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Sunday, November 8, 2009

EDITORIAL 03.11.09

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya




month november 03, edition 000340, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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







  6. WILD WEST DAYS -  -


















  16. HSBC UPS GDP TARGET FOR 2010-11 TO 8.5% FROM 8%














  3. A 'DEATH' STORY…!

















The revelations about former Jharkhand Chief Minister Madhu Koda and his associates who have been accused of massive corruption do not really come as a surprise. It was common knowledge that Mr Koda had been given a 'free hand' by those who kept him in power — namely the Congress, the RJD and the JMM — although he had neither numbers (he was an Independent MLA) nor popular support beyond his constituency. So long as Mr Koda served the purpose of keeping the BJP out of power (he turned his coat and helped bring down Mr Arjun Munda's Government) he was feted by his benefactors. Had it not been for the over-vaulting ambition of Mr Shibu Soren he would have continued to remain in power and loot the State whose interests it was his constitutional duty to safeguard. Surely the Congress, which will no doubt publicise the ongoing crackdown on Mr Koda and his friends as evidence of its commitment to probity, was not unaware of what was happening in Jharkhand? Having allowed Mr Koda to indulge in rampant corruption and shameless self-aggrandisement, it cannot, indeed, must not be allowed to, claim the moral high ground which it will no doubt try to do during the coming Assembly election campaign. If Mr Koda is guilty of grand larceny, as is now being claimed by the Income Tax Department and the Enforcement Directorate, then those who enabled him to steal with stunning impunity are also equally, if not more, tainted. Nor should we forget that the then Congress-appointed Governor, Syed Sibtey Razi, played a key role in first bringing down the BJP Government and then installing the mockery of a Government headed by Mr Koda. If recent raids and reports by the State's Vigilance Department are any indication, Raj Bhavan does not come out of this episode smelling of roses. The Congress brazenly abused gubernatorial authority by converting Raj Bhavan into an extension counter of the party; Mr Razi was more than happy to oblige his political masters. And, having installed Mr Koda in the Chief Minister's office, Mr Razi turned a blind eye to a charlatan's shenanigans, as that was what was demanded of him by the Congress.

There are some other aspects that merit comment. First, the fact that Mr Koda and his associates were able to invest their ill-gotten wealth far and wide — including, or so we are told, in Liberian and South African mines — reflects poorly on the existing mechanism to prevent not only corruption in high places but also money-laundering. Since there are any number of laws, including a stringent law against money-laundering, and checks and balances, we can only presume that the relevant agencies either failed in fulfilling their responsibility or were instructed not to play an obstructionist role. If the latter is true, the instruction could have only come from the Congress, acting through the Union Government. After all, Telecom Minister A Raja's transgressions were also overlooked. Second, the corrupt ways of 'leaders' like Mr Soren and Mr Koda raise a question which can no longer be ignored: Is it sufficient to be a tribal to mind the interests of a tribal-dominated region or State? Have such leaders served their people well? Does being 'son of the soil' wipe away the stain of corruption and worse? This is a question best answered by the people of Jharkhand. After all, it is them whom Mr Koda and his ilk have cheated.






Although it comes as no surprise, it is significant news that top Nepali and Indian Maoist leaders secretly met between October 8 and 11 at an undisclosed location in India. It is true that officially the two Maoist groups have denied ever working together. Nonetheless, it has been suspected in Indian security circles for quite sometime now that Nepali and Indian Maoists have a robust relationship that includes providing each other ideological and material support. The meeting in October — which is said to have been attended by Indian Maoist leader Kishenji and senior CPN (Maoists) leader Indra Mohan Sigdel — is the first after the two sides met under the Coordination Committee of Maoist Parties and Organisations of South Asia earlier. It is also interesting to note that the CPN(M) Central Committee had passed a resolution three months ago asserting that it must hold regular interactions under the aegis of CCOMPOSA and the global Maoist umbrella group Revolutionaire International. Speaking to a Nepali daily in the wake of the October meeting, Mr Sigdel is reported to have said that it was decided that the CPN(M) should "establish a relationship" with their Indian ideological cousins.

The link between Indian and Nepali Maoists adds another dimension to the Maoist problem in our country. If the two Left-wing extremists groups establish a working relationship — which they probably have, at least at a rudimentary level — it is a cause for serious concern. It is a fact that over the last decade Maoists in India have emerged much better equipped and today possess an array of automatic weapons to challenge the state security apparatus. This they couldn't have acquired unless they were being assisted by external forces. Already the Maoists are proving to be quite a handful for authorities. The Centre has at best sent out mixed signals. It is said to be planning a strong anti-Maoist offensive but when this will actually materialise is not clear. On the other hand, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram has offered talks to the extremists if they abjure violence. Whereas the Prime Minister, when asked about whether the state would be roping in the Indian Air Force in anti-Maoist operations, has clarified that there was no question of using the military against our "own people". Given what the Maoists in Nepal have done to that country, any covert CPN(M) influence over Left-wing ultras here should be viewed with alarm. It is imperative that whenever our comprehensive security policy against the Maoists crystallises — hopefully it will soon — it takes into account the link between the extremists and their Nepali brethren. For, to root out the seed of the Maoist menace from our soil we must fight the war on all fronts. Then only can there be any hope of success.



            THE PIONEER




The 25th anniversary of Mrs Indira Gandhi's assassination on October 31 spawned a great deal of nostalgia about her and gave the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance Government yet another opportunity to tom-tom her 'achievements'. The newspapers were full of advertisements eulogising her. Several Union Ministries vied with one another to pay obeisance to her and reiterate their loyalty to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty which own and controls that party. However, any one who has lived through the turbulent Indira Gandhi years will vouch for the fact that the messages these advertisements carried were a complete distortion of truth and, as always, the Congress, via the Government, has done this at the expense of the tax-payer.

All those who value democracy must challenge the contents of these advertisements for the following reasons: Mrs Gandhi turned a vibrant democracy into a dictatorship and presided over a fascist regime that jailed political opponents and independent journalists when she imposed Emergency in 1975. Her Government was responsible for many despicable acts, including forcible sterilisation of citizens, bull-dozing of Muslim-dominated localities like Turkman Gate in Delhi, and incarceration of Government employees who failed to obey her illegal orders. These are just a few of the most horrendous, inhuman and undemocratic acts committed by her regime. All these terrible deeds have been fully documented by the Shah Commission which probed the Emergency excesses.


Once this infrastructure for dictatorship had been laid, other things followed. Her government suspended Article 14 (equality before law) and Article 21 (no deprivation of life and liberty except by procedure established by law). With the passage of these orders, citizens of India lost their fundamental right to life and liberty. They were also prohibited from moving courts. The Attorney-General virtually conceded the fascist nature of that regime when he confessed in the Supreme Court that if a citizen was shot dead by a policeman, the victim's family would have no right to seek relief before a court.

Here is a short recapitulation of some other things Mrs Gandhi did as Prime Minister: She bamboozled the judiciary, superseded judges and repeatedly amended the Constitution to protect herself. The 39th Amendment was meant solely to prohibit the Supreme Court from hearing the election petition against her; the 41st Amendment declared that no civil or criminal cases could be filed against her; even more reprehensible was the 42nd Amendment which abolished the need for quorum in Parliament and gave the President the right to 'amend' the Constitution through an executive order. With this amendment, Parliament allowed the President to tinker with the Constitution when 'necessary'. Further, since there was no requirement for quorum in Parliament, Ministers could push through anti-democratic laws in late night sittings of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha in the presence of just a handful of Congress MPs. These were ideas which were taken straight out of Hitler's book.

However, here is what the UPA says about Mrs Gandhi: The Ministry of Women and Child Development's advertisement claims that it is pledged to fight "violence and social exclusion". Yet, it puts out a full-page advertisement in praise of a Prime Minister whose police surrounded Muslim-majority villages in Haryana and bundled all males aged eight to 80 into police vans for forcible sterilisation! As everyone is aware, Mrs Gandhi imposed Press censorship and jailed journalists who were critical of her Government. In several States the Chief Censor was an Inspector-General of Police. The atrocities perpetrated by her Government on mediapersons, including the expulsion of many foreign journalists, is well-documented in a Government White Paper. Yet, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting pays a full-page tribute to Mrs Gandhi and says she was committed to 'serve' India till her last breath.

But, the prize for the most misleading advertisement must go to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. Desperate to cling to power at any cost, Mrs Gandhi had jailed 1,40,000 people and held them without trial in gross violation of their fundamental rights. Yet this Ministry, as if to mock at all those who were jailed by Mrs Gandhi, quotes her as having said, "The struggle for freedom began when the first man was enslaved and it will continue until the last man is free". Phew! Should we say more?

As regards implementation of social sector schemes during her tenure, the less said the better. Thousands of crores of rupees were drawn from public sector banks and gifted away to undeserving people in bogus 'loan melas' and the slogan of 'Garibi Hatao!' was the biggest fraud perpetrated on the poor. Instead of taking imaginative measures to alleviate poverty, Mrs Gandhi went from meeting to meeting, asking people to "banish poverty". This bogus slogan was palmed off as a magic mantra which would enable the poor to shake off their wretchedness if they kept repeating it and voting for the Congress. Meanwhile, corrupt Congress workers ganged up with equally corrupt bank employees and cooked up poverty alleviation figures.

On the economic front, experts agree that the Indira Gandhi years were disastrous for India. Instead of opening up the economy, Mrs Gandhi, under the influence of communists and some fake socialists, shut the door on foreign capital, crushed Indian enterprise, further tightened the licence-permit-quota raj and encouraged crass corruption at all levels. Such was her dislike for entrepreneurship and wealth creation that the income tax rate for the rich was a mind-boggling 97 per cent! Yet, the Ministries of Commerce and Industry and Petroleum and Natural Gas issue advertisements which praise her "courage, vision and unwavering commitment" and claim that her leadership "inspired us to fuel the nation's sustained economic growth".

Is there any other democracy in the world where people permit the Government to squander their money for such gross falsification of history and for the promotion of a single political party? But we must be grateful for small mercies: The Ministry of Law and Justice did not issue advertisements praising Mrs Gandhi for upholding and defending the Constitution!







The Rhine is not more impassable than the Nile or Euphrates, and the Arabian fleet might have sailed without a naval combat into the mouth of the Thames. Perhaps the interpretation of the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford, and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Mahomet" — Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), in the 52nd chapter of the monumental The Decline and Fall of Roman Empire, had anticipated this scary scenario of Islam taking over England in the 8th century itself were the Crescent's victorious march not arrested by Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours in 732 AD.

By comparison, the October 31 march calling for the imposing of sharia'h in Britain had to beat a tamer retreat. All it took was 'pressure' from civil society groups. The pro-sharia'h march, not from Medina to Cordoba, but from the House of Commons to Downing Street and Trafalgar Square was convened by Anjem Choudary of the outlawed Al Muhajurion. This qualified solicitor of Pakistani origin found freedom of speech and expression in the city of Hyde Park a more effective tool than the 'sword of Islam'. Recently he had called for the assassination of Pope Benedict XVI. His sharia'h-compliant sartorial advice to British monarch Queen Elizabeth II to wear a burqa in public is making waves. His immediate architectural makeover plans for London includes turning Buckingham Palace into a domed mosque. Later perhaps, the skyline of the British capital can be thoroughly serrated with minarets, symbolic of a revolution more potent than that in 18th century when tall chimneys became the mascot of the times.

The anti-sharia'h march, however, was a tamer affair. Only 30 people gathered at the base of Eros in Piccadilly Circus with placards 'Free speech will dominate the world' and 'March for England'. The sharia'h sword might be sheathed temporarily, but will such lamb-like protests be able to contain its fury for long? The stalwart Britons of the 19th century would have disagreed. AM Fairbairn, Sir William Muir, Lord Cromer, Lord Houghton and Stanley Lane-Poole found Islam inflexible, unprogressive, and incapable of adapting itself in new circumstances. William Gifford Palgrave said, "It justly repudiates all change, all development" and Lord Hougton added, "Whatever savours of vitality is by that alone convicted of heresy and defection". Will Britons rediscover the wisdom of their predecessors?







As Nato discusses the volatile situation in Afghanistan, conditions on the spot seem to be deteriorating on all fronts. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime chief Antonio Maria Costa had to ask the international community to spend more resources in Afghanistan to fight drug-trafficking. Today Afghanistan produces 92 per cent of the world's opium in a $ 65 billion-market. The presidential election was so badly rigged that one-third of the votes had to be invalidated.

Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen declared: "I hope that we will have a clarification of the political situation in Afghanistan, because time is not on our side." Certainly, time is not on Nato's side.

Gen Stanley McChrystal, the new top Commander, had argued sometime ago with the Obama's Administration that without more troops the United States could lose the war against the Taliban. "Resources will not win this war, but under-resourcing could lose it," wrote Gen McChrystal in a report addressed to his boss in the White House and reproduced by the Washington Post.

Nato currently has about 68,000 troops in Afghanistan, out of which 32,000 are Americans (plus 36,000 US military personnel serving outside Nato under a separate command). Some strange news has recently aggravated the morale of the Western troops in Afghanistan.

Let us go back a year. While France moaned about the too few Gold Medals earned by the nation in the Beijing Olympics, 10 of its soldiers were killed on a reconnaissance mission in Afghanistan after a fierce battle with the Taliban. The French commandos were part the 40-nation coalition called the International Security Assistance Forces. They were ambushed in mountainous Surobi about 50 km east of Kabul.

Gen Michel Stollsteiner, the Nato Commander of Kabul Region, later commented that the French troops had been 'overconfident'. France went into deep shock.

The public began to grumble louder: President Nicolas Sarkozy's decision to increase the French contingent in Afghanistan by 700 troops (to 3,300) was widely criticised "just because the US had asked its Nato allies to share the burden in Afghanistan".

Le Figaro echoed the general feeling: "If the aims are just, are the tactics being used to achieve them correct?" After seeing the 10 coffins covered with the French flag, the public opinion took a stronger view. The common question was: What price are we paying for what?

The French President decided, however, to send a 700-strong reinforcement force. In typical Sarkozy style, he said: "It is here that the peace in the world is at stake and, therefore, it is here that war (is waged) against terrorism, poverty, and also for human rights and for the rights of the women." Few were convinced.

Fourteen months later, The Times broke a sensational news story: "Italians bribed the Taliban all over Afghanistan." A Taliban commander and two senior Afghan officials confirmed to The Times reporter that "Italian forces paid protection money to prevent attacks on their troops".

It was immediately denied by the office of the flamboyant Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi: "The Berlusconi Government has never authorised nor has it allowed any form of payment toward members of the Taliban insurgency." However, from May 2006 to May 2008, it was Mr Romano Prodi who was heading the Government and the present Government's refutation is not a denial that the Italians actually bribed the Taliban.

Mohammed Ishmayel, a Taliban commander, explained to The Times that "a deal was struck last year so that Italian forces in the Sarobi area, east of Kabul, were not attacked by local insurgents." The French forces who took over the area from Italian troops were apparently unaware of the 'deal' with the local commanders, resulting in the death of the French soldiers.

Ishmayel said that it had been agreed that "neither side should attack one another. That is why we were informed at that time, that we should not attack the Nato troops." When the French troops attacked the Taliban, the latter presumed that the deal was off.

The French newspaper Le Monde affirmed that sources close to Nato see it differently: "It would be simplistic to explain such an attack only by the lack of proper information (about the 'protection money'?). It would be more correct to point to the difference of strategy between the Italians and the French".

Italian Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa acquiesced: "The behaviour of our military is very different compared to that of other contingents." Their orders are to support the local population and help for the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan; something France has begun only after the death of its soldiers.

A usually well-informed French blog, run by a journalist of the newspaper Liberation, said that though the bribing information could not be confirmed or denied, "several times we heard from serious military sources accusations against the behaviour of the Italian troops in Surobi district… The accusations were of two types: One, absence of patrols in certain areas like Uzbine (where the French troops were killed) and a wide tolerance for the culture of opium". The blogger, however, admitted that he never heard earlier about payments to the Taliban.

In a speech recently delivered in London, Gen McChrystal said that people constantly suggest to him schemes "for fixing Afghanistan's problems". One of these 'recommendations' advocated a plan called 'Chaosistan.' The idea was to let Afghanistan become a "Somalia-like haven of chaos that we simply manage from outside".

Some US intelligence officials believe that the reference originates in a secretly published CIA analysis titled "Chaosistan"!







The great experiment of engaging Iran seems to be over but the Obama Administration refuses to admit it.

This shouldn't be a surprise. As the Iranian regime's record shows, it stalls, manoeuvres, gives vague promises and then doesn't deliver, but only after they've taken your concessions. Do you know how many years the talks with Iran have gone on without yielding fruit and letting Tehran develop nuclear weapons every day? Answer:


Do you know when the 'deadline' originally was for Iran to stop its nuclear program 'or else'? Answer: Approximately September 2007.

But the Obama Administration doesn't want to admit that the new Iranian counter-offer is unacceptable because it would have to give up its dreams of a deal and actually do something in response.

Even the New York Times headlined its story: "Iran Rejects Nuclear Accord, Officials Report." The sober Financial Times stated, "Tehran seeks big changes to nuclear deal." Even Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, known for being soft on Iran, reportedly told the Iranians that their counteroffer was unacceptable.

The Washington Post noted: "The long-awaited Iranian answer appeared to dash hopes that Tehran would be willing to quickly embrace engagement with the West on its nuclear program. Obama Administration officials will now need to assess whether engagement has run its course — and whether to shift toward tougher sanctions."

The issue concerns Iran's response to a proposal that it would transfer two-thirds of its enriched uranium outside the country to make into a special non-weapons material that can only be used for medical purposes.

Of course, even the deal offered to Iran is not so great from the standpoint of those likely to be the targets of Iranian weapons or enhanced international influence for Tehran if it possesses nuclear arms. For example, 'neutralised' uranium can be changed back into weapons-usable uranium in about four months or so. Moreover, Iran's concealed enriched uranium could still be used to build nuclear weapons.

After interviewing officials, the Financial Times reports that the Europeans are ready to reject Iran's demands now as "unacceptable" but the United States is, "more willing to show patience than either Britain (or) France."

Why is the US Government so eager to keep playing Tehran's game? Here are two answers:

President Barack Obama's world view insists that all problems are resolvable by talking and making concessions and fears confrontation.

The desire to keep Russia on board. But we know Russia won't support sanctions and serious pressure on Iran. Moscow wants America to fail internationally and views Iran as an ally.

