ministries will be severely affected. This will hurt the official Iraqi posture that the state is functioning. In fact, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Islamic Dawa Party has been flaunting its security record in the election campaign. Thirdly, Iraq's regional relations have suffered. Mr. al-Maliki has accused Syria of harbouring Saddamist Ba'athists, whom he blames for the bombings; and the relevant ambassadors have been withdrawn. President Obama's plan to reduce troop strength from the current 120,000, starting two months after the election, could stall, making it harder for the U.S. to send reinforcements to Afghanistan. Furthermore, a return of U.S. troops to Iraqi cities would signify political failure, showing Iraq's continuing dependence on the U.S. presence; many Iraqis as well as groups in other countries would see that as further reason to carry out attacks. Above all, the bombings have exposed the fact that the U.S. and its western allies are exacerbating as many problems in Iraq as they are in Afghanistan.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

KEEPING INDIA'S OPTIONS OPEN AT COPENHAGEN

TO KEEP ITS DEVELOPMENTAL OPTIONS OPEN, INDIA MUST INSIST THAT THE NORTH DRASTICALLY REDUCE ITS OCCUPATION OF THE GLOBAL ATMOSPHERIC COMMONS AND COMPENSATE THE SOUTH FOR WHAT IT HAS TAKEN AWAY.

T. JAYARAMAN

 

What precisely is at stake in global climate change negotiations for India and other developing countries? Undoubtedly, checking global warming of anthropogenic origin is the central concern; it would affect them the most. However, equally significantly, the negotiations are critical to keeping open their energy and developmental options while holding global temperatures within tolerable limits.

 

It is important to revisit some basic facts to appreciate the seriousness of this second concern and the gravity of the situation.

 

At the beginning of the industrial era, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was roughly 280 ppm (parts per million). If the rise in global temperatures since that base year is to be limited to 2 degree Centigrade (the scientifically accepted target), with at least 50 per cent probability, a concentration of 450 ppm of greenhouse gases (GHGs) is the maximum that can be allowed. (For convenience we shall take all of this concentration to be due to carbon dioxide. Including all GHGs will change the numbers somewhat, but will not significantly alter our conclusions.) The rise in concentrations from 280 ppm to 450 ppm represents the total amount of emissions possible, without serious negative impacts. Of this total emission space available, a significant portion is already occupied by past emissions that cannot now be removed. The issue at Copenhagen therefore is how the remaining 'carbon space' — space that India and other developing nations urgently need — is to be divided equitably among all nations.

 

On a per capita basis, the principle that India and all developing countries have always upheld, a fair share of the carbon space for any country corresponds to its share of the world population.

 

Of the carbon space that has been occupied till 2008, the Annex-I countries (consisting mostly of the advanced industrial nations) have taken roughly 73 per cent, even though they account for only 19 per cent of the world's population. Of this the United States takes up 29 per cent, even though its population share amounts to 5 per cent! The remaining 81 per cent of the world has emitted the residual 27 per cent.

 

Even if the Annex-I countries were to cut their emissions according to the recommendations of the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which means reducing annual emissions by 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 and by 90 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050, they would still retain more than 55 per cent of the total carbon space by 2050. The U.S. for its part would still retain close to 21 per cent of the total carbon space. This is the foundation of the argument that the advanced industrial nations owe the rest a carbon debt for their occupation and exploitation of more than their fair share of the global commons. To date no Annex-I country has offered to cut emissions according to the IPCC recommendations. In particular, the cuts the U.S. is currently considering — the Kerry-Boxer proposals before the U.S. Senate — fall far short of the IPCC recommendations.

 

The relative share of other sections of the world, outside Annex-I, is of course subject to some specification of detail within the scope of the constraint of a maximum concentration of 450 ppm. All developing countries need to reduce the growth rate of their emissions to keep concentrations below this target. Generally speaking, countries like China or the large developing countries as a group (excluding India and China), would by 2050 get about 20 per cent less than their fair share. There is a fit case to regard India in this context as belonging to the rest of the G-77 rather than the large developing economies.

 

Today India has a carbon space share of roughly 2.5 per cent compared to a fair share of 17 per cent. By 2050, with a reduction of growth rates in emissions, India would still have only about 4 per cent. India's elite is also culpable in this regard for hyping up 'service-sector-led growth,' while ignoring, in the era of global warming, the critical issue of the gradual closing of India's energy and manufacturing window, especially as a consequence of economic reform. The rest of the G77 will find itself in a similar situation. Given the existing occupation of the global atmospheric commons, the developing countries appear to have little scope to improve significantly on this share, while keeping global emissions below the maximum.

 

All considerations of India's climate strategy must face up to this reality. Not only will India and the rest of the G77 never get their fair share; the costs of whatever developmental trajectory they take will also be significantly higher. Low-carbon pathways, though much talked about, are techno-economically speaking, unexplored terrain.

 

Any talk therefore of India taking the 'lead' in mitigation actions is mere pretension to superpower status. The central issue for India remains that of ensuring deep and binding emission cuts by the developed nations with suitable compensation for their occupation of the global commons through financial and IPR-free technological transfers. Any form of assurance to the global community by the developing countries can only be contingent on suitable action by the Annex-I countries.

 

Clearly India needs to recognise the reality that, by 2030 or so, its emissions growth rate will have to deviate significantly from its current growth. However, it also has no carbon space to gift away. The statement by Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh (citing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh) that India could be "flexible" regarding the targets of the developed countries suggests that the government is contemplating precisely such an unacceptable giveaway.

 

A section of the environmental movement in the country is attracted by the possibility that unilateral mitigation actions by India could herald a major shift towards an equitable, sustainable, de-carbonised future. But carbon space that is gifted away will be occupied by others, foreclosing our energy future. Even if India, hypothetically speaking, had a maximally environment-friendly, sustainable path of development, it would still be seriously affected by the GHG emissions of others. Every developing nation must democratically determine the manner of utilisation of its share of carbon space, but there is no case for unilateral renunciation.

 

That the country's political and business leadership does not appreciate the gravity of the situation is clear from its unseemly enthusiasm for carbon offsets. Carbon offsets, whereby developing countries undertake emission reductions that accrue to the mitigation actions of developed countries in return for carbon credits, amount to a double burden on developing countries. They undertake more than their fair share of mitigation action. It also amounts to selling our carbon space cheap; buying it back will be at a higher cost because later emission reductions will be more difficult. Despite India's rhetoric at the global negotiating table, criticising the insistence by Annex-I countries that their mitigation actions would significantly depend on offsets, government and corporate India have been actively promoting carbon offsets as a new route to foreign direct investment.

 

It is in this context that sections of the media, the climate policy community, and civil society have reacted with alarm to indications that the government is contemplating major policy shifts, including not only unilateral mitigation actions and "flexibility" regarding developed country emission reduction targets, but also on related questions of adaptation financing and global technology transfer.

Parliament and civil society must ensure that the parameters of India's negotiating positions at Copenhagen are firmly fixed so as to ensure that the nation's vital energy and developmental options are kept open and not foreclosed by unwarranted giveaways.

 

(Dr. T. Jayaraman is chairperson of the Centre for Science, Technology and Society, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.)

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THE HINDU

OP-ED

MANMOHAN READY TO MOVE ON 'HUMANITARIAN' TALKS AGENDA

'SHARM EL-SHAKEN' BUT NOT STIRRED, PRIME MINISTER MAKES FRESH PITCH FOR PEACE WITH PAKISTAN.

SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN

 

C.B. Muthamma, India's first woman ambassador, passed away on October 15 at the age of 85.

 

In signalling his government's readiness to discuss initiatives to strengthen people-to-people interaction across the Line of Control, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may just have hit upon a magic formula that could potentially advance the peace process with Pakistan and make life easier for the beleaguered people of Jammu and Kashmir. Without diluting New Delhi's key demand that Islamabad act to eliminate the threat that Pakistan-based terrorist groups pose to India.

 

CAREFULLY STRUCTURED SPEECH

It has taken Dr. Singh three months to put the ghost of the Sharm el-Sheikh controversy behind him and he did so in a way that political India could best understand: his latest peace overture was made from a public platform in the Valley with the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, on the dais beside him.

 

Considerable care seems to have gone in to the structure of the Prime Minister's speech. He first noted the advances that were made bilaterally on all issues, including on a permanent resolution of Kashmir, between 2004 and 2007. This was a time when militancy and violence began to decline. Trade with Pakistan went up three times but, more importantly for Kashmir, trade between the two sides of the divided state began. Since then, however, terrorist activities increased, eventually bringing a halt to this process of constructive engagement.

 

Next, the Prime Minister pointed out that existing cross-LoC initiatives are not as people-friendly as they could be. "Trade facilities at the border are inadequate. There are no banking channels. Customs facilities need to be strengthened. There are no trade fairs. The lists of tradable commodities need to be increased. Clearances for travel take time. Prisoners of India and Pakistan are languishing in each other's jails even after completing their sentences".

 

In sum, "these are humanitarian issues whose resolution requires the cooperation of Pakistan", he said, adding that India is "ready to discuss these and other issues with the Government of Pakistan. I hope that as a result things will be made easier for our traders, divided families, prisoners and travellers". He added that for a "productive dialogue" it is "essential that terrorism must be brought under control".

 

What the Prime Minister has essentially done is to separate out the strands of the dialogue process as it existed prior to its suspension following the Mumbai terrorist attacks of November 2008 and raised the possibility of forward movement on the "humanitarian" strands even as substantive political engagement, or "productive dialogue," must await the action that India has asked Pakistan to take against the camps and infrastructure of terrorist groups and other hostile non-state actors on its territory.

 

In re-examining India's options in this manner, Dr. Singh is responding to the demands of various stakeholders in Jammu and Kashmir who have been arguing for some time that trade and other forms of cross-LoC interaction should not be held hostage to the activities of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and other extremist organisations. The Jammu Traders Association, for example, would like the current weight restriction on trucks involved in cross-LoC trade to be increased from 1.5 tonnes to 10 tonnes. There have also been demands for the two governments to work out arrangements so that Letters of Credit could be used for two-way trade.

 

NO HECTORING TONE

Apart from this instrumental distinction between "humanitarian" and political issues as far as the dialogue process is concerned, Dr. Singh's speech was also significant for the absence of accusatory language and a hectoring tone. Instead, the Prime Minister gently reminded Pakistan of the consequences of compromising with terrorism — "Eventually they turn against you and bring only death and destruction. The real face of the terrorists is clear for the people of Pakistan to see with their own eyes."

 

For years, the Pakistani military has backed extremist groups in the hope that they would weaken India's hold over Jammu and Kashmir and force New Delhi to reach a negotiated territorial settlement. Not only was that strategy a failure as far as the India front was concerned, the growing number of terrorist attacks within Pakistan is proof that the blowback from this policy has been extremely costly. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has sought to assure Pakistan that if it takes its "ongoing actions against the terrorist groups to their logical conclusion [and] destroy these groups wherever they are operating and for whatever misguided purpose," India will not be found wanting in its response. The fact is that the "intensive dialogue" on Kashmir between 2004 and 2007 that Dr. Singh referred to did more to address Pakistan's core concerns than two decades of terrorist violence. If Pakistan acts against these groups now, there is no reason why the threads of that process cannot be picked up. And in the interim, as a demonstration of the two countries' stated commitment to the welfare of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, discussions on making existing cross-LoC initiatives more "people friendly" can begin more or less immediately.

 

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THE HINDU

KARADZIC: SERBIA'S MIXED FEELINGS

MARK LOWEN

 

In the Luda Kuca bar — or "mad house" — in New Belgrade, life has slowly returned to normal.

 

Just over a year ago, this cramped, shack-like place was invaded by a world media desperate to find out more about the elaborate double-life of Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader now on trial in The Hague for war crimes.

 

For years one of Europe's most wanted men had regularly come here to enjoy a glass of red wine. All the time Mr. Karadzic was hidden behind a heavy beard, high pony tail and thick-rimmed glasses, presenting himself as an alternative healer, Dragan "David" Dabic.

 

He had sat beneath the photos of Serb strongmen that adorn the walls of the bar: the former Serbian President, Slobodan Milosevic — himself tried at The Hague — the former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic, and pictures of Karadzic himself.

 

Since his arrest in July last year, a new portrait has hung on the walls: of the friendly doctor, Dragan Dabic, who nobody here suspected of being Radovan Karadzic.

 

In the corner of the bar, 29-year-old Djordje and his friends try their hand at the "Gusle" — a traditional Serbian one-stringed musical instrument. They tell me proudly how Mr Karadzic himself would entertain customers here with performances on the instrument. "It's absolutely right that he boycotted the start of his trial," Djordje says.

 

"That's the only way to show his anger at the injustice of this quasi-court. Throughout the 1990s wars, Serbs only defended our land, our people and our faith," he adds.

 

Away from this hotbed of Serb nationalism, the start of the Karadzic trial has had a rather more mixed reaction here. Radovan Karadzic does still have a network of supporters — but he was never as popular in Serbia as his military commander, Mr. Mladic. Many Serbs feel indifferent towards the whole affair.

 

When I asked one Belgrade taxi driver how he would feel when he sees Karadzic in the dock on television, he replied: "I'll just change channels."

 

'DIVIDED OPINION'

The irony for Karadzic is that while he defies the court, sitting in his cell in The Hague, his deputy during the Bosnian war has been granted an early release from a Swedish prison for good behaviour. Biljana Plavsic succeeded Karadzic as President of the Serb-dominated part of Bosnia, Republika Srpska, in 1996. Plavsic turned herself in to the tribunal after she was indicted for genocide and other war crimes.

 

She initially pleaded not guilty, but later admitted guilt on one count of crimes against humanity, in exchange for all other charges being dropped and a shortened sentence of 11 years. A former academic, she is said to have spent most of her time in detention cooking and baking: a substantial change from her wartime reputation as the "Serbian Iron Lady," famous for comments like: "Muslims are the genetic defect on the Serbian body."

 

Her return to Belgrade has divided public opinion. While many believe she should be left in peace, others are outraged at her early release. On the main pedestrian street in Belgrade, Marko, a maths student, tells me he is disappointed. "People who did the things she did should stay longer in prison. I'm just not happy about it at all."

In Bosnia, there were large public demonstrations by Muslims against her early release. But her biggest supporter remains her sister-in-law, Vasilija Plavsic. The two girls grew up together and have remained close ever since. In her cosy Belgrade living room, Vasilija shows me the family photos, many of which are of Biljana. "She was always so dignified and beautiful," she tells me. "More than I."

 

'DEEP DIVISIONS'

When I ask her how she reacted to Biljana's indictment, her fixed smile breaks a little. "I just thought 'Oh God,' we used to drink coffee together every day in Bosnia, so how can you say she was involved in killing people?"

The ambivalent reactions to both Karadzic and Plavsic reveal the deep divisions that remain here. Serbia still struggles to accept its role in the Balkan wars and its portrayal ever since. Many here see The Hague as biased against Serbs: "But all sides are guilty" is the phrase I have heard so often in the last week.

 

Karadzic's trial is unlikely to change that perception — his condemnation of the tribunal and refusal to accept the charges will resonate with those who feel Serbia has been unjustly demonised in history books. But perhaps Mrs Plavsic, who expressed full remorse and pleaded guilty, will have a more significant impact on entrenched attitudes. Perhaps once she talks publicly, she will be the one who encourages Serbia to face its past.

 

 © BBC News/Distributed by the New York Times Syndicate

 

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THE HINDU

CLIMATE CHANGE THREATENS AUSTRALIAN LIFESTYLE

AUSTRALIAN BEACH LIFE MAY BECOME A THING OF THE PAST, SAYS A GOVERNMENT REPORT.

TONI O'LOUGHLIN

 

It is as much a part of the national identity as the bush and barbecues, but Australian beach life may become a thing of the past according to a government report that raises the prospect of banning its citizens from coastal regions at risk of rising seas.

 

The parliamentary report said that AUS$150bn worth of property was at risk from rising sea levels and more frequent storms. With 80 per cent of Australians living along the coastline, the report warns "the time to act is now."

 

Australia has no national coastal plan despite the prospect of losing large swaths of coastal land as each centimetre rise in sea levels is expected to carve a metre or more off the shoreline. If sea levels rise 80 cm by 2100, some 711,000 homes, businesses and properties, which sit less than six metres above sea level and lie within 3 kms of the coast, will be vulnerable to flooding, erosion, high tides and surging storms.

 

The report argues that Australia needs a national policy to respond to sea level rise brought on by global warming, which could see people forced to abandon homes and banned from building at the beachside.

 

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the conclusions were a reminder that "Australia has more to lose through continued inaction on climate change" than most other countries. The cost "is deep and enduring and damaging to our economy and damaging to the nation's environment," he said.

 

Skirmishes between residents and councils are already erupting over erosion by the sea. On the far north coast of New South Wales, the state government has intervened to allow residents in the Byron Shire council to build seal walls to protect their homes from rising sea levels. A similar battle is being waged further south, at Taree. Meanwhile, insurance companies are refusing to insure properties in seaside towns.

 

Among the report's 47 recommendations are that the government could consider "forced retreats," and prohibiting the "continued occupation of the land or future building development on the property due to sea hazard."

 

Some members of the conservative Liberal-National party coalition, which voted down the Rudd government's carbon emissions trading scheme earlier this year, remain sceptical.

 

The Liberal MP Tony Abbott, a senior member of the coalition and a leadership contender, said there was no reason for alarm. "When it comes to rising sea levels, I'm alert but I can't say that I'm particularly alarmed. The fact is that sea levels have risen along the New South Wales coast by more than 20 cm over the last century. Has anyone noticed it? No they haven't. Obviously an 80-cm rise in sea levels would be more serious but I'm confident that we have the resources to cope," Abbott told ABC news.

 

How much sea levels could rise this century with increasing temperatures is an open question. The much-quoted 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said it could be up to 59 cm, but warned that higher increases could not be ruled out. The IPCC said not enough was known about the way ice sheets break up to put a reliable figure on their contribution. Some estimates predict a 1-2 m rise by 2100.

 

The Australian government report, Managing Our Coastal Zone in a Changing Climate, followed an 18-month inquiry. It said the country's coastal management policy is fragmented, and authorities need to adopt a national policy to coordinate new coastal building codes and relocation and evacuation plans. Australia must examine the legal liability and insurance cover associated with property loss and damage due to climate change, improve early warning systems for extreme seas, and work to prevent the spread of tropical diseases such as dengue fever, it added.

 

"The key message that emerged from the inquiry is the need for national leadership in managing Australia's coastal zone in the context of climate change," Jennie George, a government MP and committee chair, said in launching the report on Tuesday. "This is an issue of national significance."

 

The sub-tropical state of Queensland is most at risk, with almost 250,000 buildings vulnerable. Next is the most populous state, New South Wales (NSW), with more than 200,000. Coastal flooding and erosion already costs NSW around AUS$200m a year.

 

The report called for a national policy that could see government agencies prohibit occupation of land or future development on property due to sea hazards. It called for building codes, including cyclone building codes, to be revised to increase resilience to climate change.

 

Alan Stokes, the executive director of the Sydney-based National Seachange taskforce, which represents coastal community councils across Australia, said banning development in certain areas is necessary. "There's no doubt Australia will remain and continue to be a coastal community," he said. "But we may have to be a bit more considerate about which parts of the coast we develop further and which ones we don't."

 

 © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009

 

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THE HINDU

THE COMING OF AGE OF THE RIC TRIANGLE

INDIA, RUSSIA AND CHINA RESOLVE TO PUSH FOR A GREATER JOINT SAY IN THE PEACE SETTLEMENT IN THE REGION.

VLADIMIR RADYUHIN

 

  1. Moscow is unhappy with the modalities of its cooperation with the West on Afghanistan
  2. India, Russia and China are yet to bridge their differences on the role of Pakistan and the Taliban

 

The Bangalore meeting of the Foreign Ministers of India, Russia and China has firmly placed Afghanistan on top of their regional cooperation agenda. The three countries agreed to press the United States to adopt a new strategy in Afghanistan and resolved to push for a greater joint say in the peace settlement in the region.

 

This outcome of the ninth Russia-India-China ministerial meeting signals the coming of age of the RIC triangle.

 

"Our three countries are able and willing to work out a collective strategy [on Afghanistan] jointly with other countries," Mr. Lavrov told reporters onboard his plane from Bangalore to Moscow. "We expect the Obama Administration to use the potential of Afghanistan's neighbours and other regional players in order to encourage all groups in Afghanistan to reach common understandings as to how they will shape their destiny together." According to Mr. Lavrov, the new strategy should include greater focus on political aspects of the Afghan settlement, and promote consolidation of different political forces and guaranteed representation of all ethnic groups in government structures.

 

The Bangalore interaction justified Moscow's hopes expressed ahead of the meeting that India, Russia and China would achieve "coordination of efforts to counter the threat of terrorism" emanating from Afghanistan.

 

In a joint communiqué the RIC Foreign Ministers "expressed concern at the continuing deterioration of the security situation" in Afghanistan and pledged "concerted trilateral action against international terrorism, trans-national crime and drug-trafficking." The situation in Afghanistan-Pakistan dominated External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna's talks in Moscow during his visit to Russia last week. According to informed sources, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev devoted considerable time of his 40-minute meeting with Mr. S.M. Krishna to discussing the situation in Afghanistan and the disastrous U.S. strategy of co-opting the "moderate" Taliban. He vented his indignation at the way the West arm-twisted President Hamid Karzai into agreeing to a runoff in the presidential elections in Afghanistan. From Moscow's point of view, it was irresponsible for the U.S. to undermine Mr. Karzai in the name of upholding "democratic election standards" in Afghanistan, especially at a time when there is no viable alternative to the present leader and the situation on the ground is deteriorating. Russia by contrast has been painstakingly working to shore up Mr. Karzai, inviting him to the summits of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and praising his efforts in rebuilding Afghanistan.

 

Moscow is also unhappy with the modalities of its cooperation with the West on Afghanistan. While the U.S. and NATO have been pressing Russia for more help to the coalition forces in Afghanistan, they have not been willing to accommodate Moscow's concerns. Foreign Minister Lavrov recently publicly rebuked NATO for its failure to invite Russia to the alliance meetings on Afghanistan and refusal to interact with the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), a Russia-led defence bloc of former Soviet states, in curbing drug trafficking in Afghanistan. Russia has agreed to provide logistics support, including the transit of NATO troops and military supplies across its territory, but is also demanding a bigger say in the Afghan settlement together with other neighbours of Afghanistan.

 

Moscow is increasingly alarmed that violence in Afghanistan would spill over into former Soviet Central Asia. The CSTO staged massive war games in Kazakhstan earlier this month. More than 7,000 troops belonging to the CSTO's newly created rapid reaction force practised repulsing an incursion of militants into the region.

 

"The evolution of the situation in our region, above all in Afghanistan, requires the stepping up of coordinated action by our foreign policy and security agencies," Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said addressing a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Beijing on October 14.

 

Trilateral cooperation on Afghanistan in the RIC format will get a further boost from India's promise in Bangalore to expand its involvement in the SCO as an observer member, to the group's Regional Counter Terrorism Structure and the Contact Group on Afghanistan.

 

India, Russia and China are yet to bridge their differences on the role of Pakistan and the Taliban. While for India and Russia a Taliban comeback would be unacceptable as creating grave security threats in Kashmir and Central Asia, China has been ambivalent on the issue given its stakes in Pakistan vis-À-vis India. However, this year's large-scale violence in Tibet and Xingjian highlighted China's own vulnerability to outside extremist influences. The Bangalore meeting indicated a shift in Beijing's position. In their joint communiqué India, Russia and China stressed that "all concerned" must implement U.N. Security Council anti-terrorist resolutions, including Resolution 1267 related to the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, even as Pakistan was not mentioned.

 

The resolve of India, Russia and China to pursue a concerted strategy on Afghanistan could also help improve bilateral ties in the India-Russia-China triangle. The special value of the RIC, the Russian Foreign Minister noted, is that it has created "an effective mechanism for strengthening trusted partnership" among Asia's three biggest nations.

 

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  THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

RAJDHANI ATTACK WARNING TO GOVT

 

Naxalites operating in West Bengal's West Midnapore district, who have been in the news in recent months, created something of a sensation on Tuesday by storming the Delhi-bound Bhubaneswar Rajdhani in the Jhargram area. But the dramatic development must be placed in perspective. It is not the first time in the country when protesting mobs have obstructed the progress of a passing train and inconvenienced passengers. Considering what they have shown themselves to be capable of in terms of wanton violence or sheer cruelty, the Naxal action at the Banstala Halt station was a mild affair. Any violence that was produced appeared incidental, although the threat of violence obviously hung in the air. There was no particular demand raised that was new, although hundreds of tribal people mobilised by the Maoists were pressed into this particular project. The preparation that went into it was apparent. And still, it is not wholly clear why the Maoists resorted to getting at the train, unless it was only to cock a snook at the state and the railway authorities. In the event, the trackside drama ended relatively peacefully, passengers were not hurt and were allowed to proceed after about six hours. Yet, it may not be wise to minimise the import of what happened, for the episode underlines the apathy and the sorry state of preparation by the authorities to tackle the Naxalite menace in spite of all the noise made at the highest levels in recent weeks.

 

It is surprising that the state government and the railway authorities had not prepared for the safety of an important train when the Maoists had given a three-day bandh call, and the route of the train falls within the Maoist sphere of influence. Such a mismatch between word and deed is incomprehensible. Especially since railway minister Mamata Banerjee had in the recent past been on the same page as elements of the People's Committee Against Police Atrocities, a Maoist front outfit, it was expected of her that she would take all the needed precautions to protect trains so that no fingers may point at her. The way it's turned out, the argument can be made by those interested that the train drama was enacted to show the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government in poor light. After all, Ms Banerjee's single-point agenda has been to pull down the Left Front government. Of course, the chief minister has done himself no favours by not being alert to possible pressure points that Maoists might seek to exploit. The Union home ministry is not blameless either. While it is true that law and order is a state subject, the Naxalite problem is a national issue. It is larger than the sum of the law and order problems of the Maoist-afflicted states. It was, therefore, incumbent on the ministry under P. Chidambaram's charge to be in constant coordination with states that have fallen under the shadow of Naxalism, to guide and steer them, to offer friendly advice and every aid, and also to anticipate the moves of UPA allies inimical to the dispensation in Kolkata so that the political and administrative fight against Naxalism is not impeded.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPED

DROP THE 'N' IN NCP?

 

The results of the Maharashtra Assembly elections have confirmed what the 2009 Lok Sabha polls had shown — that the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) no longer serves a purpose as a separate political party. It is just a splinter group of the Congress Party.

 

Sharad Pawar had formed the party in 1999 only on the issue of Sonia Gandhi's former nationality. The NCP contested the 1999 election on its own, but almost immediately after it formed an alliance with the Congress, which was still led by Mrs Gandhi! The party, thus, lost its ideological basis in order to get into government. But, it still had the political space and social base in the state's Maratha community.

 

In 2004, the NCP emerged as the single largest party in the Assembly. Since then, its fortunes have seen a decline. In the last few years, the NCP was seen doing things that had no political or social purpose or relevance.

 

The Congress and the NCP had forged an alliance to keep the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) out of power. But in 2007, the NCP entered into agreement with the saffron alliance to keep the Congress out of power in the Pune Municipal Corporation.

 

Look at the post-2004 developments. The NCP had been trying to expand its base beyond the Marathas and woo Muslim, dalit and non-Maharashtrian communities, but had little success. The Congress was slowly but surely winning back its voters in Maharashtra, while the NCP was not able to get a foothold in the Congress' stronghold. Pune is a prime example, where the NCP abandoned even its "secular agenda". And like it did in Pune, the NCP has cooperated with the BJP in several other local bodies in the state.

 

What does this mean for the future of the NCP as a party? Is it really well-placed to govern as an alliance partner in Maharashtra? The NCP's fortunes have seen a decline. From being a contender for the Prime Minister's post, Mr Pawar has had to settle for a Cabinet berth with a smaller representation for his party.

 

Although in the Assembly election the NCP did not perform as poorly as some expected, it has slipped on its home turf, western Maharashtra. It did not fare too badly in other regions, but that seems to be on account of the seat-sharing arrangements with the Congress.

 

The NCP has always revolved around Mr Pawar. Given his state of health, calls for the party's merger with the Congress are only likely to get louder. Everyone in the party knows this. The succession issue after Mr Pawar can also be a cause of discord within the NCP, further raising a question mark over its relevance.

 

B. Venkatesh Kumar is a professor at the Tata Institute of Social

 

Sciences, Mumbai

 

 

NCP HELPS KEEP BJP, SENA AT BAY

The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has played a major role in helping to keep the reins of power out of the reach of the saffron alliance by ensuring that social groups and communities that were not in favour of the Congress did not vote for the Shiv Sena or the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). By getting Communists, peasants and workers, dalits, and corporates under its fold, the NCP has made it possible for the Congress to stay in power.

 

As most NCP leaders are from the Congress, their ideology is no different from the Congress. The difference lies in the leadership. Party chief Sharad Pawar has polarised people towards the party through sheer dedication even when facing tremendous health problems.

 

Although the NCP was predominantly made up of the Maratha lobby, Mr Pawar's dynamism and charisma endeared him and the party to a spectrum of people of different communities, and has ensured that the party has come out with flying colours in Parliament and Assembly polls in the past 10 years.

 

As the issue of Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin has been laid to rest, the NCP does not mind playing second fiddle to the Congress. This is in order that both parties may form a government by cooperating with one another.

 

A contribution of the NCP to the alliance has been the securing of anti-Congress votes which otherwise would have been bagged by the Shiv Sena-BJP combine, or others.

 

Either way, this would have worked in favour of the saffronites.

 

In the recent Assembly election, the NCP's winning ratio was 54 against 47.4 of the Congress. Naturally, it can't be written off. The question of merger with the Congress is an absurd notion.

 

The inception of the NCP in 1999 was based on the opposition of Mr Sharad Pawar to Mrs Gandhi's nationality. This showed the party's strong ideological stance. That's why many Congressmen joined it.

 

And soon after, Mr Pawar helped the Congress to form the government in order to keep out non-secular forces.

 

Mr Pawar's dynamism is still the NCP's most important asset. He has proved through example that he leads from the front. He did not let dedication slacken in spite of poor health.

 

The marriage of convenience between NCP and Congress is necessitated by the fact that both realise that if they do not join hands, the Shiv Sena and the BJP will come to power.

 

This will not bode well for the aspirations of either party.

 

Chhagan Bhujbal is deputy chief minister of Maharashtra and a founding member of the NCP

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPED

BANGLA TRIPPERS

ANTARA DEV SEN

 

Now that Orissa has become Odisha, I am told that West Bengal is all set to become Bangla. Yes, "Bangla". Not "Bengal", which would be too easy, just dropping the meaningless "West" from the name of this eastern state. Especially since it has no counterpart anymore - East Bengal became East Pakistan and then Bangladesh several decades ago. The only counterpart West Bengal has is in one of it's own football teams: East Bengal, the great rival of Mohun Bagan. Alas, life is not a ball game, and a name change for the state is long overdue.

 

But no, we wouldn't dream of going for the straight and easy. Just "Bengal" would be too anglicised for this age of cultural nationalism and fiddling with history by changing place names. Would we then go back to the age old Bengali name, "Banga"? It's been in use for centuries, going back to when the country looked up in awe at Anga (now roughly Bihar and Jharkhand), Banga and Kalinga (now Orissa, er… Odisha). You can see it was a long, long time ago. Bengal is also referred to as "Banga" in our National Anthem, and Bengalis continue to go weak-kneed and teary-eyed over their beloved "Banga-bhoomi" even now. So "Banga" would be the natural choice, right? Wrong. It may be the traditional name, the identifier stamped in our National Anthem, the name coursing through the veins of a full-blooded Bengali, but it is clearly not smart enough for the lords of names. They want "Bangla".

 

Not that there is anything wrong with Bangla being the name of a state. It is already the name of a language - one of the world's biggest languages, spoken by 230 million people. It is the national language of our neighbouring country, Bangladesh or the "Country of Bangla". Well, yes, it could lead to a bit of an identity crisis for the state, if another nation is known as it's own country, but we live in confusing times. With some practice, you would get used to it.

 

Such delicious confusion just shows that the state is readying to become Bangla. No, not the language. I think they have the country liquor in mind.

 

What? You haven't heard of the cheap and cheerful Bangla? It's the chosen liquor of the masses of Bengal, the inspiration for poets and artists of modest means, the intoxicating initiator into adulthood of young enthusiasts. It stimulates areas of the brain you didn't know existed, hyperactivates the tongue and instils in you a confidence that was last seen during the charge of the Light Brigade. And through the stellar performance of Bengal's powers that be we have had a fascinating experience of such unmistakably Bangla behaviour.

 

Take railway minister Mamata Banerjee's changing responses to the "hijacking" of the Rajdhani Express. The moment she heard of it, she blamed the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M). They did it, she said. It's them, the CPI(M)! You can't blame her, that's her reflex to any bad news. Some say, "Oh, God!" She says, "CPI(M)!"

 

Unfortunately, her Lalgarh friends the PCPA (People's Committee Against Police Atrocities) claimed responsibility and scribbled their demands for the release of their leader Chhatradhar Mahato all over the train with a graffiti artist's dedication. Mr Mahato, who had spearheaded the Lalgarh agitation backed by the Maoists, was arrested by the state police for his close links with the Naxalites. Ms Banerjee, who had firmly supported Mr Mahato and his deeds in Lalgarh but was now trying to distance herself tentatively from the Maoists, swiftly suggested a dialogue with the PCPA for the release of the passengers. Meanwhile the police - and the joint forces of the state and Centre delegated to fighting the Maoists - had arrived, and the "hijackers" fled.

 

This is particularly embarrassing for Ms Banerjee because she was that very day meeting P. Chidambaram to demand that the joint operations by the state and Centre against the Maoists be stopped. She wanted the Army instead. And she wanted President's Rule in Bengal.

 

Of course, no one in their right senses would want the Army to be brought in for a long-term law and order problem. Horror stories of continuing atrocities from Kashmir and the Northeast have given us enough reason to keep the Army out of civilian life unless there is a huge emergency. But then Didi's dadagiri is not based on logic. Or on the best interest of the people of her state. It springs from her obsessive rivalry with the CPI(M) leadership. Reason has no place in her scheme of things. Personal ambition and dramatic rhetoric are more than enough.

 

For good measure, Ms Banerjee has also claimed that West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is a killer, is masterminding the Maoist violence and should be arrested. On a modest personal note, she has claimed that the CPI(M) tried to kill her in a car chase.

 

Not surprisingly, the railway minister did not once call the chief minister to discuss the train "hijack" drama in Bengal. Instead, she made several calls to Union home minister Mr Chidambaram in Delhi and Naveen Patnaik in Bhubaneswar, from where the train had started.

 

Meanwhile, Mr Bhattacharjee had also been making a mark in press conferences. First he brushed aside questions about freeing kidnapped police officer Atindranath Dutta from the Maoists by releasing 26 tribal women in custody. (Why were elderly tribal women in custody anyway?) Then he owned up and said sorry, won't happen again. Then he mentioned how the Maoists had killed these two police officers - to the shock and horror of their families since they are declared missing. Swiftly he said sorry, just a slip of the tongue. Of course they are not dead, just missing. Mamata Didi sprang upon him like a wildcat on a pigeon, and marched off to Union home minister Mr Chidambaram in Delhi, brandishing the wives of the two police officers, demanding explanations.

 

Sadly, her thunder was stolen by the train hijack that was not a hijack. To the trained Bangla eye, it was merely a train gherao, the kind that happens routinely where trains are stopped and demands made by agitators. But then, "hijack" sounds far more impressive.

 

"If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense", said Alice, of Wonderland fame. "Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be. And what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?" What? You don't see? You will, once you get used to the state of Bangla.

 

Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted at sen@littlemag.com

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

COLUMN

TALK TO MAOISTS, BUT ALSO SHOW WHO'S BOSS

S. NIHAL SINGH

 

By staging the cop drama in West Bengal, the Maoists have shown that apart from holding territory and causing mayhem, they can take on the government in the game of public relations. For weeks, the Union home minister, P. Chidambaram, has been spreading one message, that Maoists are murderers and the sympathy the urban intelligentsia has for the Maoist cause is misplaced.

 

Even as the government was wrestling with the Maoists' new tack, they administered another blow: the hijacking of the Rajdhani train. As if on cue, they freed the briefly detained drivers and the passengers were left unharmed. The Maoists were saying louder than words that they were making a political point, that they were fighting for a cause and were not always bloodthirsty.

 

Mr Chidambaran's mission has been to take head on the theory that rural development and tackling Maoists can go hand in hand, dismissing it as a romantic concept. His point is stark and simple: How can you build roads and dig wells when the state does not control the territory? On the other hand, the Maoists often subvert the system by taking cuts from contractors on development schemes.

 

The Maoists perhaps went overboard in parading the kidnapped cop as a prisoner of war, seeking to place their guerrilla movement on par with the military and police authority of the state. But the West Bengal chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, had mud on his face by swapping the cop for alleged Maoist sympathisers in a murky deal, which, he later explained, was an exception, not the rule.

 

The muddled thinking of the Maoists was in full display by their representative mouthing all the clichés in the 20th century handbook of the Communists — railing against the straw men of corporations, alleging that India is playing a subservient role to the American establishment. Mr Bhattacharjee says he will continue to fight the Maoists, but the irony is that his party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), is itself living in a time warp, often regurgitating the clichés of a bygone age abandoned by much of the Communist world.

 

How the Indian Communists of various stripes can reconcile themselves to the successors of the fathers of the revolution, the Russians, having abandoned the creed and the Chinese becoming the most avid capitalists by flaunting the images of Stalin in one case and of Mao Zedong in the other is best left to them to explain. The Maoists, of course, aim to emulate the example of their Nepalese confreres to achieve power, first by sharing it and then proclaiming their goal of a one-party state.

 

Putting aside recent dramatic developments, the important point to debate is: How did the Indian state find itself in its present predicament, with large areas in the country, particularly those inhabited by tribals and backward classes, under Maoist control? Several factors have gone into the making of the Maoist menace, characterised by the Prime Minister as the greatest internal threat to the country. They range from the erosion of the credibility and integrity of the civil service, the neglect of large parts of the country denied basic development, schooling and healthcare and the compulsions of industrialisation, often at the cost of the poorest and the most deprived.

 

There are no simple answers because good governance cannot be suddenly produced on order and the political system in the states, particularly in the Hindi belt, has been plunging such low depths of mendacity and politicking that law and order functions are often reduced to selective justice. What offers some hope for the future is Mr Chidambaram's clear enunciation of the problem, his efforts to give police and paramilitary forces the equipment and training they need and seeking better co-ordination between the Centre and the states and among the states themselves.

 

The West Bengal decision to do a deal with the Maoists to secure the release of the kidnapped cop has been a setback to the Centre's efforts because they undercut the philosophy behind New Delhi's new resolve. Instead of painting Maoists into a corner by exposing them as ruthless men and women seeking power by the force of guns, they were given prime-time television news channels' exposure to demand further concessions of the authorities as equal actors in the drama.

 

Mr Chidambaram has let it be known that he does not expect the Maoists to give up their arms; his only condition to holding talks with them is that they desist from using force either to murder people or to destroy state property. There is little expectation of the Maoists accepting these terms and they seem set to exploit the weaknesses of the authorities. They give primacy to incidents of wrong and scandalous conduct of the police forces, often poorly trained and equipped and still psychologically living in the era of the British Raj.

 

Among the great failures of successive governments has been the inability to undertake serious police reform. Mr Chidambaram complains that police officials are treated as a political football. Indeed, one of the most depressing aspects of a new chief minister taking office is to witness the callousness with which he or she undertakes the wholesale transfer of police, and civil service.

 

It is well recognised that force alone cannot resolve the Maoist problem. Indeed, the success or otherwise of Mr Chidambaram's new initiatives will lie in a judicious mix of force with persuading the Maoists and the wider public to create a climate for meaningful talks.

 

The new government offensive to depict the Maoists in their true colours as murderers of civilian and security personnel is one aspect of the programme. The other is effectively to confront Maoists in their strongholds by expanding the successful Andhra model.

 

Human rights activists and dissenters are the lifeblood of a democracy and it is right that voices should be raised against high-handed acts of the authorities. But their contention that the government must talk to Maoists on their terms is impractical and would be demeaning for any self-respecting government. While there might be some idealists joining the Maoists today, the bulk of their members are men and women seeking power through the destruction of the state.

 

To hear the terms in which Maoists proclaim their ideal state is to revert to the Utopia promised by Lenin and destroyed in the very act of applying it to one relatively backward state, instead of initiating it in a highly industrialised country. Stalin proved that the Communist creed could be effectively used as a ruthless instrument of ruling a one-party state.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

CRIMINAL INTENT

 

The gruesome killing of Ramchanphy Hongray, young girl allegedly by her neighbour Pushpam Sinha, a 34-year-old PhD scholar working at IIT, Delhi is the latest in a series of crimes involving middle-class Indians. The crime demographics appear to be changing as a new India — urban, better off, aware — comes into its own.

 

In Mumbai, a wannabe actress, Maria Susairaj and her boyfriend Emile Jerome are under trial for conspiring to kill Neeraj Grover last year, a young man she befriended to further her career. Two years ago, Avinash Patnaik drove all the way from Orissa to Mumbai to kill his former girlfriend, model Moon Das, could not find her and killed her mother and uncle and then himself. There are other instances too.

 

These are no longer stray incidents. These are our new reality, where the crime reflects  a "all or nothing" approach by those who are otherwise well educated and far from criminal in their normal life. It could be even called a sense of entitlement — I want it and I want it now. The social fabric which once managed to control all these impulses either through established practice or social taboos is tearing.

 

 Crimes of passion are not a new phenomenon, but they seem to be increasing. Yet as a society we have not yet come to terms with these changes and do not seem to be equipped to understand where this new type of crime comes from.

 

We are, in a sense, used to thinking of ourselves as largely crime-free, except for pockets in North India and even then we imagine that it is professional criminals and the "poor" who are the main perpetrators. Even the police will by instinct mistrust a "domestic" if someone from the middle class is murdered or attacked, before spreading the net further to look at the victim's own social group.

 

More and more we find that it is us and our neighbours who are the criminals. Love unfortunately appears to be the main motive followed closely by money. The brutal killing of the young Hongray — recently moved to the capital from Manipur — was confessed to by a man not only much older, but also well-educated and with good career prospects ahead of him. But his immense frustration and apparent expressed desire for a girlfriend became an obsession. That was visible in other cases too.

 

Our social networks and our crime investigators have to look deeply at what is going wrong and equip themselves to deal with this new crime wave. Older ideas may not work in a changing social structure.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

MAOIST TRAP

 

During her bitter battle with the Tata group and the CPM government in West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee was supported by all manner of organisations, including the People's Front Against Police Atrocities.

 

There were suspicions then that the Front was an extreme left outfit that had joined hands with her, which she tacitly accepted. Those fears have proved correct — the Front has declared it is now taking up arms. The hijacking of the Rajdhani Express for six hours in Midnapore by Maoists has further embarrassed her because she had initially claimed no extremist groups were involved.

 

The fight against the Maoists in West Bengal has become entangled in the political struggle between the CPM-led Left Front government and Trinamool Congress (TMC). Banerjee may have made common cause with the Maoists in her attempt to dislodge the Marxists from the Writer's Building in Kolkata but with every passing day, as the ultra-left groups become more brazen and audacious, that association is becoming counter-productive.

 

For one thing, it is against stated government policy. Second, the Maoists themselves are indulging in kidnappings and such like which cannot win her any friends. Banerjee may be happy to join hands with her enemy's enemy but the Maoists are no one's friends. Playing a game for short term political and electoral gains can prove fatal.

 

The hijacking of the New Delhi-Bhubaneshwar Rajdhani Express on Tuesday has exposed the dangers of such partisan politics. The incident was meant to prove that the Left Front government's writ does not run in the state and Banerjee immediately called for the imposition of President's Rule in Bengal. But that will not wash; her main task should be to protect the railways and the passengers and behave responsibly like a member of the Union government rather than as a partisan state level politician.

 

In the power tussle between Left Front and the TMC, the Maoists can play havoc with people's lives in the state. Even if Banerjee were to ride to power on the melee created by the Maoists, she will find it difficult to tame the extremists once she is in power herself.

 

It is the Left Front's failure to address the problems of poverty in rural Bengal and the tyranny of the Marxist cadres and that of the police. Both the Marxists and Banerjee will have to pull back by declaring a common front against the Maoists for the sake of West Bengal and its people.

 

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DNA

COLUMN

BRAND MANMOHAN RISING

R JAGANNATHAN

 

One of the big developments of 2008-09 is the rise and rise of brand Manmohan. The brand is probably as big as brand Vajpayee was in 1999 after the Kargil war and rivals that of brand Sonia — at least in urban India. In fact, we have seen two things happen simultaneously: the old brand Manmohan, reformer of the 1990s, has been quietly demarketed, and a new brand, a touchy-feely-honest-to-god Manmohan, has arisen in its place.

 

The new brand is androgynous, not macho. It appeals across the gender barrier, and that is probably the prime reason for its success. In a sense, the new Manmohan is a throwback to the old, pre-reform socialist Manmohan and hence not merely an invented identity.

 

The brand is a creature of current circumstances, and works because everybody can see that he was a reformer only by accident in the 1990s. On the other hand, he is an advocate of moderation and pro-poor policies by choice, not a stone-hard capitalist.

 

The transformation of brand Manmohan did not, however, happen entirely by choice. It started with the rise of Sonia soon after the 2004 elections, and the soft and pliable Manmohan was the obvious choice of a party president who wanted to hold on to the reins of power — albeit indirectly. She was the hard decision-maker; he stayed the soft yes-man.

 

It took a while for brand Manmohan to metamorphose into a new persona and initially even he fought against it. The prime minister — aided by macho finance minister P Chidambaram — spent his first four years in power trying to live up to a part of his reformist credentials. He failed miserably when Sonia and the party overruled him repeatedly.

 

Towards the end of UPA-1, he abandoned any pretence of reform, and instead acquiesced in wholesale populism. The shift of Chidambaram from finance to home symbolised this final abandonment of Manmohanomics. Manmohan, the capitalist reformer, was buried, and reincarnated in his place was Manmohan, the social savant. He almost didn't have an option to be anything else.

 

Events lent a helping hand. First, we had the Indo-US nuclear deal, something the George W Bush administration wanted very badly. Manmohan Singh signed on, and suddenly his fortunes soared. After spending a few months trying to neutralise the Communists, a favourable turn in political events — and Manmohan's own stubborn loyalty to the nuke deal — forced Sonia to bail him out.

 

In the process, she and Manmohan created the new Congress party — a party that finally got tired of kowtowing to allies and decided that if it had to lose, it might as well do so with dignity. It is easy to assume that the Congress party's recent run of successes was entirely the result of great strategy. This is highly unlikely. Both the party and Manmohan discovered their spunk only towards the end of their first term, when both knew that the only thing they had to lose was their timidity.

 

Fate continued to help them all through the election campaign. Macho Advani thought he had the upper hand and taunted Manmohan on his weakness; macho Modi cut no ice with the Uttar Pradesh audiences whenever he took potshots at the dynasty and Manmohan.

 

The soft-spoken prime minister unleashed a quiet viciousness that destroyed Advani. To Advani's repeated taunts, Manmohan replied with quiet anger and a sharp twist of the verbal knife. It ended Advani's pretence of being the hard man of Indian politics.

 

Manmohan — and Sonia — also received help from their allies. First Lalu, and then Mulayam, both decided to do their Brutus acts. They dumped "weak" Congress and Sonia. Like Advani before them, the electorate did not appreciate their macho tactics. A feminised electorate, and a growing middle-class that had no need for violent words or heroics, saw Manmohan as the honest, sincere politician.

 

The urban electorate, whatever its formal political affiliation, felt protective towards "weak" Manmohan. We may all be self-centred and self-serving, but we don't like honest people being savaged. Manmohan Singh, by being what he was, appealed to our yearning for that goodness we wanted to see in ourselves, but seldom managed to live up to. That is the key to the rise of brand Manmohan.

 

In many ways, brand Manmohan is now as big, if not bigger, than brand Sonia because it touches us at a deeper human level. It works with middle class India and women; it may also work abroad. In the emerging global power scenario, China represents the much-feared macho power; India, as represented by Manmohan and Sonia, represents soft power. It looks sane in a world marred by extremist violence. This image of outward softness helps us since it can enable us to take hard decisions based on realpolitik and still appearreasonable on the world stage.

 

Manmohan Singh has the same opportunity that Vajpayee had to take India to the world stage. He should know his own strength and use it wisely.

 

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DNA

THE UN DITHERS WHILE AFGHANISTAN VOTES

PETER W GALBRAITH

 

If the second round of Afghanistan's presidential elections, now scheduled for November 7, is a rerun of the fraud-stained first round, it will be catastrophic for that country and the allied military mission battling the Taliban and al Qaeda. In the next week and a half, the United States and the United Nations, which has a mandate to support Afghanistan's electoral bodies, must do everything possible to ensure that the election is, in the words of that mandate, "free, fair and transparent."


However, the conditions that made fraud possible in the first round are still present. Although the Election Complaint Commission did a Herculean job of tossing out illegitimate votes, the final tally still included hundreds of thousands of phony ballots, most for Karzai.


Let me explain. At the time of the August vote, I was the deputy United Nations envoy in Afghanistan, and my staff collected compelling evidence that the actual turnout in southern and eastern Afghanistan was very small. Yet surprisingly large numbers of votes were being recorded in those areas. Many of these fraudulent votes came from "ghost" centers — stations identified on maps, but not existing physically, in areas so dangerous that they could not be visited by candidates' agents, monitors or voters.


We knew about this problem in advance. In July, I tried to get the Independent Election Commission to close some 1,500 of the ghost polling centers but was stopped by the top United Nations official in Afghanistan, Kai Eide of Norway, who insisted that he had no mandate other than to go along with the decisions of the election commission. My disagreement with Eide eventually led the United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, to recall me from Afghanistan on October 1.


Ban later said he fired me because I had tried to disenfranchise Afghan voters. But all I wanted to do was to eliminate polling centers that didn't exist. Afghans risked their lives to go to the polls, and were effectively disenfranchised when their votes were diluted by more than a million fake ones. Looking ahead, the biggest obstacle to fair elections remains the body that administers them, the Independent Election Commission. The only thing independent about the commission is its name. President Karzai appointed all its members, and six of the seven commissioners have routinely voted in favor of procedures to benefit the Karzai campaign, including an outrageous last-minute decision after the first vote to include enough fraudulent Karzai votes in the preliminary tally to put him over the 50 per cent threshold so he could avoid a runoff.
In every instance of fraud, Independent Election Commission staff members either committed the abuse, cooperated with those who committed it, or knew about it and failed to report it. Some 200 staff members are now to be fired, but thousands are implicated and should be replaced, as should the partisan provincial election officials who appointed them.


Although the UN mission raised more than $300 million to allow the Independent Election Commission to conduct the elections, it exercised negligible oversight over the commission's decisions. The UN must stop pretending that the commission is anything other than a pro-Karzai institution. Since it is not feasible to replace the commissioners at this late date, Secretary-General Ban should appoint an envoy to supervise them in a way that Eide refuses to. Karzai is widely expected to win the second round. But even if the voting is reasonably honest, his victory will be tainted at home and abroad. Abdullah, his opponent, has proposed smart constitutional changes to provide for greater power-sharing among Afghanistan's diverse ethnic groups, including having the parliament choose a prime minister and the cabinet, electing provincial governors and increasing the powers of elected local governments. —NYT

 

DNA

FINDING HARMONY

 

As our social struggles are represented, among different nations, by different social organisations, so man's spiritual struggles are represented by various religions. And as different social organisations are constantly quarrelling, are constantly at war with each other, so these spiritual organisations have been constantly at war with each other, constantly quarrelling. Men belonging to a particular social organisation claim that the right to live belongs only to them, and so long as they can, they want to exercise that right at the cost of the weak. Each religious sect has claimed the exclusive right to live. And thus we find that though nothing has brought man more blessings than religion, yet at the same time there is nothing that has brought him more horror than religion. Nothing has made more for peace and love than religion; nothing has engendered fiercer hatred than religion. Nothing has made the brotherhood of man more tangible than religion; nothing has bred more bitter enmity between man and man than religion.


We know there have always been parties of men, philosophers, students of comparative religion, who have tried and are still trying to bring about harmony in the midst of all these jarring and discordant sects. Then again, there are some religions, which have come down to us from the remotest antiquity, imbued with the idea that all sects should be allowed to live — that every sect has a meaning, a great idea, imbedded in it, and therefore all sects are necessary for the good of the world and ought to be helped. In modern times the same idea is prevalent, and attempts are made from time to time to reduce it to practice. But these attempts do not always come up to our expectations, up to the required efficiency. Nay, to our great disappointment, we sometimes find that we are quarrelling all the more.


An excerpt from The Way to the Realisation of the Universal Religion by Swami Vivekananda

 

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DNA

NO MEAT PLEASE

 

Tolstoy, Gandhi and Bernard Shaw stuck to it. But giving up meat eating is a tough discipline to follow. Now Lord Stern of Brentford, the economist and author of the Stern report on climate change, espouses a more pragmatic justification for at least reducing the consumption of meat. Rearing livestock produces methane, which is 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as an agent of global warming. In a small way, Lord Stern dramatises the conundrum that hangs over the negotiations that have been taking place in Bangkok, before the Copenhagen summit in December. In economies that are still heavily dependent on animals as both a source of goods for sale and a form of transport and in nations whose diets are mainly vegetarian in any case, Lord Stern's demand for behavioural change will seem at the same time both irrelevant and presumptuous.


The extent to which developing nations — India, China, Russia and Brazil in particular — are willing to submit to environmental regulations that did not impede the growth of the richer countries has always been a sticking point of environmental progress. Much of the conversation has been about this grand bargain.
The developing world is looking to Copenhagen to deliver a deal that enshrines proportionate responsibility from nations at such different stages of development and, therefore, different levels of assumed guilt.
The mood music, from Bangkok and from the agreement reached between India and China, means it is probable that a deal of sorts can be done. It would be both ill advised and a poor advertisement for the way he has shifted his country's policy if Barack Obama were not to attend the December summit. —The Times (UK)

 

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DNA

BEAUTIFYING THE CITY

 

The BMC is going on a beautification drive again ('City streets to get hep, new furniture', DNA, October 28). The plans to install user-friendly, world class street furniture in each of the seven zones in the city sound nice in theory. But I hope the BMC takes a lesson from the previous beautification drive that the Marine Drive was subjected to.

Prakash Kamat, via email


STRICTER MEASURES NEEDED

 

The report 'Woman on morning walk stabbed' (DNA, October 28) reflects badly on the law and order situation in the city. The beat marshalls reportedly posted in the locality were sadly not available when the robbery-murder took place. This is not the first time such an incident has happended — such incidents occur regularly in some localities like Vasant Vihar in Thane. Police patrolling needs to be increased and perhaps the citizens should leave the jewellery at home while going out on a stroll.

V Subramanyan, Thane

 

UNKNOWN CONNECTIONS

I don't think the Nobel laureate of Indian origin, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan is behaving in a haughty manner by stating that unknown Indians are claiming that they personally know him. He's just being candid. "Indians have the habit of excavating and exploring the last and lost vestiges of a person's connexions once he becomes famous," wrote Nirad C Chaudhury in Autobiography of an Unknown Indian. No one cared for Ramakrishnan until he got the Nobel but after winning it, the whole India is singing paeans about his stupendous achievement. It's high time we paid heed to those who have the potential but not the wherewithal to surge ahead in life.
Sumit S Paul, Calcutta


POSTERS ARE ART TOO

I couldn't help chuckling when I read news stories about how angry young activists of the "Wallproject" felt when they saw film posters on the walls of Tulsi Pipe road. Street art is usually anarchic and subversive — their project, on the other hand was done with the full co-operation of the civic authorities, while the posters were actually "illegal", so I would say they are more interesting than some silly, amateurish paintings. Film posters are an intrinsic part of the Mumbai landscape and lend a certain unique charm to our metropolis; are they now to be banned to accommodate some naive kids who have suddenly discovered officially-sanctioned graffiti? I think the producers were wrong in apologising for having pasted those posters. Let us have more of them and less of bogus 'art.'


Gautam Mehta, via email

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

CALL FROM BANGALORE

TERRORISM MUST BE FOUGHT JOINTLY

 

Global terrorism has once again come under sharp focus with the Foreign Ministers of Russia, India and China (RIC) highlighting the serious threat the scourge poses to peace and progress. The problem remains as serious as it ever was, as can be seen in the attack on the UN Guesthouse in Kabul on Wednesday, leading to the death of eight persons. The Indian Embassy in the Afghan capital has been targeted by the Taliban two times — the last suicide-bombing occurred only a few days ago. The situation in Afghanistan as well as in Pakistan may go beyond control if the world community fails to act jointly at this stage. The AfPak area, which has been experiencing a resurgence of Taliban insurgency for some time, found an elaborate mention in the RIC joint statement issued after the Bangalore conclave ended on Tuesday.

 

Terrorism, which has found an ideal breeding ground in Afghanistan and Pakistan, can pose a threat anywhere in the region and the world. Extremist outfits have spread their tentacles to different parts of the world. Hence the need for a joint strategy to fight the menace. The call issued to all the UN member-states by the Bangalore conclave to adopt the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism, tabled by India in 1996, deserves to be given a serious thought. The differences on the definition of terrorism must be removed at the earliest. Once the Convention is adopted by the UN, it will not be possible for terrorist outfits to launder funds for their destructive agenda.

 

Pakistan's dubious role in the fight against terrorism must be exposed. The duplicity of Islamabad is clearly reflected in its efforts to protect terrorist masterminds like Hafiz Saeed of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a front for the Lashkar-e-Toiba. He would have been in jail today for his role in the Mumbai terrorist attack if Pakistan had cooperated with India. Pakistan should act at least now to bring "the perpetrators of all terrorist attacks to justice". Elimination of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations is as much in the interest of Pakistan as it is for the good of the rest of the world.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

FIRST ROUND FOR HOODA

BUT ENSURING STABILITY WILL NOT BE EASY

 

There was never any doubt that Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda would win the confidence vote in the assembly hands down. Having secured the support of seven Independents and with the six-member Haryana Janhit Party of Mr Kuleep Bishnoi unwilling to join forces with Mr Om Prakash Chautala's INLD, it was clear that the Congress would sail through. Interest would now centre on how stable the Hooda government will be considering that the HJC is still bargaining hard with the Congress and the latter along with the Independents add up to a razor-thin majority. Though Mr Bishnoi has in some media interviews indicated his preference for the Congress, a lot would depend on the kind of deal that is worked out between the two parties. That he and his flock of MLAs have dashed to New Delhi absenting themselves from voting in the Speaker's election, the trust vote as well as the Governor's address suggests that the real scene of action would be the national Capital.

 

Now that the trust vote is over, it is surprising that Mr Hooda chose to pack the swearing-in of members, the election of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker, the trust vote, the Governor's address and the debate on it, all in one day. By doing so, he has given his critics a handle to beat him with. The Governor's address is traditionally prepared by the Cabinet. In this case, however, the Chief Minister has gone ahead with its presentation to the Governor even before the Cabinet had been constituted. The address is, therefore, evidently a product of the thinking of the Chief Minister and of his band of bureaucrats and not of the council of ministers.

 

Now that it is confirmed in the saddle, the new Hooda government would do well to concentrate on good governance. While overall the pace of development during Mr Hooda's first term was encouraging, there are certain grey areas where greater attention is required. Law and order, controlling prices, balanced regional growth, social reforms and education and preventing the so-called honour-killings by khap panchayats are some of the urgent tasks for the new government.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

MURDEROUS MINDSET

GOVT MUST ACT AGAINST THE KHAPS

 

The khap-inspired mindset will stop at nothing to punish the couples that dare challenge their convoluted notions of "honour". So, it continues to extract a heavy price with a familiarity that is both benumbing and horrifying. In a nauseating familiar scenario, yet another young boy has fallen victim to archaic beliefs. Virender Singh of Mahara village in Sonepat district was allegedly killed by family members of the girl he had married in defiance of the same gotra diktat of the khaps.

 

Once khaps may have served some social purpose in the administration of villages. However, in the 21st century khaps have come to represent regressive social attitudes that have become a political albatross in Haryana. Not too long ago a youth was lynched by the villagers at the behest of khaps right in police presence, thus making a mockery of the law-enforcing machinery. Besides giving ludicrous orders, khaps have repeatedly instigated family members who hound out couples. The fact that the couple in question had eloped three years ago proves their persistent ruthlessness. Even though khaps have no legal standing, these have become an extra-constitutional authority that enjoys not only social sanction but also political patronage. A senior Congress leader defended khaps on same gotra marriage and even called for changes in marriage law to accommodate their views on gotra norms.

 

While the state government has all along remained a mute spectator to the khap's unbridled power, other political patties too prefer to remain mum, refusing to indict khaps for fear of losing vote banks. It is time the state authorities gave up their inertia and punished the khaps. The state has to ensure that similar incidents do not recur.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

CHINA FLEXES MUSCLES

INDIA MUST BE FIRM, BUT RESTRAINED IN RHETORIC

BY G. PARTHASARATHY

 

The mouthpiece of China's Communist Party, the People's Daily, claimed on October 14 that the Indians have become "more narrow minded". It accused India of "provocation" on border issues with China and asserted that as "nationalism sentiment" rises, the Indians are turning to "hegemony" in relations with neighbours. The People's Daily called on India to give a "positive response" to China's efforts to resolve the border issue. Pakistan was referred to as one of the countries suffering from Indian "hegemony", as India allegedly sought to "befriend the far (United States and Russia) and attack the near (Pakistan and China)". The Chinese conveniently forget how they colluded against India with the Nixon Administration during the Bangladesh conflict in 1971 and with the Clinton Administration after India's nuclear tests in 1998.

 

While China has relentlessly sought to denigrate and undermine India's relations with countries in its Indian Ocean neighbourhood, even going to the extent of transferring nuclear weapons designs and knowhow to Pakistan, India has yet to fashion a coherent policy on the fears that China's East and South-East Asian neighbours have of China's efforts to dominate the Asia-Pacific region. Assured by the support it received after a visit by Deng Xiao Ping's to Washington, China launched an unprovoked attack on Vietnam in order to "teach" Vietnam a "lesson" in 1979. Deng proclaimed that the "lesson" was meant to be similar to that administered to India in 1962. China again used force against Vietnam when it forcibly occupied the Paracel islands in 1974.There was yet another military engagement between China and Vietnam, when China occupied the "Johnson Reef" in 1988. In July 1992, China occupied Vietnam's Da Lac Reef, establishing its first military presence there since the 1988 clash with Vietnam.

 

China claims that its territorial waters engulf 3 million square kilometres out of the total area of 3.5 million square kilometres in the South China Sea. Given such claims about its ever-expanding maritime frontiers, China is today engulfed in maritime disputes with the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Indonesia, Japan and both North and South Korea. Earlier this year, China complained about an "official landing" by Malaysia on the islands it had claimed. The same week, Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo signed a decree laying claim to two islands that China had claimed. In February 1995, China militarily occupied the "Mischief Reef" in the Spratlys Islands, which was claimed by the Philippines. A month later Philippines forces seized Chinese fishing boats and destroyed Chinese markers in "Mischief Reef". Malaysia and Vietnam have joined hands to counter Chinese expansionism, by jointly submitting a proposal to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea questioning China's claims and definition of its continental shelf. It is precisely such belligerence that prompts China's Asia-Pacific neighbours to seek a US presence in the region. India would be well advised to seek a more wide-ranging strategic engagement with China's Asia-Pacific neighbours like Vietnam and the Philippines in response to China's policies of seeking to undermine India's relations with its immediate neighbours.