So America's policy is being held hostage by a President with no experience and little understanding of international affairs, a set of ideas making failure inevitable, trying to please a country which is an ally of the adversary, and misestimating a dictatorial regime with boundless ambitions and tremendous self-confidence.

What a mess. But how long into 2010 can they spin this before Washington is going to have to recognise the talks are going nowhere?

The US Government fallback position once Iran gets nuclear weapons, 'containment,' also poses significant problems. A typical explication comes from Gen John Abizaid who commanded US forces in the region between 2003 and 2007: "The historical evidence would suggest that Iran is not a suicide state. So it's my military belief that Iran can be deterred."

There are three problems with this overall strategy.

First, containment requires high levels of US credibility. That means Iran's regime must believe that aggression will bring US retaliation up to using nuclear weapons itself. Will President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's regime tremble before President Barack Obama?

Equally important, Arab states must believe very firmly that the United States is a reliable protector. Can they think this of Obama's administration? They don't want to hear that he loves Islam and the Palestinians; they want to know he'll fight. And doubting this, they'll appease Iran.

Second, while on balance it seems Iran won't commit suicide, would you bet your life on it? This regime is the closest thing to a non-rational state you're going to see. And suppose Iran's rulers belief they have a way around the 'suicide' problem by handing weapons to a 'deniable' terrorist group or just using them for blackmail, or if a faction within the regime is willing to take greater risks than the consensus in Tehran?

The idea that extremist fanaticism, or pure miscalculation, or a small crazed faction would lead to nuclear war is a realistic proposition even if it isn't the leading scenario. Remember that the nuclear weapons will be controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the most fanatical elements and those who work with terrorist groups. And then there's Iran's Minister of Defence, a wanted terrorist in his own right.

Third, and perhaps ultimately most important, Iran's increased power in having nuclear weapons will not consist merely of firing them off. Aside from far higher levels of Arab and European appeasement will be the huge leap in the appeal of a seemingly mighty Iran and victorious Islamism to millions of Muslims who will join or support radical Islamist groups.

-- The writer is director of the GLORIA Centre, Tel Aviv, and author of The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy.







Seen from a tiny village on a recent moonless night, the sprawling US base three miles to the north looks more like a medium-size city than a military facility in a war zone.

Bagram Air Field, as the base is formally known, is the largest US military hub of the war in Afghanistan and is home to some 24,000 military personnel and civilian contractors. Yet it is continuing to grow to keep up with the requirements of an escalating war and troop increases.

With tens of millions of dollars pouring into expanding and upgrading facilities, Bagram is turning into something of a military 'boom town'. Large swathes of the 2,000-hectare (5,000-acre) base look like a construction site, with the rumble of building machinery and the scream of fighter-jets overhead providing the soundtrack.

The rapid growth here is taking place at a time when the Obama Administration is debating the future direction of the increasingly unpopular war, now in its ninth year. Among the options under discussion is a recommendation by US Gen Stanley McChrystal, the overall commander of foreign forces in Afghanistan, to bring in additional US troops, perhaps as many as 80,000.

But even with current troop levels — 65,000 US troops and about 40,000 from allied countries — Bagram already is bursting at the seams.

Plans are under way to build a new, $ 22 million passenger terminal and a new cargo yard costing $ 9 million. To increase cargo capacity, a new parking ramp supporting the world's largest aircraft is to be completed this spring.

Elsewhere at Bagram, construction has begun on permanent brick-and mortar housing for troops and headquarters for military units, according to Lt Col Troy Joslin, chief of Bagram's operations.

Hundreds of Afghan builders in traditional tunics, loose pants and hard hats arrive by bus every morning. Dozens of trucks laden with dirt and other building materials come into the base daily.

The water and electricity systems and the waste management facility are being upgraded. The Army Corps of Engineers is increasing the capacity of the base's roads as well as building new ones on the east side of the airfield, said Col Joslin.

The base command is acquiring more land next year on the east side to expand the base, according to Col Joslin. No figure was given.

When the US military took over Bagram in December 2001, the base was 1,616 hectares (3,993 acres), according to Capt Jennifer Bocanegra, a military spokeswoman at Bagram.


It is now 2,104 hectares (5,198 acres), she said.

Capt Bocanegra said the lease of additional land to expand Bagram was needed to protect personnel and accomplish missions. "The acquisitions have been made with the express knowledge and consent of the Afghan Government," she said.

The base's main road, a tree-lined thoroughfare called 'Disney drive,' is so congested at times it looks like a downtown street at rush hour. Kicking up dust on that road are Humvees, mine-resistant vehicles, SUVs, buses, trucks and sedans.

A pedestrian path running alongside that road is as busy as a shopping street on a Saturday afternoon, with hundreds of soldiers, Marines, airmen, navy officers and civilian contractors almost rubbing shoulders. Similarly, the lines are long at the overcrowded food halls, the American fast food outlets, cafes, PX stores and ATM machines.

Signs on bathroom walls warn of a water shortage.

"If you think you are maybe wasting water, YOU PROBABLY ARE," warns one sign.

Clients must wait, sometimes for up to an hour, for a haircut. For the luxury of a back massage, an appointment is recommended.

The air field is already handling 400 short tonnes of cargo and 1,000 passengers daily, according to Air Force spokesman Capt David Faggard. A new 3.5-kilometre (2.17-mile runway) was completed in 2006, to accommodate large aircraft, he added.

Bagram was a major Soviet base during Moscow's 1979-89 occupation of Afghanistan, providing air support to Soviet and Afghan forces fighting the mujahideen. It also was fought over by rival factions during the country's civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal.

The view from the old Soviet-built air traffic tower, replaced last year by a new, $50 million tower, reveals a picture more akin to a busy commercial hub than a military facility in a war zone. So frantic is the pace at the air field that giant C-17 transport aircraft fill up with soldiers almost as soon as their cargo is emptied.

"The current expansion supports thousands of additional Coalition troops, either assigned to or supported from Bagram Air Field," said Capt Bocanegra.

With Bagram's rapid growth and increase in importance to the war effort, the need to protect it was never greater. The responsibility for that primarily falls on Air Force personnel and paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division.

Bagram lies in Parwan, a relatively quiet province. The Taliban-led insurgency, while growing in numbers and strength elsewhere, is not known to have a significant presence in the province.

Still, the base is susceptible to rocket and mortar attacks.

This year insurgents have launched more than a dozen attacks on Bagram, killing four and wounding at least 12, according to military spokesman Lt Col Mike Brady.







The mounting use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides in agriculture is today acknowledged as an issue of concern affecting the entire food chain. What perhaps is lesser known is how inextricably it is connected to the agrarian distress. Vidharbha and Andhra Pradesh have been infamous for its most gruesome fallout — farmer suicides, but now this phenomenon is spreading its tentacles in Madhya Pradesh too.

Today, the productivity of the land has declined and the farmers' loan has become four times their annual income. What is alarming is that the use of chemicals is not part of a well thought-out strategic plan to boost agriculture which would imply a limited or calibrated use. It is more like a knee-jerk response to squeeze the maximum out of the land. Without the restraint it needs, it has spiralled out of control.

The remote Petlawad block of Jhabua district with its tribal population is a textbook case which throws up a disturbing picture of how agriculture has been inundated by deadly synthetic chemicals. The figures of chemical use are staggering, some 600 kg to 800 kg of chemical fertilisers during the Kharif season this year and five to 12 kinds of chemical pesticides on every hectare of farmland. This is six to eight times more than the official national average and 10 to 12 times more than Madhya Pradesh's average. Chemical guzzling States like Punjab (209.59 kg per hectare), Andhra Pradesh (219.48) and Tamil Nadu (186.68) use far less fertiliser when compared to remote Petlawad block.

What is driving these farmers to this suicidal track, this point of no return for their lands and for their own precious lives? Is it linked to the hope of prosperity amidst an increasingly difficult agricultural environment? Agriculture in Jhabua is characterised by cash crops like cotton, tomato and chilly. The switchover to cash crop and neglect of the traditional crops and organic farming systems which used less fertiliser, less pesticides and less water is pushing the farmers deeper into an abyss, into the cycle of distress.

According to the Economic Survey of Madhya Pradesh, over the last five years, (from 2004 to 2008), the production of cotton in the district has reduced from 27,225 bales (a bale is 170 kg each) to only 3,983 bales. This is the period when genetically modified BT seeds were promoted by the multinationals and by the State as well.

The soybean productivity has gone down 35 per cent below the State average and the production of tomato is also going down, all this in spite of the aggressive use of chemical fertilisers to boost production. To stop the declining productivity affecting their fortunes, tribal and farmer families are resorting to stepping up chemical use by as much as 60 kg per hectare a year.

Bt Cotton was introduced a few years back here. Production in the initial two years showed a spectacular growth but from year 2005-06 it began to decrease. Mangal of Thikaria village says, "Earlier we used to get 25 quintal cotton from our land but it has reduced to mere 3 quintal at present. This is one fourth of our input costs and there is no question of any profit. I have a debt of Rs 75000 on me now."

GM seeds have other problems too. The germination rate of seeds has reduced from 85 per cent to 27 per cent, making a mockery of the claims of companies promoting these GM seeds. The crops of the new seeds do not produce adequate fodder which is essential to maintain cattle, the mainstay of village economy.

When the cotton crop failed, businessmen from Delhi and Mumbai in conjunction with local moneylenders, shopkeepers, even the Government machinery motivated local farmers to go for a second crop and switch to tomato. Driven by the dream merchants, farmers hit by decline in cotton tried cultivation of tomato in a bid to salvage their sinking fortunes. When tomato and cotton farming led to losses during last few years, farmers in desperation turned to sowing chilly crop thus increasing their expenditure without the yield to offset it.

Jhabua seems to have been caught in vortex pulling down its productivity and pushing its farmers into despair. Mukesh Choudhary, dealer of chemical fertilisers in Raipuria village is eloquent on this subject "the farmland size available with people is small and thus they are using immense amount of chemicals to increase productivity with the assumption that it will give them more profit. Companies that purchase tomato and chilly from the farmers also tell that use of chemical fertilisers would lead to tomato having thick skin that would prevent it from early rotting and the size of the chilly would be longer."

There is an unsaid and unseen law at work that conspires to withhold relevant information from the hapless farmers. Local journalist Harish Pawar sums this up: "When modified seeds and chemical fertilisers are sold, information is given only about their capacity to increase productivity. Farmers are not told in what conditions the productivity would increase."

No doubt, it is the farmer in Jhabua bearing the brunt of experiments carried out on the land and the infliction of practices which are alien, practices proving to be highly detrimental. Yet in a sense, what is happening in Jhabua is not only about the farmers there, but about the larger society. The catastrophe facing the farmers there will at some point catch up with the rest of us as well and will we then be prepared to pay the price?








THE inferno at an oil depot on the outskirts of Jaipur should be a wake- up call for the authorities. For, the set of circumstances that contributed to the disaster in Jaipur exist at several places across India. Here, in the national capital itself, as the M AIL T ODAY has revealed, we have three oil depots and two LPG bottling plants located in thickly populated areas.


This means citizens in such colonies are sitting on a virtual powder keg.


The human losses arising out of the blaze near Jaipur were somewhat limited because it broke out in the evening, when workers in the industrial area in which it was located, had left for the day. Besides, fortuitously, just one of the many oil tanks at the depot exploded, with the others merely catching fire subsequently.


The Oil Industry Safety Directorate norms state that a 5- km distance should be kept between the boundary wall of a bulk fuel storage depot and any permanent structure. This has been conveniently overlooked in the capital — as is no doubt the case at many other places — with buildings mushrooming round the depots. In fact, there is a metro line just 50 metres away from the oil depot at Shakurbasti, making clear the lack of foresight at even the top level.


It is not just our oil companies that are to blame for such a state of affairs. Blame must also rest on our urban administrators for allowing structures to come up around depots. For instance, a blaze in the Shakurbasti LPG depot in 1984 which caused extensive damage to surrounding areas, saw the facility being shifted out to Tikri Kalan near Mundka. However, Tikri Kalan has since that time been urbanised, bringing things back to square one.


Presuming that the worst can possibly happen is the best safeguard against such accidents. And this mandates that the fuel facilities in Delhi, as also elsewhere in the country, are shifted out of thickly populated areas.


Our oil companies must also ensure that lapses of the kind in Jaipur — where besides oil being allowed to leak from one of the tanks, nothing was done to check its flow for more than an hour — do not recur. Lastly, the accident stresses the need to overhaul our fire- fighting machinery.


The fire at Jaipur could have been contained if we had state- of- the- art equipment for the purpose.







THE decision by the Afghanistan Independent Election Commission ( IEC) to cancel the second round of the country's controversial election was inevitable. On Sunday, the challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, had declared he would not participate in the exercise because he did not expect it to be free or fair.


After all, a United Nations watchdog did declare that almost a million votes — nearly a third of the total — cast for incumbent president Hamid Karzai in the first round of the presidential elections had been fraudulent. Dr Abdullah had laid down certain conditions to ensure that the vote would be fair, including the replacement of the IEC head Azizullah Ludin, but these were not accepted.


Had the runoff taken place as scheduled on November 7 minus Dr Abdullah, the outcome would have lacked credibility, especially if the turnout had been low.


Looked at any way, the entire sorry episode related to the election is bound to weaken, rather than strengthen Mr Karzai. For this he has himself and the UN to blame. Mr Kai Eide, the UN representative has not covered himself with glory given that the election was plagued with such extensive fraud. Indeed, his number two Peter Galbraith was fired by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon for charging that Mr Eide was involved in understating the extent of the fraud.


The election fiasco has come at a bad time for the US which is contemplating sending more troops to Afghanistan. Questions will inevitably be asked about the purpose of the exercise, given the damage that Mr Karzai and the UN have inflicted.


The only available option now is to restore the credibility of Mr Karzai's administration by ensuring that he provides a corruption- free and effective government to the war- torn country. Given the past experience, this is a tall order.









China thinks it has more to gain by thwarting India and preventing it from playing alarger role in world affairs

THE TWO recent meetings between the Indian and Chinese leaders — one between the two Prime Ministers in Thailand on the margins of the East Asia Summit and the other between the two Foreign Ministers at Bangalore on the margins of the trilateral India- Russia-China dialogue — may have attenuated the immediate tensions created by overbearing Chinese diplomatic conduct in protesting the Prime Minister's October visit to Arunachal Pradesh and the Dalai Lama's planned visit to Tawang in November, but the underlying issues remain unresolved


The Prime Minister's explanation to his Chinese counterpart that the Dalai Lama is treated as "our honoured guest" and that the Tibetans are not allowed political activity on Indian soil has been given to the Chinese countless times in the past. India's commitment to curb Tibetan political activity has in fact figured repeatedly in joint India-China declarations, with the texts formally recording the Chinese side's appreciation of the Indian stance.


A verbal reiteration of this wellestablished position at the Thailand meeting is not going to settle matters. China will continue to assert its claim on Arunachal, triggering verbal spats in the future. Besides, having deliberately raised the pitch of its protests so high, China cannot easily lower its tone without some loss of face, and, more importantly, without creating confusion about the tenacity of its claims. Its public posturing is intended to give itself more leverage in the secretive border negotiations between the Special Representatives. China's upbraiding on Arunachal will continue until it revises fundamentally its approach to the border negotiations.


We should not therefore expect an end to the war of nerves between the two countries over the border.




At one level, the Chinese belligerence is not easily comprehensible. Its bullying tactics are not going to frighten India either to cede Tawang or deter the Indian leaders from visiting Arunachal. The levels of acrimony will mount, deepening fears in India about Chinese intentions and, in the process, accelerating our military build- up in the border areas.


This, in turn, by redressing the current imbalance in military preparedness between the two sides, could reduce the leeway China currently has to intimidate India. So, in a sense, China is pushing India to position itself more strongly militarily on the border, contrary to China's own interests. A more conciliatory Chinese approach would have given less incentive to India to beef up its border defences.


The spiral of Indian steps such as stationing Sukhois in Assam, additional two divisions in Arunachal, opening old landing fields in Ladakh etc in the face of the mounting Chinese threat and China riposting by accusing India of being reckless and seeking confrontation, and pointedly recalling 1962, could have been contained.


Deeper Chinese incursions into the disputed pockets strain the bilateral agreements to maintain peace and tranquillity on the border, and this coupled with growing Indian anxiety about Chinese intentions, could conceivably result in an unwanted border skirmish.


Talk of a " war", however, is an over- dramatisation of the situation — even the 1962 " war" was a limited border conflict though its impact on the Indian psyche was profound.


But even a border skirmish would have a disastrous impact on Indian public opinion already agitated about China's posturings on the border. It could force the government to revise its current policy towards China, whereas the Chinese authorities, with a controlled media, have the advantage of being able to shape domestic public opinion to suit a larger political strategy.


International public opinion would also be disturbed by sharper India- China border bickerings. For the moment, outsiders may not take Chinese fulminations against India seriously as they would regard any incautious step by China against India as irrational measured by China's own best interests.


But were it to happen, others would see in China's conduct advance signals of what its explosive emergence as a power could mean for the security of more vulnerable Asian countries with which it has differences, and beyond.


Even if others maintain a neutral posture on the India- China border differences to avoid antagonising a China with increasing global heft, the bogus claims of its so- called peaceful rise, accepted in some measure because of wishful thinking on the part of many, would have been exposed, triggering a more earnest search for countervailing strategies.


Already China's overbearing conduct is taxing the Indian government's effort to temper domestic reaction and maintain a friendly posture towards its northern neighbour. There is a growing disconnect between the government's positive, and even exonerating, discourse on China and the general public sentiment towards that country.


The government is right at one level to pursue an accommodating approach as India cannot afford to have live borders with both China and Pakistan. If China needs peaceful borders for pursuing its development goals, India needs them even more. We have two inimical neighbours who are collaborating to contain India strategically.



Tensions with at least one of them have to be reduced to the extent possible so that the military, political and economic burden on India is lightened. With Pakistan's unremitting hostility towards India, even trade relations with that country cannot be expanded as part of a process of positive engagement.


With China this has been possible, and so the government has allowed economic contacts to develop to the point that the country has become our largest trading partner in goods. China, of course, has exploited this Indian compulsion by pursuing a policy of containing India under cover of engagement, of touting a strategic partnership while gravely undermining us strategically, of inducing us to accept politically that it does not pose a threat to us and yet threatening our territorial integrity as well as our vital interests in our neighbourhood. The questioning of our sovereignty in Kashmir by issuing stapled visas to Kashmiris constitutes a new assault on our territorial integrity.