 

While intimidating its smaller neighbours on issues of its maritime boundaries by its growing military strength, China finds its quest for hegemony hampered by two large Asian neighbours --- Japan and India. It seeks to exclude the United States and India from regional forums by calling for the establishment of an "East Asian Community". Concerned by such Chinese moves, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong asserted: "I think the US has to be part of the Asia-Pacific and the overall architecture of cooperation within the Asia Pacific". This fear of Chinese expansionism is accentuated by the virtual paralysis in Japanese foreign policy in recent times.

 

The Chinese have spread fears about a revival of World War II Japanese "militarism" and put Japan on the defensive by protesting about the visits of Japanese leaders to the Yasukuni Shrine, which is dedicated to the memory of the soldiers killed in the service of the country. Having emerged as the largest trading partner of Asia's three largest economies — Japan, South Korea and India — and a major trading partner of ASEAN, China appears determined to combine its economic clout and its military potential to emerge as Asia's dominant power. Apart from using its maritime strength to enforce its territorial claims in Asia-Pacific, China now seeks to become a dominant player in the sea-lanes of the Indian Ocean. Hence its proposal to the Commander of the US Pacific Fleet that in return for the recognition of American dominance in the eastern Pacific, the Americans should acknowledge that the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean Regions as China's sphere of influence.

 

China's growing belligerence on the border issue should be seen in this context of its determination to be the dominant power in Asia. Given Japan's readiness to succumb to Chinese pressures, Beijing's rulers see an emerging India, which shows the potential for rapid economic growth while being respected in the comity of nations as a stable democracy, as an irritant and challenge to its larger ambitions. The unresolved border issue serves as a useful tool to keep India on the edge and under pressure. China knows that no government in India can agree to its claims on populated areas like Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh.

 

One of the greatest failures of China's Communist revolution is that despite the Han Chinese constituting 91 per cent of the country's population, the Chinese are paranoiac and insecure about their ability to handle 9 per cent of their minority population in the strategically important Buddhist-dominated Tibetan Autonomous Region and in the Muslim-majority Xinjiang province, despite bringing in Han settlers to reduce the indigenous populations to a minority. Tawang is seen as symbolically crucial in Chinese eyes as a centre of Buddhist spiritualism. By laying claim to the whole of Arunachal Pradesh, China puts India on the defensive, diplomatically and militarily, and seeks to influence gullible sections of the public in India to "compromise" on Tawang.

 

The Prime Minister told his Chinese counterpart in Thailand that India regarded the Dalai Lama as an "honoured guest" and a spiritual leader. Even as the dialogue with China continues, to maintain peace and tranquillity along our borders, India should not buckle under Chinese pressure, by reversing its decision on the Dalai Lama's visit to Tawang. Firmness, together with restraint in rhetoric, and not appeasement, is required for dealing with a growingly jingoistic China.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

MAN FOR THE CLEAN-UP JOB

BY UTTAM SENGUPTA

 

Pakhana Pathak is what Lalu Yadav would invariably call him. It never failed to draw peals of laughter. But nobody would object because Bindeshwar Pathak , hailed as one of the heroes of environment-2009 by Time magazine, had indeed made a career out of shit.

 

He himself put it differently. His mission, he would say, is to serve the cause of sanitation and free the country of scavengers.

 

He once stormed a four-star hotel with a 100 scavengers and ordered tea for everyone. On another occasion he persuaded prominent citizens in the national Capital to each "adopt" a family of scavengers. The extended family, he explained, would celebrate festivals together and the better-off citizens would take up the responsibility to educate the lowliest of the lowly, thus imparting to them dignity, confidence and the ability to face the world.

 

The public urinals he initially built were disastrous. There was no provision for flushing them and the urinals soon became impossible to use because of the stink. He then improvised public toilets on mandatory but nominal payment. This turned out to be a major hit and state governments bent over backwards to invite him. Recognition and awards followed.

 

His critics accused him of making a fortune out of shit by misleading governments. Most Indian cities, they point out, continue to suffer from poor sanitation. The slums continue to be equally bad and while Pathak collects awards and addresses meetings at the UN, millions of Indians continue to relieve themselves in the open. Pathak's own style made him vulnerable to criticism. He would throw lavish parties, distribute expensive gifts and would carry plane-loads of people at his own expense to witness awards he collected. He would also employ a string of retired bureaucrats.

 

He would sometimes lament that though a Bihari, it was impossible for him to work in the state. People are jealous, he would tell me, and pulled down people who rose higher than their surroundings. "How can anyone allege that I take all state governments for a ride," he would complain bitterly.

 

I will, however, remember the day I was finally converted and became an unabashed admirer of Pakhana Pathak. I had just finished talking to him and had got up to leave. I had asked him several uncomplimentary, uncomfortable and hard-hitting questions and was in a hurry to leave. But Bindeshwar Pathak would have none of it. "You must have a cup of tea before you leave," he said and offered to show me the photographs he had taken on a recent visit to China.

 

I was resigned to seeing him standing on the Great Wall of China or beaming at the Tiananmen Square. But what I saw left me speechless. There were several hundred photographs of toilets, of Chinese men and women carrying human excreta and of Chinese farmers spreading the excreta in their fields with their feet. "We treat human excreta as something dirty but they treat it as valuable manure — it is a cultural thing, you know," he explained.

 

Anyone who goes to China and takes 300 pictures of toilets and of human excreta, I told myself, was, well, just admirable.

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

BLAIR CAN'T REALLY BECOME PRESIDENT OF EUROPE

BY MARK STEEL

 

There must be millions of us who've been slowly managing to forget about Tony Blair for the last two years, recovering as he fades into the past, the way torture victims rebuild their lives day by day, and now this dreadful figure we thought had gone forever might be back ruling us again.

 

It's like finding out your new boss is the PE teacher who used to thrash you with his belt when you were in the shower, or your local councillor is Hughie Greene, or having Black Lace move in next door and sing Agadoo every night.

 

This is someone who made himself one of the most despised people in Europe, so loathed that Britain came bottom of the Eurovision Song Contest because of an orchestrated protest.

 

So that's the ideal President of a continent, the person who had even the judges in a music contest saying "Hello – Lithuania here, ooh what a splendid night and hard to choose between so many dreadful tunes, the only easy part is giving nought to the warmongering running dogs of poodle-boy Blair's blood-soaked United Kingdom."

 

Anyway, isn't he supposed to be Middle-East peace envoy? Surely he won't want to give that up just while he's achieving such staggering success in that post. But this appears to be what happens to him; he wrecks a place, then gets the job of uniting it.

 

Even Bin Laden didn't have the cheek to say "Aha, there's a vacancy for President of the New York Tall Buildings Appreciation Society. I think I'll put in for that."

 

In support of Blair, David Miliband said the post should go to someone who's a "well-known international leader", and who is "not a shrinking violet". And it's true, Blair fits into both those categories – as does Robert Mugabe.

 

Or maybe this explains why Karadzic didn't turn up for his trial – he's busy planning his campaign, in which his slogan will be "I'm no shrinking violet", at which point Austria will put forward Josef Fritzl as a compromise candidate.

 

Blair's supporters also say the new President has to be someone who "stops the traffic" when he arrives abroad. So the whole campaign revolves around his celebrity status. And in a way he is a political version of Paris Hilton, desperate for whatever role will keep up his global profile.

 

If he gets the job he'll probably arrange for the meetings to be covered by the paparazzi, so the reports will begin "Tony Blair, 53, seen falling out of Beijing's exclusive 'Long March' nightclub, glared at photographers when they suggested he'd been involved in a flare-up with Colonel Gadaffi over a bottle of tequila spilt on the Libyan leader's strapless snakeskin top at last night's climate change summit after-party."

 

Because fame is his only selling point, unless the argument for electing Blair will be that, faced with today's global challenges, Europe needs a strong voice that can speak up loudly in favour of doing whatever America tells it to.

 

That may be why his only definite ally so far is Berlusconi. Which means if Miliband was honest he'd say "Tony's the ideal candidate to unite Europe and America – in one continent he's known as the most strident supporter of the most unpopular President ever, and in the other he's endorsed by a man who at 70 can still surround himself with prostitutes. Top that."

 

In any case, many countries could be bankrupted after he's flown in to stop the traffic, when they receive Cherie's demand for an appearance fee.

 

Typically, it's claimed Blair hasn't officially put himself forward yet, and the story has been derided as "only speculation", even though he's been lobbying for months. As ever, you almost wish they'd make more effort with the lying.

 

But there's marvellous potential here, since his main rival is the current Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker, who said, "If called upon I would have no reason to refuse".

 

So can you imagine the feverish dealing and smearing Blair's team will be organising against Luxembourg, with rumours being spread that they're building missiles that could reach the edge of Luxembourg, and issuing hypnotic stamps.

 

But it means this could end gloriously, if only whoever the people are who decide these things have it in them – to make Tony Blair, in his quest for the job he wants so so much, lose to the Prime Minister of bloody Luxembourg.

 

Is there any way we can influence this? There must be bribes that can be made, like they do with the Olympics. Someone must come up with a plan – it'll be the cathartic boost the country and the world so desperately needs.n

 

By arrangement with The Independent

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

RAILWAYS' MEGA PROFITS: HOW REAL?

BY ARABINDA GHOSE

 

Media reports during the third week of October indicate that far from subscribing to the theory evolved during the Lalu Prasad Yadav regime in the Indian Railways (IR) from 2004 to 2009, the Prime Minister has instructed the Planning Commission to "independently reassess the much-touted success story of the Railways".

 

What is more, in a letter to the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Dr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, he has also asked the planning body to identify measures to be taken in order to bring IR on a par with the Railways in China, "which is far ahead, structurally and financially, than its Indian counterpart in a time-bound manner."

 

Not that Dr Manmohan Singh is not aware of the recent improvement in the financial health of IR but has pointed out that grounds for this were already in place before Mr Lalu Prasad took over.

 

Faced with this situation, the Ministry of Railways, according to one report, is thinking in terms of levying a cess for financially unviable projects and asking the states to finance, at least partially, such projects.

 

However, away from the possible conflict between the Railways and the Planning Commission, and pending the submission of a White Paper on the railway finances to be prepared by a team led by Dr Amit Mitra, Secretary-General of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), what is at stake, prima facie, is the fate of the Rs 2 ,51,000 lakh crore Eleventh Plan of the Indian Railways.

 

According to the October 6, 2008 report of the Standing Committee on the Indian Railways, the size of the Eleventh Plan (2007-2012) would be Rs 251,000 lakh crore to be financed through internal generation of Rs 90.000 crore, extra-budgetary resources amounting to Rs 75,000 crore and gross budgetary support (GBS) of Rs 86,000 crore.

 

(One may ,however, state here that the gross budgetary support, to be provided by the Ministry of Finance is not a grant, but a "loan in perpetuity" on which interest, called dividend, is to be paid every year by the Railways to the Finance Ministry.

 

The Planning Commission, according to the Standing Committee report, did not agree to the high gross budgetary support of Rs 86,000 crore and had suggested more resource mobilisation from the private sector. This projection was subsequently scaled down by the ministry to a level of Rs 65, 000 crore, but the Planning Commission had approved only Rs 50,063.36 crore.

 

Together with an estimated Rs 12,000 crore to be available for the National Projects (those fully funded by the Centre without taking recourse to the railway ministry's budget such as the Kashmir line), the total budgetary support would be Rs 62,063.36 crore.

 

The 11th Plan outlay by the Railways, amounting to Rs 251,000 lakh crore, in reality has a size of Rs 2,19,717 lakh crore, the remaining Rs 20,000 crores being private sector investment.

 

The Ministry of Railways now finds itself in a quandary regarding the financing of 109 new lines project of which only 12 have been found to be financially viable. The suggestion by the ministry for the states to finance the bulk of the unviable projects is unlikely to get support, given the poor financial health of most state governments. It is said that the ministry has now approached the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) for assistance in implementing these unviable projects.

 

One would like to recall, in the context of the present state of the railway finances, the statement by former Railway Minister Lalu Prasad while presenting his last budget on February 13, 2009, that "I can proudly say that Indian Railways scaled a new pinnacle every year (since 2004) and now stand at the zenith of success from where, without imposing any burden on the common man, the Railways are set to establish the historic landmark of earning a cash surplus before dividend of more than Rs 90,000 crore in the five years ….This august House will be pleasantly surprised to know, that even in such adverse times the Indian Railway Finance Corporation in November 2008, has successfully raised a 10-crore dollar loan, equivalent to Rs 500 crore, at a rate of only 4 per cent from the international market" (IRFC raises funds for acquiring railway assets, mainly rolling stock, and then leases them to the Railways charging hefty lease charges).

 

One also recalls the hype caused by the release of the book, "Bankruptcy to Billions written by Mr S. Kumar, Laluji's Man Friday and Officer on Special Duty, explaining how Indian Railways had achieved those pinnacles of financial glories. Both the Prime Minister and Dr Ahluwalia had issued statements on that occasion eulogising the success of Laluji.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

HEALTH

'CHILDREN SHOULD LEARN THE ART OF A GOOD NIGHT'S SLEEP'
BY RICHARD GARNER

 

Children should be taught about the importance of a good night's sleep as part of the national curriculum, health campaigners say.

 

Sleep experts say it is just as important as a healthy diet and exercise in ensuring children get the best out of their schooling. They add that children would be less likely to nod off during lessons.

 

Lack of sleep, they argue, can lead to an inability to concentrate in lessons – and, of course, falling asleep in the classroom instead of in bed at home. It can also make children irritable, causing behavioural problems.

 

A survey of more than 2,000 parents by the Sleep Council published today reveals that nearly half did not realise that their children needed 12 hours' sleep a night at the age of three. And fewer than four out of 10 were aware that teenagers need between eight and nine hours' sleep a night.

 

As a result of the survey, a petition has been launched on the Downing Street website calling for sleep education to become part of the national curriculum.

 

Chris Idzikowski, of the Edinburgh Sleep Centre, said: "Our education system must take this subject on board in a serious and structured way.

 

"We teach children about nutrition and ensure regular exercise is part of their weekly activities but the third critical ingredient of a healthy lifestyle – sleep – is barely touched upon."

 

The survey showed two-thirds of parents (67 per cent) admitted to worrying about the amount or quantity of sleep their children got and 96 per cent agreed lack of sleep or poor quality sleep is damaging to the health and wellbeing of children.

 

It also showed that 80 per cent of parents interviewed recognised how important sleep was for a child to do well at school.

 

Regular bedtimes followed by a comfortable bed were said to be the most important factors in getting a good night's sleep. Other factors were a dark room, no gadgets, exercise and a nutritious diet.

 

Nick Stanley, an independent sleep consultant, said: "Sleep is a basic and fundamental human requirement and is vitally important for good physical, mental and emotional health.

 

"It's crucial for memory, learning and growth which means it is necessary for children to get enough sleep."

 

The Sleep Council points out there is no mention of the word "sleep" in national curriculum guidelines while there are several mentions of the necessity to ensure a healthy diet and that children should take exercise.

 

Jessica Alexander, its spokeswoman, said: "The lack of education about sleep and the factors critical to achieving the necessary quantity and quality must be addressed in schools as well as home if today's children are to take the subject seriously."

 

Taking the subject seriously and instilling healthy sleeping habits into children could help a school improve its exam and test score results.

 

Meanwhile new research out today from the Independent Schools Council shows the average cost of state education is more than £8,000 a year – rather than the £6,000 figure cited by the Departmental for Children, Schools and Families. The ISC argues the increased cost underlines the importance of its sector in saving the state the cost of educating its pupils. — By arrangement with The Independent

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUME

EDITORIAL

GAMUT OF IRONIES

 

That a gamut of ironies afflicts the war on terror launched by the Western allies will not be lost on political observers. The US, which leads the allied forces in this war, appears to have a simple prescription — pour cash into its less resourceful Asian partners even as it pours in more troops into Afghanistan, the latter lying as it does at the very heart of the anti-terrorism thrust. The sole nation bordering Afghanistan which has empathy with the Western powers is Pakistan and thus it enjoys a status as a key partner in the anti-terrorism operations. Had it not been for its strategic geographical positioning perhaps the West would have had second thoughts about making Pakistan an ally, for the internal politics of that nation had been too volatile for it to be an effective and reliable partner. This, of course, is most unsubtle irony if we consider that Pakistan had been the birthplace of terrorism almost from the beginning, though earlier the all-embracing designation of 'freedom- fighter' had acted as a self-deluding euphemism. Pakistan's role through decades in giving birth to and sustaining various species of terrorism, from anti-Soviet Mujaheedin and anti-Iran Jundollah to hardcore Taliban, has been well-documented. To round off the irony it had been nations such as the US which had aided Pakistan in creating the terrorist entities the Allied troops are now combating.


Yet, equally ironically, Pakistan's foreign policy has always been centred on an anti-India stance, activities on its west and north being traditionally considered by it to be secondary to what goes on in the south and east. Every effort towards peaceful co-existence initiated by India had been thwarted by Pakistan. For instance, in the mid-1990s India had offered most favoured nation trading status to Pakistan, but it was not reciprocated. Such enmity has resulted in not only colossal waste of resources squandered upon meaningless wars, but also in retaining huge military presences on the border. But perhaps the biggest bit of irony is that the funds for enhancing its military fire-power to be directed against India have unwittingly been provided by the US. As revealed by India and acknowledged by America a substantial part of the amounts received from America for development and to fight terrorism, has been diverted by Pakistan into buying tanks, planes and artillery aimed directly at its traditional 'adversary'. Pakistan's mindless obsession with India has cost it dear. In another bit of none too subtle irony, the monster that had been gestating in its remoter provinces has now grown terrifyingly huge, and threatens to engorge the entire country. It is to be hoped that the dire predicament Pakistan finds itself in now will make it recognise its true enemy and change its hostile stance towards India, though that, indeed, will be irony of Kafaesque dimensions!

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUME

EDITORIAL

OF RIVERS AND MOUNTAINS

 

Perhaps it should have taken place earlier, but even now it is a move that could effect perceptional as well as tangible changes in the way floods in Assam and rest of the North East have been tackled. The ongoing training programme on flood hazard and vulnerability analysis organised by International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development in Guwahati, could result in newer insights on understanding floods and erosion. The biggest advantage of the endeavour could emerge from the fact that ICIMOD's approach takes into account not just rivers and other water bodies, but brings into focus the role of highlands, mountains and weather phenomenon. The dynamic and interlined processes are then co-related to the presence of human settlements, providing a comprehensive picture of an open system where energy flows make complex patterns. The ICIMOD's role could indeed be productive because the agency has had diverse experience with mountain and river systems in a number of landscapes in the Hindu Kush and Himalayan region. Unlike typical government organizations, ICIMOD personnel work across borders to understand mountains and rivers and people who live close by them. In the case of studying the Brahmaputra and its basin, this could be a great advantage as the river and some of its tributaries have their sources beyond the Indian border.


Armed with the expertise of ICIMOD and bolstered by support from scientists from select institutions across the world, Assam could gain access to facts and insights about the Brahmaputra and the adjoining landscape in an unprecedented way. The other spin off could be in acquiring knowledge from the communities dependent on the river and its ecosystem services, many of whom also suffer due to floods and erosion. For the first time ICIMOD personnel would interact with a wide cross section of people in the Brahmaputra basin. However, translating the huge corpus of data into workable action plans to forecast and tackle flood hazards perhaps would be a bigger challenge. After all, this particular endeavour would require political will and funding in a substantial scale. It would be interesting to note to what extent the Assam Government and the Union Government recognise the validity of the data generated by ICIMOD. Here political parties across the board could play a crucial role in ensuring that the ICIMOD's findings are taken with due seriousness if not incorporated in future action plans to mitigate floods and erosions.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUME

EDITORIAL

WILL FURTHER SLICING OF ASSAM HELP?

PATRICIA MUKHIM

 

One faction of the Dima Halam Daogah (DHD) spearheaded by Dilip Nunisa is talking tough. Nunisa says the DHD would press for its demand for a separate Dimaraji state and settle for nothing less. One would have expected the DHD to scale down its demands in the light of the ongoing talks between the outfit and the Centre, but that seems like a far cry. Whether it is just political grandstanding or an assertion backed by threat of violence should the talks fail, is uncertain. But the DHD message should certainly ring alarm bells for Assam. Or should it?


Considering that the DHD ( Jewel Garlosa) faction has chosen to remain silent on the Dimaraji issue or to join ranks with Nunisa, it is unsure if violence will cease in the volatile North Cachar Hills if only one faction of the DHD talks peace. Also it is difficult to decipher the larger game plan of the Indian state in this whole rigmarole. Is it better for the Centre if there is only one DHD to reckon with? Or is it better to continue to allow another faction to sulk and queer the pitch for whoever is in a talking mode. This continues to be the sordid history of militancy in the North East.


Dilip Nunisa has laid bare his shopping list of demands, some of which would mean a foray into hitherto Naga inhabited territories and carving out Nagaon and Cachar districts of Assam as well as a sizeable portion from Karbi Anglong. A tall order we must admit. And no less ambitious than the NSCN(IM)'s demands for Nagalim! It has taken the Nagas almost half a century to reach a talking point with the Centre. But the boundaries of Nagalim continue to be Contentious and highly inflammatory particularly where the excision of the State of Manipur is concerned.


The debate on and demand for ethnic homelands has occupied the mind space of the people of this region ever since independence. A prime reason is our diverse racial origins and our inability to relate to the larger national identity which we are told should subsume our sub-nationalities. India's own status as a nation state is incidental if not accidental considering that tribals occupying large tracts of the North East never felt they were 'Indians' and never integrated with the emotional and mental psyche of the average 'mainstream non-tribal Indian". This term put under quotations might sound like an oxymoron for an average Indian from Delhi or UP or Tamil Nadu since many of these peoples' groups know of no other identity than the 'Indian' identity. But for the tribes, tribal identity is always uppermost.


Large sections of Indians who have moved away from their native habitats and have married people from across the globe like Swaminathan Aiyar and his family members have, today call themselves global citizens. They perceive themselves as people living in what Kenichi Ohmae refers to as 'the borderless world.' For such as those, culture is defined differently than it would for a tribal from the North East. There is a sharp mental divide on how culture is perceived and lived out. Food habits are an integral part of that culture and often it is food that divided the tribe and non-tribe.


These intrinsic diversities cannot be wiped away simply by invoking patriotic sentiments. Moreover, for large sections of tribes living impoverished lives in the dark peripheries of this region, the Indian state is an unknown, amorphous entity whose magnanimity as propounded by those in government, they are yet to experience. Tomes have been written by world renowned political scientists and economists on the advantages of multiple identities and the benefits of putting such theories to practice. But such discourses end at the seminar table. Race as the source of identity continues to be an important factor even in a highly developed nation like the United States. During a recent visit to Alaska one sensed a high degree of alienation felt by the Inuit's (commonly known by the pejorative term of Eskimo) from the mainstream US political and economic life. So this sense of estrangement from the 'mainstream' is not necessarily a syndrome carried by the tribes of North East India. Race is embedded in the human DNA and it must be acknowledged and not dismissed as an impractical emotionally charged assertion. To that extent one empathises with the Dimasas, the Karbis, Bodos and other smaller tribes.


Having said this, one must also point out that a separate State does not necessarily address the developmental backlogs in a region. I take Meghalaya as a classic case. When the State was carved out of the composite state of Assam in 1972 its GDP was better, its medical services more enlightened and responsive and its roads and water systems were better built and maintained. The Umiam Hydro Electric Project, a legacy of the Assam government continues to be the main power provider to Meghalaya. In 37 years Meghalaya has not come up with additional mega power projects despite the state having abundant water resources.


Under self rule or the rule by the tribal elite, Meghalaya has lost more forest cover then ever before (satellite imageries are highly deceptive). Coal mining by the tribes themselves is about to cause an environmental holocaust. Smoke-stacked industries which are environmentally unsustainable are guzzling both power and charcoal and leaving the environment half dead. The human development indices of Meghalaya are some of the poorest. Recently in a state of the States survey by a national magazine, Meghalaya figured at the bottom of the list in primary education, health care, agriculture, infrastructure and investment. So what is there to celebrate about?

My point is that granting statehood to any ethnic group is hardly likely to change the lives of those who have been subsisting on minimal wages and whose lives hang precariously outside of Abraham Maslow's pyramid of the hierarchy of human needs because they cannot even access the basic needs of food, water and shelter .


One agrees with Nunisa that there is need for better educational infrastructure, good roads and communication networks and targeted investments in livelihood generation activities. Agricultural outputs have to be improved through modern yet sustainable farming methods. Forests as an integral resource of the tribes ought to be regenerated and their use regulated. Exploitation of resources from tribal lands ought to be duly compensated and ploughed back to improve the lot of people. The North Cachar Hills and Karbi Anglong districts are laggards and studies are required to determine the reasons this lack of progress. Such studies should inform the Planning Commission so that special packages aimed at improving the human condition are specifically implemented and supervised by a strict monitoring agency.


Merely giving funds to politically assertive groups to control violence in these areas is not going to work. On the contrary, such knee-jerk actions from the State will eventually give rise to a more virulent revolution such as the kind experienced in the central and eastern belts of India today.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUME

EDITORIAL

BUSINESS STRATEGY IN A FAST CHANGING WORLD

DR B K MUKHOPADHYAY

 

In today's fast changing world business is not just a cake walk or goodwill tour that one lands, grabs the opportunity and then vanishes. Myopic approach is suicidal. Truly, success means a long term phenomenon - continuous market scans and adapting to change friendly approaches. The strategy existing today may not be liked by the next generation and thus quick adaptability is required to remain inbuilt. Global business arena has been changing very fast making it difficult for the poor-walkers to retain the market. There is a lot of noise out there. Merger /amalgamation / tie-up arrangements / outsourcing are being dished out - still something more is needed and that too on an urgent basis, especially for our indigenous banks considering the existence of a very competitive world where there are many hungry competitors - the number is too going up by leaps and bounds.


In today's business world competition comes in many forms: price, service, quality speed of delivery, uniqueness, experience, knowledge, contacts, resources, brand equity, so on and so forth. Boosting of service quality, keeping in view the very nature of effective demand, is the crying need. The challenge is not only to acquire the customer, but also to retain him in the business for furthering the process of improved customer value. What is more : the fact remains that the market share once gone would be very difficult to regain as not only the number of CORE (Competitors, Opponents, Rivals and Enemies ) is on the rise but technology also is on a continuously changing position.


And of course the formula for trade off comes into play in such a vital context. Be it commodity marketing or services marketing, ultimately it is the quality that matters. Quality is nothing but a summation of cost and time. Changing any one of these variables would lead to change the outcome. If the amount of time is shortened to complete the assignment, either the cost is to be increased or quality is to be lowered. Quality refers to identifying the quality standards relevant to the assignment and determining how to measure and satisfy them.

Managing capital and risk exist at the front door. Tapping the high growth opportunities ensuring capital efficiency stay at the forefront. Essentially, before the broad objectives are set the crucial aspects are to be kept in mind. The risk factor, that is determining the risks is likely to affect the implementation and evaluating possible responses. Business without risk is similar to day without night! It is just like sugar and salt in life.

Consolidation would definitely continue to be the key factor - but obviously it is not the end as is presently thought of, rather the tip of an icebberg! Tying up / amalgamation /merger with the stronger is definitely one of the ways. But what are the things that are to be done thereafter - have the problems faced by the regional rural banks been solved after the mergers which are already taking place in a big way! Actually, in today's unprecedented talent crunch, the business world as a whole is grappling with developing the leadership, talent, risk awareness and of course the very task of building up / inculcate positive change- adapting attitude. Next, the very aspect of communication comes into play –what information each stakeholder / customer needs and how to deliver the same. Organization's roles and responsibilities exist in such a boiling context as one of the major determinants.– roles, assignments, relationships to make sure that the right people are assigned with the right job, especially if the crucial arena is accounted for.


Why not to try with the joint endeavours in a more pronounced way - may be with the telephone, insurance, non-conventional energy agency, post offices having a reach deep and wide and also resorting to PPP (Private- Public– Partnership) drive. Otherwise, watch like a silent spectator and be ready to capsize! The market share is gone! Crying over spilt milk does not help anyway! In such a process it is also as clear as anything - the stake holders cannot shark off the responsibility, obviously, under the ongoing facts and circumstances. Measures already taken are good beginnings only – the need is there to continuously change the strategies best suited under a given situation.


Obvious enough, the choice of strategy also depends on facts and circumstances —may be one particular strategy becomes outdated or calls for supplements not necessarily by discarding the older one. This renovation is thus a continuous process. The redesigning of existing processes can effectively lead to dramatic enhancements in per formance that enables the organization to deliver greater value to customers in such a way that generates higher profits to the stakeholders. The happenings thus require a conscious and undivided attention. A well-groomed strategy could not only help protect the fund deployed, but also enable to face competition through customers'confidence building Siphoning of fund is a near- crime and the offence is much more serious in nature than diversion of fund. As per yesterday's experience detection at a distant time only offers the scope to go for damage control exercise only. Time management aspects call for serious consideration irrespective of size of the institution.


The issue is a burning one in as much as the same not only affects liquidity, profitability and equity of individual company but affects national economy by freezing the supply link also, which, in turn, terribly affects the process of capital formation. Is it not a fact that the path to success is an elaborate one? A long journey before one comes out of the tunnel indeed! Tasks remain unending: (a) building credibility; deciding on what to do; identifying the competitive edge; locating what makes service successful; understanding what makes the service fail, what makes ourselves stand out,(b) knowing about our customers and prospects : who needs us– at the market, in order of importance , whom do we want to be our customers, whom we don't want, where are they, how do we get to them, when is the best time to get to them, what turns them on and of course what turns them off? It is the goodwill ladder that is to be ascended. One only gets a single chance to make a first impression and to most of the demanders' first impression becomes the last impression rightly or wrongly? The fact remains - the world wants to see the results only! What is the use of more business if don't get paid?


Arranging for such change-over calls for more than rearranging, work flows – which does what tasks, in what locations, as well as in what sequence. So for making the new process work the need is there to ensure that the jobs are redefined broadly backed by updated training, system to support these jobs and at the same time enabling decision making. The process and the outcome are to be studied for next course of action.


For developing high performance processes, institutions need to offer a very supportive environment. It is the more competent institutions that emerge as the victors while others struggle to keep the heads over water.

(The writer is a Faculty Member, Indian Institute of Bank Management, Guwahati)

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

EVERYONE LOVES A TAMASHA

 

It is a telling comment on what attracts television audiences that the viewership of a BBC programme featuring the extremist British right-wing leader Nick Griffin apparently equalled that of the reality show Strictly Come Dancing. While Griffin was but part of a panel, around 8 million people tuned into Question Time last week — the same number that on an average watches the celebrity dance reality show.

 

Racism could well be the hidden magnet for UK viewers — ratings soared for Big Brother thanks to the famous spat between Jade Goody and Shilpa Shetty last year. More recently, racism even coloured an episode of Strictly Come Dancing when the Indo-Moroccan actress Laila Rouass was told she looked "like a Paki" by her partner.

The same motivation is being cited for the unprecedented number of viewers for Griffin's TV performance, though critics say that the usually hackle-rousing British Nationalist Party chief gained a few unexpected supporters because the audience and his fellow-panelists ganged up on him.


No doubt the BBC counted on bigoted salvos from Griffin setting off explosions in the liberal audience along expected lines, but the high viewership could just as well be an indication that Britons regard weird and outlandish behaviour as great entertainment. After all, the brief appearance of the outspoken mayor of London Boris Johnson in an episode of the long-running Eastenders soap also notched up viewership of around 8 million.

Furthering the notion that the British audience's preferences may actually transcend colour, consider the fact that the starpower of both Johnson and Griffin came a pale second to that of the almost post-racial Michael Jackson:11 million plus viewers for TV tributes.


That the music talent show X-Factor has also raked in a peak audience over 12.8 million viewers (half of the nation's TV-watchers) gives the real picture: Britons, like us Indians, simply love a tamasha.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

PRESERVE CODE'S INTEGRITY WHILE AMENDING DIRECT TAX LAW

 

As suggested amendments to the draft direct tax code keep pouring in from industry, individual taxpayers , and even the tax department, the government must bear in mind the integrity of the final Bill that emerges from the process of consultation. Many of its provisions that kicked up much controversy and angst particularly among corporates would be diluted, and these include the 2% minimum alternate tax (MAT) on gross assets.

Provisions affecting individual taxpayers such as taxation of savings and perks (housing provided to civil servants is a prime candidate), may also undergo some dilution. The CBDT has suggested amendments to provisions relating to capital gains, double tax avoidance agreements (DTAA), general anti-avoidance rule (GAAR) as well as taxation of charitable organisation and foreign companies' operations in India. Some of these instances such as DTAA may only require some clarification, and not really changes, to address concerns about the changes in the tax environment.


In any case, the explicit objective of the direct taxes code — to provide a stable tax regime in the medium to long term — is welcome. Frequent changes in tax laws, in any commercial law, for that matter, affect long term planning of businesses as well as optimum use of the assets.


The government's decision to put out a discussion paper before finalising sweeping changes to the direct taxes law is welcome. Consultations with stakeholders must precede finalisation of any Bill. It will, without doubt, delay the process of amending extant laws or putting in place new ones. But some delay is preferable to frequent amendments. In the case of tax laws, sweeping changes to original proposals would upset revenue growth projections, and therefore the revenue department's aversion to take on board changes suggested by stakeholders is understandable.


The government can expand the tax base only by reducing exemptions and checking avoidance and evasion. And compliance will improve only if the tax laws are simple, tax rates moderate and compliance costs low. The revenue department would be better advised to take a holistic view of the demands of stakeholders and ensure the new tax code is fair to all, including, of course, to the exchequer.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

 

MAOISTS PULL A TRAIN INTO THE VOID

 

It's a publicity coup for the Maoists. The so-called blockade of the Bhubaneswar Rajdhani train for over five hours at a remote spot in a forest area of West Midnapore district makes several propaganda points: the Maoists can strike at will; they have popular support (villagers took part in the blockade and vacated their homes en masse to prevent police retaliation); they do not mean to harm civilians.

 

Of these, the first two are factually correct. The last claim is not only hollow but also a trap that the government must resolutely avoid. The Maoists are more than happy to incite state violence and retribution against villagers in response to Maoist attacks on policemen.


Such violence would give credence to their version of the world in which the only option available to India's poor is violent overthrow of the present political and economic order. To win the battle against the Maoists, it is necessary to discredit and disprove this thesis; armed victory over some Maoists alone will not suffice, others will crop up. This is the crux of the needed strategy to take on the Maoists. We need dextrous, uncompromising policing.

At the same time, the government must ensure that the poor people, mostly tribal, who rally behind the Maoists, are not clubbed with the Maoists when it comes to combat; and it must make good the deficit of governance and development that allows Maoists to garner popular support. This is a tough call, indeed. And it cannot be met by paramilitary forces or the army: only the local police can make the distinction, on the basis of local information and insight. Such local intelligence cannot be garnered without the assistance of alternate political mobilisation of the people. And that calls for leadership and vision.


The present ruling alliance at the Centre has created some vital wherewithal for the needed alternate political mobilisation: the forest dwellers' rights law, the right to information law, the employment guarantee scheme, Bharat Nirman. But the tragedy is that there is no political leadership to make use of these vital resources. And that leadership failure could lead on to a bigger tragedy of a state onslaught against masses of our own people.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

CITY GROWTH: WHEN BIG IS NOT BEAUTIFUL

KALA SEETHARAM SRIDHAR

 

India has 35 cities with million-plus population, with Mumbai leading the pack with a population of about 17 million. The question arises — can individual cities grow forever and whether there is an optimum city size? This is an important question as development plans of cities frequently follow the direction of development rather than guiding them.

 

Is the current size of cities justifiable in terms of greater efficiencies in the production of goods, services and amenities offered to their residents? General equilibrium models of city growth refer to the drawbacks of increasing city size — high cost of living, crime, pollution and congestion costs.


For example, in Bangalore, the one-way commute time to work increased from about 24 minutes in 1991 to 40 minutes in 2001. Thus, city population can grow, but the city may or may not grow economically. This happens as a city will experience congestion and decline in its economic output if its population grows beyond a certain limit.
One manifestation of excessive city growth is the suburbanisation and urban sprawl we see in India's cities.


With decentralisation of population and jobs from the dense core of cities to less densely developed suburbs, monocentric cities have evolved into polycentric cities. While such decentralisation is caused by rising incomes, rising land costs at the city centre and problems with the central city (high taxes, poor public services, high crime rates), recent research also attributes urban sprawl to strong land use controls in India's cities.


A research shows that the maximum floor area ratio (FAR) — which refers to the ratio of built area to plot area — permissible in India's cities is not even five whereas cities across the world have FARs ranging from well above 10. A higher FAR implies vertical city growth. Vertical city growth is more efficient if the infrastructure necessary to support it is in place — it would be poor public economics not to use fully-serviced plots of land with water and sewer networks, roads in the centre of the city. Low FARs lead to inefficient cities.


Efficiency of cities is partly determined by the mobility and access needs of the population as it has a direct relationship with the city's economic activity such as commute to school, jobs and shopping trips. While Indian cities' decentralisation has been caused by rising incomes and the use of the automobile, one direct outcome of the urban sprawl has been that Indian cities have become automobile-oriented with little space for pedestrians and cyclists. For instance, Indians bought 1.5 million cars in 2007, more than double than that in 2003.


Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bangalore have 5% of India's population but 14% of its registered vehicles.


Pedestrians and cyclists account for a substantial part of urban population. In Delhi, pedestrians and cyclists account for around 55% of the population. Pedestrian accessibility in Indian cities is poor – there are no sidewalks, and where they exist, they are taken over by parked vehicles, uncollected garbage, or encroachment by local businesses.


Rightly, a recent research points out that policymaking related to urban transport has focused predominantly on road infrastructure development such as the construction of flyovers. However, given the fact that pedestrians and cyclists are the most vulnerable road users, budgets for the provision of infrastructure for them have been minuscule. This is not consistent with their number. A 3.5 metre lane has a carrying capacity of 1,800 cars per hour while it can carry 5,400 bicycles per hour.

Providing segregated infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists would not cost much, but would greatly improve the efficiency of cities by facilitating the mobility of masses.


The above does not imply that we do not need highways or expressways of international standards. We need them for long distances and for facilitating movement of public transport that is affordable, convenient and safe to use. Highways are efficient if they are used for high occupancy vehicles such as public transport as compared to cars.


What the above implies is that decentralisation and sprawl have occurred in India's cities, with economic growth, rising incomes, rising land costs, and land use regulation playing a role. With rising incomes, the sprawl has also brought about increased usage of cars with poor access for pedestrians and cyclists. We have to consciously decide what kind of cities we want. Only innovative city planning and better infrastructure to support them, better space and planning for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport will ensure that we have efficient and equitable cities whose costs do not outweigh their benefits.


(The author is senior research fellow, Public Affairs Centre. Views are personal)

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

TAKE A REALITY CHECK ON YOUR DESIRES

JANKI SANTOKE

 

All human beings have desires. Desires running amok is the cause of human suffering. When the desires function independent of discrimination, it causes immense stress. Few ever stop to take a reality check on their desires. Being carried away with what we want, we do not bother to see the ground realities.

 

The mind (mana) and intellect (buddhi) become divorced entities. The mind is the desire. The intellect is rationality, discrimination. These two do not function in tandem. This discord is the base of human suffering.

One example of this lies in bad choices. A girl falls in love with a boy. She has many dreams of what the marriage will turn out to be. The mind fantasises. Goa in monsoon, romantic cruises. There is nothing wrong so far. But if the intellect does not scrutinise the dreams in view of the ground realities, she will be disappointed. She may get too carried away in her own imagination to see what he is really like, to check if her dreams are justified.

After marriage the hard reality strikes. He hates anything to do with water. Monsoon and cruises alike! And is too busy for romance! And has no money anyway! She may berate the stars, or him. But what she is facing is the consequences of her own choices, her own actions. Once an action is taken, the consequence will have to be faced. Hence it is very important to make a choice correctly. There is no use crying later.


So too is it with business decisions. There is a tendency to get carried away by the dreams rather than see the realities. That explains why so many people lose so much in business, in the stock market. It is difficult to keep one's head because the desires are so forceful. The greed, the fancies, are all powerful motivators. It is easy to go along with them blindly and live in a world that does not exist. But reality catches up sooner or later. It is called consequences.


One solution is to call in outside experts. The theory is that they will be able to look at the matter more objectively. So basically we pay huge sums because our desire is out of our control. Would it not be wiser to gain more objectivity ourselves? Studying Vedanta trains us in gaining this objectivity. Reflecting on Vedantic truths fortifies the intellect to be the controller of the mind and its dreams.

           

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

OVERALL MEDIA ENVIRONMENT STILL RELATIVELY UNCLUTTERED

 

To gain leverage in business, it is critical to try and explore advantages in every turn of the market. The market now seems to be on the recovery mode with the consumer confidence building up and the Sensex rising back.


Advertisers are now at the brink of this cusp. Those who will invest beyond the immediately expected returns from the market can look at a greater opportunity realisation for themselves––both in terms of brand mileage as well as business scale. Brands which talk to consumer now will garner a greater share of mind and with an impact far beyond what their share of investment will gain in regular times. Every rupee spent in this period will spurt growth disproportionately especially inorganic growth.


The overall media environment is still relatively uncluttered, it is thus easier to engage them and be noticed. The ways to connect could be through either news around the brand or just leverage various media touch points to take him through the brand story. In fact, this opens up another arena where advertisers could get together with media to launch new options which connect to consumers.


One of the major failings of marketers operating in a recessionary climate has been a focus on excessive price promotion, a tactic which is founded not on enhancing effectiveness, but on driving a short-term improvement in sales. While these initiatives give the "impression" of doing the right thing, they actually run counter to a brand's short and long-term goals.


No experts know what the fiscal will end up in terms of GDP or market performance. However, focus on advertising and trying to maintain emotional engagement with consumers rather than solely focusing on price will definitely work.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

SLOWDOWN IS THE BEST TIME TO INVEST IN BRANDS

 

A slowdown is the best time to invest in brands as a whole and not on above-the-line advertising alone. It's a great time to invest in improving the brand connect and loyalty with customers, outspend competition and gain market shares.


During the slowdown and while the economy is getting back on its feet, it pays brands well if they identify specific areas of investment such as investing in retail, making sure that the brand's distribution is augmented, buying experience improved and establishing a deeper engagement with customers at different touch-points. Other area of investment could be product innovations and launching new products at reduced cost of marketing due to lower industry spends. It would pay more to get 'earned media' for the brand as against 'paid media' alone.

Brands should not place their eggs in one basket by merely increasing ad spends.


The beginning of economic recovery can be tricky phase. Marketers should not get carried away with exuberance but study the recovery patterns carefully to identify product segments, geographies of recovery – Is recovery at high end or low end, urban or rural and accordingly direct marketing investments in a focussed manner.

Advertising should not be seen as a panacea for all ills, it must be amply supported by strong investments in other areas like product innovation, retail, sales force performance improvement and ample internal communication about the renewed
marketing plans. In fact, it has been observed that in periods of recovery from slowdown, below-the-line initiatives yield better return on investments. Companies must continue to tread with caution instead of exuberance in the beginning of a revival.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

A NEW PARADIGM FOR LENDING RATES

T T RAM MOHAN

 

You expect banks to price their loans correctly. They can't afford to under-price their loans because then they are not covering their risks. They can't over-price their loans either because, in a competitive market, they would lose customers. Yet, the astonishing truth is that banks don't get the pricing of their credit products right. That, after all, is one of the important issues thrown up by the sub-prime crisis.

 

There are good reasons for regulators to lay down guidelines for loan pricing. First, banking has an anti-competitive character to it because entry into banking is not free. Secondly, customers cannot easily switch from one bank to another — as they can with, say, soap or biscuit — because there are "switching costs". Thirdly, bank management has incentives to price loans incorrectly in the short-run because the costs of failure only show up over a long period.


In India, the RBI, which has shown itself ahead of the regulatory curve in many ways, has long had guidelines for loan pricing in place. Since April 2003, banks in India have been required to compute a benchmark prime lending rate (BPLR) and indicate the minimum and maximum lending rates.


The BPLR is the rate offered to the best borrower, so one would not expect any loans to be made below the BPLR. It is a floating rate, so it should respond to changes in the RBI's policy rates. Neither expectation has been met for several years now. Sub-BPLR lending has become the norm — nearly 70% of all loans are today below the BPLR. Lending rates don't fall when the RBI cuts policy rates.


There are other problems. Banks would rather adjust discounts to the BPLR than change the BPLR itself. As a result, borrowers think lending rates aren't transparent enough. It is difficult for the RBI to get a clear picture of trends in lending rates by looking at BPLRs. The range of banks' BPLRs is pretty wide.


Clearly, we need a system that is more transparent, more responsive to monetary policy and that ensures that lending rates of banks adequately cover costs. Last June, the RBI constituted a working group on BPLR. The group submitted its report on October 20. I was a member.


We were quick to realise that many of the problems with the existing system are built into the very formula for BPLR. The BPLR today is based on the actual cost of funds, operating costs and a margin to cover provisioning and profit. The actual cost of funds is the weighted average of all historical costs.


When the policy rate declines, only incremental costs change significantly and the actual cost of funds changes very slightly. Banks cannot afford to lower their BPLR as that would translate into lower rates on the entire loan portfolio. Rates can fall only on incremental loans.


Many banks fixed their BPLR at a time when the cost of funds was high. Thereafter, as incremental costs fell, banks kept the BPLR unchanged and passed on the benefit to incremental borrowers through sub-BPLR rates. The present situation, where 70% of loans are below BPLR, is the logical culmination of this process.


Clearly, sub-BPLR lending cannot end as long as lending rates are based on historical costs. They need to be forward-looking. Since most of the loans today are for one year or more, the one-year deposit rate is the appropriate choice for a forward-looking cost.

Would a PLR that is linked to the one-year deposit rate address the sub-BPLR problem? Not quite. We have to reckon with another element in the pricing formula, operating costs. The operating cost used in the PLR formula is an average. For some products, such as housing loans, the operating costs are much lower than the average. The lending rates for such products would, therefore, end up lower than the PLR and, again, we would have sub-BPLR lending.


Having two BPLRs, one for wholesale and another for retail, does not solve the problem either. Within wholesale, there is a big difference in operating costs for large corporates and for small enterprises. In retail, a chasm separates housing from credit cards. The answer would be to have a BPLR for each business segment. But, then, we would end up creating a clutter in the name of transparency.


The group concluded, therefore, that we need to move away from the very concept of BPLR. Instead, it opted for a reference rate called the base rate, which could serve as the basis for loan pricing. The base rate is arrived at after taking into account the one-year card rate for retail deposits (adjusted for current and savings accounts and costs of statutory requirements), the unallocatable operating costs and return on net worth.


Why not include all operating costs in the base rate? If we did, we might end up with a large dispersion in the base rate, given the differences in operating costs between banks. The market would perceive banks at the upper end of the range as hugely inefficient and this could undermine confidence in them. In the scheme proposed, the dispersion would be narrower.


Banks can now arrive at the lending rate by adding to the base rate other elements: credit and tenor risks and product-specific operating costs. As the base rate represents the minimum rate, the question of sub-base lending should not arise. However, the group recognised that there could be short-term opportunities for lending below the base rate. So, loans of less than one year are not subject to the base rate.


At the same time, we thought it appropriate to limit such lending to 15% of incremental loans in any year. This need not be seen as regulatory overkill. It is elementary risk management for banks to have a ceiling on sub-base lending. The ceiling also ensures that banks don't set their base rate unduly high by manipulating cost elements.

The group recommended doing away with administered rates on small loans. Banks have stopped lending to this category. If they can charge appropriate interest rates, they would be more inclined to lend. A modest degree of regulation remains for two important categories: exports and education loans.


The switch from BPLR to a base rate should make lending rates more transparent and more responsive to monetary policy. Hopefully, it should also cause lending rates to settle at lower levels than today.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

FOCUS ON DOHA ROUND TO PUSH GLOBAL RECOVERY

JAIDEEP MISHRA

 

Think global, act regional. International negotiations these days seem more focused on regional and bilateral aspects of trade , what with multilateral talks on the back burner yet again. US Trade Representative Ron Kirk has been in New Delhi lately, calling for an Indo-US investment pact. There are other such moves.

 

However, as was highlighted at the recent Salzburg Global Seminar on trade and openness, global commerce is in danger of an incremental build-up of restrictions that could stultify trade and hamper growth recovery worldwide. As was revealed at the seminar, G-20 countries have initiated over 100 protectionist measures since November 2008. Protectionism is spreading, the World Trade Organisation concurs, although it is 'not yet alarming.' Governments have been using administrative instruments like reference pricing, import licensing and limiting ports of entry to restrict cross-border trade during the downturn.


Yet concluding the long-running Doha Round talks would considerably boost exports and lead to large trade gains 'well balanced between developed and developing economies,' the mavens opined. Their estimates suggest that the boost to world trade from successfully concluding Doha could be in the range of $180-520 billion annually.


The potential gains in world GDP would be significant too: between $300-700 billion per annum. The opening up and liberalisation measures would likely spur a virtuous cycle of heightened trade flows and increased value-added.

What was emphasised is that the Doha Round needs to be completed for two key reasons. It's necessary to implement the tariff and subsidy reforms embedded in the draft texts proposed to date. The idea is to 'pocket the gains' already agreed to. The other reason for WTO members to begin concluding Doha is to ensure the 'viability of a rules-based multilateral
trading system.' After all, failure to conclude Doha would cause 'irreparable harm' to WTO's credibility as a multilateral forum, and thoroughly undermine its well-tested dispute settlement mechanism as well.


It is true that members of the WTO continue to differ on the depth and extent of liberalisation required in nonagricultural market access (NAMA) and that for agricultural products. Trade in the NAMA segment accounts for over 90% of world exports. While governments and groups of members have elaborated general formulas for cutting tariffs and reducing agricultural subsidies, the major bone of contention is how countries could limit or exempt certain 'sensitive' products — say agri-goods — from the "formula cuts."


Meanwhile, negotiations for trade liberalisation in services have hardly progressed from the initial offers 'put on the table years ago.' On a more positive note, global talks for trade facilitation measures — such as customs procedures — are well advanced.


Now the key to completing the Doha Round is to arrive at meaningful reduction in trade barriers in agriculture, NAMA and services. Also, the "flexibilities" allowed in the sectoral modalities need not mean more tariff and non-tariff barriers. Under NAMA, average applied tariffs are already in the low single digits in the US, EU and Japan, and not very much higher in China, Brazil and India. The average cuts in applied tariffs separately proposed by the G-20 countries are reduction from 2.4% to 1.8%. But given that NAMA trade is vast, even minor tweaking in the duty rates would mean large trade gains.

Also, what's necessary is to focus NAMA negotiations on non-tariff barriers for meaningful improvement in market access. As for agri-products, the tariff cuts prescribed in the current negotiating modalities would create new market access. What's on the table is that US applied tariffs drop from 1.3% to 0.7%, and that for the EU from 6% to 3.4%.


For countries like India, applied tariffs would decline only slightly given our sensitivities, although we have offered to carry out much higher cuts in applied tariffs on agricultural imports than China or Brazil, simply because our current applied rates are much higher. The way ahead is to provide genuine flexibility under the special safeguard mechanism for agri-imports.


On services, it was agreed at the seminar that there's potential for large export gains. What's required is for 10-15 key trading nations to offer new modalities in services. And trade facilitation measures — 70 under negotiation — could in effect double the impact of the Round, it was noted. All the more reason to fastforward Doha.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

WE WON'T HEDGE BEYOND TWO QUARTERS OF NET INFLOWS: NAYAR

ANDY MUKHERJEE

 

As India's over $40-billion outsourcing industry prepares to emerge from a worsening economic crisis, HCL Technologies maintains a cautious outlook given the financial environment in the US. ET NOW 's senior editor Andy Mukherjee spoke with the company's top management — Vineet Nayar, CEO, Anil Chanana, CFO, Anant Gupta, president, infrastructure services division, and Ram Krishna, president, enterprise application services. Excerpts:

 

Vineet, though there are signs of early recovery in sectors, such as financial services, you continue to be cautious, Why is that?

Vineet: I think we should make a distinction between environment and the business model and not be too cocky about success. The environment out there is that as in the past quarter, 80% of the S&P 500 companies had registered a negative quarter-on-quarter growth. If you look at July, August and September results, I think about 126 companies have declared the results, 67% of them have declared negative qoq growth. So therefore, to say the recession is behind us may or may not be true. But you know really from 80%, indication is that it has come down to 67%, then may be worst is behind. At the same time, 67% of the companies registering negative qoq growth is a matter of deep concern. We do not see growth in IT spending coming back soon.


So for 2010, do you expect flat to negative growth in the IT part of the business?

Vineet: I think so and I believe there are two reasons for that, one is that the revenue growth for a large list of companies is still negative, and number two, the only way they responded to that is cutting down their costs significantly. So they were inefficient in the first two quarters of the recession. From April to September, they have really optimised their cost. I think we will have to wait for a couple of quarters... for us to see increase in discretionary spend.


Anil, the rupee-dollar movement continues to be volatile.. So what's your strategy?
Anil Chanana: Well, I think the market as I said is remaining volatile. There was a shift towards dollar, we don't know exactly where now the new economic order is emerging. So it's hard to take positions and we will stay conservative and as a hedging policy, what we have decided is that we will not hedge beyond two quarters of net inflows. We have sufficient hedge to sustain us for the next four quarters, so we will relook at our hedges again next year.


In Infrastructure Services you have seen 55% year-on-year growth. What's been the growth driver?

Anant Gupta: Just to add on the 55% yoy on the revenue side, I think on the EBID side as well, we grew 73% yoy that is phenomenal and actually two quarters of double digit growth.


Ram, give us an overview of enterprise application. How is that line of business doing and what do you see on the horizon going forward?


Ram Krishna: The enterprises application services are continuing to do well for us. Even this quarter, we have contributed 21.9% to the company's revenue, we remain still fully focused on enterprise application services plus we believe the future is on package applicable services while custom application will continue to grow, there will be more growth in package application.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'BAJAJ HAS THE POTENTIAL TO BE A WORLD-CLASS COMPANY'

LIJEE PHILIP & KAUSIK DATTA

 

Coming to think of it, Tomotaka Ishikawa, advisor at Bajaj Auto since April 2008, has not made much of a transition. After all, there is so much to separate from Truly Yamaha and Hamara Bajaj. Both are truly yours for this turnaround man and Yamaha lifer. The former Yamaha India managing director, known for reviving the Japanese firm's fortunes in Thailand and later in India, hopes to weave the same magic into Bajaj Auto's sales. Short, bespectacled, and clothed in a Bajaj Auto T-shirt, Ishikawa has just finalised a three-year plan with Rajiv Bajaj, MD of Bajaj Auto, to get the company back on its wheels after struggling to keep pace with market leader Hero Honda in the last couple of years. Ishikawa is confident that he will make Bajaj Auto a niche, high value player and help its exports double in three years. ET caught up with the turnaround expert in recently, where he talked at length on product plans and global strategy...

 

Given Bajaj Auto's strategy to be distinctly ahead by developing itself as a life-style brand across global markets, what exactly is your mandate in the company?

I am an advisor to Bajaj Auto, with no specific roles. Certain emphasis is given on product and growth planning. I am trying to set up a procedure for a three-year planning. I tried last year but I failed. It may take three years to make a three-year plan!


What is the objective of the three-year plan? When was it implemented? Why did it fail initially?
We intend to start the plan by February 2010. The plan is about the future — which segment of the market or which customer or the product the company should target. This will help Bajaj Auto achieve its target of exporting 1.2 million vehicles in three years against the current level of six lakh units. We are currently outlining the
new markets, deciding on the priority of product launches. Once that is set, we can have a clearer picture of cash flow. I want Bajaj Auto to take the three-year plan seriously. Last year, I set up a process and couldn't attain a certain level in the product planning area. I struggled to get consensus and approval from Rajiv (Bajaj) and it took a little too long. So now we have started again, with a different process. But I cannot unveil the strategy.


Can you specify the target of this plan?

My idea may not be Rajiv's idea as yet. Bajaj Auto is trying to do unique things in the Indian market as compared to Hero Honda. We are trying to be number one and Bajaj has the potential to be a world class company. Rajiv's idea hasn't changed since he has introduced the Pulsar and the product has been gaining market share steadily. I think it's a miracle, for a company without any support or technology, to attain a market share of 25% within 10 years.


What do you mean by a world-class company?

You should have your own technology. The sales volume should be very close to the big four Japanese players. We have already touched the two million level, and will be bigger than Kawasaki. We are major players in African markets, but the Chinese have flooded the markets. We are not necessarily number one in many countries. But with this technology, performance and quality, we can produce products at very low cost with quality.

What about the Indian market?

We have been trying many different things to challenge Hero Honda sales but it has only confused the customer. We went back to the Discover, the 110cc bike and sales started growing from September last year. Our thrust is, not to grow the same way as Hero Honda, but to educate the customer so that they have a better choice. We don't want to be like the Chinese, discounting products as we care for the brand. Our patience and consistence is helping us and I believe it is the right direction.


What's your strategy in the overseas market?

Bajaj Auto can take the road that Japanese took 40 years ago. That was the market of motorcycles and prices were expensive. Japanese gave smaller motorcycles at a cheaper price. Now Japanese are struggling to be in the commuter segment because of high cost. Many manufacturers have started buying from China, resulting in a big gap in quality between Chinese and Japanese bikes. Many of the Chinese products are unacceptable by mature markets. So I think we have a lot of potential to attack with Japanese products at Chinese prices.


What about the three-wheeler market?

We have to know who we are and why we are here. The confusion is that we are using the technology of a two-wheeler to sell a three-wheeler. If we push ourselves like the Tatas, we will be nowhere. Our task is to upgrade and evolve our current products.


Is working at Bajaj Auto different?

It is completely different in terms of management. The Japanese companies are very bureaucratic and very established with a lot of work done systematically. Strategic discussions are scarce, once in a year where we talk about mid-term planning. Here in Bajaj Auto they talk strategy everyday.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

M&M LAUNCHES MINI TRUCK GIO PRICED AT RS 1.65 LAKH

RUCHITA SAXENA

 

Mahindra & Mahindra unveiled light commercial vehicle Gio on Wednesday. The vehicle, priced at Rs 1.65 lakh, is the cheapest mini truck, as the company calls it, in the country. ET caught up with M&M's automotive sector president, Pawan Goenka, on the importance of this product in Mahindra's play in the commercial vehicle market. Excerpts:


How important is Gio for your CV business?

The 0.5 tonne LCV segment is in the three-wheeler space. There are lot of buyers in that space who want to own a 4 wheeler. This gives us a unique positioning in the market where nobody exists today. For Rs 1.65 lakh, it is the lowest priced 4-wheeler truck. It gives us the potential to significantly increase our market share from 13-14%.

Have you set any sales target for Gio?

The overall market size is around 15,000 vehicles per month. And the capacity that we are planning is about 2,000 to 3,000 units per month. We can easily ramp up the capacity depending on market requirement. But if the demand goes beyond 3,000 units, we will have to pump in additional investments.


For M&M, what is the contribution of commercial vehicle business? How much do you want to grow it?
We have a fairly strong focus on cargo/commercial vehicle business. Gradually, commercial vehicle would form a bigger portion of our portfolio. Therefore, Mahindra Gio is very important for us. In
pick-ups, we have 85% market share. That's why we are giving more offerings to our customers to go into the lower segment, where we are not a leading player but hope to perform well.


Are you targetting international market for your commercial vehicle business? Will Gio be exported?
We have developed Gio primarily for the Indian market. Once the product is established in India, we will look at taking it outside. The commercial vehicle business as a whole, including overseas business, is very important to us. Our pick-ups do sell outside India. In fact, Scorpio sells more outside India. When we add medium and heavy CVs in our portfolio, we will export them.


When will the medium and heavy CVs be launched? Will you develop more products from Gio platform?
M&HCV launch in slated for first quarter of 2010. We always look at new products that can be made from any platform. Gio is our first offering and we are evaluating what else we can do with that.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

RAJDHANI ATTACK WARNING TO CENTRE

 

Naxalites operating in West Bengal's West Midnapore district, who have been in the news in recent months, created something of a sensation on Tuesday by storming the Delhi-bound Bhubaneswar Rajdhani in the Jhargram area. But the dramatic development must be placed in perspective. It is not the first time in the country when protesting mobs have obstructed the progress of a passing train and inconvenienced passengers. Considering what they have shown themselves to be capable of in terms of wanton violence or sheer cruelty, the Naxal action at the Banstala Halt station was a mild affair. Any violence that was produced appeared incidental, although the threat of violence obviously hung in the air. There was no particular demand raised that was new, although hundreds of tribal people mobilised by the Maoists were pressed into this particular project. The preparation that went into it was apparent. And still, it is not wholly clear why the Maoists resorted to getting at the train, unless it was only to cock a snook at the state and the railway authorities. In the event, the trackside drama ended relatively peacefully, passengers were not hurt and were allowed to proceed after about six hours. Yet, it may not be wise to minimise the import of what happened, for the episode underlines the apathy and the sorry state of preparation by the authorities to tackle the Naxalite menace in spite of all the noise made at the highest levels in recent weeks. It is surprising that the state government and the railway authorities had not prepared for the safety of an important train when the Maoists had given a three-day bandh call, and the route of the train falls within the Maoist sphere of influence. Such a mismatch between word and deed is incomprehensible. Especially since the railway minister, Ms Mamata Banerjee, had in the recent past been on the same page as elements of the People's Committee Against Police Atrocities, a Maoist front outfit, it was expected of her that she would take all the needed precautions to protect trains so that no fingers may point at her. The way it's turned out, the argument can be made by those interested that the train drama was enacted to show the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government in poor light. After all, Ms Banerjee's single-point agenda has been to pull down the Left Front government. Of course, the chief minister has done himself no favours by not being alert to possible pressure points that Maoists might seek to exploit. The Union home ministry is not blameless either. While it is true that law and order is a state subject, the Naxalite problem is a national issue. It is larger than the sum of the law and order problems of the Maoist-afflicted states. It was, therefore, incumbent on the ministry under Mr P. Chidambaram's charge to be in constant coordination with states that have fallen under the shadow of Naxalism, to guide and steer them, to offer friendly advice and every aid, and also to anticipate the moves of UPA allies inimical to the dispensation in Kolkata so that the political and administrative fight against Naxalism is not impeded.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

TALK TO MAOISTS, BUT SHOW WHO'S THE BOSS

BY S. NIHAL SINGH

 

By staging the cop drama in West Bengal, the Maoists have shown that apart from holding territory and causing mayhem, they can take on the government in the game of public relations. For weeks, the Union home minister, Mr P. Chidambaram, has been spreading one message, that Maoists are murderers and the sympathy the urban intelligentsia has for the Maoist cause is misplaced.


Even as the government was wrestling with the Maoists' new tack, they administered another blow: the hijacking of the Rajdhani train. As if on cue, they freed the briefly detained drivers and the passengers were left unharmed. The Maoists were saying louder than words that they were making a political point, that they were fighting for a cause and were not always bloodthirsty.


Mr Chidambaran's mission has been to take head on the theory that rural development and tackling Maoists can go hand in hand, dismissing it as a romantic concept. His point is stark and simple: How can you build roads and dig wells when the state does not control the territory? On the other hand, the Maoists often subvert the system by taking cuts from contractors on development schemes.


The Maoists perhaps went overboard in parading the kidnapped cop as a PoW, prisoner of war, seeking to place their guerrilla movement on par with the military and police authority of the state. But the West Bengal Chief Minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, had mud on his face by swapping the cop for alleged Maoist sympathisers in a murky deal, which, he later explained, was an exception, not the rule.


The muddled thinking of the Maoists was in full display by their representative mouthing all the clichés in the 20th century handbook of the Communists — railing against the straw men of corporations, alleging that India is playing a subservient role to the American establishment. Mr Bhattacharjee says he will continue to fight the Maoists, but the irony is that his party, theCommunist Party of India (Marxist), is itself living in a time warp, often regurgitating the clichés of a bygone age abandoned by much of the Communist world.