At another level, China's clumsy handling of its differences with India makes sense. It has the upper hand on the border and its military infrastructure there is far superior. It already possesses large swathes of Indian territory.


The economic gap between the two countries, already huge, is growing.

China's economic integration with the world is far deeper than India's, giving others much greater stake in it as compared to us. It has successfully contained India by bolstering Pakistan against us with nuclear weapon and missile technology transfers. It has insidiously used other neighbours to prevent India from consolidating its leadership in South Asia.


If it settles the border issue with India, it will release India from a two- front bind, expose Pakistan to increased Indian pressure at a time when it has become more vulnerable, lose leverage with other neighbours of India who will move into the Indian orbit more decisively and free India to pursue its regional and global ambitions more confidently. This would inevitably be at the cost of China's pre- eminence in Asia and at the global level. China may think it has more to gain than lose by a policy of visibly thwarting India.


The dazzle of their own rising sun is blinding the Chinese leadership as it looks at India.


The writer is a former Foreign Secretary ( sibalkanwal@ gmail. com)








OLD TIMERS ruing the gradual decline of the cultural movement in the Bihar capital had something to cheer about last week with a sixday festival of classical Indian art, music and dance, bringing back memories of the good, old days.


Takshila Utsav, which concluded on Monday, had everything that the connoisseurs of art and culture had hankered after in recent years. It featured noted exponents of Indian classical music, leading shayars ( Urdu poets), qawwals and devotional singers whose virtuoso performances left the audiences craving for more. It also hosted a literary talk and an innovative photo exhibition, " Patna Kaleidoscope" which featured exclusive pictures of the state capital taken over the past several decades. The exhibition showcased the changing landscape of the ancient city with a unique history of its own. The meticulously selected photographs from diverse sources, which juxtaposed diametrically different vignettes of city life in different periods, turned out to be a big draw for art lovers.


Organised on the campus of Patna University's College of Art and Craft under the aegis of Takshila Educational Society, which works for revival of the classical movement in Bihar, the festival drew large crowds every evening.


Starting off with the photo exhibition, the festival went on to host the likes of famous Dhrupad exponent Pandit Uday Bhavalkar, bhakti singers Bhavnesh Komakali and Prahlad Singh Tipania, famous qawwal Mohammed Ahmed Khan Warsi and gifted shehnai players Sanjiv and Ashwini Shankar. A mushaira organised in collaboration with the Jashn- e- Bahar Trust of New Delhi featuring prominent Urdu poets like Munawwar Rana also turned out to be a huge success.


The success of the cultural festival has enthused the organisers to make it an annual affair in the October- November period. They had last organised Takshila Utsav in 2006 but secretary of the Society, Sanjiv Kumar, says that he will organise this festival every year from now onwards.


That should be music to the ears of art and culture buffs in the city which has not hosted any major cultural event in the recent years. In 2007, the Nitish Kumar government had tried to revive the tradition of mega cultural nites at the historic Gandhi Maidan during the Dussehra festivities but this could not be continued in the next two years because of floods and drought in large parts of the state.


Till the 1980s, Patna used to play host to the best known names in the field of classical Indian music and dance who loved to regale the city's receptive audience all night long during Durga Puja. But this came to an abrupt end during the 15- year- old Rashtriya Janata Dal regime for different reasons ranging from the lack of patronage to rampant lawlessness.


This is why the Takshila Utsav came as a whiff of fresh air for those who had not had many opportunities to savour the nuances of Indian classical art, music and dance in recent years.




IF YOU wanted to do a research on the problem of employment, Patna was the place to be at last weekend.

Thousands of unemployed youths, including girls, turned up at the two- day state- level " Employment- cum- guidance Fair" to submit their bio- data.


The fair had been organised by the state government in collaboration with CII, Bihar Industries Association and Bihar Chamber of Commerce.


According to the state labour department, altogether 3,77,061 applications were submitted by job- aspirants in different sectors. But only 4,123 were lucky to get appointment letters. Though major companies had stayed away, as many as 115 firms took part in the fair to hire people for different jobs depending on their qualifications and other skills. The maximum number of applications — 1,51,650 to be precise — came for the job of security guards, which was not surprising given the low literacy level in the state. This was the third fair of its kind in Bihar.


In the first fair, 1,200 youth had got jobs while 3,500 youths were hired by different companies at the second fair in spite of the recession.


The state capital remained crammed with the teeming crowds of job hopefuls for two days, impressing chief minister Nitish Kumar.


In the past four years, the NDA government in the state claims to have provided jobs to 2.12 lakh teachers, 7,190 Special Auxiliary Police ( SAP) jawans, 10,311 police constables and 2,149 inspectors.




THE INAUGURATION of the three- day Vidyapati Parv Samaroh, organised in memory of the legendary Maithili poet, by Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar on Saturday was significant in more ways than one. It was for the first time in the past 22 years that the chief minister of the state had inaugurated the ceremony.


Hosted by Chetna Samiti, one of the oldest cultural associations in the state, the annual congregation of the once politically powerful Maithil Brahmins used to be an eagerly awaited event in the past not only for the members of the community but also for politicians.


But its popularity started waning once Rashtriya Janata Dal president Lalu Prasad took over the reins of the state. An apolitical organisation of the so- called high- brow Brahmins apparently did not appeal to the new- age politicos flaunting their new- found love for social justice. With the high and mighty choosing to stay away, the once- famous Vidyapati festival of Patna, therefore, lost its sheen.


The return of the chief minister to the ceremony this year appears to have infused a fresh lease of life into the organisation.


Nitish wore the paag , the traditional headgear of Mithila, during the inaugural ceremony and said that Bihar could not prosper without the development of Mithila.


Nitish's gesture appears to have won over a sizeable section of the Maithils who were earlier miffed with him for " overlooking the interests of their community". They were particular peeved at the fact that the Janata Dal- United had not given a ticket to any Maithil Brahmin in the recent elections. The removal of former chief minister Dr Jagannath Mishra's son, sugarcane minister Nitish Mishra from his ministry had also caused some heartburn. But with a simple gesture, the chief minister has tried to build bridges with the community.


Body fat in line of fire


BIHAR HAS had its fair share of diseases to grapple with but nobody had ever paid attention to the growing problem of obesity. An awareness campaign on obesity launched by the Advantage group in Patna, therefore, came as a surprise to many. Three experts from Max Health Care in Delhi were here to educate people about the health- related problems caused by obesity.


A free health camp was also organised on the occasion to examine people.


In fact, the seminar was so successful that Bihar's Health Minister Nand Kishore Yadav announced that obesity and its ill- effects would form part of all health awareness programmes launched by the state government from now onwards.


The seminar was the brainchild of Khurshid Ahmad, managing director of Advantage, who himself has been a victim of obesity. He had to undergo a surgery before he was able to lose 40 kg in about six months. Having launched the " Apna Patna Healthy Patna" campaign, Ahmad now wants all Patnaites on the wrong side of body mass index ( BMI) to shed excess fat and stay fighting fit.


NEWS about the forthcoming visit of Hollywood actress Lindsay Lohan to Bihar has warmed the cockles of English movie buffs. The Mean Girls star is scheduled to shoot for a BBC documentary on child trafficking in the state. Interestingly, none of the Bollywood actresses relish the idea of an outdoor shooting in Bihar. Even the local film maker, Prakash Jha, has not brought the unit of any of his films to his home state since he shot his maiden venture, Hip Hip Hurray in Ranchi in undivided Bihar. It was Raveena Tandon who had last come, for the shooting of her film in Bihar. She had gone to Motihari for the shooting of Manoj Bajpai- starrer Shool almost a decade ago. The movie buffs can hope that LiLo's visit will inspire her Bollywood counterparts to give up their reservations about shooting in Bihar.







MAHARASHTRA chief minister designate Ashok Chavan of the Congress and NCP leader and cabinet member Jayant Patil inviting Satya Sai Baba of Puthparthi to their official residences for religions purposes is a matter of great concern. His followers regard the Baba a living god, and he himself claims to be a reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi.


His claims of magic tricks of producing holy ash were successfully challenged by the rationalists association.


Despite being caught out, he has a lot of clout with many politicians and other bigwigs.


Being religious in one's personal life is a personal choice, but the use of official premises for such functions is a total violation of values and spirit of Indian Constitution. These politicians are a total disgrace to the secular traditions of this country.


We must remember how, at one time, we had leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru who firmly warded off of encroachment religiosity in the country's political space.


These acts by the new- age political leaders must be reprimanded by the higher authorities to stop the rush of such illegal activities by political class in the future.


There is also a need to remember that while the Sai Baba of Shirdi was a real saint and stayed away from power and wealth this Baba, the vast creed of Babas dominating social space today belong to a different genre, for whom power and wealth are integral parts of their sprawling empires.


Ram Puniyani All India Secular Forum via email



THIS is with reference to the editorial ' SC failed country on Batla case' ( November 1). The criticism of the apex court in dismissing the petition seeking a judicial inquiry into the Batla House incident last September, in which several alleged terrorists and a police officer were killed, is rather unfortunate.


In the opinion of many, the court has taken considered a decision in this matter. Applying the rule that nobody is a criminal before a due process of law is completed often leads to miscarriage of justice. There are several examples wherein the culprits have gone scot- free in the absence of proper evidence, and still they are criminals.


The editorial has assumed a high moral ground of judging the situation by casting aspersions on the role of the police, the role of human rights agencies, and other such institutions.


The petitioners have gone to the Supreme Court following which the apex court gave its verdict and disallowed the petition.


Now if aspersions are cast on the Supreme Court too because the judgment has not come to one's liking, there is no end to any dispute then. The dictum that justice must not only be done but appear to be done, again cannot be applied in each and every case.

The loser in the court verdict would never feel satisfied, so the dictum of justice appears to be done would not hold for the loser. The court's decision in this case did not warrant such comment from a responsible newspaper. Extra judicial killing cannot be countenanced, but in certain cases the associated circumstances should also be not lost sight of.

Shanti Bhushan via email








It has been four years since the Right to Information (RTI) Act came into force, ushering in a new era of transparency and accountability, or so it was hoped. While RTI might not have been the unqualified success many expected it to be, it is an important tool that civil society can use to keep the government honest. That's why we are watching the debate raging over the appointment of the next chief information commissioner (CIC) with some apprehension.

Civil society groups have every right to suggest a name for a post as important as that of the CIC. RTI is an instrument that gives citizens some measure of control over information, and it is understandable that civil society would be wary that excessive intervention from the bureaucracy would blunt the Act's powers. But by asking that decorated police officer Kiran Bedi be appointed to the top post and demanding that the merits of a different choice be explained to them, information rights activists have polarised the debate to the point of blackmail.

Lobbies are a fact of life in a democracy, but the kind of pressure tactics that those lobbying on behalf of Bedi have employed are likely to put the government on the defensive. In entering into a confrontation with the government over the post of CIC, the activists have failed to take into account that it is not only they who have a stake in RTI and its functioning. The state is also a stakeholder, and as with all disagreements where many actors are involved, all views must be taken on board and a consensus evolved.

Since its inception, RTI has met with mixed success. The results of a recent study into the conduct of information commissioners across the country indicate that only 27 per cent of RTI applicants receive the information they asked for, while a significant chunk of the population remains unaware of how to file an application for information. Another potential problem is that only two of every 100 RTI Act violations are penalised. Even when information commissioners direct officers to release information, a majority - as much as 61 per cent - ignore the order. With so many questions over the implementation of the Act, it is important that the debate over RTI is not restricted to the appointment of the CIC. Information rights activists should work towards strengthening RTI by beginning a discussion on how best to expand its scope.







The crisis in Karnataka could not have come at a worse time for the BJP. The party lost a string of assembly elections recently and there is no sign of an end to its leadership crisis. Dissidence within the party has become a serious threat to the stability of the Yeddyurappa government in Karnataka, the only state in southern India with a BJP government. The weak central leadership seems unable to enforce discipline on party MLAs.


At the root of the political crisis in Karnataka is the growing influence of the mining barons from the Bellary region over the BJP. These powerful local satraps were credited with the party's success in the 2008 assembly elections. They helped several party candidates win and convinced many independents to prop up the BJP government. With chief minister Yeddyurappa falling out with the Bellary leaders, the crisis was only expected. The CM's camp has accused other faction leaders, prominent among them senior party MP from the state Ananth Kumar, of extending support to the dissidents and furthering the crisis. The BJP central leadership has so far refused to discuss a change of leadership in Bangalore, but the Bellary leaders have the resources to make as well as break the government. The Yeddyurappa government has a thin majority and can't afford a split in its ranks.

The Bellary leaders - three brothers and a family friend - are first-generation entrepreneurs who made money from mines and moved into politics. Their business interests are spread over Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh and among their patrons is the YSR family. The declared assets of these leaders run into millions of rupees and the speed at which these have multiplied is eye-popping even by the murky standards of Indian politics. This is of course a national phenomenon. Money has far outstripped ideology and activism as the essential ingredients to build a political party and win public office, which can only weaken parliamentary democracy.

There is a lesson in the BJP's predicament for both the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular), the other two players in Karnataka politics. Giving undue prominence to leaders who have parachuted into politics to further business interests is likely to backfire on political parties. The Bellary leaders are reportedly keen to talk to the Congress if the BJP leadership doesn't meet their demands. Opponents of the BJP may find toppling the Yeddyurappa government appealing but the cost of supping with the rebels is likely to be enormous, as the BJP is currently discovering. Any concession made to the rebels is likely to weaken the BJP in the state and erode the credibility of the party's central leadership.







With no viable option in sight to salvage America's faltering Afghan war, Barack Obama faces a critical test in his young presidency. Sending tens of thousands of more troops into battle, as the top US general in Afghanistan wants, risks a Vietnam-style quagmire. Slashing troop levels to concentrate on counterterrorist operations through air power and special ground forces will expose Obama to political attacks at home. Obama thus is searching for the illusory middle ground.

Going big and going long in Afghanistan will serve no country's interests other than Pakistan's. Indeed, as long as NATO's Afghan war rages, US policy will stay hostage to Islamabad, even though it is Pakistan's duplicitous policy of aiding militants while pretending to be on America's side that has resulted in the Taliban gaining the momentum. Only a military exit can help free US policy. After all, with US supply lines to Afghanistan running through Pakistan, waging the Afghan war has entailed supporting Pakistan through multibillion-dollar US aid, to the extent that Islamabad this year has emerged as the largest recipient of American assistance in the world.

In that light, is it any surprise that top Pakistanis have lined up to plead against a US withdrawal? Munificent aid to Pakistan traditionally has flown only when the US has been involved in war - hot or cold. Absence of war usually has fostered US neglect of Pakistan. If the US decides to draw down forces in Afghanistan, it will not only stop raining dollars in Islamabad, but also Pakistani sanctuaries for the top Afghan Taliban leaders and other terrorist figures are likely to become US targets.

An Obama decision not to get deeper involved in Afghanistan won't be an admission of defeat but a course correction on a war that presently is just not winnable. Obama has limited the US goal narrowly "to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda". But the US military's real foe in Afghanistan is not the badly fragmented and enfeebled al-Qaeda, but a resurgent Taliban. Instead of seeking to rout the Taliban, Washington has encouraged the Pakistani, Afghan and Saudi intelligence services to hold proxy negotiations with the Taliban shuramembers, holed up in Quetta, Pakistan.

In fact, the US is fighting the wrong war. How can the Afghan war be won when America has limited its ground military campaign to just one side of the Af-Pak border even though the Taliban and other militants openly use the Pakistani side as a haven and staging ground for attacks? Not allowed to pursue the militants across the border, US troops in Nuristan, Kunar and other Afghan border regions find themselves as sitting ducks for surprise attacks orchestrated from Pakistani territory.

Had Washington sought to defeat the Taliban, a further military surge may have made sense, because an ascendant Taliban can be defeated only through major ground operations, not by airstrikes and covert action alone. But to rout an already-weakened al-Qaeda, the US doesn't need to scale up the war. While acknowledging that al-Qaeda's capability has been degraded to the extent that it is in no position to openly challenge US interests, American proponents of a bigger war contend that the real danger is of al-Qaeda reconstituting itself if a US pullback leads to the Taliban's return to power.

Firstly, without large ground forces in Afghanistan or even major ground operations, the US can hold al-Qaeda remnants at bay in their havens in the mountainous tribal regions of Pakistan through covert operations, Predator drones and cruise-missile attacks, as it already is doing. Secondly, US air power and special-force operations, in combination with the support of ground forces of ethnic minorities and non-Taliban Pashtun warlords, can prevent the Taliban from grabbing power in Kabul again. That was the same combination that helped oust the Taliban from power. Even if the US pulls out most of its troops, it will have such punitive-denial capability as it intends to maintain military bases in Afghanistan in the long run.

American and international interests will be better served by gradually drawing down US troop levels. What unites the disparate insurgent elements is a common opposition to foreign military presence. A measured US pullback, far from bolstering the forces of global jihad, will eliminate the common unifying factor and unleash developments with largely internal or sub-regional significance. The most likely outcome of an Afghan power struggle triggered by a US decision to scale back the war would be the formalisation of the present de facto partition of Afghanistan along ethnic lines.

The possible emergence of smaller, more-governable states in the world's "Terroristan" belt cannot be bad news. In such a scenario, the Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and other ethnic minorities would be able to ensure self-governance in the Afghan areas they dominate, leaving the Pashtun lands on both sides of the British-drawn but now-disappearing Durand Line in ferment. Pakistan ultimately is bound to pay a price for creating and nurturing the Taliban monster. And that price is likely to directly impinge on its territorial unity.

The writer is professor, Centre for Policy Research.







Recently, the Congress launched an "austerity drive". Now, the CPM has reportedly readied an 'etiquette code' asking party members to scrupulously avoid posh restaurants, costly foreign jaunts, ownership of too many vehicles and properties, and hosting of opulent parties. The Marxists are doubtless supposed to advocate sober lifestyles, given their ideological affinities. And any party's - not just CPM's - effort to weed out corruption from within its ranks is worthwhile in a country with a marked rich-poor divide. Politics as a career has come to be seen as a milch cow for many. So, there may be grounds for intra-party strictures against politicians unable to explain disproportionate assets or whose kin misuse their links.