How the Indian Communists of various stripes can reconcile themselves to the successors of the fathers of the revolution, the Russians, having abandoned the creed and the Chinese becoming the most avid capitalists by flaunting the images of Stalin in one case and of Mao Zedong in the other is best left to them to explain. The Maoists, of course, aim to emulate the example of their Nepalese confreres to achieve power, first by sharing it and then proclaiming their goal of a one-party state.


Putting aside recent dramatic developments, the important point to debate is: How did the Indian state find itself in its present predicament, with large areas in the country, particularly those inhabited by tribals and backward classes, under Maoist control? Several factors have gone into the making of the Maoist menace, characterised by the Prime Minister as the greatest internal threat to the country. They range from the erosion of the credibility and integrity of the civil service, the neglect of large parts of the country denied basic development, schooling and healthcare and the compulsions of industrialisation, often at the cost of the poorest and the most deprived.


There are no simple answers because good governance cannot be suddenly produced on order and the political system in the states, particularly in the Hindi belt, has been plunging such low depths of mendacity and politicking that law and order functions are often reduced to selective justice. What offers some hope for the future is Mr Chidambaram's clear enunciation of the problem, his efforts to give police and paramilitary forces the equipment and training they need and seeking better co-ordination between the Centre and the states and among the states themselves.


The West Bengal decision to do a deal with the Maoists to secure the release of the kidnapped cop has been a setback to the Centre's efforts because they undercut the philosophy behind New Delhi's new resolve. Instead of painting Maoists into a corner by exposing them as ruthless men and women seeking power by the force of guns, they were given prime-time television news channels' exposure to demand further concessions of the authorities as equal actors in the drama.


Mr Chidambaram has let it be known that he does not expect the Maoists to give up their arms; his only condition to holding talks with them is that they desist from using force either to murder people or to destroy state property. There is little expectation of the Maoists accepting these terms and they seem set to exploit the weaknesses of the authorities. They give primacy to incidents of wrong and scandalous conduct of the police forces, often poorly trained and equipped and still psychologically living in the era of the British Raj.
Among the great failures of successive governments has been the inability to undertake serious police reform. Mr Chidambaram complains that police officials are treated as a political football. Indeed, one of the most depressing aspects of a new chief minister taking office is to witness the callousness with which he or she undertakes the wholesale transfer of police, and civil service.


It is well recognised that force alone cannot resolve the Maoist problem. Indeed, the success or otherwise of Mr Chidambaram's new initiatives will lie in a judicious mix of force with persuading the Maoists and the wider public to create a climate for meaningful talks.


The new government offensive to depict the Maoists in their true colours as murderers of civilian and security personnel is one aspect of the programme. The other is effectively to confront Maoists in their strongholds by expanding the successful Andhra model.


Human rights activists and dissenters are the lifeblood of a democracy and it is right that voices should be raised against high-handed acts of the authorities. But their contention that the government must talk to Maoists on their terms is impractical and would be demeaning for any self-respecting government. While there might be some idealists joining the Maoists today, the bulk of their members are men and women seeking power through the destruction of the state.


To hear the terms in which Maoists proclaim their ideal state is to revert to the Utopia promised by Lenin and destroyed in the very act of applying it to one relatively backward state, instead of initiating it in a highly industrialised country. Stalin proved that the Communist creed could be effectively used as a ruthless instrument of ruling a one-party state.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

WHY MUST AMERICA BLEED FOR AFGHANISTAN?

BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

 

It is crunch time on Afghanistan, so here's my vote: We need to be thinking about how to reduce our footprint and our goals there in a responsible way, not dig in deeper. We simply do not have the Afghan partners, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies, the domestic support, the financial resources or the national interests to justify an enlarged and prolonged nation-building effort in Afghanistan.


I base this conclusion on three principles. First, when I think back on all the moments of progress in that part of the world — all the times when a key player in West Asia actually did something that put a smile on my face — all of them have one thing in common: America had nothing to do with it.


America helped build out what they started, but the breakthrough didn't start with us. We can fan the flames, but the parties themselves have to light the fires of moderation. And whenever we try to do it for them, whenever we want it more than they do, we fail and they languish. The Camp David peace treaty was not initiated by Jimmy Carter. Rather, the Egyptian President, Anwar Sadat, went to Jerusalem in 1977 after Israel's Moshe Dayan held secret talks in Morocco with Sadat aide Hassan Tuhami. Both countries decided that they wanted a separate peace — outside of the Geneva comprehensive framework pushed by Mr Carter.
The Oslo peace accords started in Oslo — in secret 1992-93 talks between the Palestine Liberation Organisation representative, Ahmed Qurei, and the Israeli professor Yair Hirschfeld. Israelis and Palestinians alone hammered out a broad deal and unveiled it to the Americans in the summer of 1993, much to Washington's surprise.


The US surge in Iraq was militarily successful because it was preceded by an Iraqi uprising sparked by a Sunni tribal leader, Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, who, using his own forces, set out to evict the pro-Al Qaeda thugs who had taken over Sunni towns and were imposing a fundamentalist lifestyle. The US surge gave that movement vital assistance to grow. But the spark was lit by the Iraqis.


The Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, the Israeli withdrawals from Gaza and Lebanon, the Green Revolution in Iran and the Pakistani decision to finally fight their own Taliban in Waziristan — because those Taliban were threatening the Pakistani middle class — were all examples of moderate, silent majorities acting on their own.
The message: "People do not change when we tell them they should", said the Johns Hopkins University foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum. "They change when they tell themselves they must".


And when the moderate silent majorities take ownership of their own futures, we win. When they won't, when we want them to compromise more than they do, we lose. The locals sense they have us over a barrel, so they exploit our naive goodwill and presence to loot their countries and to defeat their internal foes.
That's how I see Afghanistan today. I see no moderate spark. I see our secretary of state pleading with President Hamid Karzai to re-do an election that he blatantly stole. I also see us begging Israelis to stop building more crazy settlements or Palestinians to come to negotiations. It is time to stop subsidising their nonsense. Let them all start paying retail for their extremism, not wholesale. Then you'll see movement.


What if we shrink our presence in Afghanistan? Won't Al Qaeda return, the Taliban be energised and Pakistan collapse? Maybe. Maybe not. This gets to my second principle: In West Asia all politics — everything that matters — happens the morning after the morning after. Be patient. Yes, the morning after we shrink down in Afghanistan, the Taliban will celebrate, Pakistan will quake and Osama bin Laden will issue an exultant video.
And the morning after the morning after, the Taliban factions will start fighting each other, the Pakistani Army will have to destroy their Taliban, or be destroyed by them, Afghanistan's warlords will carve up the country, and, if Bin Laden comes out of his cave, he'll get zapped by a drone.


My last guiding principle: We are the world. A strong, healthy and self-confident America is what holds the world together and on a decent path. A weak America would be a disaster for us and the world. China, Russia and Al Qaeda all love the idea of America doing a long, slow bleed in Afghanistan. I don't.
The US military has given its assessment. It said that stabilising Afghanistan and removing it as a threat requires rebuilding that whole country. Unfortunately, that is a 20-year project at best, and we can't afford it. So our political leadership needs to insist on a strategy that will get the most security for less money and less presence. We simply don't have the surplus we had when we started the war on terrorism after 9/11 — and we desperately need nation-building at home. We have to be smarter. Let's finish Iraq, because a decent outcome there really could positively impact the whole Arab-Muslim world, and limit our exposure elsewhere. Iraq matters.


Yes, shrinking down in Afghanistan will create new threats, but expanding there will, too. I'd rather deal with the new threats with a stronger America.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

DROP THE 'N' IN NCP?

BY B. VENKATESH KUMAR

 

The results of the Maharashtra Assembly elections have confirmed what the 2009 Lok Sabha polls had shown — that the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) no longer serves a purpose as a separate political party. It is just a splinter group of the Congress Party.

 

Sharad Pawar had formed the party in 1999 only on the issue of Sonia Gandhi's former nationality. The NCP contested the 1999 election on its own, but almost immediately after it formed an alliance with the Congress, which was still led by Mrs Gandhi! The party, thus, lost its ideological basis in order to get into government. But, it still had the political space and social base in the state's Maratha community.


In 2004, the NCP emerged as the single largest party in the Assembly. Since then, its fortunes have seen a decline. In the last few years, the NCP was seen doing things that had no political or social purpose or relevance.


The Congress and the NCP had forged an alliance to keep the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) out of power. But in 2007, the NCP entered into agreement with the saffron alliance to keep the Congress out of power in the Pune Municipal Corporation.


Look at the post-2004 developments. The NCP had been trying to expand its base beyond the Marathas and woo Muslim, dalit and non-Maharashtrian communities, but had little success. The Congress was slowly but surely winning back its voters in Maharashtra, while the NCP was not able to get a foothold in the Congress' stronghold. Pune is a prime example, where the NCP abandoned even its "secular agenda". And like it did in Pune, the NCP has cooperated with the BJP in several other local bodies in the state.


What does this mean for the future of the NCP as a party? Is it really well-placed to govern as an alliance partner in Maharashtra? The NCP's fortunes have seen a decline. From being a contender for the Prime Minister's post, Mr Pawar has had to settle for a Cabinet berth with a smaller representation for his party.


Although in the Assembly election the NCP did not perform as poorly as some expected, it has slipped on its home turf, western Maharashtra. It did not fare too badly in other regions, but that seems to be on account of the seat-sharing arrangements with the Congress.


The NCP has always revolved around Mr Pawar. Given his state of health, calls for the party's merger with the Congress are only likely to get louder. Everyone in the party knows this. The succession issue after Mr Pawar can also be a cause of discord within the NCP, further raising a question mark over its relevance.

B. Venkatesh Kumar is a professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai

* * *

NCP HELPS KEEP BJP, SENA AT BAY

BY CHHAGAN BHUJBAL

 

The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has played a major role in helping to keep the reins of power out of the reach of the saffron alliance by ensuring that social groups and communities that were not in favour of the Congress did not vote for the Shiv Sena or the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). By getting Communists, peasants and workers, dalits, and corporates under its fold, the NCP has made it possible for the Congress to stay in power.
As most NCP leaders are from the Congress, their ideology is no different from the Congress. The difference lies in the leadership. Party chief Sharad Pawar has polarised people towards the party through sheer dedication even when facing tremendous health problems.


Although the NCP was predominantly made up of the Maratha lobby, Mr Pawar's dynamism and charisma endeared him and the party to a spectrum of people of different communities, and has ensured that the party has come out with flying colours in Parliament and Assembly polls in the past 10 years.


As the issue of Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin has been laid to rest, the NCP does not mind playing second fiddle to the Congress. This is in order that both parties may form a government by cooperating with one another.


A contribution of the NCP to the alliance has been the securing of anti-Congress votes which otherwise would have been bagged by the Shiv Sena-BJP combine, or others.


Either way, this would have worked in favour of the saffronites.


In the recent Assembly election, the NCP's winning ratio was 54 against 47.4 of the Congress. Naturally, it can't be written off. The question of merger with the Congress is an absurd notion.


The inception of the NCP in 1999 was based on the opposition of Mr Sharad Pawar to Mrs Gandhi's nationality.

 

This showed the party's strong ideological stance. That's why many Congressmen joined it.


And soon after, Mr Pawar helped the Congress to form the government in order to keep out non-secular forces.
Mr Pawar's dynamism is still the NCP's most important asset. He has proved through example that he leads from the front. He did not let dedication slacken in spite of poor health.


The marriage of convenience between the NCP and the Congress is necessitated by the fact that both realise that if they do not join hands, the Shiv Sena and the BJP will come to power.


This will not bode well for the aspirations of either party.

 

Chhagan Bhujbal is deputy chief minister of Maharashtra anda founding memberof the NCP

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

BANGLA TRIPPERS

BY ANTARA DEV SEN

 

Now that Orissa has become Odisha, I am told that West Bengal is all set to become Bangla. Yes, "Bangla". Not "Bengal", which would be too easy, just dropping the meaningless "West" from the name of this eastern state. Especially since it has no counterpart anymore — East Bengal became East Pakistan and then Bangladesh several decades ago. The only counterpart West Bengal has is in one of it's own football teams: East Bengal, the great rival of Mohun Bagan. Alas, life is not a ball game, and a name change for the state is long overdue.
But no, we wouldn't dream of going for the straight and easy. Just "Bengal" would be too anglicised for this age of cultural nationalism and fiddling with history by changing place names. Would we then go back to the age old Bengali name, "Banga"? It's been in use for centuries, going back to when the country looked up in awe at Anga (now roughly Bihar and Jharkhand), Banga and Kalinga (now Orissa, er… Odisha). You can see it was a long, long time ago. Bengal is also referred to as "Banga" in our National Anthem, and Bengalis continue to go weak-kneed and teary-eyed over their beloved "Banga-bhoomi" even now. So "Banga" would be the natural choice, right? Wrong. It may be the traditional name, the identifier stamped in our National Anthem, the name coursing through the veins of a full-blooded Bengali, but it is clearly not smart enough for the lords of names. They want "Bangla".


Not that there is anything wrong with Bangla being the name of a state. It is already the name of a language — one of the world's biggest languages, spoken by 230 million people. It is the national language of our neighbouring country, Bangladesh or the "Country of Bangla". Well, yes, it could lead to a bit of an identity crisis for the state, if another nation is known as it's own country, but we live in confusing times. With some practice, you would get used to it.


Such delicious confusion just shows that the state is readying to become Bangla. No, not the language. I think they have the country liquor in mind.


What? You haven't heard of the cheap and cheerful Bangla? It's the chosen liquor of the masses of Bengal, the inspiration for poets and artists of modest means, the intoxicating initiator into adulthood of young enthusiasts. It stimulates areas of the brain you didn't know existed, hyperactivates the tongue and instils in you a confidence that was last seen during the charge of the Light Brigade. And through the stellar performance of Bengal's powers that be we have had a fascinating experience of such unmistakably Bangla behaviour.
Take railway minister Mamata Banerjee's changing responses to the "hijacking" of the Rajdhani Express. The moment she heard of it, she blamed the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M). They did it, she said. It's them, the CPI(M)! You can't blame her, that's her reflex to any bad news. Some say, "Oh, God!" She says, "CPI(M)!"


Unfortunately, her Lalgarh friends the PCPA (People's Committee Against Police Atrocities) claimed responsibility and scribbled their demands for the release of their leader Chhatradhar Mahato all over the train with a graffiti artist's dedication. Mr Mahato, who had spearheaded the Lalgarh agitation backed by the Maoists, was arrested by the state police for his close links with the Naxalites. Ms Banerjee, who had firmly supported Mr Mahato and his deeds in Lalgarh but was now trying to distance herself tentatively from the Maoists, swiftly suggested a dialogue with the PCPA for the release of the passengers. Meanwhile the police — and the joint forces of the state and Centre delegated to fighting the Maoists — had arrived, and the "hijackers" fled.


This is particularly embarrassing for Ms Banerjee because she was that very day meeting P. Chidambaram to demand that the joint operations by the state and Centre against the Maoists be stopped. She wanted the Army instead. And she wanted President's Rule in Bengal.


Of course, no one in their right senses would want the Army to be brought in for a long-term law and order problem. Horror stories of continuing atrocities from Kashmir and the Northeast have given us enough reason to keep the Army out of civilian life unless there is a huge emergency. But then Didi's dadagiri is not based on logic. Or on the best interest of the people of her state. It springs from her obsessive rivalry with the CPI(M) leadership. Reason has no place in her scheme of things. Personal ambition and dramatic rhetoric are more than enough.


For good measure, Ms Banerjee has also claimed that West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is a killer, is masterminding the Maoist violence and should be arrested. On a modest personal note, she has claimed that the CPI(M) tried to kill her in a car chase.


Not surprisingly, the railway minister did not once call the chief minister to discuss the train "hijack" drama in Bengal. Instead, she made several calls to Union home minister Mr Chidambaram in Delhi and Naveen Patnaik in Bhubaneswar, from where the train had started.


Meanwhile, Mr Bhattacharjee had also been making a mark in press conferences. First he brushed aside questions about freeing kidnapped police officer Atindranath Dutta from the Maoists by releasing 26 tribal women in custody. (Why were elderly tribal women in custody anyway?) Then he owned up and said sorry, won't happen again. Then he mentioned how the Maoists had killed these two police officers — to the shock and horror of their families since they are declared missing. Swiftly he said sorry, just a slip of the tongue. Of course they are not dead, just missing. Mamata Didi sprang upon him like a wildcat on a pigeon, and marched off to Union home minister Mr Chidambaram in Delhi, brandishing the wives of the two police officers, demanding explanations.


Sadly, her thunder was stolen by the train hijack that was not a hijack. To the trained Bangla eye, it was merely a train gherao, the kind that happens routinely where trains are stopped and demands made by agitators. But then, "hijack" sounds far more impressive.


"If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense", said Alice, of Wonderland fame. "Nothing would be what it is, because everything would bewhat it isn't. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be. And what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?" What? You don't see? You will, once you get used to the state of Bangla.

 

* Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted at sen@littlemag.com [1]

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

THE WRONG TRACK

GOVERNMENTS LOSING BATTLE AFTER BATTLE


Let's assume for a moment that every compartment of Tuesday's Bhubaneswar-New Delhi Rajdhani Express had had an armed jawan on board. On this basis, there may have been about 20 armed railway policemen on hand to protect passengers. It is doubtful in the extreme if they would have been able to prevent tracks being blocked, or indeed overpowered several hundred tribals who surrounded the train. All they might have achieved is some loss of lives ~ their own, and those of the attackers and passengers. Assuming the policemen had sanction, and governments the gumption to open fire in these circumstances, the train would still have been besieged. Ultimate responsibility for thwarting such attacks rests with the police on ground, and the intelligence apparatus of the State government. Both failed on Tuesday, as they have consistently over the past few months. The reason is that the government is unable to penetrate people's movements; it has lost credibility with the tribal, and its public relations initiatives have been identified as insincere charades. This was the first battle that tribals won.


They, and the Maoists who supported them, won a second battle decisively on Tuesday. Fulminations of television anchors notwithstanding, they managed to garner considerable sympathy ~ first from passengers on the train they captured, then from others by releasing them without causing any hurt. It took a young boy on board the Rajdhani to convey this message to the governments of India and West Bengal. Poignantly, he told an interviewer that his captors had been good to him and to others on the train, and all that they wanted was for their demands to be considered. That these demands exist is testament to the failure of governance, to the massive diversion of development funds over years, nay decades, by the political class, including Communists. If popular support turns in favour of the protestors, and against the government, we will have to brace for greater upheavals.


The Maoists are winning a third battle, and this victory it seems will come by default. By failing to draw a distinction between the tribals and Adivasis, the destitute and the dispossessed on the one hand, and the Maoists on the other, the state and the media are falling into a trap. In effect, we are adding to the Maoist ranks every tribal with a grievance. It won't be long before we push them all into the Maoist corner, even if their demand is only for a fair share of the development pie, and without any ideological underpinnings. The objective of government initiatives must be to isolate the Maoist, not populate his army.


The Maoist has won a fourth and possibly decisive battle in creating a Compact Revolutionary Zone that the government does not really recognize. Whether we like it or not, it is a geographical reality. Piecemeal approaches, or state-specific counter-moves are unlikely to work. As much as the Home Minister seeks a unified strategic command to combat Maoists, the Prime Minister must consider a similar structure to battle the causes of this unrest, in other words a single, bipartisan command structure to take up development. This suggestion might get the noses of some Chief Ministers out of joint. It is, though, the price they may have to pay for never having looked beyond their noses. Truly, India faces a mammoth challenge. So far, it hasn't handled it

very well.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

TELECOM SCANDAL

RAJA SHOULD RESIGN PENDING INQUIRY


After the CBI raids on the headquarters of the department of telecommunications in New Delhi, headed by A Raja of the DMK, his continuance in the Cabinet of Dr. Manmohan Singh has become untenable. Probity in public life demands that he resign pending completion of the inquiry. As long as he is at the helm of affairs in the telecommunications department, the CBI will be inhibited from a free and open inquiry. If he is found innocent, he can always be re-inducted into the Cabinet with the same portfolio and free of any taint.
Raja was the kingpin in the award of 2G spectrum licences in January last year at a price of Rs. 1,651 crores, fixed in July 2001, for a pan-India licence. The price then was arrived at through an open, multi-stage, transparent auction/bidding process. The telecom regulator, TRAI, recommended a similar exercise before the allocation of 2G spectrum. Raja ignored it. The scandalous events that took place when licences were being issued and spectrum allocated for 2G services, the way cut-off dates were changed and that too with retrospective effect, the scuffles that took place at Sanchar Bhavan, made headlines in the media at the time.
The real value of the spectrum can be gauged from the profit made by two of the lucky ones, Swan Telecom and Unitech Wireless, favoured by Raja on first-come-first-served basis. Swan let UAE-based Etisalat acquire 45 per cent share in the company for $900 million, valuing the company at $2 billion, not because of its intrinsic worth but because of the spectrum it acquired, a scarce national resource. Similarly, Unitech let Telenor of Norway acquire 67.25 per cent share in the company, valuing it at Rs.9,100 crores. 


There are three elements that are important in the spectrum issue. The first: what basis should award of licences and spectrum be decided on, auction or some other criteria? Second, if a non-auction route is chosen, what should the value of licence and spectrum be? Third, if the licence and the spectrum are given below market rates, how can the country guard against their re-sale by profiteers? Prima facie, Raja wantonly misused his position. He disregarded TRAI guidelines and a letter from the then finance secretary, D Subbarao, now Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, asking him not to implement his plan. As long as DS Mathur was DoT secretary, he refused to sign licences in a way that would cause the exchequer revenue loss. Mathur retired on 31 December 2007, other inconvenient officials were transferred out of the ministry, and the scheme was implemented without let or hindrance after Siddharth Behura took over as secretary in January 2008. Raja's action has led to the loss of between Rs. 60,000 crore and Rs.100,000 crore to the government, making it the biggest scam since independence. Raja's defence that he was only following Trai's recommendation of not auctioning 2G spectrum does not hold water. The government's telecom policy and TRAI wanted market forces to determine the fee for spectrum. If only he had followed that, the government would have realised its true value. The DMK, no doubt, will resist any move to drop Raja from the Cabinet, even temporarily, to allow the CBI to proceed with the investigation unhampered. It would be wrong for the government to shield Raja especially when auction of 3G spectrum is in the offing. The Central Vigilance Commission has decided to initiate action against top DoT officials, including Behura. Sparing Raja and punishing his underlings would be a travesty of justice.

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

EMBROILED IN AFGHANISTAN

A DARK PROSPECT WITHOUT SOLUTIONS IN SIGHT

BY SALMAN HAIDAR


THE bright hopes of a better deal in Afghanistan that President Obama broughtwith him have run into the hard reality of that embattled country. The President's 'Afpak' policy was among his earliest initiatives but it has not made much of a difference on the ground. The assumption that Afghanistan and Pakistan could be persuaded to come together to coordinate their resistance to the Taliban has been belied and Pakistan's role remains ambiguous, the gaps in its relations with both Afghanistan and the USA not having been eliminated.
In Afghanistan, the search for effective democratic structures of governance continues, as witnessed in the recent presidential election where the voters responded bravely to Taliban threats but large-scale rigging came to light and necessitated a second round. Nor has there been any major gain in counter terrorism against the Taliban despite the change of priority by the US and other foreign forces towards protecting local inhabitants rather than hunting down insurgents. The request of the senior US general in Afghanistan for substantial additional troop strength has been a spur to widespread discussion of the pros and cons of US policy, so that there is a great churning in Washington as different views compete and clash. In the background is visibly growing unease among the US public which, unchecked, could swamp decision-making. Thus difficult times lie ahead.


US TROOP STRENGTH

THE crucial debate in the US capital about augmenting troop strength in Afghanistan has been surprisingly public. The differing views of some of the topmost figures of the Administration have become widely known and commented upon. Vice-President Biden's reported recommendation to concentrate on the more attainable and relevant goal of eliminating the small remnants of the largely foreign Al Qaida rather than confronting the widespread and mainly indigenous Taliban has drawn a great deal of attention. On the other side, in support of the generals and their call for stepping up military strength, are said to be arrayed the Secretaries of State and Defence who fear that leaving the Taliban unmolested risks a revival of the danger that brought the USA into Afghanistan in the first place. Others query the military strategy that aims to repeat in Afghanistan the 'surge' that permitted withdrawal from Iraq, pointing to the abundant dissimilarities between the two countries.
And there are mounting demands for some finality to the Afghan commitment, which seems unending and costly – already Afghanistan has become by far the longest war in which the USA has ever engaged. While the debate continues and becomes more urgent, President Obama has kept his counsel, refusing to be rushed. He seems ready to listen to all sides while preparing his own decision, to be finalized when he believes the time is ripe. It has begun to seem, nevertheless, that the US commander's request for 40,000 more troops is unlikely to be accepted as it stands. There appears to be no present intention of the USA to disengage from Afghanistan but neither is there any incentive to get in deeper.


Within Afghanistan, the instruments of governance established after the entry of the USA remain weak and have been eroded by insurgent attack and by problems of corruption and misrule. Representational government derived from popular consent, with a strong centre and a President armed with the necessary authority, were a key part of the strategy to sweep away rule by the Taliban and the warlords.


Mr. Karzai was duly elected President under the new dispensation and has served a full term in office, but that was not to be the end of the problems of governance, as was shown in his recent bid for re-election. Rigging of the polls by his supporters has been well substantiated and has led to the negation of the initial result in Mr. Karzai's favour, forcing him to accept a runoff with his nearest challenger Mr. Abdullah. Thus uncertainty about the process itself remains and could weaken whoever emerges as the eventual victor. Nor does it seem likely that the allegations of corruption, drug dealing and other abuses against Mr. Karzai's family will easily die down. US disenchantment with Mr. Karzai, who was once considered their creation, can only add to the uncertainty. Indeed, questions are being asked about the advisability of retaining a strong central authority as mandated in the constitution in a country where the regions are notoriously fractious and difficult to govern. There are thus long term implications in the current political crisis of Afghanistan.


Meanwhile, the Taliban have become stronger. They have consolidated their strength in southern Afghanistan and are ready to challenge Kabul and its Western allies in the field. To some extent, too, the Taliban have also mutated into something other than a regional group focused on their own local issues. The distinction between the Taliban and Al Qaida is now more difficult to discern, the former having absorbed the views and methods of the latter, witness the escalating struggle in Pakistan. US drone strikes have inflicted losses on the Taliban leadership but seem to have enhanced their public support, for they can be seen as indigenous fighters against outsiders ~ this notwithstanding the confirmed presence within their ranks of Uzbek, Chechen, Arab and other foreign fighters.


OPEN BORDER

A FURTHER word about 'Afpak', currently in a shambles and not much spoken of. Both halves of the wished for partnership are enmeshed in their own troubles. The border between the two countries remains wide open, so that armed fighters can readily go across. There were reports during the recent Pakistani operation in Swat that some of the insurgents had crossed over into Afghanistan to escape the Pakistani army, where they tried to regroup and regain strength. Now the much more challenging operation in Waziristan is in progress with similar possibilities of the Taliban taking advantage of the lack of coordination between the forces on either side of the border.


Overall, it is a dark prospect without any convincing solutions in sight. There have been a few calls for radical rethinking in a search for alternative ways forward. Neutralization of Afghanistan has been put forward as something worth considering, though this could be a problematical concept. The possibility of a genuinely regional solution has also been mentioned. This would require the countries of the region to take the lead and to ensure the participation of all the concerned regional parties. Iran's presence would be necessary for it cannot be left on the sidelines as some major countries may desire.


The suggestion has been made that India should be at the forefront of such an initiative, being better able than any other party to talk to all potential participants and work towards some form of regional agreement. New Delhi may not be planning any such initiative at the present but this could indeed be a challenge for the future.

The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

TURN VEGETARIAN, CONQUER CLIMATE CHANGE: EXPERT

 

LONDON, 28 OCT: Going the vegetarian way can help to tackle the problem of global warming apart from its known health benefits to human, according to a climate expert.


"Meat is a wasteful use of water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases. It puts enormous pressure on the world's resources. A vegetarian diet is better," Lord Stern of Brentford said.


"Direct emissions of methane from cows and pigs is a significant source of greenhouse gases. Methane is 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a global warming gas," he said.


Lord Stern, author of the 2006 Stern Review on the cost of tackling global warming, said that a successful deal at the upcoming Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen would lead to soaring costs for meat and other foods that generate large quantities of greenhouse gases.


"I think it's important that people think about what they are doing and that includes what they are eating," he said.


A former chief economist at the World Bank, Lord Stern warned that British taxpayers would need to contribute about 3 billion a year by 2015 to help poor countries to cope with the impact of climate change.
Speaking on the eve of an all-parliamentary debate on climate change, Lord Stern admitted that he himself is not a strict vegetarian. Around 20,000 delegates from 192 countries are due to attend the Climate Change Conference in the Danish capital.


Its aim is to forge a deal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently to prevent an increase in global temperatures of more than 2 degrees centigrade. Any increase above this level is expected to trigger runaway climate change, threatening the lives of hundreds of millions of people. ;PTI

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

A FINE BALANCE

 

Some analysts called it hawkish; others termed it as baby steps towards an exit. The second quarter review of the Reserve Bank of India's monetary policy is finely balanced between keeping liquidity in the financial system steady and taking measures towards an exit from the monetary accommodation that was provided in the aftermath of the global financial crisis that severely contracted global growth and dampened India's growth. The policy review has three objectives: providing an assessment of how the recovery from the economic slowdown has progressed, pointing towards an earlier-than-expected exit from loose monetary policy conditions to stabilize expectations of inflation over the next few months, and initiate some monetary tightening by raising the statutory liquidity ratio for banks back to 25 per cent from 24 per cent, the last of which came as a complete surprise. Most bankers and RBI watchers were expecting a more direct measure on containing liquidity through a hike in the cash reserve ratio.

 

The RBI's tone — both in its assessment of the macroeconomic situation that was made public on the day of the policy review and in the policy statement itself — indicates that the central bank is less certain about whether the recovery is well anchored across the economy; rather it suggests that its recovery has been weaker than expected. Private investment demand is yet to pick up satisfactorily, as is consumption demand, despite the rosy picture in automobile sales and in other products that has been painted by some companies and by stock market performance. The RBI's estimate of inflation at 6.5 per cent in March 2010 lies between the 4.5 per cent advanced by a few optimistic economic researchers and the 8 per cent that the more pessimistic forecasters have suggested. The hike in SLR will not affect liquidity in the market; a CRR hike, on the other hand, could well have pushed overnight interest rates to the upper end of the corridor between the repo and reverse repo rates (at which banks borrow from and lend to the RBI, respectively); the signalling effect may have pushed rates up, something that the RBI is loath to do at this juncture and which could crimp the fledgling recovery. The policy is a paraphrase of a Nobel Prize winning economist's aphorism: it has it's heart to the left, but it's brain to the right.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

TERROR RIDE

 

The sanity of a society is often tested in unusual ways. The hold-up of the Rajdhani Express on Tuesday has forced such a test on not just the political class but also on the people at large. There is only one way in which a sane society can react to the incident — by condemning it in no uncertain terms. Any attempt to dilute the condemnation by referring to the demands of the train's hijackers can only be irresponsible. Dissent and protests are part of a thriving, democratic system. But what the hijackers did does not qualify as democratic dissent or even civilized behaviour. Endangering the lives of several hundred innocent people and forcing them to suffer hours of physical and mental agony cannot conceivably be part of any strategy for any democratic agitation. The People's Committee Against Police Atrocities, which publicly claimed responsibility for the train hold-up, has often been accused of Maoist links. The incident is irrefutable evidence of the fact that the outfit's leadership has been taken over by the Maoists. It also shows that the rebels can engage in political polemics but actually act like a terror group.

 

It is not enough, though, to simply condemn the Maoists or those who act as their people in mass fronts. A more important lesson from the incident is for the political class. It is not uncommon for political polarizations to sharpen in certain situations or over some issues. West Bengal currently faces a situation in which the ruling leftists and their opponents are increasingly taking to violent means in order to extend or defend their political territories. The terror on the train should now awaken them to the limits of this vicious strategy. Political violence rarely stays limited to the parties and their activists; it threatens the lives of ordinary people in unpredictable ways. It must be a dangerous situation if the people's own elected representatives act like their worst tormentors. The Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government has rightly refused to give in to the train hijackers' demand for the release of the PCAPA leader, Chhatradhar Mahato. But the train hold-up has a message for leaders of all political parties. They must realize that the Maoists threaten not only the government of the day but also the entire democratic system. Using terror groups for narrow gains can be as costly as not fighting them in right earnest and at the right time.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

THE LANGUAGE OF RIGHTS

IS THE CREATION OF NEW RIGHTS ALWAYS A GOOD THING?

ANDRÉ BÉTEILLE

 

The language of rights has come into increasing use in India in public debate in the course of the last couple of decades. In this process, the word 'right' has acquired a more capacious and flexible meaning than is ordinarily given to it by the Constitution and the law. It is becoming more a matter of politics than of law, an instrument of political combat more than legal adjudication. If our judges take their cue from politicians and social activists — as some of them seem to do — there will be long-term consequences for the operation of the legal system.

 

Where in the past those seeking to promote a particular programme might ask for the adoption of a new policy, they are likely today to call for the creation of a new right. The demand for new rights seems to infuse a greater sense of urgency than the call for new policies. Advocacy groups have been no less active in these matters than political parties. There are many more such groups now than there were in the early decades of Independence, and some of them, unlike political parties in general, have an international reach which adds greatly to their self-confidence and their influence.

 

The shift from the language of policies to the language of rights may be seen in a number of fields, out of which I will choose two for illustration. The first relates to the specific field of elementary education, and the second to the more broad, and ill-defined, field named 'development'. Both were once treated as matters of policy, and both have since come to be regarded as matters of right.

 

At the time of Independence, there was considerable anxiety about the low levels of literacy and education in the country. The prevalent view then was that India's stagnation was due to the apathy and negligence of the colonial government that adopted policies that maintained, and even reinforced, the country's backwardness. The independence of India presented to its leaders the opportunity for changing all this by the adoption of policies whose main concern would be a better and a more meaningful life for the people.

 

The Constitution of 1950 made free and compulsory education for all children till the age of 14 a directive principle of state policy. It also set a time limit of 10 years from the adoption of the Constitution for meeting the objective. In the event, the objective was not met within 10 years, and has not been fully met even to this day. With the advantage of hindsight, it seems evident that the task could not have been completed within 10 years under the prevalent social and economic conditions. But it is also evident that the government did not act with the will and the determination needed to meet the objective in any significant way. The government dragged its feet and India fell behind while other countries moved ahead.

 

It is in this context that the movement to make elementary education a right acquired strength in the last 10 or 15 years. There never has been any serious disagreement in independent India about the importance of universal elementary education for the health and well-being of the nation. Has making it a right made a substantial difference to the truly disadvantaged in the country? In the meantime, more, if not better, schools have come up in different parts of India. This was bound to happen with the all-round development of the economy set in motion roughly 20 years ago. How far the creation of a right to education has contributed to what was likely to happen in any case is not easy to determine.

 

It is not enough to create new rights; one must do something to ensure that those rights can be enforced. It has been said that India is the country with the most rights and the fewest sanctions. The creation of rights that remain unenforced, and are perhaps unenforceable, undermines the credibility and the integrity of the legal system. Again, it is difficult to know what meaning the 'right to development' is to have in a court of law, and which court is to determine whether the right has been violated, and what remedy it is to prescribe in the event of a violation.

 

Those who press for the creation of more rights may not all have a clear view of the capacities of our judicial institutions or of the limits to those capacities. It may be a mistake to believe that the judiciary will be more effective than the executive in solving every kind of social problem. Perhaps many of those who call for the creation of new rights are aware of the limitations under which our courts function. Not all of them have greater faith in the judiciary than in the executive. For many of them rights are more a matter of politics than of law.

 

The growth of identity politics has given a new turn to the language of rights and greatly extended its appeal. The primary application of rights in the Constitution of India is to the rights of the individual as a citizen. During the long period of imperial rule, Indians had been subjects rather than citizens: as Nirad C. Chaudhuri reminded the readers of his autobiography, the British Empire had conferred subjecthood on us but withheld citizenship. The makers of the Constitution of India sought to take the country on a new path by creating a new social order of which the individual citizen would be the cornerstone. Without the rights of citizenship, equality before the law and the equal protection of the laws would have very little meaning; nor would protection from discrimination on grounds of race, caste, creed or gender have much substance.

 

The surge of identity politics is pushing the rights of citizenship into the background by demanding recognition of the special rights of religious minorities, backward castes and a variety of other communities of birth. It is undeniable that India is a land of deep and pervasive inequalities. There are not only inequalities between individuals and households but also disparities among communities. These disparities cannot be eliminated at one stroke, but they can be mitigated and reduced by constructive social policies. Compared with rights, policies are tame affairs. They cannot be used for galvanizing the masses or mobilizing electoral support. There is something stirring in the language of rights that appeals to demagogues of every political persuasion.

 

The use of the language of rights as an instrument of identity politics raises the temperature of public debate. That may indeed be the intention of some of the more impassioned exponents of the language of rights. A nation such as ours, with its many castes and communities, cannot advance or even be at peace with itself in the absence of a fiduciary basis or a basis in mutual trust. Nothing is easier than to destroy trust among communities, and nothing more difficult than to create it. It cannot be said that we are today at the high watermark of trust among communities. The champions of more rights for disadvantaged castes and communities must ask whether their actions are likely to weaken or strengthen social prejudice.

 

The author is Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics, and National Research Professor

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

NATION WITH A COLD HEART

CHINA DIARY - NEHA SAHAY

 

The 60th anniversary celebrations are over, and things are back to normal. Shanghai's posh People's Plaza was witness to a sight more common in the capital. As throngs of people hurried by, and neon signs flashed '60th anniversary' from all the shops, a girl dressed in white and holding up a long white banner was bodily removed by four policemen. This is what her banner said, each sentence written one below the other — "The city government forged my signature to agree to the relocation. While I was away in school, they began the demolition. My mother was so upset that she died suddenly. The relevant departments passed the buck and lied. Today, it is the celebration of National Day while I mourn the death of my mother. Whose fault is it!''

 

The entire sequence of events — her holding the banner, arguing tearfully with the policemen, and then being lifted away — was recorded by an onlooker and posted on the internet. Netizens also traced her blog. Jin Tingqian is 28 years old, and her story reflects today's China. All over the country, the 60th anniversary has unleashed a surge of feeling towards Chairman Mao. A karaoke bar had a big poster of a young Mao singing patriotic songs into a mike placed outside. Some people protested, but the bar-owners justified it by saying this was part of 'Red October'. What happened to Jin Tingqian is also part of 'Red October'.

 

Tingqian's blog reveals that the public protest was a last resort, after letters and meetings with sundry officials after her fraudulent relocation had yielded nothing. The police told her that her protest was illegal. Tingqian writes : "The city relocation force used the authority of the state to take away my house and cause the death of my mother. They did not break the law. Instead, I break the law if I want to meet with a leader. Aren't the leaders of China the leaders of the people? Don't the signs in front of Chinese government offices say that they are the People's Government? What is the law? The police always ask me whether I understand the law. If this is really the law, then does it serve justice or is it a tool with which to trample upon justice?''

 

Another face

 

Actually, the ceremonial parade in Beijing on October 1 also spoke volumes about the way China has changed since 1949. Standing in the VIP enclosure at the Tiananmen gate tower, the very spot where Mao announced the founding of the People's Republic of China, was an array of Hong Kong tycoons. One more incident from Red October. An 80-year-old in a wheelchair, escorted by her daughter, was turned away from a Parkson department store in Beijing. Along with pets and smoking, wheelchairs and blind people were also banned from the store, they were told by the security guard who showed them the visuals of prohibited items on the door. As a protest, two large cut-outs of blind people, a wheelchair and some slippers were left outside the store by angry shoppers after the daughter went to the press with the story.

 

Was this less obnoxious than the sign outside a designer store in a provincial capital which showed among the visuals of prohibited items, the figure of a human being in a straw hat and obviously ill-fitting clothes? Straw hats are ubiquitous in rural China; many migrant labourers also wear them in the cities. The Chinese who posted the sign on his blog named it: "Dogs and farmers not allowed.''

 

In her blog, Jin Tingqian wrote about her mother's last words: "When I was young, I heard the adults say that after our Party and Army liberated Shanghai, they slept in the streets because they did not want to disturb the civilians. But why are things like this nowadays?"

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

THE MAN WHO CAPTURED THE TRUTH

 

Sujoy Das remembers the legendary mountain photographer of Italy, Vittorio Sella, on his 150th birth anniversaryIt is September 23, 1899. A 40-year-old Italian photographer is standing on the Zemu Glacier in north Sikkim at an altitude of around 15,000 feet, below the massive northeast face of Kanchenjunga. It is five o'clock in the morning, dark and bitterly cold. His large tripod is sunk in almost three feet of snow. It has been snowing for almost four days. From the north, a chilling wind is blowing across the Green Lake plain, biting through his tweed jacket. But Vittorio Sella, the legendary mountain photographer, is undaunted. He mounts his large 40-pound plate camera on the tripod and slowly pans it away from that sheer face of the third highest peak in the world. Sella carefully frames his photograph, inserts the two-pound film plate and waits for dawn. And, as the first light touches Siniolchu, one of the satellites of Kanchenjunga, Sella presses the shutter to capture possibly the finest view of one of the most beautiful mountains in the world.

 

The year 2009 marks the 150th birth anniversary of Sella. In all probability, this will go unnoticed. Sella is virtually unknown today but in his time he was one of the most celebrated photographers in Europe.

 

Born in 1859 in the village of Biella, Italy, Sella photographed mountains in four continents: the Russian Caucasus, the Saint Elias range in Alaska, Mount Rwenzori in Africa, Kanchenjunga in the Himalayas and K2 in the Karakoram. His father was a textile merchant, and young Vittorio worked in his father's factory for some time as a chemist until his passion for mountains and photography got the better of him. Sella's passion for the mountains was possibly transmitted to him by his uncle, Quintino Sella, who was the founder of the Italian Alpine Club. From 1880 to 1893, young Vittorio climbed and photographed the Alps, completing the first winter ascent of the Matterhorn in 1882 and the first winter traverse of Mont Blanc in 1888, for which he received an award from the Royal Geographical Society, London.

 

Sella's work in the Alps caught the attention of the duke of Abruzzi, a keen mountaineer and explorer. In 1897, Sella was invited by the duke to an expedition to Alaska, where he photographed the Saint Elias range of mountains. He participated in two further expeditions with the duke. In 1906, he went to the "mountains of the moon", Rwenzori in Africa, and in 1909 to the Karakoram, where he documented K2 and Chogolisa with rare finesse. The expedition to Chogolisa set a new altitude record of 7,500 metres (24,600 feet) which remained unbroken until the British expedition to the Everest in 1922. Unfortunately, the duke was forced to turn around when he was just 150 metres below the summit due to bad weather. Interestingly, Chogolisa remained unclimbed until an Austrian expedition summited the peak in 1975. Sella's photograph of the duke and his guides climbing the Chogolisa icefall, with enormous seracs about to topple over their heads, remains one of the classics of mountain photography.

 

In 1899, Sella embarked on his most ambitious expedition, accompanying the British mountaineer, Douglas Freshfield, on the first ever circuit of Kanchenjunga. The trip, which started in the monsoon, successfully mapped the region around Kanchenjunga for the first time and, with Sella's brilliant photographs, serves as an archive for future generations of explorers even today. The expedition was struck by very bad weather which caused unseasonal snow in the Zemu valley in north Sikkim. Despite odds, Sella was able to continue photographing right through the snowfall.

 

Many of the great mountains in the world were first photographed by Sella: K2 swirling in monsoon clouds, avalanches thundering off Mount St Elias, the peak of Rwenzori shining over the great African plains, Jannu towering over the Chunjerma Pass in eastern Nepal, Kanchenjunga from the Green Lake plain in north Sikkim. In 1935, at the age of 76, Sella made one last attempt to climb the Matterhorn which proved unsuccessful. He died in Biella in 1943 at the age of 84.

 

In his memory, the Italian Alpine Club set up the Vittorio Sella Hut at an altitude of 2,588 metres among the mountains of the Grand Paradiso range. The hut is frequently used today by both climbers and photographers. The highest peak on Mount Luigi di Savoia in the Rwenzori range was named Sella Peak in his honour.

 

Sella's work has been printed in a large-format book, Summit: Vittorio Sella, Pioneer Mountaineering Photographer, 1879-1909, which is possibly the most important reference work for his photographs. Lodovico Sella, a descendant of Vittorio, has set up the Sella Foundation in his hometown Biella that has the largest archive of Sella's negatives and photographs.

 

The legendary landscape photographer, Ansel Adams, wrote: "Knowing the physical pressures of time and energy attendant on ambitious mountain expeditions, we are amazed by the mood of calmness and perfection pervading all of Sella's photographs. In Sella's photographs there is no faked grandeur; rather there is understatement, caution, and truthful purpose.... Sella has brought to us not only the facts and forms of far-off splendours of the world, but the essence of experience which finds a spiritual response in the inner recesses of our mind and heart."

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

DON'T LEAVE ANY STONE UNTURNED

THE PEOPLE SHOULD WORK WITH THE GOVERNMENT TO BRING DOWN INDIA'S INFANT MORTALITY RATE

FEAR FACTOR

 

In July 2006, in a village in Haryana, a five-year-old fell into a deep, narrow pit left uncovered by workers. While Prince lay inside the pit, an entire nation stayed glued to their television sets to watch the rescue drama. The chief minister of Haryana, who visited the spot, said: "The administration is leaving no stone unturned to bring the child out safely, which is our first priority. We are even in touch with experts in London and Holland." Expressing the wishes of millions of Indians, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he was hopeful that the boy would be rescued. Indeed, he was.

 

Prince was able to stir the conscience of the nation, and the State made it its priority to bring him out safely. Compare Prince's case to the following statistics. Every 15 seconds, a child under five dies — 5,000 every day and 2 million every year. These hapless children have not fallen into a pit like Prince, and so do not need the advanced engineering skills of the Indian Air Force to pull them out. These children die of diseases and conditions that are easily preventable and treatable. But, unfortunately, the State services do not reach them.

 

India has the largest number of children under five dying every year. This is a scandal and a shame. India is far off from the Millennium Development Goal 4, which says that child mortality will be reduced by two-third by 2015. Our poorer neighbour, Bangladesh, has gone ahead of us and will meet its target for MDG 4.

 

While the fact of these deaths is indefensible, there have been attempts to explain or, worse, to trivialize them. The essence of the defence falls into two categories. One, the task is difficult, too expensive — it will never succeed. Two, India has a population problem; the children are not worth saving. The first argument falls flat when countries such as Bangladesh, Peru, Philippines and Nepal have achieved the goal without the economic might and the GDP growth that have found India a place in the influential Group of 20. It is also interesting to look into some of our own success stories in the states of Kerala, Goa and Mizoram, which are definitely not the booming states.

 

Abhay Bang, the Magsaysay award winner who worked in Gadchiroli, the poorest district of Maharashtra, with the support of the Gates foundation and Save the Children, has shown the world and India through his model of home -based care that infant mortality can be brought down substantially, and that too within a short time frame of three years. The Gadchiroli experience has proved that reducing child mortality is not difficult, as many people believe it to be.

 

The population myth too can be busted if we look at the history of developed nations. Fertility rates have actually gone down when child mortality rates came down. One of the reasons behind having numerous children is the false sense of security it provides to the poor who fear that many of their children will not survive. If many actually do survive, the need to have more will be lessened.

 

Manmohan Singh has, on several occasions, reiterated his government's resolve to wage a war against malnutrition and other conditions that kill children. The government and we, the people, must get our act together to save the future.

 

THOMAS CHANDY

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

ABDUCTION WEAPON

"WEST BENGAL GOVT HAS SET A DANGEROUS PRECEDENT."

 

 

The hijacking of the Bhubaneshwar-New Delhi Rajdhani train on Tuesday was a consequence of the West Bengal government's deal with the Maoists and the release of 21 tribals in exchange for the release of an abducted police officer, Atindranath Dutta, last week. Admittedly it is difficult to make a moral judgment when lives of people are involved, especially when it is the duty of governments to protect lives. But the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government showed itself as vulnerable when it swapped the tribals for the police officer. It may not have been of the order of the swap of terrorists for the passengers of the Indian Airlines aircraft that was hijacked to Kandahar in 1999. Many governments have also released persons in their custody in exchange for hostages. It is true that cost-benefit calculations are difficult in such situations.


The government may have had some points of defence in the Dutta case. Those who were released might in any case have been granted bail in the normal course, since the charges against them were not strong. But that also showed that their arrests were not justified, as the magistrate himself noted, and strengthened the Maoists' charge that the government was terrorising the tribals.  Since two policemen had been killed by the Maoists, one more killing would have exposed the helplessness of the government. But ironically the deal also exposed the government's helplessness. Its action was certainly taken as victory by the Maoists.


More importantly, it set a precedent and encouraged the Maoists again to use abduction as a weapon. Thousands of passengers were exposed to danger and tension on Tuesday. The Central government is planning a major offensive against the Maoists and to counter that they are bound to employ more such unconventional tactics. Governments may again be pushed into helpless situations and shown as unable to protect the lives of people. They will not be able to meet the demands even when precedents like the Atindranath Dutta case are cited. It has a lesson: actions to oblige those outside the pale of law become appeasement which feeds on itself. Since they detract from the authority of governments, people also lose confidence in them. Moral dilemmas become political Achilles' heels. It was fortuitous that the Rajdhani train passengers did not come to any great harm, but next time such a situation can create a more serious crisis.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

MANAGING RECOVERY

"A BALANCE BETWEEN GROWTH AND INFLATION."

 

Fearing a major negative impact on the economy, the immediate reaction of the stock markets to RBI's new monetary policy was one of despair. Though the RBI did not make any changes in the major policy rates like bank rate, repo rate, reverse repo rate and CRR, a closer study of the other changes suggests that the Central bank has given clear indication to the end of easy monetary policy. When Indian economy was slowing down due to a ripple effect of the global financial crisis, the RBI for the last nine months or so was following a loose monetary policy. It injected more liquidity in the system, lowered interest rates and made borrowing easy.


Now that the economic crisis is under control, industrial growth rates are becoming peppy, consumers are returning to market, stock indices had handsome gains and prices are rising, the RBI has hinted at tighter monetary policy. Future moves will be aimed at a balancing between growth and inflation. The RBI has made banks to invest more in the government bonds, made it more expensive to lend to commercial real estate, asked banks to provide more funds for bad loans and withdrew special funding facility from banks to mutual funds and NBFCs.


The RBI has admirably made it clear that it will not encourage a build up of asset price bubble and a stock market bubble with borrowed money. Though perceived as counter-productive, the RBI is right in tightening the purse string. While the economic stimulus is still in force, two countries — Australia and Israel, have already raised interest rates. RBI could be the next to follow. Its concern on inflation is genuine as inflation may touch six per cent by March next. Prices of all agricultural products (pulses, sugar, vegetables, etc) are already very high. Poor rainfall has made the situation worse as agricultural output is likely to drop further. While all these are true, the RBI should not push its measures to such an extent that credit flows to industry and business dry up. Though the recovery has just started, it is still on a feeble footing. Let us no forget that economic activities need money and the country's GDP growth and employment are directly linked to it. Banks must be encouraged to lend at reasonable rates where the funds are needed.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

THE MISSING LINK

THE COPENHAGEN SUMMIT WILL NOT BE ABOUT EMISSION STANDARDS, BUT MORE ABOUT MARKETING GREEN TECHNOLOGIES AND INVESTMENTS.

BY DEVINDER SHARMA


The countdown has begun. The forthcoming UN Climate Change Conference (popularly called CoP 15) scheduled to be held at Copenhagen from Dec 7 to18 is generating tremendous excitement. Climate change has suddenly become the buzzword. As top political leaders are getting ready to descend on Copenhagen, there is surely a thrill in the air.


The global debate, dominated by a handful of international NGOs, have managed to very deftly shift the entire development discourse to climate change. The United Nations (not only UNEP, but all its other arms), the bilateral donor agencies like USAID/DFID, and the global think-tanks like the International Food Policy Research Institute (which are no better than the corporate rating agencies) have for quite sometime been active in putting climate change on the top of the global development agenda. And they have surely succeeded.


In the process, the real issues confronting the world have been very conveniently swept under the carpet. So much so that if you don't talk about climate change you appear to be out of fashion, feel outdated.


I am therefore not amused to see Indian NGOs, who otherwise swear in the name of poverty, hunger and food insecurity, suddenly riding the climate change bandwagon. Even dalit and adivasi issues are being linked to climate change. I wouldn't be surprised if someone tries to find a correlation between climate change and the gender dimension.


This is not only true of India but almost all civil society organisations in the developing world. In reality, they are looking forward to an opportunity to be there where the action is. I mean travelling to Copenhagen, so that they can tell their colleagues: "yes, I was there."


Nevertheless, the Copenhagen summit is expected to be somehow different. It is not only about emission standards but if you have been following it carefully, it is all about marketing green technologies and investments. I am not therefore surprised when Heads of State talk about Green Technology Revolution on the lines of Green Revolution, not realising that Green Revolution is in a way responsible for acerbating the climate crisis. In other words, the entire debate has been hijacked by the corporates to suit their business interests.


The UN says the world needs an investment of $200 billion to fight climate change, which is a euphemism for corporate investment, and like proverbial cats you will see the Heads of State fighting to get hold of a sizeable pie. It is expected that the developed countries might offer the developing countries something between $90 billion to 140 billion per year to be used for clean technologies. Climate change therefore offers bright business opportunities.

GLOBAL ECONOMIC ENVIRONMENT

Just a few days prior to the Copenhagen conference, the 7th ministerial conference of WTO is being held at Geneva, from Nov 30 to Dec 2. The general theme of the WTO ministerial will be the WTO, the multilateral trading system, and the current global economic environment. Surprisingly, the WTO ministerial is talking in terms of the global economic environment and not climate change. You will ask me so what? Well, that is where I want to draw your attention to.


The two international treaties that have hogged the limelight for quite some time are the WTO and the Kyoto Protocol. While one relates to global trade, the other is about climate change. Global trade is not only about economic growth but also seriously impacts climate change. After all, trade is not going to be conducted on bullock carts. It will mean more transportation, which means more burning of fossil fuels and therefore more global warming.


The World Bank has, through its global economic prospects report, already said that a successful Doha Round completion could generate $291 billion in global economic gains. It of course did not tell us how much the world would have to suffer by way of rise in the average global temperature.


So, in other words, the Doha development round of WTO paves a way for $291 billion gain, essentially for business and trade, whereas a successful completion of the CoP-15 would mean an additional business opportunity of $200 billion for the manufacturers of green technologies.


In the mid-1980s the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) had published a study, which had estimated that by the end of 2004, when the WTO Uruguay Round was expected to complete, there would have been an increase of 70 per cent in internationally traded goods as compared to 1992.


This of course would mean that more fossil fuels being burnt to transport these goods across continents. OECD estimates had also shown that 25 per cent of carbon emissions, with some 66 per cent of this coming from rich countries, is from the global transport sector.


We know that each tonne of fright moved by plane uses 49 times as much energy as a ship. And a 2-minute take-off by a Boeing 747 jumbo is equal to 2.4 million lawn movers running for 20 minutes. More than the emissions standards, what is therefore more crucial for the changing climate is the restriction needed to be imposed on global trade. We need to have trade reduction standards on the lines of mandatory emission cuts.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

CRUCIAL REPOLL IN AFGHANISTAN

FREE, FAIR AND CREDIBLE ELECTION REQUIRES ENOUGH SECURITY TO ENCOURAGE PEOPLE TO TURN OUT AND VOTE.

BY DEEPALI GAUR SINGH

 

When William Hague, the shadow foreign secretary, said any appearance Britain was 'rubber stamping' disputed or corrupt Afghanistan elections risk bringing more violence against British troops he might not have been exaggerating. The recently concluded Afghan election was decried as yet another symptom of the mass scale and deeply entrenched corruption that is eating into the democratic processes there.


Even as foreign governments claim to do the tightrope walk between non interference in Afghanistan's internal affairs and yet working proactively towards ensuring that the elections do count for the Afghan people it appeared that horse-trading, back-room deals and corrupt electoral practices is what the new Afghan government was all set to be built upon.


But the pressure of international outrage on the foreign governments that have invested in Afghanistan and the subsequent pressure of revelations of fraud by an UN-backed panel on President Karzai appears to have yielded some positive outcomes as the country prepares for the second round of presidential elections in November. President Karzai's chief political rival Abdullah Abdullah — his foreign minister once — agreed to participate in the final runoff following confirmation that the incumbent president had, in fact, failed to win the 50 per cent required to avoid the second round.


SAFETY CONCERNS

The poll line 'ballot over bullet' had lent hope that the Afghan people would be able to give their verdict on Afghanistan's future president. With the legitimacy of elections, to some extent, depending on whether the Afghans felt safe enough to go out and vote, it was crucial that the security situation in the country improved.


But those had been the hopes even as news consistently poured in of naked ballot rigging, ghost polling stations, fake electoral IDs and of course the omnipresent Taliban threat — a potent combination of violence and accusations of mass-scale electoral fraud — marring Afghanistan's second presidential elections in its history.


Starting with 40 candidates for president and more than 3,000 for the provincial councils, the election broke new ground with more than 17 million people registered to vote evidence of continued interest in the democratic process. But the so-called progress has come with its costs.


The two women presidential candidates and another 300 who contested in the local provinces were frequently attacked, threatened and harassed as they contended with ultra conservative interpretations of Islamic law. With almost half the country depicted as 'at high risk' the UN's recently published security map of Afghanistan is not encouraging either.


What the second round of 'free, fair and credible election' really requires is enough security to encourage people to turn out and vote since a substantial percentage of the bogus voting was attributed to the 'ghost polling stations' that never opened because they were in dangerous areas. Threats, insecurity, punishment to voters and actual violence made the journey to polling booths treacherous. In some areas, militants cut off the ink-marked fingers of people who had voted.


Additional challenges, now, come in the form of drawing voters and the transportation of votes as the bitter winter begins to set in. Another challenge for the Independent Election Commission — also accused for their bias — to prevent rigging is in finding replacements for election workers implicated. The government had already struggled in recruiting enough poll officials and workers for the first round, especially at voting stations for women.


While the inevitability of the second round had been taken for granted Karzai, too, had always been the front-runner. What is unclear now is whether his leadership faces the threat of being undermined by these accusations.

The next four years are extremely critical for the country. It is seen as the time frame for the Afghan National Army (ANA) to take responsibility of security from the international community against the background of General Azimi's (chief spokesman for the Afghan military) comments on the ANA's preparedness to engage the Taliban militia single-handedly by 2013.


Among Afghans, the ANA is one of the most respected public organisations in the country, outranking even the police, foreign troops or the national government. The Afghan government and international community probably needs to take lessons from here and look ahead towards making substantive improvements in the upcoming 2010 polls — changes that are sustainable, build on greater support for the representative bodies in the future and strengthen the democratisation process. It is critical that when the people come out to vote they do it confident that the risk is worthwhile.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

TENSION AT THE WHEELS

EVER INCREASING TRAFFIC SEEMS TO HAVE TAKEN AWAY ALL THE FUN OF DRIVING.

BY CHANDRASHEKAR SUBRAMANYA

 

I am on my routine drive from home at Koramangala to my office at Jayanagar and the time is 9'o clock in the morning. I strap the seat belt around and blend into rush hour traffic. I notice that quite a few vehicles jump lanes, accelerate and whiz past me sighting the green signal ahead. Since I lack the gumption, I don't join the race and stay clear and stick to my lane.


Everybody seems to be in a tearing hurry and appear to be running behind the schedule regardless of  the reporting time or the destination. Right along the drive, hundreds of vehicles pour into the traffic pool from lanes and bylanes (like rivulets and streams joining the sea) and add to the density and chaos. It takes me 40 minutes to commute a distance of 8 km. I manage to glance at a few fellow drivers along the way. They look edgy, tense and stressed out. Some of them are swearing under breath perhaps using the choicest expletives.

Some of them tightly gripping the steering wheel as though it is about to disintegrate. Some of them impatiently drubbing the steering wheel. The younger ones are enjoying the music and humming along and seem to be taking the traffic chaos in their stride. The older ones wearing a  bored/cynical look and with a 'Bangalore traffic woes are beyond fixing' expression.


The cops posted at signals look weary, over worked and angry. Everyday 900 to 1,000 new vehicles are registered in Bangalore besides migration of vehicles from other states and towns. There is  no matching increase in road space or in mass rapid transport system capacity. Parking has taken away good amount of driving space as well. Lane discipline is woefully lacking and self regulation is poor. The concern for fellow travellers is totally absent.


The arterial roads are out of bound for cyclists and pedestrians. I am transported back in time. Forty years ago I was a high school kid and on weekends we used to happily cycle from Basavangudi to Cubbon Park, Commercial Street, M G Road, Ulsoor lake, Banaswadi, Yeshwantpur and Hebbal. It was great fun going around those days. Our progeny have missed the driving pleasures and seem to be contented with virtual driving!

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

FAR FROM WATERTIGHT

 

Israel is under fire yet again for supposed human rights contraventions. Hot on the heels of the Goldstone Report, which at the behest of the UN Human Rights Council charged Israel with war crimes against Gazan civilians in Operation Cast Lead, Amnesty International this week accuses Israel of depriving the Palestinians of the most basic and vital of all commodities - water.

 

Both reports assail Israel for supposedly robbing Palestinians of fundamental liberties and provisions. This simplistic premise underlies the approaches of the UNHRC, Amnesty and a whole host of similar organizations whose verdicts, as National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau noted, "are a foregone conclusion before any fact-finding effort is ever under way."

 

So-called human rights organizations have become the prime weapon of choice with which to whack Israel. In the name of ostensible liberality, Israel is repeatedly placed in the dock of world opinion, where it is tarnished as the villain among nations. There's almost no sphere where Israel can remotely expect a fair shake.

 

Amnesty's latest report is a case in point. It set out to examine the assumed victimization of the Palestinians. Thereafter, everything proceeded true to pattern. The inevitable bottom line is that the Palestinians are aggrieved. No blame is apportioned to them. The causes of the situation aren't considered.

 

Thus Israel's Water Authority was prevented from making any sort of presentation to Amnesty's researchers or responding to the report's charges before publication.

 

The report, moreover, focuses on the Mountain Aquifer, neglecting to so much as suggest that Israel might possess legal rights by virtue of the fact that it was first to discover, develop and pump from it. Other arrangements, it can credibly be posited, hinge on the outcome of final status negotiations, which Israel cannot conduct unilaterally.

 

In fact, Israel draws less water from the Mountain Aquifer today than it did 40 years ago, while Palestinian consumption of fresh water has tripled since then.

 

Additionally, the Israel Water Authority notes that, when all water uses are combined, it emerges that 149 cubic meters are available per capita per annum for Israelis, and 105 cu.m. for Palestinians. The difference, though not negligible, is far from Amnesty's claim of a super-acute shortage, well below the World Health Organization recommended minimum allotment. Water availability to Israelis has fallen sharply in recent decades. In 1967 it stood at 500 cu.m. - so today's figure represents a 70% drop. Until the Six Day War, Palestinians could count on a mere 86 cu.m. yearly. Their situation has improved by 22%.

 

Had it been given the opportunity, the Water Authority would also have highlighted that Israel supplies water to the PA well in excess of its 1995 Oslo Accords undertakings. Systematically overlooked by Amnesty, meanwhile, are Palestinian breaches of these accords - including pirate drilling, water theft and routine damage to pipelines, failures to purify waste water (despite massive contributions by donor nations), irrigating crops with fresh rather than reclaimed water, dumping untreated sewage into streams, severely contaminating Israel's Coastal Aquifer and forcing Israel to deal with PA sewage.

It is very hard to resist the conclusion that Amnesty's report was commissioned to serve a specific agenda.