However, parties that tom-tom frugality as a lifestyle choice are either misguided or deliberately obtuse on two counts. One, they blink at a crucial distinction between taxpayers' money and personal wealth. Netas can certainly be bashed for denting public coffers. But why demonise self-funded consumption, conspicuous or otherwise? Two, 'disciplinary' dicta often accompany vacuous moral postures. The CPM code reportedly clubs disorderly conduct along with extravagance. Is this to insinuate that luxury-loving leaders are more given to unruliness than their frugal comrades? The problem with moralistic gimmickry is that it clouds the real issues concerning desirable political conduct.

Let's not conflate public good and personal morality. The aam aadmi is more concerned with governance than politicians' private lifestyles. Voters want parties and governments that deliver the socio-economic goods they promise, and MPs and MLAs dedicated to their constituencies. A leader might efficiently push development, create opportunities and empower citizens. How does it matter to the beneficiaries of his recognised public service if he holidays in the French Riviera on his own money? Yes, there's nothing wrong with the political projection of 'simple living, high thinking'. But there's plenty wrong with political populism that seeks to portray the enjoyment of wealth as a dirty habit. New India's aspirational goals don't equate pursuit of material well-being with moral dodginess. Nor are netas' austerity-driven PR campaigns a surrogate for performance.







Close on the heels of the Congress's austerity drive, the CPM has come out with a moral and etiquette code for its leaders and cadre. The latter's reasons for doing so differ from the former's, but in the larger context, the motivation is irrelevant. Whether the former Congress ally has acted out of a genuine desire for reform or based on cynical political calculations, any move by our politicians to restrain their frequently profligate ways - particularly when India has been hit by the double whammy of a global economic slowdown and a poor monsoon - should be welcomed.

The statistics indexing living conditions and the level of wealth in Indian society are damning. GDP per capita may be on the rise but one must look to the median rather than the mean for a true picture. According to Planning Commission criterion, 28.3 per cent of the Indian population is below the poverty line. This is bad enough, but if World Bank criterion were used, the figure goes up to 42 per cent. And if one goes by the recommendations of the rural development ministry to factor in nutrition as well, it jumps to 50 per cent.

Against this backdrop, the political culture prevalent in the country today is an obscenity. It is also a marker of the rampant corruption that cripples every attempt to alleviate poverty. Politicians' assets double or triple over the course of their terms in Parliament or even the legislative assemblies. There seems to be no conception of conflict of interest; those in positions of power have extensive links with private players in areas under their authority, and not infrequently a direct stake themselves. Coupled with all this, of course, are the everyday abuses of power; nepotism, high-handedness and a seemingly unshakeable belief in their exalted status.

Perhaps a drive for austerity and sober conduct will not address all these ills. But if this culture is to be changed, a start has to be made somewhere. If politicians, by being less ostentatious about their wealth and power, can engender even a fraction more trust in the country's political system among the common people, it will be worth it.







As kids in the 1960s, we grew up on a diet of westerns. Without television, the outdoors in the sprawling Victorian bungalows with its large trees, bushes and stables that were once used to pull in horse-drawn carriages, was where most time was spent making believe we were cowboys and cattle rustlers, good guys and bad guys. All summer the house resonated with the sounds we made - whooping cries, feverish chases, gunshots and desperate shouts as life imitated art no end. We'd jump off slung tree branches, hide in bushes to ambush stagecoaches or stalk the neighbour's tabby cat. Our fingers and fists served as six-shooters and shots came out of our mouths.

Sometimes we'd use rifles - hockey sticks or even grandfather's walking stick. For the better part, it was our vocal chords that ricocheted loud and long on the hot afternoons until some killjoy elder put a lid on the shenanigans. That was when we'd play out romances under the guava tree. We'd hug and smooch large pillows secreted out from the bedrooms, pretending they were Piper Laurie or Jane Russell. The inspiration for the shoot-outs, the gunslinging, the showdowns and the romance came from different sources, the comic books of Hopalong Cassidy and Lone Ranger, the movies of John Wayne and Kirk Douglas and later the novels of Zane Grey and Louis L'amour.

With that software wired in, we took turns to be the gunfighter, a lonely rugged man with the harshness etched on his face, riding into a dusty little town on a long broom. The 'town', incidentally, was where my doctor-father had his practice closed for the afternoon. Somewhere an old uncle reclining on his easy chair snoozing with newspaper covering his face became a 'hombre' taking 'siesta'. Then, as the stranger with a Stetson, an old neighbour working in the rose garden would lean over and ask if he could leave a message for dad. It was not easy to ignore the intrusion, as Mr Lopes would instruct the gunslinger, "Tell dad i'll be coming in at 6. OK?" Brushing aside the interruption, you knew you had a serious job on hand. It wasn't easy fighting villains with neighbours trying to use the sheriff to get a doctor appointment. In the evenings, the cowboys gathered around a bonfire in the far corner of the bungalow, singing with a 'guitar', except it was dad's tennis racquet. Ah, those Wild West days of childhood, those were the days!







LONDON: I wanted to test the theory that a gossip magazine can gauge the strange state of the global economy and so found myself at Tatler magazine. In these gloomy days for the press, it's rather a tonic to visit the headquarters of a publication that's been around 300 years, took 285 years to turn a profit and can't be bothered with a website. Online-versus-print debate has begun to rival annuity tables in the realm of the stultifying.

"I think it adds to our cachet that we're not online," Catherine Ostler, the breezy editor of Tatler, told me in her cluttered corner office. She's just put together the ad-packed 300th-anniversary issue with a mischievous cover of the queen in profile, daubed with Union Jack colours. "We went slightly Sex Pistols with it." Indeed.

Tatler, a society magazine with a naughty streak and what Ostler calls an "appetite for other people's antics", was first published on April 12, 1709. The epigraph - equivalent to today's corporate mission statement - was: "What'er men do, or say, or think or dream/ Our motley paper seizes for its theme."

In that spirit the first Tatler (from "tittle-tattle", or gossip) debated the merits of ogling, opined on wrinkles and titillated readers with an account of an aristocratic young man who had taken to drink because he was consumed with unrequited love for a married woman. From there to reality shows is but the blinking of an eye.

The magazine was a mega-hit, passed around the coffee houses of Queen Anne's London. Isaac Newton subscribed. But politics intervened - Tatler was too Whig for a Tory government - and this first incarnation lasted just 22 months.

So began a saga of centuries that saw Tatler appear and disappear; devour proprietors; chronicle the royals from King Edward VIII's abdication to Princess Di's divorce. "We've been sustained by the power of gossip," Ostler said. But who buys the magazine? "It's an odd patchwork, old money, new money, all ages, the Russian oligarchs, Gulf people, jet-set types, not just the British upper class any more, people from all over."

Tatler's 300th birthday extravaganza was sponsored not by some well-to-do British duke (a few survive) but by an Omani scent ('Amouage') that's a favourite with the sultan. Speaking of Russian oligarchs, Tatler now has a year-old Russian edition that's a sizzling success. Twenty years from the fall of the communist empire, more than a year into the Great Recession, Britain's society rag par excellence is all the rage in Moscow.

The thing about money is it's fungible. As the Romans observed, "Pecunia non olet" - money has no smell. It also has no morals. The deepest revolution of the post-Cold War era has been the instant global transferability of capital, combined with technology's eradication of distance: This has created immense wealth but equally immense imbalances, because workers cannot move as freely or as fast as capital.

Social upheaval has been avoided in part because technology is an anger dampener: It connects but isolates, and it distracts. Russia's Tatler enclave (an unaudited circulation of 1,20,000 against an audited 85,000 for the British original) is of course surrounded by swamps of vodka-soaked penury, just as Brazilian high society is surrounded by slum kids with guns. Still, the model has held; in fact, it's produced startling progress.

But at a price: The financial crisis of the 1990s and the Great Recession that began last year. But as markets recover without jobs - and Muscovite high rollers devour Tatler - i wonder if any lessons have been learned.

All of which leads me to believe that lovable Tatler will thrive - in London, in Moscow and possibly next in Shanghai or Sao Paulo. There will be antics to chronicle, dreams to stir, fungible money to bankroll the mischief, and - soon enough - another meltdown with its roguish winners, forgotten losers and unlearned lessons.








The cancellation of the second round of the Afghan presidential elections is good news only for the Taliban. Incumbent President Hamid Karzai will reign in Kabul for another five years, thanks to the first round of voting where he failed to gain the necessary 50 per cent of the votes. This will be used against him not only by his Afghan foes but also by foreign countries looking for an excuse to wriggle out of any role in his country. Perhaps worst of all is that Dr Abdullah Abdullah and other Afghan presidential candidates will be unwilling to support Karzai. This is particularly unfortunate given that they are all on the same side when it comes to the real faultline in the struggle for Afghanistan's soul.


The US, the key foreign player in Afghanistan, will find it all the more difficult to garner domestic support for an expensive and bloody military campaign.


Part of the blame for this political fiasco must be apportioned to Washington. The US sought to engineer a flawless election that could be peddled at home even though this was wildly unrealistic, given Afghanistan's circumstances. The US position was probably coloured by the poisonous relations that exist between Mr Karzai and the US Special Envoy for Afghanistan-Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke.


In hindsight, Dr Abdullah overplayed his hand when it came to his demands against Mr Karzai, which included some power sharing. Mr Karzai was always on a stronger wicket. After all, he fell short of an absolute majority by about 15,000 votes and it was relatively certain that Dr Abdullah had no chance of even improving on his first round percentage. Nonetheless, the Afghan President would have been better off coming to terms with Dr Abdullah.


In a broad sense, the presidential elections reflect the failure of the non-Taliban and non-Islamicist Afghan leadership to find a power-sharing formula among them. This makes Karzai and the present configuration in Kabul all the more dependent on the US government for support. If the US wavers, Mr Karzai is almost certain to continue his policy of trying to find an accommodation with some elements of the Taliban. Neither of these scenarios is good news for India or other nations that have suffered the terrorist-friendly policies of the first Taliban regime.







Britainistan may be a flash in the pan in some people's kitchens, but two opinions coming from the island queendom last week have caught our humming bird's wings-flap-long attention span. First comes the demand from a pro-Sharia campaign organisation, Islam4UK, that British Queen Elizabeth II wear a burqa in public — not during her visits to Jeddah or Peshawar, but inside the territories that she owns, Britain. Then there's the opinion, not of some wide-eyed nutter this time but a British civil servant who also sits on a parliamentary anti-terrorism panel, that Mumbai's November 26, 2008, attacks were not an act of terrorism.


British multiculturalism, like tossed salad in a bowl, allows some particularly leafy characters to sprout. Having Queen Elizabeth II, a nice lady who does her bit even as a prized member of the Anglican Church, to be covered up in public from head to toe with only her eyes visible would be almost as bold as demanding her being dressed in public in leopard-print leotards and an elastic sweatband round her head. But if Queen Victoria could have worn a veil — although one made of transparent honiton lace — during her wedding, there may be a case for her to try out a 21st century veil couture. This would be an act of great political and cultural significance akin to her wearing a safety pin across her regal nose in the 70s that would have short-circuited the youthful anti-monarchy rage of the punk movement. After all, what will some mad mullahs rage against if suddenly a hand comes out from under a shroud in the Buckingham Palace courtyard to say, "Rise, Sir Omar Bakri"?


As for the super-conspiracy theory from the British civil servant about 26/11, what can we say except pointing out that other super-conspiracy theory floating about here: that British halal meat is as authentic as the chicken tikka masala.








Monday's terrorist blast in Rawalpindi comes soon after similar attacks in Peshawar. The vulnerability of the US's Af-Pak policy was clear with the Peshawar attack that happened on the eve of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to Pakistan. Clearly, the conflict in Afghanistan is engulfing Pakistan. India has not been spared either: the attack on our embassy in Kabul proves that. New Delhi's assistance of over $1 billion may have generated goodwill among the people but it has also generated a backlash from the Taliban. But it would be naive to hope that Pakistan's pre-occupation with the Taliban means that India will not be targeted again. One hopes that Pakistan realises that any discriminatory approach towards terrorism is not in its interests as well. Patronising anti-India outfits while cracking down on the Taliban will not work since these outfits are only loyal to terror.


The Commander of the US forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has asked for an additional 40,000 troops. US President Barack Obama has not yet endorsed this, but has indicated troop augmentation. The US's Nato allies, however, are wary.


On the 8th anniversary of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, the Taliban issued a statement: "We announce to all the world, our aim is obtainment of independence and establishment of an Islamic system. We did not have any agenda to harm other countries including Europe nor do we have such agenda today. Still if you want to turn the country of the proud and pious Afghans into a colony, then know that we have an unwavering determination and are braced for a prolonged war."


Some are interpreting this to mean the Taliban's readiness to be a part of future governmental structures in Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai has been talking about this for a while. Will the US treat the Taliban as separate from al-Qaeda and permit such a possibility? The US has indicated favouring a 'unity government', whatever that means.


Meanwhile, Britain and Germany have called on the UN Secretary-General to convene an international conference on Afghanistan. One former Foreign Minister of Afghanistan has proposed to replace the US-led forces with troops from Islamic countries under UN leadership.  Irrespective of whichever possible approaches is adopted, the hope of the US Af-pak policy succeeding seems receding.


Given India's long links with these lands, we need  to take a clear policy direction. These areas eluded control by imperial powers for many centuries. The Mughals made such efforts with Akbar shifting to Lahore for over a decade to control these lands. His absence, incidentally, led to the desertion of Fatehpur Sikri. Centuries later, the British waged three Indo-Afghan wars between 1838 and 1918. Subsequently,  the former Soviet Union supported a progressive regime there. To combat this the US gave birth to its Frankenstein's monster — the Taliban and al-Qaeda.


Refusing to learn from history, the US is pursuing its compelling need to control this region. Afghanistan occupies a central position in the US strategy for the economic control of the oil and gas resources in West Asia. The Energy Information Administration estimates that by 2020, the US will import 64 per cent of its crude — 25.8 million barrels per day. The Caspian region oil reserves might be the third largest in the world (following Western Siberia and the Persian Gulf) and, within the next 15 to 20 years, may be large enough to offset Persian Gulf oil. Caspian Sea oil and gas are not the only hydrocarbon deposits in the region. Turkmenistan's Karakum Desert holds the world's third largest gas reserves — 3 trillion cubic meters — and has 6 billion barrels of estimated oil reserves.


Current estimates indicate that, in addition to huge gas deposits, the Caspian basin may hold as much as 200 billion barrels of oil — 33 times the estimated holdings of Alaska's North Slope and at a current value of $4 trillion. It is enough to meet the US's energy needs for 30 years or more. The presence of these oil reserves and the possibility of their export raises new strategic concerns for the US and other Western powers. As oil companies build pipelines from the Caucasus and Central Asia to supply Japan and the West, these strategic concerns gain military implications.


The US government's Energy Information factsheet on Afghanistan in 2000 said: "Afghanistan's significance from an energy standpoint stems from its geographic position as a potential transit route for oil and natural gas exports from Central Asia to the  Arabian Sea".  This potential includes proposed multi-billion dollar oil and gas export pipelines through Afghanistan. Hence this US-led war to control Afghanistan.


Unless the US abandons the pursuit of these interests through military means, no possible solution to this imbroglio is possible. Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize. He now needs to earn it.


Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP








If there is one sector that is visibly the intersection of backroom politics, crony capitalism and serious threats to India's internal security, it is mining. The business of resource extraction has always had its own peculiar economic logic: modern, yet dependent on the land; high-tech, yet somehow, indefinably, with feudal overtones. These anomalies have traditionally been recognised by economists, who categorise mining as the only "industrial" component of the primary, or agricultural, sector. Unsurprisingly, in the particular environment of India, this translates into a meeting of old-style power equations with a very modern ability to extract, alter and transfer resources. Hence the unimaginable numbers of crores that former Jharkhand Chief Minister Madhu Koda is alleged, according to the just-filed CBI chargesheet, to have made through using his political influence when in office as chief minister supported by many UPA parties and earlier as minister for mines under the NDA state government.


Another lesson comes from elsewhere in India, from Bellary in Karnataka, where over the past few years the Reddy brothers, mining magnates, have become a force to be reckoned with in state politics. (And even beyond, perhaps.) So much so that Karnataka's chief minister, B.S. Yeddyurappa, has begun to feel threatened, and much of the state's political discourse has begun to pivot on the single point of whether mining money has managed to buy up too much political influence.


This is not healthy, either for India's democracy, or for the mining sector and those sectors that it feeds. It betokens a sector unreformed, and still subject to licence-permit raj-era rules. The Mines and Minerals Development and Regulation Act or MMDR dates from 1957, the Mines Act from 1952; the MMDR Act's rules for obtaining a licence, the Mineral Concession Rules, are from 1960; the Mineral Conservation and Development Rules, about environmental impact, from 1988. These desperately need updating. That the Centre plans to move in the coming session of Parliament to update these is good news, as long as transparency is prioritised and a level playing field for all possible investors is ensured. The mining sector has accumulated its own long-standing interest groups which will oppose action that opens up their quasi-monopolistic hold; indeed, even within the government, the steel ministry has tried to block legislation. As shrill accusations increase that security operations against Maoists actually reflect nefarious designs on mineral resources, a legislative and reform priority must be increasing transparency in that sector.







If Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Jammu and Kashmir was a fresh sentence in a changing conversation, here's something that renders one speechless: the Union home ministry has banned pre-paid cell-phone connections in the state. The abrupt move affects an estimated two lakh people, and could render jobless 10,000 telephone operators. Many of those affected are Kashmiri youth — the precise demographic so susceptible to nihilist angst, precisely those that New Delhi needs so badly. Is this the kind of conversation the Centre wants to start with Kashmiris?


The frail security situation in Kashmir does demand special measures, and they may even work. For instance, the entire senior leadership of the Hizbul Mujahideen was apparently wiped out after their mobile conversations were tracked. But banning pre-paid phone calls is neither here nor there. The ostensible reason is that pre-paid connections require only one document establishing the user's identity, and so are security risks. This is in contrast to the more rigorous checks for post-paid connections. If the problem is that pre-paid connections are easier to get, then surely the answer is to tighten the identity proof requirements. Why not make the identity checks the same as for post-paid numbers? Banning the service itself could be perceived to be ham-handed and excessive. There is no question that security agencies face an immense challenge in tracking communication between militants, and anything that threatens the peace should be carefully assessed. The point, however, is that the case against pre-paid mobile connections needs to be more strongly made for it to be popularly accepted.


When Prime Minister Singh flagged off the first ever train service to Kashmir last week, the aim was to connect Kashmiris to each other, and to the rest of India. The pre-paid ban achieves precisely the opposite. Out of 45 lakh mobile connections in J&K, 39 lakh are pre-paid — for reasons best known to the telecom firms that issue such connections, often consumers perceive advantages of flexibility and economics in pre-paid connections. There is no inherent advantage to pre-paid over post-paid connections. And, importantly, monitoring pre-paid connections need not be any more difficult than tracking post-paid connections.