 

NGO MONITOR charges that Amnesty deliberately timed its report to coincide with scheduled events on American campuses entitled "Israel's Control of Water as a Tool of Apartheid and Means of Ethnic Cleansing." These are sponsored by the Palestinian Cultural Academic Boycott of Israel movement.

 

Whether or not that was the case, there is considerable resonance to the accusation by NGO Monitor's president, Prof. Gerald Steinberg, that Amnesty is "manipulating the water issue while ignoring the complexities of history and law in order to again falsely portray Israel as a brutal regime. Rather than recognize that water supply is a complex regional issue, Amnesty focuses only on Palestinian shortages... The report adopts a painfully simplistic narrative which places blame solely on Israel, to the extent that the Palestinian leadership is absolved of responsibility for the agreements signed under the Oslo framework."

 

While ostensibly pursuing a well-intentioned attempt to improve Palestinian welfare, Amnesty seems more intent on coming up with pretexts to justify its assertion that Israel "denies hundreds of thousands of Palestinians the right to live a normal life, to have adequate food, housing or health, and to economic development." A readiness to first hear, and then take into account, the Israeli side of the vexed water dispute would have enabled a more credible report - and one more likely to have practical impact.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

WASHINGTON WATCH: WHAT'S SO SCARY ABOUT J STREET?

DOUGLAS BLOOMFIELD

 

Bernie Madoff's punim may be the best selling mask this Halloween season, but what scares the stuffing out of many Jewish leaders is the new pro-Israel peace lobby called J Street. What has them quaking in their Guccis is the fear that its message appears to be igniting interest in the community and on Capitol Hill despite a frantic campaign to douse it.

 

The 18-month-old group just held its first national convention in the wake of a massive operation by its hysterical foes to frighten away participants, particularly politicians who might lend it credence. But it backfired. They wound up dramatically elevating the peace lobby's prominence and influence and were responsible for swelling the meeting's attendance and media coverage far beyond the group's wildest dreams. It took AIPAC many years to reach the level J Street achieved in its first outing.

 

The group comes out of this week as the recognized voice of the pro-peace, pro-Israel Jewish community at the expense of long-standing groups like Americans for Peace Now and Israel Policy Forum. What sets it apart, and so terrifies the hard-line establishment, is that unlike the others it has a political action committee (PAC) that raises and contributes money for political campaigns - something essential to being an effective player today. What's more, it is beefing up its lobbying activities with some respected veteran political operatives.

 

BUT ITS greatest appeal - and what sends some in the Jewish establishment into paroxysms of fear and panic - is to younger and progressive Americans, particularly Jews, who are turned off by the Israel-first establishment's intolerance of dissent and its steady rightward tilt, something that has been on display in the failed effort to stifle J Street.

 

And J Street has a sympathetic ear at the White House, which is not unaware of how the old-line organizations worked against President Barack Obama's election while 78 percent of Jewish voters were giving him their support.

 

The Netanyahu government and its ambassador here may be shunning J Street, but not the White House. The group has been invited to meetings Obama has held with national Jewish leaders, and some of its leaders have close ties to senior policy makers.

 

I suspect for some, attacking J Street is a backdoor way to attack Obama without doing so openly and risking White House access.

 

Many also fear that J Street will give the Obama administration political cover in the Jewish community to pressure Israel to adopt peace policies the right doesn't want.

 

What is it about Obama's talk of peace that terrifies them? After all, George W. Bush, who they profess to admire, also advocated two states and called for a settlement freeze. Could it be that they're worried that Obama, unlike Bush, means what he says?

 

The epithets hurled by some Jews at J Street - Stalinists, a fifth column, surrender lobby, terrorist sympathizers, toy Jews, pro-terrorist, illegitimate, treasonous, odious, rot - sound like what the Iranians are saying about Israel these days.

 

With a $3 million budget it certainly is no threat to the money-making juggernaut that is AIPAC, which raises $70 million a year for itself and heavily influences millions more going directly to politicians.

 

So terrified of J Street were some old-line organizations that they mounted a campaign of calls, e-mails and threats from supporters to politicians to shun J Street lest their political contributions dry up and their pro-Israel bona fides be brought into question. Only a handful buckled. The warnings were delivered privately, usually through individual backers, to give the organizers an insulating layer of what the Nixonites liked to call plausible deniability.

 

What the panic on the right has done is unintentionally create a new atmosphere for discussing Middle East policy and offer members of Congress a progressive alternative voice to what's been called the status quo lobby.

 

I HAVE concerns about J Street's rhetoric and some positions, particularly on the Gaza war, Hamas and Iran sanctions, and some of its coalition partners, but dissent and debate in the pro-Israel community is no threat to the survival of the Jewish state. After all, if Israelis can do it, why can't we? I don't care for some of the people who have endorsed the group, but then I feel the same way about some of the backers of AIPAC, ZOA and the others. J Street may not be the "moderate, mainstream" group it claims, but neither is it the extremist, left-wing anti-Israel threat its critics would have us believe.

 

Notwithstanding all the attention, J Street is no threat to AIPAC, at least not yet. And serious US pressure on

Israel is unlikely until the Arabs can make a convincing case that they are ready for serious compromise themselves. So long as Hamas and Fatah are battling to see who defines the future course of the Palestinian movement - secular nationalism or Islamic republic - little can happen.

 

What is going on is an attempt by the establishment to define what it means to be pro-Israel, to make that definition ever more ideologically restrictive and to paint J Street as unacceptable. That won't work.

 

Lately we've be subjected to zealots who made aliya and attack dissenters in the Diaspora as unqualified to render opinions that challenge their own narrow-minded views. One even suggested excommunication and wants a global Jewish solidarity conference called to "exorcise the renegades from our midst." Sort of a Jewish version of the McCarthy-era House Un-American Activities Committee; the past six Israeli prime ministers might wind up being excommunicated.

 

Then there's my former AIPAC colleague Lenny Ben-David (nee Davis), who indicts J Street as anti-Israel because some Arab-Americans who believe in the two-state solution have contributed money to it. That's like calling AIPAC anti-Semitic because it gets money from some Evangelicals who long for a fiery Armageddon for the Jews and Israel.

 

Hypocrisy and political turf protecting, not concern for Israel, are what's driving the over-the-top J Street opposition.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

FUNDAMENTALLY FREUND: DARE TO DREAM OF A REBUILT TEMPLE

MICHAEL FREUND

 

Something astonishing, even alarming, is taking place in the battle over the future of Jerusalem. Even as Palestinian rioters run amok on the Temple Mount, egged on by the radicals of the Islamic Movement, much of the anger and dismay in the Israeli and international press is being directed, ironically enough, at Jews who merely wish to visit the site.

 

Mustering all the righteous indignation at their disposal, the media have been filled in recent days with all kinds of pejoratives to describe them, ranging from "extremist" to "fringe" to "ultra-right-wing,' as though a Jew's desire to exercise his basic, fundamental rights somehow constitutes an act of provocation.

 

Local pundits and commentators alike have also joined the fray, going to great lengths to justify the restrictions imposed by the police on Jews wishing to visit the Mount, even accusing the would-be pilgrims of seeking to trigger a firestorm of Islamic fury. It does not seem to bother them one whit that the policy in place today is entirely discriminatory in nature, as the followers of Muhammad are allowed to visit and pray where Solomon's Temple once stood, but not the followers of Moses.

 

Indeed, all the enlightened defenders of civil rights, and the champions of equality before the law suddenly fall silent when capitulation to Muslim threats is given preference over respecting vital Jewish rights.

 

And why not, you might be asking. After all, if it is just a bunch of kooks who want to ascend the Mount, why go to all this trouble on their behalf? Needless to say, this approach plays straight into the hands of our foes, whose ultimate goal is to wrestle the holy site away from us by denying its historical and spiritual connection with the Jewish people.

 

AND WHAT a sad and pitiful sight this is to behold. Before our very eyes, we are witnessing a concerted effort to delegitimize and even demonize our people's most cherished dream: the longing for the Temple. The very aspiration that was born in the moments when Roman flames engulfed the Second Temple more than 1,900 years ago, and which was carried in Jewish hearts throughout centuries of exile, has now become an object of scorn, mockery and ridicule.

 

Make no mistake: This is nothing less than an unbridled assault on Judaism itself, and it is time for the derision and name-calling to stop.

 

Opine all you want about how to "solve" the Jerusalem issue, but don'tbelittle the place of the Temple in Jewish eschatology or belief. Like it or not, the longing for a rebuilt Temple is no less central to Judaism than the desire for peace or social justice. And dreaming of a time when the Temple will stand again is no more fanciful or fanatical than hoping for the day when poverty and hunger will be eliminated.

 

Just open any prayer book and you will see what I mean. Every day, three times a day, Jews conclude the Amida prayer, which is central to our liturgy, with the following plea: "May it be Your will, O Lord our God and the God of our forefathers, that the Holy Temple be rebuilt, speedily in our days."

 

Does this mean that every Jew who prays daily is a wild-eyed extremist? And just a few weeks ago, in the Musaf prayer recited on the festival of Succot, we implored God to "be compassionate to us and to Your Temple with great mercy, and rebuild it soon and magnify its glory."

Is this utterance the province merely of the "ultra-right-wing"?

 

The Temple and its sacrificial rites are a core component of our faith, and they play a central role in the Jewish vision of a better world. Vilifying those who uphold this belief is simply an act of small-minded intolerance and bigotry, and it has no place in the current debate.

 

And denying Jews the right to visit the Temple Mount is no less objectionable, for it tramples upon the principal constitutional values which underpin our democracy.

 

As Thomas Jefferson pointed out some two centuries ago, "The most sacred of the duties of a government is to do equal and impartial justice to all its citizens." That means that when Palestinian Arabs try to prevent Israeli Jews from visiting the Temple Mount, it is the responsibility of the powers that be to come to the defense of the latter, rather than to capitulate to the former.

 

So let's stop bad-mouthing those who want to visit or pray where our forefathers once stood. And let's bear in mind one very important rule: The real extremism is not to dream of a Temple, but to attempt to silence those who do.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

RATTLING THE CAGE: SOME VICTIMS WE ARE

LARRY DERFNER

 

The kill ratio was 100-to-1 in our favor. The destruction ratio was much, much greater than that. To this day, thousands of Gazans are living in tents because we won't let them import cement to rebuild the homes we destroyed. We turned the Gaza Strip into a disaster area, a humanitarian case, and we're keeping it that way with our blockade.

 

Meanwhile, here on the Israeli side of the border, it's hard to remember when life was so safe and secure.

 

So let's decide: Who was the victim of Operation Cast Lead, them or us?

 

No question - us. We Israelis were the victims and we still are. In fact, our victimhood is getting worse by the day. The Goldstone report was the real war crime. The Goldstone report, the UN debates, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Red Cross, B'Tselem, the traitorous soldiers of Breaking the Silence and the Rabin Academy - those were the true crimes against humanity. This is what's meant by "war is hell."

 

It is we who've been going through hell from the war in Gaza. It is we who've been suffering.

 

Gazans? Suffering? What's everybody talking about?

 

We let them eat, don't we?

 

This imaginary monologue is how we actually see ourselves today. Weinitiated the war in Gaza, we waged one of the most one-sided militarycampaigns anyone's ever seen - and we're the victims.

 

We're fighting off the world with the Holocaust; witness Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the UN with his Auschwitz props. "We won't go like lambs to the slaughter again," vowed his protégé, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, in a cabinet discussion of the Goldstone report.

 

Auschwitz, lambs to the slaughter, Operation Cast Lead. To Israelis today,
it's all of a piece, it's one story, one unbroken legacy of righteous victimhood.

The truth is that the State of Israel has never been a victim, and our likening of ourselves to the 6 million has been embarrassing from the beginning - but now? After what we did in Gaza? With the stranglehold we have on that society, while we over here live free and easy?

 

Victims? Lambs to the slaughter? Us?

 

No, this has gone beyond embarrassing; this is out-and-out shameful.

 

And, despite our excuses, it's not that we're "traumatized" by the past into believing that we're still weak, still the frightened, powerless Jews about to be led to the gas chambers. Many Holocaust survivors still believe this, and to some very limited extent, this vestigial fear still takes up space in the Israeli mind.
But by now, 64 years after the Holocaust, 42 years after seeing in the Six Day War how strong we'd become, we know, whether we admit it to ourselves or not, that we aren't the victims anymore. We know we aren't a continuation of the 6 million but rather a deliberate and stark departure from them.

THE REASON we tell ourselves and the world that we are victims is because we know, whether we admit it to ourselves or not, that victimhood is power. Victimhood is freedom. A victim can't be told to restrain himself. A victim fighting for survival can't be accused of abusing his power because, after all, his back is to the wall, he's desperate.

 

On the facts, it's very hard to convince ourselves, let alone the world, that Gaza and its Kassams have pushed Fortress Israel's back to the wall, that we're desperate, that we're struggling to survive. So, to convince ourselves and the world that this really is so, we do two things.

 

One, we refuse to acknowledge any facts that mar this image of ourselves as victims, and instead go over and over and over only the facts that fit the picture.

 

We talk only about the thousands of Kassams fired at Sderot; we never mention the thousands of Gazans we killed at the same time.

 

We talk only about Gilad Schalit; we never mention the 8,000 Palestinian prisoners we're holding.

 

And we never mention our ongoing blockade of Gaza or the devastation it does to those people.

 

The second thing we do to convince ourselves and the world that we're still victims is to never, ever, ever let go of the Holocaust - because that's when we really were victims. Victims like nobody's ever known, victims a million times worse than the Gazans.

 

Auschwitz, lambs to the slaughter. Remember us, the people of the Holocaust? That wasn't the Middle East's superpower you saw fighting in Gaza.

 

That was the 6 million.

 

So you can't blame us. We're immune from your criticism. We're the biggest victims the world has ever known. We're desperate, so don't tell us about kill ratios and disproportionate use of force and collective punishment. We're fighting for our survival.

 

This is what we tell ourselves and the world, and, in the face of what we did and are still doing in Gaza, it has become intolerable. We are not the 6 million. The 6 million were powerless Jews three generations ago; we cannot wrap our abuses of power in their tragedy.

 

Instead, let's take a good, hard look at what we did and what we're doing in Gaza. Then let's take a good, hard look in the mirror. And then let's admit who's the true victim here and now, and, more importantly, who isn't.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

MENDING A STRAINED ALLIANCE

ALON BEN-MEIR

 

Earlier this month, what should have been a multinational exhibit of military cooperation between the Turkish air force and its counterparts in the US, Italy and Israel, became yet another political snub in the growing public rift between Turkey and Israel. The joint exercise, which takes place every few years, was canceled indefinitely after Turkey canceled Israel's participation, causing the US and Italy to forgo the exercise in response. This public rebuff is one of many in a string of events that has shown Turkey's visceral frustration with Israel's handling of its incursion into Gaza late last year.

 

While Turkey and Israel continue to enjoy a strong alliance and their commercial and trade relations remain uninterrupted, the public slights have undoubtedly put a strain on their bilateral relationship, especially after Turkey relied heavily on the Israel lobby to prevent the Armenian genocide bill from being passed in the US Congress only two years ago.

 

But what is Turkey gaining from these public outcries? Unless Turkey wants to seriously undermine its relations with Israel and its Western allies, it should start to act judiciously as a partner to both Israel and the Arab world.

 

Turkey's ability to lead in the future will depend on its capacity to balance its relations with the powers in its diverse neighborhood - Iran, Syria, Israel, Russia and Greece all being immediate neighbors - without trading one bilateral relation for another. Turkey views itself as a strategic power with the capacity to maintain regional stability, not only in the Middle East, but as a bridge between East and West.

 

But after the infamous Davos incident in January, where Prime Minister Recep Erdogan walked out on a panel with President Shimon Peres after stating, "When it comes to killing, you know well how to kill," Turkey has looked less like a skillful diplomatic mediator and more like an instigator.

 

At this point, after earning the praise of the international community for its efforts as a member of NATO and the G-20, Turkey has too much at stake to start playing the blaming game in this intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

 

MUCH OF Turkey's animosity towards Israel is likely out of frustration, after Israel's failure to deliver an initial agreement with Syria from negotiations Turkey so painstakingly mediated throughout 2008. Furthermore, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has refused to resume the negotiations from where they were left off. But Turkey should not underestimate its role as the only strong political ally of Israel, Iran and the Arab world. Apart from government and diplomatic relations, Turkey has been the number one tourist destination for both Israelis and Iranians, though since January it has seen a huge downturn in Israeli tourists.

 

To sabotage its unique standing in this delicate global order at such a crucial time would be a major strategic blunder. Sooner rather than later, Turkey should realize that this isn't a fight worth having at this particular junction, especially when Israel has seen an increase in cooperation from its Arab neighbors since the Gaza war.

 

Many recall January 2008, when Sudan's Omar al-Bashir came to Ankara as a guest of the Turkish government after being accused by the International Criminal Court of heinous war crimes in Darfur. Only months later, Turkey participated in joint naval exercises with Israel, a tradition that has continued even after the Gaza war. The point is that Turkey has chosen a path as an ally to the many feuding nations it sits between, and in recent years has seen its integrality as an international partner skyrocket. It even made the final step of reconciliation with the Armenians this month, establishing diplomatic ties and reopening their shared border.

 

So why now, should Turkey find it necessary to undermine its historic and valuable ties with Israel, which has considered Turkey a partner of the utmost importance since its foundation as a state? As Turkey found out through the US's and Italy's immediate withdrawal from the military exercise, a rift with Israel can have destructive ramifications in its ties with the West. At this point, in its push for EU membership and as it seeks to work with the US over its Kurdish issue, a public schism with Israel will only weaken the Turkish case. And as the international community - including the Arab states - unites around the Iranian nuclear threat which is as worrisome to Turkey, it is in Ankara's best interest to cooperate.

 

To be sure, the importance of Turkish-Israeli relations cannot be overstated, as Turkey and Israel share not only critically important strategic relations but a deep affinity that goes back between the Jews and the Ottoman Empire.

 

It is not a minute too early to end public condemnations and begin mending the relationship; any further deterioration will serve neither Turkish nor Israeli interests now or in the future.

 

Israelis have good reason to feel indignant, but they should not allow a temporary political mishap to obscure Turkey's contribution to regional peace and prosperity. And likewise, Turkey must not allow the significant relations with Israel to be marred by an unfortunate chain of political mishaps.

 

Ankara must demonstrate that it can rise to the occasion and stretch its hand to the Israelis in friendship and show publicly that it values and reciprocates its partnership with the Jewish state. Israelis must now show magnanimity by accepting this invitation to join their Turkish friends and allies to celebrate the anniversary of the Turkish Republic on October 29 and use the occasion as a symbol of renewed partnership.

 

The writer is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies. www.alonben-meir.com

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

'PRO-ISRAEL,' MY FOOT! J STREET IS AN ANTI-ISRAEL LOBBY

HARVEY SCHWARTZ

 

Recently, this newspaper took a rather benign approach to J Street, recognizing its right to criticize Israel and its policies, and suggesting that Ambassador to the US Michael Oren should have consented to appear at J Street's current conference in Washington to "challenge the organization," rather than reject its invitation ("Miles from Main Street," editorial, October 23).

 

As chairman of the American Israeli Action Coalition (AIAC), an organization that seeks to represent the 250,000 Americans living in Israel, I know many who have firsthand knowledge of J Street and understand the havoc it intends to visit upon Israel. We most respectfully disagree.

 

Israel is a dynamic, democratic country with a well-established history of feisty internal political discourse and sharp internal criticism of its various governments and policies. Were J Street an Israeli organization which engaged in such battles within Israel, The Jerusalem Post's recognition of its right to do so would be eminently correct.

 

But that is not what J Street is or does. It is an American organization whose purpose is to vociferously criticize Israel and its policies (as well as lobby for the adoption of policies which are contrary to its best interests) before the US government. The American-Israeli community, having lived in the US, is keenly aware of the serious danger of such activities.

 

Most American-Israelis I have spoken to recognize J Street for what it really is - a radical, far left organization funded and supported by radical forces. A true wolf in sheep's clothing. Indeed, J Street's executive director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, just confirmed that truth by declaring at the J Street conference, "[w]e are here to redefine and expand the very concept of being pro-Israel." Israel's greatest enemies could not have articulated it any better.

 

J Street calls itself a "Washington-based Israel lobby group." However, it has not disclosed its client. Is it the State of Israel, which to date has - correctly - not identified itself with J Street? Hardly. Is it the Americans living in Israel? Ridiculous. Is it the knowledgeable American Jews who are vitally interested in the security and growth of Israel? Certainly not.

 

IN AN interview in this newspaper a number of months ago, Ben-Ami made numerous highly questionable assertions. For example, he stated:

 

1. That a State of Israel "accepted both internationally and in the [Middle East]" does not yet exist.

 

2. "The single most important thing that can be done to guarantee Israel's long-term survival" is to grant the Palestinian demands.

 

3. The Arab rejection of the 1947-48 partition plan and prime minister Ehud Barak's overly magnanimous offer in 2002 to Yasser Arafat of 97 percent of Judea and Samaria - each of which would have given the Palestinians the land they now claim to covet - are merely old history which is not relevant to solving today's "problems."

 

4. Although the Palestinian leadership is "corrupt" and has "squandered" the billions of dollars, euros and shekels in aid that has been poured into it, the PA is "not a democracy" and "the West Bank and Gaza are, in effect, like two warring states," Israel should nevertheless grant all of the Palestinian demands (while getting nothing in return).

 

5. J Street is foursquare against Israel taking any military action against Iran's nuclear threat - "even if it were effective" - on the ground that to do so would "give Iran [an] incentive to restart the program."

 

This sounds like Orwell-speak. Iran's nuclear activities pose a serious existential threat to Israel and much serious and realistic thought must be put into finding the correct Israeli response. Many in our community recognize that J Street's flippant response to Israel's most critical current issue belies its claim of true friendship with Israel.

 

Recently, J Street announced that it (along with its fellow travelers Americans for Peace Now, the Israel Policy Forum and Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, which J Street has just announced that it will mysteriously "absorb") calls on Israel to transfer Judea and Samaria to a PA which included Hamas, even if all of the PA government's members refused to recognize Israel or even renounce terrorism.

 

We cannot imagine any friend of the US suggesting that it agree to negotiate with al-Qaida. Similarly, they cannot imagine how J Street can have the chutzpah to claim that it is "pro-Israel" by advocating that Israel surrender to terrorists.

 

IF J STREET were truly pro-Israel, it would, at the very least:

 

1. Support the positions and policies of the duly-elected Israeli government, rather than work to undermine them;

 

2. Consult closely with Americans living in Israel;

 

3. Call for the international recognition of an undivided Jerusalem as Israel's eternal capital;

 

4. Call on the international community to more directly and forcefully confront Iran and its nuclear threat;

 

5. Call for all Arab nations to recognize the State of Israel as a Jewish state without preconditions;

 

6. Call for the adoption of democracy by all of the countries within the Arab world;

 

7. Call on the Arab world to itself solve the "Palestinian problem";

 

8. Call on the international community to condemn all terrorist organizations and activities, and undertake to do everything within its power to eliminate the scourge of terrorism;

 

9. Call on the international community to specifically designate Hizbullah and Hamas as outlaw terrorist groups;

 

10. Call on the international community to take the strongest possible action against the rising tide of anti-Semitism in the world.

 

Unfortunately, J Street has failed to do any of the above.

 

Indeed, the organization's leadership has never clearly explained why it felt the need to form as a separate and distinct American organization to further Israel's goal, rather than simply join one of the many existing pro-Israel American organizations. This is proof that J Street does not actually have Israel's interests at heart.

 

At its Washington conference, J Street had no moderate speakers. The Israelis whom it recruited to appear are part of the shameful lot of old leftists and self-promoters. On the other hand, many in the American-Israeli community are heartened by the numerous US elected political figures who, upon becoming apprised of J Street's true purposes, withdrew their support for the conference and refused to attend, notwithstanding the threat of the loss of J Street's financial support. Finally, AIAC congratulates the Israeli government for recognizing J Street's dangerous and nefarious goals and deciding not to lend its support to it.

 

The writer is chairman of the American Israeli Action Coalition.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

A JEWISH TIN EAR

UZI SILBER

 

My father-in-law is right about Coen Brothers movies: Each features some interesting comedic nugget or stylistic detail to gnaw on.

 

And in fact there are several such signature Coen-ish nuggets in A Serious Man, their latest and wildly anticipated first "Jewish" film: the furniture, appliances, hair-dos, wardrobes, sedans, split-levels and manicured lawns - all perfect in time and place. The Coens also saw it vital to employ "Jewy" items such as large and hairy moles, ears and nostrils.

 

This tale of serial disaster has been gushed over by reviewers across the land, who've been competing for dwindling superlatives. For The Los Angeles Times, it's the Coens' "most personal, most intensely Jewish film, and their most universal." The filmmakers' hometown Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune described it as a "brilliant balance of presentation and substance." Time Out New York's reviewer ordered readers to "see this film immediately." According to on-line film review warehouse rottentomatoes.com, the consensus opinion of 80 of 93 reviewers was that the work was nothing short of "their most mature, if not their best - film to date."

 

Here's the thing: Aside from the enigmatic opening eight-minute segment, featuring a Yiddish-language Polish shtetl yarn about a dybbuk, don't buy the hype.

 

SET IN the Coens' own suburban hometown in Minnesota, the film follows the Job-like disintegration of Larry Gopnik, a bespectacled wimp of a junior physics professor.

 

Hyperventilating adjectives notwithstanding, A Serious Man is a serious flop. Since opening over three weeks ago, it's generated box office receipts of about $3 million on a reportedly puny budget of $7 million. Why? Because this movie is entirely about Jews. And the Coen Brothers have never been really into Jews.

 

A story is doomed to failure unless its creators find its subject matter compelling. The fact is, with the exception of the odious title character in Barton Fink (John Turturro) and The Big Lebowski's gregarious, if peripheral, Walter Sobchak (John Goodman), the Coen brothers have cinematically ignored their Jewish background.

 

With the exception of Barton Fink, the brothers have peopled their off-kilter dark farces with goyim of the windswept American interior, constructing wonderfully absurd, dark and surreal tales with a restraint that makes the madness seem perfectly plausible.

 

Well known for the careful crafting of their movies, it occurred to me about halfway into the film that the script seemed slapped together. David Edelstein of New York magazine liked the movie, but had the same impression: "I got the feeling they had little idea what they would end up with when they sat down to write."

 

This suspicion is intensified by another, especially incoherent comment of Joel Coen's at the Toronto press conference: "The whole shtetl thing, maybe this is part of why we put the little beginning story in there, to kind of frame it. The whole shtetl thing, you go, right, Jews in a shtetl, and then you look at the prairie, in Minnesota, and... we kind of think, with some perspective, having moved out, what were we doing there? It just seems odd."

 

Huh?

Their lack of interest in their own people has left the Coens with a Jewish tin ear, rendering them clueless as to how Jews really talk and interact, and prevents them from understanding the characters they've constructed. As a result, the words they've put in their characters mouths simply don't ring true, which is a problem if truth is the essence of successful humor. They simply lack the insight of a Woody Allen, Larry David or a Billy Crystal, or even writer/director Judd Apatow and Entourage's Doug Ellin.

 

THEIR NORMALLY compulsive eye for minutiae fails them here: A secular-minded Jewish physicist is unlikely to approach three rabbis for personal advice, and wouldn't repeatedly refer to God as "Hashem," an expression used by the devout that likewise wouldn't be invoked by reform rabbis, certainly not in 1967 Minnesota.

 

This preoccupation with Hashem also mystifies Mordecai Specktor, editor and publisher of the Minneapolis-based American Jewish World, whose office is around the corner from the shul featured in the film. Specktor, a lifelong Minnesotan, says this film falls far short of Fargo and Lebowski.

 

Larry's yenta-ish wife wouldn't know what an aguna was, and another female friend wouldn't console Larry thus: "It's not always easy, deciphering what God is trying to tell you," or suggest that he find solace in the stories handed down by his ancestors. Just wouldn't happen.

 

Finally, the mysterious Santa Claus-like Orthodox rabbi wouldn't sit behind his desk handling a transistor radio on the Sabbath, and would never, ever turn away a Jew in distress, as he does Larry.

 

Many of the scenes were narrative cul-de-sacs. I can just hear Coen diehards countering that, well, that's precisely the Coens' point - there is no point, rhyme or reason, or that there's an underlying structure to events we can't discern, or all of the above. That's presumably why the Coens toss Schrodinger's Cat and Heisenberg's Uncertainly Principle into the mix. All is chaos, but wait, maybe it isn't. Get it?

 

Chaos or not, I certainly don't have to remind the Coens that successful scripts, like the Torah that is featured prominently here, rarely contain a single superfluous, purposeless episode. Each scene should be there for a reason, an integral part of the whole, since "danglers" leave the audience confused. Again, you suspect the two threw this thing together without their normal care.

 

So why the storm of accolades? Nell Minow of beliefnet.com distills this accurately: "Meticulous and imaginative production design and a level of opacity far beyond most mainstream releases [are] often confused with profundity."

 

As a big fan, I look forward to The Yiddish Policemen's Union, their next project based on the acclaimed novel by Michael Chabon, who will hopefully be of some assistance in honing the Coen brothers' dull if unhairy Jewish ear.

 

The writer is a New York-based author and research analyst. He is writing a graphic novel about life and loss on the Lower East Side.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

BEWARE OF STARS

 

The Israeli public's loathing of politicians sometimes creates a yearning for another kind of leader - someone who rose like a star in the army, intelligence services or business. He is expected to possess a sweeping charisma that can rise above the tedious obstacles in the party, Knesset faction or minor cabinet portfolio and easily solve Israel's problems. Israeli political history has known quite a few such stars, who begin with great promise but are later remembered as an anecdote.


Arcadi Gaydamak will be remembered as the most aberrant of all - a new immigrant from the Soviet Union in the early '70s who left Israel and returned a few years ago as a multimillionaire, after making a fortune from mysterious deals in Africa and Russia. He sought influence and public status any way he could get it - buying the Beitar Jerusalem soccer club, forming a social movement, purchasing companies on the stock market and running for mayor of Jerusalem.


His most outstanding project, setting up the refugee camp in Nitzanim for evacuees from the north in the Second Lebanon War, portrayed him as a worthy alternative to a government that failed to do its job. Soon afte

r that, opinion polls pointed to him as a candidate for state leadership.

 

But Gaydamak failed, as did all the meteorites before him. His charity projects and political aspirations did not lift the suspicions of severe criminal offenses in France and Israel that hovered over him. His public activity did not deter law enforcers from investigating him on suspicion of laundering hundreds of millions of shekels.

After his defeat in the election for Jerusalem mayor and the investigation that produced an indictment, Gaydamak left Israel. On Tuesday a French court sentenced him in absentia to six years in prison for gunrunning and money laundering.


After the initial admiration, the Israeli public turned its back on Gaydamak and his political initiatives crashed. The affair teaches us, again, to beware of stars in politics. National leadership is not an innate quality or the sequel to a military or business career. It requires experience in public life - as several prime ministers who reached their post prematurely have proved.


Instead of worshipping celebrities and "winners," it is important to strengthen the existing political system. With all its flaws, it is still the most proven way to produce political leaders.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

 

WHERE TO?

BY ARI SHAVIT

           

Yitzhak Rabin was no saint. During his first term as prime minister he got entangled in a financial scandal linked to his illegal dollar account, and in his second term he was heavily influenced by the director general of the Prime Minister's Office, who was eventually convicted of breach of trust. Rabin was surrounded by the rich, who led him to favor wealth over equality. During those years, Rabin privatized Israel Chemicals, selling it for peanuts and handing a known arms dealer Israel's only natural treasure: the Dead Sea.


Rabin was indeed a decent person, but he was among those who discovered the American green and became obsessed with it. Had Rabin's close acquaintances been scrutinized to the extent Israeli leaders' close acquaintances are scrutinized today, he would not have been able to live a normal life and his government would not have been able to function.


Rabin was no genius either. His analytic instincts were brilliant, but he lacked a deep-rooted and consistent historical outlook. Torn between conflicting approaches, the security-minded dove couldn't find a diplomatic path that would express his conceptual complexity. That's why when he chose peace, it wasn't a peace that was in character.