Last year when Haile Gebrselassie opted out of the marathon at the Beijing Olympics, it was not part of the general hysteria that had preceded the Games about the city's air quality, anxiety that soon enough evaporated in a run of blue-sky days. The Ethiopian — among the best athletes of all time, certainly the best long-distance runner — was concerned that the air could aggravate his asthma, and inflict long-term damage. But just soon after the Games, he affirmed his dominance of the distance by setting another world record at the Berlin Marathon. With that Gebrselassie, who had set alight the 5000 m and 10,000 m races in earlier Olympics so that they are still seen to be his events even though he now trails the medal contenders, showed how the marathon is such an urban sport.


Berlin is part of the World Marathon Majors, along with New York City, Boston, Chicago and London. And it is on the 42 km stretches in cities such as these that Gebrselassie has asserted his ownership of the distance. So, even as Delhi takes baby steps to get itself on some running calendar — with a half-marathon — it is interesting to see how cities attain identification with a sport. (It is all the more interesting, of course, at a time when Delhi is racing to meet the deadline to complete preparations for the Commonwealth Games.) The World Marathon Majors have managed their prominence with interesting trails, great performers and performances, and dashes of self-mythologising. These runs are made memorable equally by the greats who test their reputations on them and by the tens of thousands of local residents and visitors who measure themselves against diverse personal standards.


So, even as parkour is heralded as the ultimate urban sport, don't forget the full marathon.







As India's first post-Liberalisation generation, we've been witness to changes sweeping and radical: epitomised by fancy luxury cars, satellite television, branded clothing, fast foods and, of course, the ubiquitous mobile. For us 25 years since 1984 does not mean Operation Bluestar, a prime minister's assassination, or the terrible anti-Sikh pogrom; it denotes instead a quarter century since Maggi noodles arrived. The many identities of being Indian: how the decade changed us ANU KUMAR


INthemulti-storeyedcomplex in the government colony I lived in during the late '70s, I would follow friends of mine inchantingatauntingpoemtoasardarji on the ground floor. We hated him for he refused to let us play in his spacious green lawns. So we hid behind the hedges and chanted rhymes making fun of him, his turban wearing ways, words that made no sense but were meant to mock. It was our way of getting back at this crusty bearded, turbaned man who kept to himself and everyone out of hisgarden.Thebunchofus,agaggly group all seven-eight-year-olds, took pleasure in leaving chalk mark drawings on his black Fiat, in ringing his doorbell and running away before someone answered and of course there were those verses we chanted, peering through the hedge which looked into his window, deriving cruel, childlike fun as he turned a vague, incomprehensible gaze towards us.


Thirty years ago, ours was a disparate group. Some of us were children of government servants, and some came from the servants quarters discreetly tucked away behind our apartments, terribly dankone-roomwindowlessplaces.It was an egalitarian world, though we never thought of it that way. It was but natural that Lakshmi, the maid, would take our old clothes (there was no other use for them) for her children,andthoughintheevenings we would return to our separate homes, there were times when we wouldjoinourfriendsoutside,inthe event of a sudden power cut, and sing songs under an open still starfilled Delhi sky. We cracked jokes too -- at everyone else who was different, the Bengalis, the Madrasis, even the English, especially their obnoxious Test team that managed to beat us in the tour of 1979.


It was a time that will never come back, different from our parents' generationandthosethatwillfollow us. We were one of the post-independent generations and the dream of a new India as imagined by those early leaders was still fresh and raw.

In Delhi, the city we lived in, there was no difference except that one wasmorerichandtheotherpoor.In school,myclassmatescamefromall over, and we learnt the same things -- that India lives in its villages, that Hindi is the national language, Punjab is the richest state, that M. Visweswaraya helped build the Krishnasagar dam, and dams were of course the temples of modern India. Yes, we knew we were a poor country but we were catching up -with space vehicles, our industries, our railways and, of course, the Asian Games. It was from the early '80s that this opennessbecameboxedinwithseveralconstraints--offear,suspicion, theideaofdifferenceandhatred.As newsfromPunjabfilteredin,Khalistanandthosefightingforitbecamea word we dreaded. We spoke of it in fearful excitement and every one with a turban took on a sinister aspect. And when peace did finally come, it came with a price. A prime minister killed first, and then one of the leaders who had signed the accord, and then more than 300 passengers who perished in the Kanishka disaster over the Atlantic Ocean. Assam was far away, but the photographs brought home the news of the deadly Nellie massacre. Thosekilled,Ilearnt,werevariously called outsiders, foreigners, illegal migrants from Bangladesh, Muslims. Difference began to have an ugly, murderous face.


But all this was still far removed from our cities. It was five years later, in 1989 when we, every one of us, would begin to see ourselves as different, separated from the other, each one of us shaped by our own ever narrowing identities, where everyoneelsebecamearival,acompetitor, a suspect, and also enemy.


My first year in college was a time ofattendingrallies,demonstrations, marches against then-Prime Minister V.P. Singh, the Mandal Commission report, and those who were now the "Other Backward Classes" --thosewho,thankstomorequotas promised by the report, would snatch away from us our jobs in the civil service, and who would simply by a circumstance of birth claim a dreamoflifeandambitionsmanyof us had taken for granted.


When college finally reopened for classes, walls and boards bore other sinister signs, splashed across theuniversitywalls."Beproudtosay weareHindus."AmosqueinAyodhya stood for everything that was divisive,weakinourhistory.Itbecame a symbol of our collective weakness in the face of invaders. Our history made up of benign, brave, benevolently despotic kings and emperors now became one where annihilation, humiliation, defeat was common and now, as a chariot ran around the country leaving blood and rioting in its wake, was the time for a reassertion.


It was a period of not just moral bankruptcy but also fiscal and economic. But the latter had to be urgentlydealtwith;figuresandstatistics were truths of a kind that have never lied. The opening up of the economy occurred almost simultaneous to our generation's stepping into adulthood, a time to make career choices. It was a time when a degree in management became more attractive, offering an avenue not limited by quotas, where merit served as keyword.


A decade later, as India's first post-Liberalisation generation, we've been witness to changes sweeping and radical: epitomised by fancy luxury cars, satellite television, branded clothing, fast foods and, of course, the ubiquitous mobile. For us 25 years since 1984 does not mean Operation Bluestar, a prime minister's assassination, or the terrible anti-Sikh pogrom; it denotes instead a quarter century since Maggi noodles arrived. We live now in our gated worlds, moving in our limited circles, consciously ignoring the gap between rich and poor. We are fiercely protective of our own defined, carefully crafted identities judging everyone by name first, andtryinghardtoignoreandfailing to deny the physical markers that make up the identity of the "others" who are not "us".


We live in an India where our differences now make us, where we can only call ourselves Indian after checking off all the other labels we have come to wear around us the last two decades. Kumar's latest novel is `In the Country of Gold-digging Ants' (2009)







Congress and NCP slug it out for portfolios, and Maharashtra suffers It has hinted at a key underlying cause for the poor governance record of the alliance over the last 10 years: the excessive focus on coming to power.


IT WILL be 12 days on Tuesday since the Congress-NCP alliance in Maharashtra scored a surprisingly easy victory in the assembly elections and were assured of a third straight term in power. But all those who were mightily relieved that the polls did not throw up a hung assembly and hoped that the clear verdict would energise the two parties to make a fresh beginning, should be doing a serious rethink now. The alliance partners have been negotiating and squabbling over the number and nature of ministries they think they deserve in the new government and have not been able to come to an agreement despite the need to form a government before the deadline of November 4.


Irrespective of whether they manage to seal a deal on Tuesday, or settle to swear in just Ashok Chavan and Chhagan Bhujbal as chief minister and his deputy to beat the deadline and continue to fight for the loaves of office, the delay has managed to damage the new dispensation's image. It has also hinted at a key underlying cause for the poor governance record of the alliance over the last 10 years: their excessive focus on coming to power, holding on to it and making the most of those years in office.


At the crux of the present stalemate is the improved performance of the Congress and the higher number of seats it has won, and the corresponding fall in the numbers of the NCP.

When the two parties came together to form their first alliance government in 1999, both got 21 ministries each, with Congress getting the post of CM. Although the Congress had then won significantly more seats than the NCP, it agreed to share the ministries equally based on the same formula as the predecessor Shiv Sena-BJP alliance because the alliance was being cobbled together in a hurry after the polls and there was also a fear that the newly formed NCP could go with the Sena and BJP and keep the Congress out of power.


In 2004, the Congress had to settle for 18 ministries plus the post of CM while the NCP got 24 as it returned to the assembly with more MLAs than the Congress. Five years on, the tables have once again turned with the Congress winning 20 seats more than its partner and naturally wants this to be reflected in the council of ministers as well.

Besides, it also wants back the crucial portfolios of home affairs, and perhaps finance, among other key portfolios.

This slide is obviously not acceptable to the NCP which has seen its clout in its home state dip steadily since the Lok Sabha elections.


While some of this stalemate is a repeat of what happened in Delhi between the DMK and the Congress earlier this year, the battle for the home portfolio reveals a quirk typical to Maharashtra as it is generally not considered an "ATM ministry" in much of the country. But not so in a state which has been recruiting about 10,000 policemen every year and also places a high premium over postings and transfers. But having two masters -- the CM from one party and the home minister from another, since the days of the Sena-BJP alliance -- has taken its toll on the state police who admit in private that they are not always clear about their reporting lines and the line of policy when sensitive issues are at play.


The tragedy of the delay in forming the government though is that it has meant many critical administrative decisions hang in balance. The state chief secretary is on an extension and the police chief, who was also on an extension, retired on Saturday -- but a successor cannot be named as much would depend on who gets the home ministry.
The new government also needs to approve the increase in power generation capacities in a state that is reeling under massive power cuts, push through drought relief measures and sign contracts to launch highly essential infrastructure projects in Mumbai. The contracts for one of those projects, the Worli-Haji Ali Sea Link, Ashok Chavan had promised in an interview to the editor of this newspaper in August, would be processed and signed within 15 days.


That was not to be the case as the exigencies of electoral politics and the need to rush through politically more urgent contracts, before the model code of conduct came into place, overtook the need for infrastructure. That deal still needs to be signed as also many others Mumbai has been waiting for, too long, too patiently. The Congress and the NCP are very likely to explain their behaviour as due to the constraints imposed by coalition politics. But in a state such as Maharashtra, fast climbing the charts of sloth in development and governance, that is a poor excuse.







Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram has asked the CPI (Maoists) to "halt" armed operations and to come to talks. Specifically, Chidambaram does not require that the "Maoists lay down arms"; he just wants cessation of hostilities for now for talks to take place. Laying down of arms may be postponed for later. Once this minimal condition is satisfied, Chidambaram is prepared to talk on all issues concerning tribal welfare and rights, industrial policy, models of development, and the like.


Assume that the offer includes a halt to the armed operations of the state as well in the concerned areas. Then Chidambaram's conditions essentially match those of the Citizens Initiative for Peace and other civil society groups who have volunteered to negotiate between the government and the Maoists to bring both sides to the table — provided hostilities cease. Should we view this apparently friendly offer as Chidambaram's attempt to walk that extra disarming mile to bring peace with dignity to the tribals?


The problem is that, in the same address, Chidambaram also regretted that previous attempts by various state governments to talk to the Maoists, after temporary halt to violence from both sides, had been unfailingly "futile". Why then is the home minister offering to enter into another futile exercise? Further, given that the government has declared the CPI (Maoist) as a banned organisation, what does it mean, from the state's point of view, to negotiate with an adversary with arms in its hands? Also, knowing that the Maoists will settle for nothing less than the seizure of state power after a protracted war, as their supreme commander has recently affirmed, what does the state want to talk about? Or, is this just a ploy to buy some time to organise whatever it is that Chidambaram and his colleagues in the intelligence wings have in mind? The option sounds plausible, for it is unlikely that the Maoists will ever agree to spend some time at the table without their arms safely in place. So, why does the home minister need some time?


To probe the question from one direction, among others, we recall that the earlier talks were held, essentially in Andhra Pradesh, when the Maoists were in a strong position, especially after the People's War Group joined hands under the banner of CPI (Maoist). As the Maoist influence spread, the state of Andhra responded with enhanced gunpower. In a scenario of escalating violence, both sides needed some respite to consolidate their forces. Hence the "talks"; they were abandoned as soon as the Maoists realised the trap. If the present situation is to lead to meaningful talks, is there some difference in the conditions themselves? For instance, could it be that, contrary to popular belief encouraged by the mainstream media, Maoists are in fact on the run?


Chidambaram surely knows the real picture. From whatever is available in the public domain, it looks like the Maoists have lost considerable ground since their heyday in Andhra and Bihar. They are now basically restricted to some forests in the tiny new states of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand and some adjacent areas in Orissa and West Bengal. Many of their top and middle-level leaders have been eliminated or arrested in the past year. Despite temporary setbacks including considerable loss of manpower, the security forces seem to be closing in on those jungles. It is well-known that secret, militaristic organisations engage in public violence essentially out of desperation and need for visibility. From this perspective, the series of violent operations by Maoists in recent months, and their attempts to penetrate and hide among popular uprisings in the neighbourhood of their headquarters, could in fact signal that they are losing ground.


Add to this the increased repression of the state of unarmed tribal populations in those areas, including the unleashing of Salwa Judum, introduction of special forces, and the like. The recent enhancement of these operations belie Chidambaram's "friendliness" towards the tribals and the rebels. While these insidious operations do on occasion compel some of the victims to join the ranks of militancy and take up arms, they also leave such populations in a state of exasperation. In sum, notwithstanding bombastic claims by their leaders, the Maoists could be fast losing their ability to hide.


If these conjectures are even partly true, they explain Chidambaram's current, apparently friendly gestures from a purely tactical point of view. The state will not only talk to the Maoists from a position of strength, in allowing the rebels to retain their arms, the state will be free to retain its own to continue with "normal" police operations to further encircle the Maoists. Needless to say, if the Maoists do agree to enter into a dialogue under pressure from their friends in, say the Citizens Initiative, it will be a huge propaganda victory for Chidambaram. If the talks fail — as they inevitably will when the issue of surrender of arms comes up sooner or later —Chidambaram can officially declare an all-out war pleading the TINA factor. It would be the most "friendly" way of smashing the rebels and the tribal uprising, and pave the way for a "peaceful" introduction of mining and other cartels in the scene.


The Maoists can pull the rug from below Chidambaram's tactics either by continuing the arms struggle or by voluntarily disarming themselves and joining the democratic struggles against the predatory state. They do enjoy considerable support among the tribal populations and sections of urban intellectuals. It is important that their "enemies" such as the Union home ministry, the Congress party, and the CPM continue not to attach the "terrorist" tag to them. Even this minimal support may not last long if the armed struggle continues and their organisation is progressively decimated in a protracted war. On the other hand, given their militancy, self-sacrifice, and splendid work among the poorest and the marginalised, they will be a major force in Indian politics if they give up arms and join the democratic struggle. The choice is theirs.


The writer is professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Delhi







President Obama has been awarded the Nobel Prize not for what he has achieved but for what it is hoped he will achieve. His election has ended Bush's imperial presidency and this has engendered the hope that America will once again work within the framework of multilateralism based on respect for national sovereignty. It remains to be seen of course whether these hopes will be realised. The initial signals are not hopeful and paradoxically Obama's greatest foreign policy challenge today pivots around the question whether to send more troops into Afghanistan or not.


The thought that has crossed my mind is that if hope, more than achievement, has become the barometer for selecting Nobel Peace Prize winners, then the Indian electorate (and the Indian electoral commission) should be nominated. There are after all few more powerful beacons of hope for the millions of disenfranchised around the world than the sight of poor, presumably illiterate Indians queued up outside polling booths waiting to cast their votes for candidates that have time and time again disappointed them.


The justification for the nomination should not be the affirmation of the democratic spirit that such a sight conveys, but the hope that the resolve of the Indian voter to exercise their inalienable right to choose generates for those still bound by the shackles of authoritarianism. The nomination should include the electoral commission because notwithstanding the malevolent influence of muscle and money power, it has in the main ensured a free and fair vote.


I cannot discern from the statement issued by the Nobel Committee to explain the Obama award, whether they were honouring "hope" or "achievement". It could legitimately be the latter for Obama's successful presidential campaign did pull America back from the path of militant adventurism, and to that extent it has contributed to peace. It might however be the former as the Obama presidency cannot take credit for any tangible "peace" achievement. If indeed it is the former then some one might wish to test the Nobel Committee's definition of "hope" by proposing the Indian electorate for next year's award.


• I spent Diwali with my father in Udaipur. It was a celebration no different in essence from the way millions of other families brought in the New Year. There were diyas, pujas and the house was filled with the sounds of ritual and tradition. Across the gate of the house however, I heard a very different noise. It was the cacophony of modernity — the clamour of shopkeepers and shoppers; the din of traffic; the tumult of restaurants, internet cafes and chaotic consumerism. Sitting in the verandah of our old house, I wondered at the consequence of the interplay of two worlds — one rooted in tradition and moulded by the prismatic heterogeneity of our diverse traditions and multiple identities and the other driven by the monochromatic homogeneity of the forces of globalisation and technology. I wondered how these two worlds could coexist. It seemed to me there was a fundamental disjunct between them. Those who sought material fulfillment in today's competitive world would perforce have to leave behind their local identities. And yet this was precisely what people did not want to do. They wanted somehow to live within the circles of economic well-being and growth and those of family, roots, culture and tradition. The thought ran through my mind that the essential challenge of sustainable development was to find a way of balancing the quadruple demands of economic growth, social justice, environmental protection and local identity. And that if even one of these planks of development were out of synch with the others, progress would be qualitatively and directionally compromised. Whenever I am within the four walls of our old home I feel comforted by the sense of belonging and identity that it imparts. Whenever I leave it I am alarmed and impressed at the freneticism of aspiration. I wonder then how the interplay of these two worlds will shape the future.


• Are we back to the future? Barely 12 months ago the global economy was reeling. There was worldwide concern of another great depression. Today however most people see green shoots of recovery.


I wonder: what has fundamentally changed over the past year? Have the banks cleansed their balance sheets of toxicity; have consumers fully deleveraged their debt; are the financial imbalances between creditor (China) and debtor (the US) headed towards correction; is growth creating new jobs, etc. I am no expert but from all that I have read I do not think the underlying triggers of last year's crisis have been sustainably defused. I know that the massive injection of liquidity by governments has pulled the world economy back from the brink but I remain unconvinced that it has pushed them onto a pathway that does not allow for a retracing of steps. Greenpan's phrase "irrational exuberence" has, alas, crept back into my mind.


The writer is chairman, Shell Group of Companies in India. Views expressed are personal








She is helping American undergrads analyse English poetry, critique literary essays and write book reviews. They find it hilarious that they are learning the language from a tutor half a world away, in India.


At 2.30 each morning six days a week, Vijaya Kumar logs into the digital whiteboard of the Bangalore-based outsourcing firm TutorVista to begin her lessons.


Remote tutoring of American students in math, English and science is a trend nearly as old as outsourcing itself. But the latest twist to that story is that tutors like Vijaya Kumar are working out of the comfort of their own homes and that practice is poised to scale. Kumar, for instance, does not have to dress up or commute to work. She just fires up the computer in the cozy confines of her residence in Lucknow's Gautam Buddh Marg and she is ready to go.


That small mutation could potentially open up a world of employment opportunities to qualified Indians who are homebound by choice or by circumstance. It has become a career lifeline to those stuck in India's small towns where job options are limited. Already, TutorVista's tutors based in Faridkot (Punjab), Barmer (Rajasthan), Kohima (Nagaland), Kasargod (Kerala) and Anakapalli (Andhra Pradesh) are coaching American students from kindergarten to college. "Technology is making communication from small town-India to anywhere-United States seamless," says Krishnan Ganesh, CEO and founder of TutorVista.


Ganesh says TutorVista is India's largest remote employer. The company currently employs 1,500 tutors, and only half are in India's eight largest cities. Other tutors are scattered across 120 locations — towns and even villages — across India. Many of them are not teachers by profession. Subject knowledge, a degree, a computer and a broadband internet connection are the only pre-requisites.


Among the tutors are people who do not want or cannot get a full-time job.There are women taking a career break, stay-at-home moms, retired people and even fresh engineering graduates. There are physically disabled tutors, women with very small children and those confined to the house by illness.


TutorVista takes a few weeks to provide online training to the freshly-recruited tutors, helping them get comfortable with the whiteboard and digital pen, the subjects and the transition to international teaching methods. Voice and accent training is rarely necessary as the teaching is mainly through web chat and writing on the whiteboard.


The eminently qualified Vijaya Kumar, who has Masters degrees in both English and education and has taught in international schools in Dubai and China, says tutor outsourcing has been a boon in her life. "Choices are limited in Lucknow," says Kumar whose students call her "Y- jaa-ya" or 'Ms Koo-mar'. Kumar spends her days caring for her sick mother and her aged father. She spends her nights helping upgrade her students' college grades and earns a regular income of around 15,000 rupees for four to five hours of work daily.


Now, the economic downturn is dramatically pushing up the demand for tutors from India.


"Education has become America's safety anchor in these brutal times," says Ganesh. Recession has created a blistering demand in the United States for Tutorvista's "cheap, personalised and private" tutoring model where each student pays $99 (under 5,000 rupees) a month for unlimited coaching.

To meet the spurting demand, TutorVista's tutor operations head Rama Harinath is on a "manic hiring spree". Harinath is tapping India's remotest corners to recruit and train another 1,500 teachers, doubling the company's tutor count. He has to make it all happen in the next eight weeks, in time for the spring academic session in American schools.


So, in the next few weeks hundreds of fresh recruits from India's cities and remote towns who have never before spoken to a foreigner will learn to use words like "awesome" and "terrific" instead of "correct" and "good". They will illustrate examples with pizza and doughnuts instead of cows and mangoes.


Who could have imagined a few years ago that an American teenager could say "Dude" and "Cool!" to a Sukanya peddamma from Nalgonda or a Ramakrishna mama from Dindigul.







What a difference twenty-five years makes. A quarter of a century ago, the television screen (black and white) was frozen in time. For three days, Doordarshan, the sole channel then, remained stationed at Teen Murti Bhavan where Indira Gandhi's body lay in state. The shehnai mourned in the background, while dignitaries and the public filed past.


Finally, on November 3, the coverage moved out with Mrs Gandhi's funeral cortege to the cremation ground. Close your eyes and still vividly see Rajiv Gandhi standing amidst the smoke and flames of the lit pyre, his eyes inscrutable, his features numb.Those two images — Mrs. Gandhi's body lying in state and Rajiv Gandhi standing by her funeral pyre — perhaps helped shape our responses to both individuals at the time. Mrs Gandhi laid so low, so tragically, filled you with sadness, distracted you from the violence of the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi which Doordarshan, to its shame, did not show; Rajiv Gandhi, handsome but stoic in his personal loss made one's heart go out to him. Could we have voted for anyone else in that landslide Congress victory of December 1984?


On October 31, 1984, DD was the last one to give us the news of Mrs Gandhi's death. That was typical and expected: nobody turned to TV for the latest news, then; it was radio and BBC that told us what happened in our own backyard. Think it was Salma Sultan who first announced it on DD's evening news, more than 10 hours after she was shot.


Had it been today, within minutes, seconds of the assassination, it would have on the air and online. All the news channels would have rushed to the scene of the crime, the hospital, Congress HQ. The tragedy, the number of assailants, the bullets shot would have differed, varied in the telling: one channel would have categorically stated Mrs Gandhi was dead on the spot, another that she was alive but died on the way to the hospital and a third that she was seen alive at the hospital (maybe even heard speaking?). Ditto for the assassins. Peter Ustinov, there to interview Mrs Gandhi, would have given on-the-spot interviews with the first visuals of events immediately before and after the shooting. R.K. Dhawan and everyone else present would have been hounded until they delivered soundbytes. What Mrs Gandhi said as she fell, would have ranged from what she actually said to perhaps what Mahatma Gandhi said. We would have been inundated by speculation, speculation as facts and voices, voices, voices. Delhi police would say one thing, the doctors a second, the attendants at Casualty/Emergency a third, bystanders a fourth and anybody within a kilometres radius of AIIMS or Safdarjang Road what they saw or didn't see (how did it matter as long as you were seen and heard?). Meanwhile, the government spokesperson would have confirmed nothing beyond saying Mrs Gandhi has been shot at and her assailants apprehended.


The highlight of the coverage, undoubtedly, would have been graphic reconstructions of the assassination (News 24 and IBN-Live reconstructed Mrs Gandhi being shot on Saturday) and Mrs Gandhi's riddled body (remember graphics of Pramod Mahajan after he was shot?).


Some Hindi news channels would have consulted the soothsayers on Mrs Gandhi's prophetic speech the day before on the possibility of her death and we would have been out on the streets of Delhi for reactions.


At some stage, the top TV anchors would have gained entry to AIIMS or Mrs Gandhi's residence: "Blood, blood, everywhere..." By evening, it would have been Discussion Time India, obituaries, Sikh militancy, and of course Mrs Gandhi.

In sum, we would have had the kind of chaotic coverage we have every time there is a violent event — most recently, Y.S Rajasekhara Reddy's accidental death.


But one thing is for sure: the violence in Delhi that followed Mrs Gandhi's assassination would have been on the air, possibly live (remember Gujarat after Godhra) and everyone would have seen what happens when a mighty tree falls. Impossible to say whether this would have curtailed or aggravated the situation. Either way, the non-coverage of the riots 25 years earlier is still a blot on Doordarshan's screen image.







Two new corruption cases from Jharkhand exemplify how India's mineral riches are being mishandled even as their demand—both global and domestic—is booming. While the Enforcement Directorate and the Income Tax department conducted countrywide raids on independent MP and former CM Madhu Koda's premises, the Serious Fraud Investigation Office began an inquiry into irregularities at Sesa Goa—India's biggest iron ore exporter. While Koda stands accused—among other things—of accepting bribes to award mining leases, Sesa Goa is being investigated for financial irregularities—reportedly including "over-invoicing" and "under-invoicing". As one of our columnists today points out on the next page, one implication of all this is that, given India's economic growth is contingent upon the growth of its steel industry, market distortions are a growth dampener. It's not just Jharkhand; corruption reports are coming in from across the country. Orissa has been recently rocked by the case of Ram Bahadur Thakur Ltd illegally excavating Rs 120 crore of manganese ore. Even in the Karnataka judge PD Dinakaran's disproportionate assets case, one accusation is that he manipulated cases of illegal mining. The obvious, shared cause of such an array of malpractices is a moribund mining policy, which just hasn't kept up with market-led development. And the producers who climb mineral mountains on political crutches are apt to continue being dodgy in other ways.


So, this winter session, there is much being expected of the Bill to replace the Mines and Minerals Development Regulation Act, 1957. For example, while a coal ministry screening committee currently allots coal blocks for captive use, the new Act is expected to replace this process with transparent, competitive bidding. This should be good both for government coffers and consuming industries, helping them meet their production targets more efficiently. It's also expected that the new legislation will cut down the time and procedures involved in getting new mining leases, which should, in turn, unlock greater private and overseas investment. The ambition is to double mining's contribution to the economy to at least 4%, in five years. Of course, there is an elephant in the room. The Maoists have, after all, stalled investments that have already been announced, including big ticket ones from ArcelorMittal and Posco. As per the steel ministry, $82 billion worth of projects are being held up by land acquisition and environmental clearance delays. And as this year's many attacks on Essar Steel, Nalco and other industry players' resources show, this dispute can cripple advances made on all other fronts. For now, unfortunately, the government seems far from resolving the overlap of Maoist and mineral corridors.







RBI has now made it amply clear that it is more worried about inflation than growth in the months ahead. As we have argued repeatedly in these columns, this is an unfortunate shift in the discussion on interest rates. Growth remains too fragile to even signal an imminent hike in rates, something RBI has already done, well in advance of most other G-20 central banks. But since RBI has insisted on shifting the debate to inflation, let us look at inflation more closely. There are plenty of problems with all the currently used indicators of inflation in India—WPI and four CPIs—and they certainly need to be revised if they are to be used as reliable guides to set monetary policy. Leaving aside those methodological issues, a few things are clear about inflation, as we are experiencing it now. There is definitely a problematic situation in food prices, which have risen sharply over the last few months. But the problem has its roots on the supply side—bad monsoon, among other factors, had led to shortages. And the government hasn't been quick enough with allowing imports to make up for those shortages. And as the global economy revives, there may yet be more real and speculative pressure on food prices. Unfortunately, interest rates are not the best way to tackle this problem. By squeezing demand sufficiently, a hike may eventually force the prices of food down, but not without taking a toll on growth.


The other area of concern for RBI is the reported rise in the prices of real estate. Again, the cause may not be RBI's monetary policy. It almost certainly isn't. This is a bubble, generated by among other things, the huge bubble in the stock market, which in turn is being fuelled by foreign institutional investors flush with funds. RBI, in its recent credit policy review, increased the risk weightage assigned to real estate lending. This may be a good short-term move to specifically curb any bubble in real estate. It is certainly better than hiking interest rates for the entire economy. Still, it seems inevitable given the signals coming out of RBI that interest rates in general will be hiked soon enough. This will unfortunately not address the specific concerns on inflation that RBI has. RBI should instead focus more closely on growth in credit offtake, which is still sluggish compared to last year. RBI needs to be concerned if inflation is being driven by excess demand. At the moment, there is scant evidence to support this view.







Almost all economic indicators from everywhere in the world suggest that we have exited the worst period of the crisis that began with the collapse of Lehman in 2008. This relatively quick comeback by historical standards—the Great Depression lasted nearly a decade—is in no small part the result of some very aggressive fiscal and monetary stimulus action taken by the governments of all leading economies. Keynes, it seems, was right after all.


But, and here's a word of caution for diehard Keynesians, like many other powerful medicines, fiscal and monetary stimuli have important, visible and perhaps harmful side effects. Cheap and abundant money, made available by close to zero interest rates in the leading developed economies, has played a crucial role in revitalising the financial sector and sections of the real sector. However, because finance picks up faster than the real economy, there will be a period when there is more liquidity floating around than the real economy can productively absorb. That's when it goes into creating bubbles in stock markets and real estate.


There is some evidence of this already with major stock markets recovering to near pre-crisis levels without the fundamentals in the real economy warranting such a comeback. In India, the Sensex has risen some 100% over the last eight months even while the real economy continues to stutter—few firms are reporting significant improvements in their topline (improved profits are largely the result of cost-cut bottomlines)—which would be the true indicator of a recovery in demand. Similarly, real estate, particularly in emerging markets like China and India, is witnessing a sharp revival, again to near pre-crisis levels, even though the underlying demand conditions don't justify this upward correction.


Ironically enough, just as the US Fed's cheap money policy, in a highly deregulated financial sector framework, over the 'golden' Greenspan years led to the subprime bubble and the crisis thereafter, the medicine for correcting the worst effects of that very crisis may be now fuelling another tricky bubble.


One part of the solution to the problem of bubbles is unfortunately still in the making and not ready for use. The G-20 may have started the process of devising new regulations, including newer capital adequacy norms for financial institutions, but the work is far from complete. Remember Basel II took some 12 years to negotiate. Even if the new regulations (call them Basel III) are agreed on quickly, an agreement will take longer than a year, largely because there are so many differences of opinion. In the interim, however, financial institutions are back to playing the old high leverage-high risk-high returns model slush as they are with what is money for free. Surely, if there is one lesson from the crisis that we have just about seen away, it is that finance could not possibly be allowed to continue with business as usual.


The other part of the solution, which is readily available, is the option of withdrawing the plentiful and cheap money floating around in the system. This would require central banks to begin hiking interest rates. Unfortunately, any exit strategy cannot be based simply on asset price inflation—growth must be factored in as well. And at the moment, it is far from obvious that growth anywhere in the world is robust enough to sustain itself if there is a tightening of interest rates. Sure, a significant tightening will eventually bust the stock market and real estate bubble but it will choke the real economy with it, too. It's like using a powerful bomb to kill three terrorists in a heavily populated area. It will meet the stated objective, but at what cost?


It is admittedly a difficult situation for policy makers, globally. There is a problem building up—bubbles in stock markets and real estate—and the world cannot afford another spectacular bust—we know how grave the consequences can be. The appropriate medicine is coordinated global regulation (Basel III)—get those who peddle the cheap money to adhere to strict risk-reducing norms on their capital adequacy, and on their trading books. But the medicine is still in preparation. Hiking interest rates—the other rather old fashioned medicine—so soon will extract a heavy price. In any case the US Fed, the most important player in the global policy game, seems determined to keep money cheap in the near future.


RBI must think about all of this as it gets ready to harden monetary policy perhaps as soon as in January. We may indeed have a stock market and real estate bubble in India already. And food price inflation is very high. But none of these is the result of excess demand in the local economy. Credit offtake, the real indicator of underlying demand conditions, is still sluggish.


Stock markets are being pumped with abundant dollar liquidity from abroad and the massive returns are then going to real estate. Food price inflation, at this moment, is a supply side phenomenon. That will be reinforced by a rise in global commodity prices because excess dollar liquidity is being used to buy into the commodities market, too. However, tightening monetary policy will not solve the problem of food inflation, or real estate prices or inflated stock markets. It will simply choke the real economy. The Reddy experiment in the summer of 2008 proved that beyond doubt.


In fact, as long as asset price or commodity inflation is driven by the abundance of cheap dollars in the global economy, RBI's monetary policy stance can't control it—the rupee was never cheap enough to fuel significant speculation in the local economy. Ironically, hiking rates will attract even more dollars, fuelling the bubbles, and complicate RBI's exchange rate management. If RBI really wants to prevent a dollar fuelled party in India, it must be bold enough to start thinking about forms of capital controls—like Brazil has. At least until appropriate global regulation is agreed upon. Any other action is a red herringthat will bite.







After a gap of almost two years, India has again started importing foodgrains and this time it is rice, the trigger for which came from the worst monsoon in decades that pulled down paddy acreage by almost 60 lakh hectares and could bring down the total rice output by 10 million tonne to 15 million tonne.The annual rice procurement, through which the government builds its buffer stocks to run PDS and other welfare schemes, has improved slightly after getting off to a slow start. Till last week, state agencies have managed to procure around 77 lakh tonne of paddy, which is 2% higher than last year.


But, given the uncertainty surrounding rice procurement this year because of fears that Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh might contribute very little to the central kitty, the decision to import almost 30,000 tonnes of rice by December, looks quite apt and prudent. The decision also conveys a strong signal to the world grain markets that though India could import rice this year, it won't come in a haste and there won't be any huge tenders, like the one when wheat was imported a couple of years back.


Experts also believe that India's decision to import rice so early in the procurement season affirms the government's commitment to prevent any speculative buildup of prices, and sends a strong signal to private traders and millers that any abnormal jacking up of price by taking advantage of the shortage situation will be firmly dealt with, either through the huge buffer stock or else through imports.


India's rice buffer stock as on October 1, 2009, was estimated to be around 14.5 million tonne, against a buffer requirement of 5.2 million tonne. The trigger for imports could also have come from reports that Philippines, the world's largest rice importer, has lost around 1 million tonnes of the crop in the recent typhoons and floods, as against the earlier estimate of around 800,000 tonne.


Whatever the actual reason be behind clearing the imports, the idea seems right and the timing looks absolutely perfect. The only thing that could go against the imports is pricing. But, at the same time, if the imports are meant to build a reserve for future or to keep domestic prices under check, then bearing a slight financial burden seems reasonable.







President Obama has been awarded the Nobel Prize not for what he has achieved, but for what it is hoped he will achieve. His election has ended Bush's Imperial Presidency and this has engendered the hope that America will once again work within the framework of multilateralism based on respect for national sovereignty. It remains to be seen, of course, whether these hopes will be realised. The initial signals are not hopeful and paradoxically Obama's greatest foreign policy challenge today pivots around the question whether to send more troops into Afghanistan or not.


The thought that has crossed my mind is that if hope-more-so-than-achievement has become the barometer for selecting Nobel Peace Prize winners, then the Indian electorate (and the Indian electoral commission) should be nominated. There are after all few more powerful beacons of hope for the millions of disenfranchised around the world than the sight of poor, presumably illiterate Indians queued up outside polling booths waiting to cast their votes for candidates that have time and again disappointed them.


The justification for the nomination should not be the affirmation of the democratic spirit that such a sight conveys, but the hope that the resolve of the Indian voter to exercise their inalienable right to choose generates to those still bound by the shackles of authoritanism. The nomination should include the electoral commission because notwithstanding the malevolent influence of muscle and money power, it has ensured a free and fair vote.