 

During the Oslo years, the prime minister didn't lead, he was led. He didn't navigate, he was navigated. It was a cunning Palestinian leader and a sophisticated Israeli deputy defense minister who defined the great political revolution of 1993. In decisive moments that year, Yasser Arafat and Yossi Beilin maneuvered Rabin and got him to do what they wanted him to do. The result was that the Oslo process bore the name of the Palmach hero but wasn't really derived from his values. Rabin founded Palestine-in-the-making without resolving the conflict between that act and his stated opposition to the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state, the division of Jerusalem and the handover of the Jordan Valley.


But even though he was neither a saint nor a genius, Rabin was great. He was great not just because he saved Jerusalem in the War of Independence and whipped the Israel Defense Forces into shape ahead of the Six-Day War. He was great not just because he helped create a strategic alliance with the United States in 1970 and began the peace process with Egypt in 1975. Rabin was great because during his second term as prime minister he realized the existential danger of occupation and decided to take action. The specific action he took - the Oslo process - was quite flawed. But the septuagenarian's willingness to foment change and take risks to extricate Israel from its troubles turned Rabin into a historic figure and role model.


When Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak give speeches about Rabin a this week's memorial ceremonies, they should ask themselves where they are compared to him. Nine months have passed since the general election, and seven have passed since the government was established. But so far, the captains of this ship haven't bothered to let the passengers know where we're going - what the objective is, what the destination is. This ambiguity gives the Bibi-and-Barak government the charm of a Rorschach test: People can see in it whatever they want to see. The problem is that at the end of the day, the government is just as politically effective as a Rorshach test.


At a time when the State of Israel faces dramatic challenges, its leadership isn't saying anything or striving for anything. Yes and no, mutters Netanyahu. No and yes, whispers Barak. This isn't how you lead a nation. This isn't how you rebuild a country. If this is the government's price, there isn't any point to it.

The Israel of this millennium is a country in trouble. The calcifying government needs a political revolution, an educational revolution and a governmental revolution, all at once. A government that manages to carry out even one of these revolutions will be remembered forever. A government that at least begins these three revolutions will justify its existence. But a government that deals only with maintenance and survival won't get away with it and won't survive.


Rabin's great insight was that the Jewish democratic state of today cannot choose the status quo. It has two options: getting out of the mud or sinking into it. This is an insight the current government must internalize. The time has come to know where we are going.

 

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 HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

WE'RE ALL GAYDAMAK

BY GIDEON LEVY

 

Take a good look at Arcadi Gaydamak and you will see ourselves. This enigmatic immigrant, who never spoke our language and never understood our customs, seemed so foreign and out of place, and only erupted onto the scene for a few short years. He was actually an updated version of the typical Israeli. Gaydamak didn't wear the kibbutz hat, shorts and sandals of the cartoon Srulik, but his over-fancy suit is the epitome of the new Israeli scene, even if Israel was never his homeland. It's hard to think of anyone more than the fugitive from Moscow who better represents Israelis' hidden aspirations and the way our country and society operates.


Gaydamak was sentenced in absentia in Paris to six years in prison for illegal arms trafficking. He made most of his money from the brutal civil wars in Angola and the Congo, where he recruited two former heads of the Mossad and retired officers from the Israel Defense Forces. But it's not just this dubious Israeli partnership that paints Gaydamak blue and white. Respectable Israel is also a huge weapons exporter, the fourth largest in the world, and sells its wares to anyone who can afford them without any discrimination based on morals or form of government.

Gaydamak thought he could fool everyone all the time. Israel does too. We drag out the occupation, cover up what happened in Gaza, hide what happened in the Second Lebanon War, build more and more in the settlements, deceive everyone forever. But just as with Gaydamak, it can't work all the time and doesn't fool everyone. The world is starting to ask questions and lose its patience. We have already been tried in absentia.

 

We fell in love with him immediately. Why? Because he fulfilled what most of us dream of: Making lots of fast money, whatever its source, and showing it off to everybody. A yacht from Angolan blood money, a mansion in Caesarea from his dubious Russian deals.


Who doesn't dream about all that? In a country where only power and money talk, Gaydamak was a welcome guest and focus of admiration. We also loved his display of wealth; worshipping the wealthy has long become a ritual. Open the (too) numerous business newspapers and see who the real cultural heroes are, our wealthy lords. Gaydamak was one of them.


He fulfilled another secret dream of many: He had dual citizenship, Israeli and French. Between you and me, who doesn't want a second passport? He also won our hearts with his ostentatious demonstrations of charity. A tent city on the banks of the Yarkon River, an instant city for refugees in Nitzanim. Our "give me" culture loved it. It also loves pouring huge sums into sports and its vanities. That's what Gaydamak did. He bought Beitar Jerusalem and was a king for a moment.


That's how we love our kings - only for a moment. Moni Fanan, for example, was an instant king after his suicide, 24 hours of media worship as if a saint, distinguished statesman or influential thinker had passed away - until the truth came out.


Gaydamak was not only flesh and bone, he also dabbled in the spirit. He waved Jewish tradition in front of us, and we melted. Our Israeli tradition is also sometimes hollow and shallow, just like Gaydamak's. The death of a pilot in an accident or the abduction of a soldier, Yitzhak Rabin's murder or the threat of an Iranian attack - these are virtually all the values we have left tying us together. They are no deeper than those of the lord who rode in his open car through Jerusalem's streets in the hope of becoming its mayor. Gaydamak's boasting is also not foreign to us: We loved it. "No talk, action," was his Social Justice party's campaign slogan - a party without justice or society. Like him, we also prefer doers, not talkers: Performance, security and secrecy are what is important. As long as they do and don't talk, it doesn't matter what they do.


The French court put an end to all that. The dream shattered and the hero who not long ago was mentioned in the polls for prime minister has turned into a fugitive from justice. It seems Israel will also need such outside intervention to be healed and redeemed. Until then, goodbye Arcadi, see you soon Gaydamak, and prepare for the next national hero.

 

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 HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

CLAIMS ISRAEL DEPRIVES PALESTINIANS OF WATER ARE GROUNDLESS

BY ISRAEL HAREL

 

The blitz continues: After the Human Rights Watch and Goldstone reports (which were only the two most prominent among many, including some homemade ones), Amnesty's rocket, "Troubled Waters," has landed. The gist: Israel is drying out the Palestinians.


Any libel involving discrimination against Palestinians immediately makes headlines and is repeatedly broadcast in Israel more than anywhere, usually without fact-checking and sometimes without even a request for a comment from the authorities. The news editor knows, for example, that there are around 300,000 settlers and not 450,000 (if only there were) - guzzling rogues that they are of the Palestinians' water (some may say the blood). The motive for the Israeli media's extensive coverage of lies that besmirch their country is not very different from the motive of the foreign organizations themselves: undermining Israel's moral standing in its own eyes and those of the world.


Since military efforts have failed to damage Israelis' motivation to sustain the Jewish state, those who want to destroy the country have focused recently on trying to demonize that state, to make life in it unbearable (by directing their lies at the Jews' soft underbelly or soft heart: sensitivity to injustice), and to shake the Zionist sense of justice. Not only did we come from far away (some add in the service of colonialism) to plunder the Palestinians' land, but even after driving most of them out, we continue carrying out war crimes (in Gaza) and drying up (Suha Arafat even said poisoning) their wells (in Judea and Samaria). Jews are among those gleefully jumping onto this bandwagon of anti-Israel psychological warfare, including many whose wages are paid by foreign governments and organizations like Amnesty.

 

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Amnesty's accusations on the water issue are groundless. Most of the settlements get their water piped in by the Mekorot water company from inside the Green Line not, as the organization claims, from wells in Judea and Samaria that belong to the Palestinians. And the Palestinians do not "have to make do" with 70 liters a day ("or less") per capita. According to the Oslo 2 accords they signed, they are entitled to 23.6 million cubic meters a year - but in fact they pump, with Israeli consent, 70 million cubic meters. On top of this, the Israeli Civil Administration supplies, over and above the Oslo requirements, water to villages that really are suffering from a shortage. A key question the Israeli media has left unasked is why doesn't Israel prevent the wildcat pumping in violation of the Oslo agreement that is both draining and polluting (along with the sewage that seeps through) the mountain aquifer?

Amnesty and the rest of the pro-Palestinians do not ask where the millions of dollars that flowed to the Palestinian Authority for the construction of an efficient and economical water system have vanished, or where the money is that the World Bank and other aid agencies have provided for a sewage system that would protect the environment and prevent the seepage of wastewater into the aquifers. Another Amnesty lie: On the Jewish side, the report says, agriculture is flourishing while the Palestinians' fields are dry. The truth is that Jewish agriculture only existed in the Gush Katif settlements in the Gaza Strip. Yields there reached world records and provided a handsome living for those who worked the soil, before the blade of the uprooting fell on them. Most Jews in Judea and Samaria - and this is actually one of the arguments used against them - work outside the settlements and return only at night. One reason for this is that apart from some orchards here and there that are irrigated by rainwater, there is no income-providing agriculture in Judea and Samaria in the classical sense because of the hilly terrain. -These facts are certainly known to the Israelis who work as researchers for these organizations. But the end, or the wages, justify the means.

 

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 HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

SAVE OUR SPIRIT

BY RENEE LITVIN

 

The Interior Ministry wants to deport the children of foreign workers, out of anxiety over the demographic danger threatening Israel's existence as a Jewish state. But theirs is a lost cause, and at one stage or another demography is going to win the war. The world's populations are a mixture of races and nationalities living in an era of easy movement from one country to another, and of the media bringing about a global unification of concepts, values and tastes. This is a natural process that can only be expected to affect Israel too, where a non-Jewish minority accounts for a fifth of the population and the Law of Return enables the absorption of immigrants from various cultures.


In such circumstances, it is strange and mystifying that educational institutions and government agencies place so minuscule an emphasis on culture as something that defines identity. The concept "culture" has been debased and cheapened, largely because the media confuse it with "entertainment." The culture portfolio is the least in demand and has the lowest budget in the cabinet, and people whose occupations have to do with culture are among the lowest paid in the economy, unless they happen to be popular entertainers.


There has recently been an uproar about the decline in our students' achievements in the sciences, and efforts are underway to remedy this. Science lies at the basis of all reaches of life, but not of national identity. There is no "Jewish science" or "Slovenian science," but there is Jewish history and Jewish philosophy. The humanities are what determine the collective identity: history, literature, bible, philosophy, the arts and the Hebrew language, with all its layers and changes. And yet, again and again, we witness reductions in the number of hours devoted to humanistic subjects in our schools and cutbacks in the humanities faculties at our universities.

The humanities are less in demand in the academic world, evidently because they do not ensure good jobs for graduates, as do computers, science or law. Because of this receding demand, revenues generated by these departments and support for them have shrunk, and the numbers of teaching posts and hours have decreased accordingly.

But the laws of supply and demand do not apply to the humanities, because this is not a free market but rather a national interest in the shaping of the collective identity. Government leaders should be directing the efforts to nurture this interest, but instead they follow the herd. While it is true that a democratic leadership must represent the will of the majority, it must also lead and direct with a broad and long-range perspective.


The government's shortsightedness attests to an essential misconception: National uniqueness and identity are determined first and foremost by the collective memory - a vast repository of experiences of shared destiny, centuries of thought, customs, texts that document lives, and generations of creation in the Hebrew language. It is a glorious, multicolored mosaic, which if used throughout the educational system as the foundation for building identity w ill become a reservoir of national strength that cannot be overcome by demographic changes.

To blur the national memory is to contract collective Alzheimer's disease, a process of aging and decay that science, military power and skill will not be able to prevent; neither will a mere increase in numbers. If we seek to live as a collective, not just subsist as individuals, the wielders of power and authority must act to preserve the national identity and go back to fostering all branches of the humanities by putting them at the top of national priorities.

The writer is an author and translator.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

ONGOING AGONY OF THE BANKS

 

It is hardly surprising that GMAC is circling back to the government for a third helping of taxpayer money. GMAC is struggling under the double whammy of bad car loans and the fallout from its misguided foray into mortgage finance at the height of the housing bubble. After the government applied stress tests to the banks last May, it was the only big bank that could not raise the capital it was deemed to need.

 

Still, GMAC's return to the public trough — where it expects to get up to $5.6 billion on top of the $12.5 billion it has received since December — should serve as a reminder that much of the American banking system is nowhere near where it needs to be despite hundreds of billions of dollars doled out by the Treasury.

 

If the federal government's strategy to save the banks was meant to get them back into the business of lending to American consumers and businesses, it has not worked yet.

 

GMAC's sorry state is bad enough news for Main Street. It is the main source of financing for General Motors and Chrysler dealers around the country. That means it is virtually assured to get the additional money it needs for the same reason that the government bailed out the automakers and then gave them the windfall profits of the cash-for-clunkers initiative: too many auto-sector jobs are on the line.

 

But GMAC is hardly the only hobbled financial institution in the country. Bank of America reported a $1 billion loss in the last quarter and is still limping along, dragged down by its bloated portfolio of bad loans. Citigroup relied on accounting gymnastics and a dubious decision to stockpile few reserves against potential loan losses in order to make a $100 million profit.

 

The mere fact that these banks are still going concerns is because of the government's willingness to ply them with cash. But neither is lending much.

 

The banks that do have the financial wherewithal — like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase, which made combined profits of nearly $7 billion in the third quarter — are not making their money through lending. They are making it from trading complex financial products that few people understand.

 

Meanwhile, sectors of the economy are being starved of credit. Consumer credit by commercial banks stood at $834 billion in August — about $45 billion less than at the end of last year. Business financing is doing no better. Banks' outstanding commercial and industrial loans fell to $1.411 trillion in September, $170 billion less than a year earlier. Commercial paper issued by nonfinancial businesses has plummeted 40 percent over the last year.

 

This will not do. It is nigh impossible for economic recovery to take hold when credit is sputtering as it is. For the Obama administration's financial strategy to be a success, the banks must do more than survive. They must lend again.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

A WATERSHED DECISION

 

The decision by the Chesapeake Energy Corporation not to drill for natural gas in New York City's watershed is a smart and welcome move on the company's part, and very good news for the 8.2 million New York City residents who depend on this environmentally sensitive region for their drinking water.

 

The threat has not, however, disappeared. Chesapeake is believed to be the only leaseholder in the watershed, but its decision is voluntary and not binding on other oil and gas companies. New York State needs to adopt regulations that place the watershed permanently off limits, while imposing the strictest possible safeguards on drilling anywhere else where drinking water supplies might be affected.

 

The gas is trapped in shale rock that lies a mile or more underneath the surface. The process of extracting it, known as hydraulic fracturing, requires shooting a mix of water, sand and chemicals into the ground at high pressure. While pending state regulations would require drillers to take special precautions in the watershed there are too many points in the process where toxic chemicals could escape into the water supplies.

 

Chesapeake decided against drilling there mainly for sound business reasons. Its plans had already drawn stiff opposition from some New York politicians. Any accidental contamination would create a huge environmental and public relations headache.

 

The company also hasn't given up all that much. The one million acres northwest of New York City that comprise the watershed contain less than one-tenth of the rich deposits of natural gas lodged in the state's portion of the Marcellus Shale, a thick subterranean layer of rock that runs from West Virginia to New York. The company has access to the rest.

 

New York State officials, who have eagerly embraced drilling as one answer to upstate New York's economic woes, recently issued 800 pages of proposed regulations to govern drilling in the Marcellus Shale. They insisted the rules were tough enough to prevent accidents. Now Chesapeake, an intended beneficiary of these rules, has decided that whatever the safeguards, it is unwilling to take the risks.

 

Chesapeake's decision also undercuts one of Albany's main fears: that companies with leases to exploit mineral rights in the watershed would sue if the state denied them the opportunity to do so. Chesapeake has decided that it won't even try to exercise that right. And its chief executive, Aubrey McClendon, told The Times this week that he didn't expect any other company "would dare" to acquire leases in the watershed. All in all, Albany has no remaining excuse not to declare the New York City watershed, once and forever, a drill-free zone.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

TRUST, ANTITRUST AND YOUR VOTE

 

The nation's largest voting machine manufacturer, Election Systems & Software, announced last month that it was buying the United States voting machine division of Diebold, its main competitor. The sale could mean that nearly 70 percent of the nation's voting precincts would be served by a single corporation. That raises serious antitrust questions and serious concerns about the vulnerability of future elections.

 

The new company would have enormous reach. Without meaningful competition, localities would have fewer choices when they bought voting machines. If something were to go wrong — an inadvertent failure in hardware or software or intentional tampering by a bad actor — it could have a disastrous effect on the entire nation's vote.

 

After the deal was announced, voting-rights groups expressed concern. Senator Charles Schumer wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. calling for antitrust regulators to scrutinize the purchase. The Senate Rules and Administration Committee, of which Mr. Schumer is chairman, is conducting a review of the proposed sale and intends to forward it to the Justice Department.

 

Hart InterCivic, whose voting machines are in use in about 9 percent of the nation's precincts, has filed a lawsuit in federal court in Delaware challenging the sale, arguing that the deal could harm the company's ability to retain customers and attract new ones. The court has scheduled a hearing for December to consider the company's request for an injunction that could block the sale.

 

The interests of voters should be part of this lawsuit. The Justice Department and state attorneys general should consider formally joining the suit, so they can argue that the combination of Election Systems & Software and Diebold would make the voting experience worse and reduce the reliability of election results. The Justice Department's antitrust division could also make its own attempt to block the sale. The enormous market share that the newly combined company would control should by itself set off anticompetitive alarms.

 

Since the 2000 presidential election, the public has rightfully been skeptical about how elections are run. We fear that if any one voting machine maker is allowed to dominate the market, there will be even greater reasons to worry about the nation's flawed voting system.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE NEW HAVEN MODEL

 

Education Secretary Arne Duncan is right to push the nation's schools to develop teacher evaluation systems that take student achievement into account. The teachers' unions, which have long opposed the idea, are beginning to realize that they can either stand on the sidelines or help develop these systems. We hope they will get involved and play a constructive role.

 

The politically savvy American Federation of Teachers has decided that it is better to get in the game. In New Haven, the union has agreed in its new contract to develop an evaluation system in collaboration with the city. Secretary Duncan praised the agreement lavishly. But the accolades seem premature given that crucial details have yet to be worked out.

 

Mayor John DeStefano Jr. deserves credit for leading these negotiations and setting ambitious educational goals for the city, including halving the achievement gap between poor and wealthy students.

 

The new agreement gives the city important new tools, starting with significantly more authority to remake chronically failing schools.

 

System administrators will be able to remove the entire staff at a failing school and require teachers to reapply for their jobs. This should allow the new principals to build stronger teams.

 

(Teachers who are not rehired at these so-called turnaround schools will have the right to be placed elsewhere, at least until they are evaluated, which means that New Haven could still end up passing around teachers who should be ushered out of the system.)

 

School reformers were excited to hear that New Haven planned to take student performance into account in its teacher evaluations. But they uttered a collective "uh-oh" upon hearing that the details — including how much weight would be given to student performance — would be hashed out by a committee that includes teachers and administrators.

 

To be taken seriously, the evaluation system must be based on a clear formula in which the student achievement component carries the preponderance of the weight. It must also include a fine-grained analysis that tells teachers where they stand.

 

The New Haven contract represents a promising first step. But there is still a lot of room for politicking and shenanigans. Political leaders, school administrators, parents and everyone else who cares about improving education in this country will have to keep a close eye as this effort moves forward.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

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MORE SCHOOLS, NOT TROOPS

BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

 

Dispatching more troops to Afghanistan would be a monumental bet and probably a bad one, most likely a waste of lives and resources that might simply empower the Taliban. In particular, one of the most compelling arguments against more troops rests on this stunning trade-off: For the cost of a single additional soldier stationed in Afghanistan for one year, we could build roughly 20 schools there.

 

It's hard to do the calculation precisely, but for the cost of 40,000 troops over a few years — well, we could just about turn every Afghan into a Ph.D.

 

The hawks respond: It's naïve to think that you can sprinkle a bit of education on a war-torn society. It's impossible to build schools now because the Taliban will blow them up.

 

In fact, it's still quite possible to operate schools in Afghanistan — particularly when there's a strong "buy-in" from the local community.

 

Greg Mortenson, author of "Three Cups of Tea," has now built 39 schools in Afghanistan and 92 in Pakistan — and not one has been burned down or closed. The aid organization CARE has 295 schools educating 50,000 girls in Afghanistan, and not a single one has been closed or burned by the Taliban. The Afghan Institute of Learning, another aid group, has 32 schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, with none closed by the Taliban (although local communities have temporarily suspended three for security reasons).

 

In short, there is still vast scope for greater investment in education, health and agriculture in Afghanistan. These are extraordinarily cheap and have a better record at stabilizing societies than military solutions, which, in fact, have a pretty dismal record.

 

In Afghanistan, for example, we have already increased our troop presence by 40,000 troops since the beginning of last year, yet the result has not been the promised stability but only more casualties and a strengthened insurgency. If the last surge of 40,000 troops didn't help, why will the next one be so different?

 

Matthew P. Hoh, an American military veteran who was the top civilian officer in Zabul Province, resigned over Afghan policy, as The Washington Post reported this week. Mr. Hoh argues that our military presence is feeding the insurgency, not quelling it.

 

Already our troops have created a backlash with Kabul University students this week burning President Obama in effigy until police dispersed them with gunshots. The heavier our military footprint, the more resentment — and perhaps the more legitimacy for the Taliban.

 

Schools are not a quick fix or silver bullet any more than troops are. But we have abundant evidence that they can, over time, transform countries, and in the area near Afghanistan there's a nice natural experiment in the comparative power of educational versus military tools.

 

Since 9/11, the United States has spent $15 billion in Pakistan, mostly on military support, and today Pakistan is more unstable than ever. In contrast, Bangladesh, which until 1971 was a part of Pakistan, has focused on education in a way that Pakistan never did. Bangladesh now has more girls in high school than boys. (In contrast, only 3 percent of Pakistani women in the tribal areas are literate.)

Those educated Bangladeshi women joined the labor force, laying the foundation for a garment industry and working in civil society groups like BRAC and Grameen Bank. That led to a virtuous spiral of development, jobs, lower birth rates, education and stability. That's one reason Al Qaeda is holed up in Pakistan, not in Bangladesh, and it's a reminder that education can transform societies.

 

When I travel in Pakistan, I see evidence that one group — Islamic extremists — believes in the transformative power of education. They pay for madrassas that provide free schooling and often free meals for students. They then offer scholarships for the best pupils to study abroad in Wahhabi madrassas before returning to become leaders of their communities. What I don't see on my trips is similar numbers of American-backed schools. It breaks my heart that we don't invest in schools as much as medieval, misogynist extremists.

 

For roughly the same cost as stationing 40,000 troops in Afghanistan for one year, we could educate the great majority of the 75 million children worldwide who, according to Unicef, are not getting even a primary education. We won't turn them into graduate students, but we can help them achieve literacy. Such a vast global education campaign would reduce poverty, cut birth rates, improve America's image in the world, promote stability and chip away at extremism.

 

Education isn't a panacea, and no policy in Afghanistan is a sure bet. But all in all, the evidence suggests that education can help foster a virtuous cycle that promotes stability and moderation. So instead of sending 40,000 troops more to Afghanistan, how about opening 40,000 schools?

 

Gail Collins is off today.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

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TRANSCRIPTS OF DEFEAT

BY VICTOR SEBESTYEN

 

THE highly decorated general sat opposite his commander in chief and explained the problems his army faced fighting in the hills around Kabul: "There is no piece of land in Afghanistan that has not been occupied by one of our soldiers at some time or another," he said. "Nevertheless much of the territory stays in the hands of the terrorists. We control the provincial centers, but we cannot maintain political control over the territory we seize.

 

"Our soldiers are not to blame. They've fought incredibly bravely in adverse conditions. But to occupy towns and villages temporarily has little value in such a vast land where the insurgents can just disappear into the hills." He went on to request extra troops and equipment. "Without them, without a lot more men, this war will continue for a very, very long time," he said.

 

These sound as if they could be the words of Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top American commander in Afghanistan, to President Obama in recent days or weeks. In fact, they were spoken by Sergei Akhromeyev, the commander of the Soviet armed forces, to the Soviet Union's Politburo on Nov. 13, 1986.

 

Soviet forces were then in the seventh year of their nine-year-long Afghan conflict, and Marshal Akhromeyev, a hero of the Leningrad siege in World War II, was trying to explain why a force of nearly 110,000 well-equipped soldiers from one of the world's two superpowers was appearing to be humiliated by bands of "terrorists," as the Soviets often called the mujahideen.

 

The minutes of Akhromeyev's meeting with the Politburo were recently unearthed by American and Russian scholars of the cold war — these and other materials substantially expand our knowledge of the Soviet Union's disastrous campaign. As President Obama contemplates America's own future in Afghanistan, he would be well advised to read some of these revealing Politburo papers; he might also pick up a few riveting memoirs of Soviet generals who fought there. These sources show as many similarities between the two wars as differences — and may provide the administration with some valuable counsel.

 

Much of the fighting during the Soviet war in Afghanistan was in places that have grown familiar to us now, like Kandahar and Helmand Provinces. The Soviets' main base of operations was Bagram, which is now the United States Army headquarters. Over the years, the Soviets changed their tactics frequently, but much of the time they were trying and failing to pacify the country's problematic south and east, often conducting armed sweeps along the border with Pakistan, through which many of the guerrillas moved, as the Taliban do now.

 

That war was characterized by disputes between soldiers and politicians. As Russian documents show, the politicians ordered the invasion against the advice of the armed forces. The chief of the Soviet Defense Staff, Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov, raised doubts shortly before Soviet forces were dispatched on Christmas Day 1979. He told Dmitri Ustinov — the long-serving defense minister who had been a favorite of Stalin — that experience from the British and czarist armies in the 19th century should encourage caution. Ustinov replied: "Are the generals now making policy in the Soviet Union? Your job is to plan specific operations and carry them out ... . Shut up and obey orders."

 

Ogarkov went further up the chain of command to the Communist Party boss, Leonid Brezhnev. He warned that an invasion "could mire us in unfamiliar, difficult conditions and would align the entire Islamic East against us." He was cut off mid-sentence: "Focus on military matters," Brezhnev ordered. "Leave the policymaking to us."

The Soviet leaders realized they had blundered soon after the invasion. Originally, the mission was simply to support the Communist government — the result of a coup Moscow had initially tried to prevent, and then had no choice but to back — and then get out within a few months. But the mujahideen's jihad against the godless Communists had enormous popular support within the country, and from outside. Money and sophisticated weapons poured in from America and Saudi Arabia, through Pakistan.

 

The Soviets saw withdrawal as potentially fatal to their prestige in the cold war, so they became mired deeper and deeper in their failed occupation. For years, the Soviets heavily bombarded towns and villages, killing thousands of civilians and making themselves even more loathed by Afghans. Whatever tactics the Soviets adopted the result was the same: renewed aggression from their opponents. The mujahideen, for example, laid down thousands of anti-tank mines to attack Russian troop convoys, much as the Taliban are now using homemade bombs to strike at American soldiers on patrol, as well as Afghan civilians.

 

"About 99 percent of the battles and skirmishes that we fought in Afghanistan were won by our side," Marshal Akhromeyev told his superiors in November 1986. "The problem is that the next morning there is the same situation as if there had been no battle. The terrorists are again in the village where they were — or we thought they were — destroyed a day or so before." Listen to a coalition spokesman now explaining the difficulties its forces are facing in tough terrain, and it would be hard to hear a difference.

 

There are many in Washington now calling on President Obama to cut his losses and find an exit strategy from Afghanistan. Even if he agreed, it may not be an easy business. When Mikhail Gorbachev became Soviet leader in March 1985 he called Afghanistan "our bleeding wound." He declared that ending the war was his top priority. But he could not do it without losing face.

 

The Soviet leadership fatally prevaricated. Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze wanted to pull out of Afghanistan immediately and blame Kremlin predecessors for the unpopular war. So too did Mr. Gorbachev's most important adviser, the godfather of the perestroika and glasnost reforms, Aleksandr Yakovlev.

 

But Mr. Gorbachev dithered, searching for something he could call victory, or at least that other elusive prize for armies in trouble: peace with honor. "How to get out racks one's brains," Mr. Gorbachev complained in the spring of 1986, according to Politburo minutes. "We have been fighting there for six years. If we don't start changing our approach we'll be there another 20 or 30 years. We have not learned how to wage war there."

 

Mr. Gorbachev was also haunted by the image of the last Americans leaving Saigon in panic: "We cannot leave in our underpants ... or without any," he told his chief foreign policy aide, Anatoly Chernyayev, whose diaries have recently become available to scholars. Chernyayev himself called Afghanistan "our Vietnam. But worse."

 

Withdrawal was a long, drawn-out agony. By the time the last troops left in February 1989, around 15,000 Soviet soldiers and 800,000 Afghans had died. "We must say that our people have not given their lives in vain," Mr. Gorbachev told the Politburo. But even his masterful public relations skills could not mask the humiliation of defeat. Indeed, it marked the beginning of the end for the Soviet empire in Europe, as revolution swept through Eastern Europe in 1989, and of the Soviet Union itself two years later.

 

In 1988, Robert Gates, then the deputy director of the C.I.A., made a wager with Michael Armacost, then undersecretary of state. He bet $25 that the Soviet Army wouldn't leave Afghanistan. The Soviets retreated in humiliation soon after. Mr. Gates, we can assume, paid up. But is there a gambling man out there who would lay money on the United States Army withdrawing in similarly humbling fashion? And would the defense secretary accept the bet?

Victor Sebestyen is the author of "Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire."

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

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FOR EVERY IRAQI PARTY, AN ARMY OF ITS OWN

BY NAJIM ABED AL-JABOURI

 

SUNDAY'S coordinated suicide bombings in Baghdad, which killed more than 150 people, were a brutal reminder of how far Iraq still has to go in terms of security. While things are far better than a few years ago, one huge task remains: getting the public to trust the Iraqi security forces.

 

From 2005 to 2008, I was the mayor of Tel Afar, a town in Nineveh Province in northern Iraq that become the model for the "clear, hold and build" strategy credited with turning the war around during the surge. In some ways, the story of Tel Afar is indicative of what we are now seeing on a larger scale in Iraq.

 

In 2004, Tel Afar was plagued by insurgency and terrorism, the result of missed chances and poor decisions by both the American and the Iraqi governments. In early 2005, however, I was approached by Col. H. R. McMaster, an innovative American brigade commander (he is now a brigadier general) who agreed with me that security efforts should focus on gaining the confidence of the people and not only on killing the enemy. We went to work building bridges with the population.

 

First, the American and Iraqi security forces were taken out of their bases and moved full-time into city neighborhoods. Recognizing that the local police force was dominated by a certain ethno-sectarian group and that members had harmed people of other religions and ethnicities, I fired any police officer with a record of violence or other unprofessional actions. Then I recruited officers from other ethnic groups, and integrated all the units. Shiite worked with Sunni, and Turkmen and Kurd worked with Arab.

 

We also put a new focus on meeting the needs of the people — not just keeping people safe, but trying to avoid violence from starting by encouraging Tel Afar's different groups to talk to one another. Once we gained widespread trust in our impartiality, we could be fairly sure that any resident who saw something suspicious would quickly report it to the authorities.

 

The Iraqi government needs to apply these same principles to the national security forces. Both the military and the police remain heavily politicized. The police and border officials, for example, are largely answerable to the Interior Ministry, which has been seen (often correctly) as a pawn of Shiite political movements. Members of the security forces are often loyal not to the state but to the person or political party that gave them their jobs.

 

The same is true of many parts of the Iraqi Army. For example, the Fifth Iraqi Army Division, in Diyala Province northeast of Baghdad, has been under the sway of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, the Shiite party that has the largest bloc in Parliament; the Eighth Division, in Diwaniya and Kut to the southeast of the capital, has answered largely to Dawa, the Shiite party of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki; the Fourth Division, in Salahuddin Province in northern Iraq, has been allied with one of the two major Kurdish parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

 

More recently, the Iraqi Awakening Conference, a tribal-centric political par