I cannot discern from the statement issued by the Nobel Committee to explain the Obama award whether they were honouring 'hope' or 'achievement'. It could legitimately be the latter because Obama's successful Presidential campaign did pull America back from the path of militancy adventurism and to that extent it has contributed to peace. It might however be the former as the Obama Presidency cannot take credit for any tangible 'peace' achievement. If indeed it is the former, then someone might wish to test the Nobel Committee's definition of 'hope' by proposing the Indian electorate for next year's award.


I spent Diwali with my father in Udaipur. It was a celebration no different in essence from the way millions of other families brought in the New Year. There were diyas, pujas and the house was filled with the sounds of ritual and tradition. Across the gate of the house, however, I heard a very different noise. It was the cacophony of modernity—the clamour of shopkeepers and shoppers; the din of traffic; the tumult of restaurants' Internet cafes and chaotic consumerism. Sitting in the verandah of our old house, I wondered at the consequence of the interplay of two worlds—one rooted in tradition and moulded by the prismatic heterogeneity of our diverse traditions and multiple identities, and the other driven by the monochromatic homogeneity of the forces of globalisation and technology. I wondered how these two worlds could coexist. It seemed to me there was a fundamental disjunct between them. Those who sought material fulfillment in today's competitive world would perforce have to leave behind their local identities. And yet this was precisely what people did not want to do. They wanted, somehow, to live within the circles of economic well-being and growth, and those of family, roots, culture and tradition. The thought ran through my mind that the essential challenge of sustainable development was to find a way of balancing the quadruple demands of economic growth, social justice, environmental protection and local identity. And that if even one of these planks of development were out of sync with the others, progress would be qualitatively and directionally compromised. Whenever I am within the four walls of our old home, I feel comforted by the sense of belonging and identity that it imparts. Whenever I leave it I am alarmed and impressed at the freneticism of aspiration. I wonder then how the interplay of these two worlds will shape the future.

Are we back to the future? Barely 12 months ago the global economy was reeling. There was worldwide concern of another Great Depression. Today, however, most people see green shoots of recovery.


I wonder: what has fundamentally changed over the past year? Have the banks cleansed their balance sheets of toxicity; have consumers fully deleveraged their debt; are the financial imbalances between (creditor) China and (debtor) US headed towards correction; is growth creating new jobs etc? I am no expert but from all that I have read, I do not think the underlying triggers of last year's crisis have been sustainably defused. I know that the massive injection of liquidity by governments has pulled the world economy back from the brink but I remain unconvinced that it has pushed them onto a pathway that does not allow for retracing of steps. Greenspan's phrase "Irrational exuberence" has, alas, crept back into my mind.


The author is chairman of Shell Group of Companies in India. These are his personal views






This paper* draws from a review of the literature on the concepts of sustainability and organisational culture in the current context of economic turmoil:


Sustainability is an issue of escalating importance as a result of structural changes of organisations that are consolidating, downsizing, merging and outsourcing, as well as due to the increasing complexity and unpredictability of the external environment. Understanding, assessing and managing organisational culture can help create both stability and adaptability for organisations, thus helping supportive integration of the sustainability strategy into appropriate organisational behaviour. The findings suggest that organisational culture moderated by leadership and trust plays an important role in sustainability of organisations. A model is thereby proposed depicting the role of organisational culture, leadership and trust towards sustainability of a firm. It is also suggested that organisations can be visualised as manifestations of cultures and future organisations need to integrate sustainability with their organisational culture in order to be prepared for the uncertain socioeconomic times. Sustainability is rooted in something deeper, something beyond superficial explanationand is difficult to be explained by terms like capabilities, competence building, competence leveraging, decision making, closing strategy gaps between the perceived and the desired states of any of the firm's elements.


Indu Rao, Implications of Global Crisis: Integrate Sustainability with Organizational Culture, WP No 2009-10-03, October 2009, IIM Ahmedabad








The Indian financial system in general and banks in particular have acquitted themselves creditably in the face of the serious global crisis. The reasons why the domestic financial institutions have remained robust and resilient when many of the world's top banks and institutions collapsed and had to be rescued with public money are fairly well known by now. The Reserve Bank of India's report on trend and progress of banking for 2008-09 provides an incisive ana lysis of the developments that made last year a valuable learning period for the banks and regulators everywhere. The exposure of Indian banks to the toxic assets was minimal. More importantly, the RBI's counter-cyclical prudential measures, during both the credit boom and the downturn, have played a significant role in minimising the deleterious consequences of the crisis. The second point, not fully appreciated initially, has since been given its due in policy discussions even at the global level. The initiatives taken by the RBI were mainly aimed at strengthening the banking system and financial markets while ensuring uninterrupted flow of credit to different sectors of the economy. The monetary policy shifted its focus from monetary tightening during the first half of 2008-09 to "aggressive easing" in the second half, using both conventional and unconventional tools.


If Indian banks and their regulators can take credit for coping well with the crisis, the outlook for the global banking sector remains weak on both sides of the Atlantic over the medium- and long-term, despite the critical rescue programmes. Although the financial regulatory system in the U.S. was shown up as a major lacuna during the crisis, no comprehensive overhaul has taken place. As the global economy improves by next year, the level of complacency might increase. There is an urgent need for achieving a greater degree of coordination in regulatory policies across the world. Almost all the factors that were behind the crisis have global implications. For instance, financial innovation and integration have increased the speed and extent to which shocks are transmitted across asset classes and countries, blurring the distinction between banks and other institutions. The nascent stage of development of the credit derivatives market in India and the perseverance of prudential policy that discourages excessive risk taking are some of the factors that helped banks and markets insulate themselves. Obviously, these policies will have to be reviewed in order to reinforce financial stability, financial sector governance, and risk management practices.







Occupied Iraq's approach to the French nuclear industry for help with the reconstruction of at least one of its reactors, and its opening of discussions with the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA), reveal the inconsistencies in western attitudes to the region. Iraq used to have three nuclear facilities, all purportedly for research, although Saddam's scientists were reportedly ordered to replicate the French uranium enrichment process. All three Iraqi nuclear facilities were destroyed between 1982 and 1991, one by Israeli bombing and the others by U.S. and British bombing in the first Gulf War. Now, with an infrastructure devastated by U.S.-led troops during the 2003 invasion, and a clear need for reliable energy sources, Iraq is attempting to revive its nuclear programme. The political environment for this, however, is complex and uncertain. The U.N. Security Council Resolution 707, adopted in 1991, prohibits Iraq from nuclear activities of any kind, except for the use of isotopes for medical, agricultural, or industrial purposes, until the Security Council deems that Iraq has fulfilled the conditions of Resolution 687. That resolution forbids Iraq from acquiring any equipment or materials related to nuclear weapons, and gives the IAEA comprehensive supervisory powers over the country's nuclear activities. Moreover, given the overall security situation underlined by the October 25 suicide bombing in Baghdad, Iraq's capacity to render nuclear facilities safe is in doubt. One of its sites was looted after the invasion in 2003.


The recent Iraqi moves have provoked remarkably little reaction in the western world, which is intensely suspicious of anything neighbouring Iran says or does in nuclear-related matters. Even the potentially constructive draft deal reached in Vienna on October 21 has been received with much caution. If the draft is finalised, Iran will ship 1,200 kg of low-enriched uranium (LEU), amounting to 75 per cent of its enriched uranium stocks, to Russia to be turned into fuel suitable only for use in civilian reactors. U.N. inspectors also carried out their first inspection at Qom on October 25, at a site voluntarily disclosed by Tehran. Many western analysts, however, continue to be pessimistic, saying Iran can produce another 1,200 kg of LEU in a year, that the deal does not stop the country from enriching uranium, and that it is not known how much LEU Iran actually has. Such negativity could well jeopardise the deal, and it reveals the west's continuing double standards over Iran and Iraq.









Alcohol consumption is a significant contributor to the burden of disease in India and is a major public health concern.


Alcohol production and use: The recent social and economic changes in the country are paralleled by a steady increase in the production and use of alcohol manufactured by the organized sector. Nevertheless, a large proportion of the alcohol produced in India is illicit and is a cottage industry outside governmental control. Non-commercial alcohol includes traditional beverages brewed using local farm produce and illicit alcohol, produced by adding chemicals or spiked with pharmaceutical medication. The low cost illicit alcohol makes it an attractive option for the poorer sections. The lack of regulation and quality control leads to mortality and blindness due to methanol poisoning, in addition to physical morbidity due to harmful use.


The pattern of consumption in India has changed from occasional and ritualistic use to social drinking and has become an acceptable leisure activity. A recent study from Bangalore reported that one in four adult males consume alcohol. Hazardous drinking is recorded in people with a range of educational and socio-economic backgrounds. While drinking is portrayed as a consequence of poverty, it is also associated with relative affluence. The patterns of drinking are changing rapidly with major changes in economic policies and growing consumerism in the country.


Health outcomes: Injuries, suicides and many chronic diseases result from harmful use of alcohol. Harmful use also contributes to road traffic injuries and fatalities, occupational problems, domestic violence, marital and social difficulties, including financial debt. Harmful use results in loss of productivity, income and trained manpower. The effects of alcohol aggravate those of poverty.


Income and economics: On the other hand, the production and sale of alcohol results in substantial taxes and is a major source of revenue for governments. Duties on alcohol constitutes nearly a fourth of the budget of some states, making it a seemingly attractive option to promote. The industry also provides jobs and large amounts to non-taxed income (black money).


Politics and policies: Many election campaigns of political parties often include promises to restrict access to alcohol, a vote-winner among women. However, governments rarely implement these promises as a complete ban has a major impact on revenue. High taxation strategies and high cost of alcohol result in increases in moonshine markets with their lack of regulation, poor quality and dangers of methanol poisoning, in addition to loss of revenue to the exchequer. Cheap alcohol and low taxes, on the other hand, while reducing the demand and supply of illicit alcohol, increase the consumption of alcohol from the organised sector and are associated with increased health risks. The complete ban on the production and sale of alcohol (for example, prohibition in Gujarat), while reducing total consumption, does not imply that alcohol is not available in the region. The rich and the powerful have easy access while the poor rely on a thriving illicit industry with its associated criminal activity and deaths due to methanol poisoning. Other countries, which have employed prohibition as a strategy, have changed their approach; such enforcement does not actually work on the ground.


The alcohol industry and its sophisticated advertising campaigns project successful lifestyles and aim to recruit untapped segments of society. While the alcohol industry is a legitimate operation, the availability of alcohol with minimal checks results in significant health consequences to individuals at risk. The media and mass education campaigns, with their limited budgets, are no match for industry-sponsored advertising and promotion.


Laws and enforcement: There are many laws in the statute books related to alcohol. However, many regulations including those related to drink-driving are observed more in the breach. The strict enforcement of drink-driving laws in the west is a major reason for responsible drinking and for responsible driving and thus argues for the need for similar implementation in India. Similarly, the enforcement of rules, rather than the current permissiveness linked to work-related accidents and absenteeism secondary to alcohol use, will reduce the loss of productivity and manage alcohol-related problems at an early and reversible stage.


Identification and treatment: While psychiatric treatment and rehabilitation do help individuals to quit the habit, the delay in referral often results in individuals seeking help at the end-stages of the problem when family, social and financial supports are low, and the motivation to quit is limited. Early identification of problem drinking at the workplace and by general physicians will pay greater dividends in breaking the cycle of poor choices.


Cost: The only systematic study from India on the expenditure related to alcohol, employing conservative costs, estimated that more money is spent every year to manage the direct and indirect consequences of alcohol use (including health care costs, absenteeism, loss of productivity, premature deaths, loss of trained manpower) than gained in terms of taxes from the sale of alcohol. While revenue from alcohol appears to help in social and economic development in the short term, it clearly results in huge costs in the medium and long-term. The government's failure to include the true costs, its shifting of responsibility for problems on to individuals and its sole focus on revenue generated allows it to continue with permissive policies without the necessary enforcement of regulations.


Public health perspectives: To view alcohol-related problems as a personal issue is to fail to understand the complex dynamics related to alcohol policies and their impact on individual health. Population and public health interventions have a greater impact on alcohol-related morbidity and mortality than individual therapy. While holding individuals responsible for their lifestyle choices is crucial, the government cannot abdicate its responsibility and fail to use public health approaches, which have a greater impact on the population rates of use and consequences of excess alcohol consumption. The enforcement of laws related to alcohol (for example, drinking and driving and monitoring alcohol intoxication at work) will have a major impact on alcohol consumption and on individual health. In addition, personnel and legal departments at the workplace need to implement rules and labour courts should support their enforcement.


Policies aimed at reducing alcohol-associated morbidity must cover both commercial and non-commercial alcohol. India should review policies and support legislation that promote health, prevent harm and address the many social problems associated with the use of alcohol. These should include a broad range of policies and approaches including those related to licensing, taxation, restrictions on availability and purchasing, education and media information campaigns, advertising and sponsorship, laws on drink driving and alcohol-related offences and those related to treatment and rehabilitation. Serious attempts should be made at achieving a balance between economic and political issues related to alcohol and the public health values of demand and harm reduction. The current ad-hoc planning should change to one with long-term inter-sectoral perspectives and policies. Health perspectives demand increased advocacy to implement public health approaches to reduce alcohol consumption. There is a need to balance regulation by governments, industry and individuals. This calls for a community-based participatory approach to deal with alcohol misuse and problem drinking while conserving its economic benefits, avoiding penalizing the majority who drink sensibly, and preventing deaths and crime due to illegal bootlegging.


Extreme policies of prohibition and the current permissive strategies are both counter-productive. There is a need for a nuanced approach integrating both the regulation of alcohol production and sale on one hand while rigorously enforcing public health regulations on the other. The goal of sustainable and effective alcohol policy can only be achieved by coordinated action by multiple stakeholders. The current divergent frameworks employed result in confusion and inaction. Multiple agencies including the Ministries of Law, Industry, Agriculture, Revenue, Health, Home, Customs and Enforcement, non-governmental organisations, and medical associations should be involved. While complete prohibition has been shown to be a failure, the current permissiveness without the enforcement of regulations also represents a lack of responsibility from a public health perspective. Indian society and governments need to take a longer term view of issues and plan a coordinated and comprehensive approach.


(K.S. Jacob is Professor of Psychiatry at the Christian Medical College, Vellore.)









Money and muscle have become part of the Indian political landscape — the growing number of multicrore-patis in Parliament and State legislatures are witness to this as are the increasing number of politicians who have had more than a brush with the law.


The amount of money spent by political parties for fighting elections has been going up steadily. If it was about a crore for a parliamentary seat a decade ago, this sum is not enough today even for contesting in an Assembly segment. And across the political spectrum from right to left, politicians agree that the situation has simply got out of hand in the southern States of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, with Tamil Nadu following at a safe distance.


When the last Assembly elections took place in Karnataka, a senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader said: "I have helped the party contest many state elections in the north as well as the south, but in Karnataka the scene was entirely different. I did not see so much cash flow as I have seen in the last few weeks." This impression is confirmed by senior leaders in the rival Congress who openly admit that in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka the amount of money needed to fight an election is simply obscene.


The genesis of the BJP's problems in Karnataka lies in money minefields — in the iron-ore rich belt around Bellary adjoining Andhra Pradesh. The story is that the Reddy brothers, G. Janardhana and G. Karunakara, apparently generously deployed their assets in the run-up to the last Assembly election. They have also been faultless about contributions to the party coffers, senior leaders admitted.


It is well understood in politics that there are no free lunches. But it seems that the recent problem arose because Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa tried to cut into the Bellary mining cake of the Reddy brothers by deploying Rural Development Minister Shobha Karandlaje, known to be close to him, to do this job. To add insult to injury "as many as 18 district officials in and around Bellary" were recently shuffled and replaced, said a senior functionary in the central BJP office.


That was the signal for revolt. The powerful Reddy brothers were up in arms against the Chief Minister and demanded his replacement. After all, money talks, and they were in a position to get support. They started working on Operation Topple Yeddyurappa.


The BJP is no exception to the general rule in national parties that wherever the party has a Chief Minister there is also a dissident faction that would like to see him or her toppled. The current perception about the BJP is that its central command structure is weak: party president Rajnath Singh's tenure is about to come to an end and so is the innings of Leader of the Opposition L.K. Advani. The party's crisis in Rajasthan lingered on for weeks precisely because of this. Now the Reddys and other disgruntled Karnataka legislators may have thought that this is the best time to strike. Also, Ananth Kumar, senior national general secretary, never an admirer of Mr. Yeddyurappa, has reportedly been fanning the flames of discontent, although officially the party has denied that he is encouraging the Reddys.


Where the Bellary brothers may have miscalculated is that despite their financial clout — or perhaps because of it — the Congress has refused to play ball with them. The BJP knows that without the Congress its government cannot easily be dislodged. The Congress' interests at this juncture seem to coincide with that of the BJP for any encouragement to the Reddy duo would have also encouraged Jaganmohan Reddy, powerful son of the late Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, who shares business interests with the two Bellary Reddys.


The BJP central command has calculated that it cannot afford to dislodge Mr. Yeddyurappa, who has emerged a powerful leader of the numerically strong Lingayat caste over the years. "Some years ago Mr. Yeddyurappa threatened to walk out of the party. He can do so again. If that happens, the BJP's hard-won base in Karnataka will be reduced considerably. The party cannot let that happen. Moreover, Mr. Yeddyurappa has strong support in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh," said a functionary. What will happen in the next few days it is hard to foretell, but the signals are that the central leadership will rally round Mr. Yeddyurappa and also get him to agree to roll back recent decisions not to the liking of the two Reddys. The Chief Minister will no doubt be advised to change his style of functioning. And he may take the hint. He will have to learn to live and let live. And the bottom line is that the problem is more about money and business than politics. This is no surprise as the dividing line between the two is getting finer with each passing day.









It wasn't really supposed to end up like this. When the Berlin Wall came crashing down 20 years ago, the cold war ended with triumph for the west. Instead of two superpowers, there was one. Instead of competing ideologies, there was capitalism, and a particularly brash form of capitalism at that.


The elder George Bush said the world should learn how to do things the American way. "We know what works," he said. "Free markets work."


The reach of the market grew longer for two decades, encompassing China and India as well as the former Soviet Union and its satellites. Rapid growth brought impressive poverty reduction in China and India; there are few Poles or Czechs who hanker after the days when Moscow pulled the strings.


But it was always inevitable that, sooner or later, globalisation would run into a crisis, and what we have seen in the past two years is just the start of it. Don't be fooled by the sucker's rally of the past six months — Americans are once again running down savings to consume goods they can't afford; China's exports are booming. The global imbalances are back. A combination of political change and technological revolution has always produced upheaval. That was true when the spinning jenny met the Enlightenment, and it was true when a second wave of inventions — cinema, electric light, the automobile, aircraft — coincided with a crumbling of the 19th century balance of power.


Digital technology and bioscience will drive the third industrial revolution, but these changes take place at a time when the spread of the market has vastly increased the reserve army of labour. America's hegemony is being threatened by the rise of China.


These, then, are combustible times. This crisis has been a long time in coming, and history suggests that the period of upheaval will be long and painful, just as it was between 1914 and 1945.


It didn't take long for the first cracks in the new global order to appear. The golden age lasted for barely half a decade - the period between the lifting of the iron curtain and the creation of the World Trade Organisation in 1994. Even during that half-decade there were signs of trouble, not least the impact of the shock treatment on the Russian economy in the early 1990s.


But it was the succession of financial crises that began on the periphery of the global economy and gradually worked their way towards the core that gave the lie to the notion that there would be a smooth and steady transition to market nirvana. The warnings from Mexico, Thailand and South Korea, from the collapse of the hedge fund Long Term Capital Management and from the dotcom bubble were ignored.



Policymakers found it easy to dismiss these flashpoints as teething troubles. Growth was strong and inflation was low. The early 1990s to the mid-2000s were what Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, once described as the NICE decade - the years of noninflationary continual expansion.


Debt, of course, was the key. The loss of bargaining and spending power of workers in the west was compensated by raging asset price booms which allowed consumers to borrow against the rising price of their homes.

This was not just true of developed economies such as the US and Britain. The annual transition report by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, released today (2NOV), says that large-scale capital inflows into eastern European countries had "contributed to credit booms and foreign currency lending. These, in turn, made the crisis deeper and complicated its management."


Just as in Britain and the US, the easy availability of credit meant excessive levels of debt when the global economy turned down and demanded concerted international action to prevent an Iceland-style banking meltdown.


Understandably, policymakers have been left bemused by the first systemic crisis of the global age. Up until 2007 they thought their job was to tinker with market economies; instead they face an existential challenge: where do we go from here?


Option one is the Schumpeterian one: this is an era of creative destruction, so we may as well grin and bear it. The problem of the financial system is that the market has not been allowed to function properly: badly run banks need to be allowed to fail so that good banks can thrive. The second option is business as usual, which, predictably enough, is the one favoured by the City of London — the British capital's financial district — and Wall Street. Given the size of their welfare cheques from the taxpayer, big finance can hardly demur at the prospect of tougher regulation, but it is lobbying hard against more radical change. There is plenty of talk of throwing the baby out with the bathwater and killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.


The British Conservatives are in this camp, not just because their leader, David Cameron, bizarrely thinks the crisis was caused by too much government rather than too little but because the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is actively lobbying on behalf of City hedge funds and private equity firms to block tougher European regulation.


Option three is business as usual plus extras. This recognises that there has been a systemic problem in the financial sector but sees the answer as tighter supervision, better surveillance of the global economy from the International Monetary Fund, changes to capital adequacy rules to ensure that banks can't lend as freely during booms, and new incentive structures for financiers that will favour long-term growth of the business over short-term speculative activity. This, no prizes for guessing, is where you would find Gordon Brown and Barack Obama.


But there is a motley band of discontents for whom business as usual, in whatever form, means that another crisis will erupt before too long. They argue that the exiguous nature of current reform proposals is explained by the institutional capture of governments by the investment banks, the world's most powerful lobbying groups.


King's ideas for splitting up the banks into retail and investment arms puts him in the option four group, as does Adair Turner's (chairman of the British Financial Services Authority) support for financial transaction taxes. Others would go further. A recent report by the United Nations Committee on Trade and Development (Unctad) urged a rethink of the "conventional wisdom that dismantling all obstacles to cross-border private capital flows is the best recipe for countries to advance their economic development." Those who support a green new deal — expansionary monetary and fiscal policies designed to boost renewable energy and support firms developing environmental technologies — say that quantitative easing should have been used to support sustainable, productive investment rather than to re-inflate asset prices. If the root cause of the financial crisis was the imbalances in the global economy prompted by the search for higher profits, real reform will require higher real wages in the west, so that consumers are less dependent on debt. That means a shift in the balance of power between labour and capital; it also means a rethink of the shareholder model of capitalism.


Finally, there are those who believe that any conventional reform is doomed because any growth-based model is at odds with the viability of the planet.


Where is the political centre of gravity now? Somewhere between option two and three. That represents not just a missed opportunity but a profound lack of judgment.


The seeds of the next crisis are being sown. Right here, right now. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009








Women's Islamic dress code has become one of the most contentious issues in the post-9/11 debate on Islam which, Muslims complain, has been conducted almost wholly on the assumption that women who wear "hijab" or "burqa" have been coerced into doing it and are victims of Muslim male oppression.


But how valid are these assumptions? Why is there such reluctance to acknowledge that these women may, indeed, be acting on their own free will, as they claim, and using "hijab" to make a political statement? Are we betraying our own ignorance and prejudices by falling for conspiracy theories? After all, there is a history of women's protest movements using dress as a political symbol?


These are some of the questions that Atiha Sen Gupta, a young feminist British-born Asian playwright, explores in her debut play What Fatima Did about a feisty teenaged schoolgirl who suddenly starts wearing "hijab," gives up partying, shuns her white boyfriend, and when in a fit of anger he rips off her "hijab" she reports him for racism.


To her schoolmates and family, Fatima is transformed into a stranger. She is no longer the fun-loving, pub-hopping Fatima they knew. They are puzzled. Why did Fatima do this? And it is not just her non-Muslim friends who are bewildered. Equally upset is Aisha, a fellow-Muslim classmate and a close friend, who sees the "hijab" as a "blood-stained" symbol of women's oppression.


But even more angry is Fatima's mother, Rukhsana, who rebelled against her own husband for her right to wear western dress. To her the "hijab" represents the betrayal of the values she fought for.


"She looks like a bloody fundamentalist postbox," she says recalling how she fought against attempts to impose a dress code on her.


The only person who believes that it's too much ado about nothing is her twin brother Mohammed. Initially, he simply defends her right to wear what she wants but, provoked by the attacks on his sister and the pressure to take a stand, he tells his mother that as someone who knows what it is like to be an Asian (let alone a Muslim) in post-9/11 and post7/7 Britain he understands why Fatima did what she did.


The dramatic conceit is that we never see Fatima onstage even as the action revolves around her. In a sense, Fatima comes to represent all young Muslim women who find themselves in a similar situation.


Twenty-one-year old Sen Gupta, who is of mixed Indian and Sri Lankan parentage, does not come from a Muslim background; and nor is she an advocate of "hijab" but she resents the judgmental way in which hijab-wearing women are viewed. She believes that there are assumptions about such women that need to be questioned.


"We need to be careful about assuming we know where Muslim girls are all coming from and what they want to say," she says.


Having suffered racism herself she sees in some of the prevailing attitudes towards the "hijab" an element of racial prejudice whereby anyone who is different is regarded as an outsider. She was "inspired" to write the play by her own experience of anti-Asian hostility in the wake of 9/11 when she noticed a difference in the way people viewed her.


"I remember sitting on a bus on the way to a music lesson…when a middle-aged Irishman started shouting at me, something along the lines of '…terrorist…she knows where Bin Laden is,' something like that. It didn't even make sense. The irony was that ten, twenty years before, he as an Irishman would have been seen by an ignorant public as the symbol of terrorism. Individual moments like that reflect big shifts in the political landscape. Maybe the pungent racism has faded since then, but up to about two years after 9/11 I felt a real sense of being an Asian and sticking out, sitting on tube carriages and not being treated like I was two years before," Ms Sen Gupta told one interviewer expressing concern that the whole debate on "hijab" had become very polarised.


What Fatima Did is an attempt to find a middle-ground.


Ms Sen Gupta also looks at the issue from a feminist perspective — namely a woman's right to wear what she likes or use dress to make a political point. There are references to "bra-burning" of the 1960s and one character sarcastically says that Fatima is "pretending to be a revolutionary."


Ms Sen Gupta says that as a feminist she "can't pretend" that "hijab" is liberating but at the same time she doesn't completely ignore its political significance.


"It's a way of saying I'm proud to be a Muslim," she says .


Besides, she is "suspicious" of those who condemn "hijab" as a symbol of oppression — often using it to attack Islam — but wink at violation of women's rights in their own backyard.


What Fatima Did, staged by London's progressive Hampstead Theatre and directed by Kelly Wilkinson who specialises in developing new work, has been praised for its "provocative exploration" of identity, individual freedom and multiculturalism in modern Britain. The day I went, it got a standing ovation from a predominantly white audience. But will it change perceptions?







Twenty members of the ecological pressure group Greenpeace staged a protest against climate change in Barcelona on Monday, where the fourth round of the U.N. climate change talks this year kicked off on the same day.


The Greenpeace members suspended a 600-square-meter banner bearing the message "World Leaders make the climate call," from the outside of the famous Sagrada Familia church.


Greenpeace also hung two more banners from the giant cranes outside of the building with the message "Save the Climate." The Sagrada Familia, which was designed by the famous architect Antoni Gaudi, is perhaps the most famous building in Barcelona.


The protest coincides with the start of the five-day U.N. climate change talks, during which delegates from nearly 180 countries will try to address the pressing issues of climate change. The meeting is the fifth U.N. session this year. — Xinhua








The move by the Securities and Exchange Board of India to cut the number of holidays in the country's stock exchanges is more than welcome. The sooner it happens, the better for the market. India has the most holidays — 19 — compared to other major countries; the United States has the least — nine days. But holidays are a malaise that is not limited to stock exchanges, it afflicts the nation as a whole. And what makes holidays in India really pernicious is that they are essentially "political" holidays, typical of a soft state. They are there to please different groups and communities; and in addition to national holidays each state has its own specific ones. One can understand closure on Republic Day, Independence Day or the major festivals of various religions, but why are the exchanges, banks and government shut on so many other days? Every year the number of holidays keeps going up in the name of appeasement.


For that matter, why should it be the business of state governments to instruct banks when they may or may not close? Should this not be left to the Reserve Bank of India, whose job it is to regulate banks in this country? All these holidays are in addition to Sundays, when everything is shut, and Saturdays, a full holiday for some and a half-day for many other offices and banks, etc. It is time the government gave some thought to this subject, and in consultation with all sections of society evolved a nationwide code for holidays in India. It might not be a bad idea to take a cue from some other Asian countries. They have far fewer holidays than we do, and most of these are for occasions which much larger sections of society can celebrate. In China, for instance, March 8 is a holiday for International Women's Day; and there is a Children's Day and an Army Day. Japan has a Coming of Age holiday, Greenery Day, Vernal Equinox, Respect for the Aged Day, Autumn Equinox, besides of course Christmas and New Year.


It will be good, therefore, if Sebi can take the lead and drastically curtail the number of days that India stops working. One can only imagine the loss if one considers the daily turnover on two major stock exchanges, which average a total of Rs 70,000 crores to Rs 1.5 lakh crores, even though almost 80-90 per cent of this is speculative trading.


Having said this, holidays are not the biggest reform that Sebi has to undertake; changes that can bring more real business than mere curtailment of holidays will. The one issue crying out loud for implementation is the settlement in derivatives. There is an increasing demand for settlement in futures and options to be done in shares and not cash as it is now. This is now causing considerable damage — making it a speculative rather than investment market. The cash turnover on both the National Stock Exchange and Bombay Stock Exchange is between Rs 10,000 crores and Rs 20,000 crores, while in the futures and options segment it is nearly Rs 80,000 crores. This causes tremors in the market as the settlement day approaches on the last Thursday of every month. The outstanding position in October was over Rs 1 lakh crores, and one could see the effect on the markets as the Sensex plummeted below the 16,000 mark by Friday. Settlement in shares was supposed to be a temporary measure, till the futures and options system was ready. The question now is: how long will this take?








The Kerry-Lugar Bill, which was recently cleared by both Houses of the United States Congress, has been signed into law as the "The Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act 2009". Its stated objective is "the development of an enhanced strategic partnership with Pakistan and its peoples", and under this law, the US has undertaken to provide economic and military aid to Pakistan of $1.5 billion every year for the next five financial years (2009-2013) — a total of $7.5 billion to be utilised for economic and social development, as well as military assistance and arms transfers for counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism as part of the "war on terror". Provisions for oversight on expenditure by the donor have been extended to cover the additional Coalition Support Funds, which are separately provided to coalition partners for operations against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in their respective countries, Pakistan being one of the major beneficiaries.


Disbursement has also been made subject to annual certification by the US secretary of state that such funds are being spent in accordance with the prescribed preconditions, which include ending sponsorship by the Pakistan Army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of terrorist groups such as the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, and preventing the use of Pakistani territory for terrorist attacks on neighbouring countries, specifically India and Afghanistan. But there are also provisions for waiver of stipulations "if the secretary determines it is important to national security interests to provide such waiver". The founding ideology of Pakistan has always been based on permanent politico-military confrontation with India. Its strategic alliance with the US during the Cold War by posing as a certified "free world" enthusiast and enrolling as a member of American-sponsored mutual defence treaties like the Central Treaty Organisation and the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation, was directed solely towards building military capabilities against India and the modern weapons and equipment so acquired were extensively employed during Pakistan's wars in 1965 and 1971 over Kashmir and Bangladesh. Later, in 1979-89, the US granted Pakistan the exclusive franchise for "Charlie Wilson's War" against Soviet forces in Afghanistan, for which huge amounts of unaccounted weapons and ammunition were provided to the ISI by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), including the then latest Stinger man-portable surface-to-air missiles. A large proportion of these were again diverted and stockpiled for use against India in Kashmir.


At present, the Pakistan Army and the Air Force are extensively employing heavy firepower against the Taliban in Federally Administered Tribal Areas and there is every likelihood that they will again try to blackmail the US to exploit the "national interest" clause for procuring similar weapons through the Kerry-Lugar provisions as well, for subsequent diversion against India. The US has repeatedly condoned such breaches of its own stipulations on the end-use of military aid by Pakistan, whenever it felt it served its own national interest, through US presidential decrees in the Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations, based essentially on misrepresentation of facts.


The same charade was continued through the 1980s though hard intelligence had become available to the CIA by then of nuclear (and missile) proliferation by China (and North Korea) to Pakistan, which then further sold it through the A.Q. Khan "nuclear Wal-Mart" functioning under official patronage of the Pakistan Army to countries categorised as "rogue nations" by the US.


Even a series of legislative amendments introduced in the US Congress from 1987 to 1990 (Symington 1976, Glenn 1977, and most important, Pressler 1985) to stop American military and economic aid to countries engaging in illegal nuclear activity were sidestepped "in the national security interests" of the US, in respect of Pakistan in view of its role as a frontline state supporting the Mujahideen against the Soviet Army in Afghanistan. Events have now come full circle, and the situation in Afghanistan after the proclamation of the war on terror by the US post-9/11 is very similar to that prevalent earlier during the anti-Soviet Mujahideen war of 1979-89.


Pakistan's military and intelligence hierarchy has always been accorded a special relationship of permissive non-accountability regarding American military aid by successive US administrations, and have been traditionally allowed to siphon off large portions from this largesse for private enrichment. Attempts by the new Obama administration to monitor and impose oversight and end-use restrictions on these funds have naturally touched a raw nerve of self-interest within the Pakistan Army. Orchestrated demonstrations of public anger have been organised at what is being proclaimed as insufferable interference by the US in the internal affairs of the country.


As the lead nation in the global war on terror, the US is handicapped by the compulsions of coalition in managing rogue allies like Pakistan. Former US President George W. Bush sought to mollify them with the accolade of "major non-Nato ally" notwithstanding the obvious reluctance and disinterest of the Pakistan Army in fighting against its co-religionists in the Taliban or Al Qaeda, which are considered strategic assets against India, and for re-establishing Pakistan's control over its strategic depth area in Afghanistan.


US President Obama's administration is attempting to cajole a recalcitrant Pakistan Army into a show of

cooperation with the US, however superficial, with the socio-economic inducements in the Kerry-Lugar legislation. Neither approach seems to be working, and the Pakistan Army meanwhile continues to double cross its patron by selectively targeting only its own "bad Taliban", the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan of Hakimullah Mehsud which are directly attacking the Pakistan Army inside the country, but not its "good Taliban" of the Quetta Shura, the Haqqani network, and the Hizb-e-Islami of Gulbuddin Hikmetyar, which operate only against Western troops in Afghanistan.


India's historical experiences naturally raise questions about American military aid. Will history be allowed to repeat itself and the weapons provided to Pakistan under the Kerry-Lugar Bill be diverted for use against India? And is the US again going to support the diversion by exploiting its "waiver" clause?


Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former Member of Parliament







Forty years ago, on October 29, 1969, a network link was established between two mainframe computers, one in the University of California, Los Angeles, and the other at the Stanford Research Institute, both in the United States, through a system known as "data packet switching". This network was known as the ARPANET, because the idea originated within an informal research group at the United State Government's Department of Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). This group was led by the head of the agency, J.C.R. Licklider, a visionary scientist who as early as 1960 had called for a network of computers connected to one another by wide-band communication lines which, he anticipated, could provide the functions of libraries as well as information storage and retrieval and other symbiotic functions.


ARPANET became the technical core of what would eventually become the Internet. The problem was one of connecting separate physical networks to form one logical network. By 1973, a system was worked out whereby the differences between network protocols were hidden by using a common "internetworking protocol", which meant that the concept of the network could be separated from its physical implementation. This spread of Internetworking began to form into a global network that eventually came to be called "the Internet", based on standardised protocols that were officially implemented in 1982.


Originally, the development and use of the Internet was confined to the military, the government and some privileged universities in the US. Over the 1980s, the technology and the networking possibilities began to be spread across the world. ARPANET was overtaken by the rapidity of technological change elsewhere, and the project ended in 1990 to be replaced by newer networking technologies. Commercial activities were allowed by the US Congress in 1992, leading to the emergence of private Internet service providers and new commercial applications. By the end of the 1980s, the Internet had entered Asia, with institutions in Japan, Singapore, China and even Thailand becoming early users.


In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee, a scientist working in the European government-funded CERN in Geneva, invented a network-based implementation of hypertext that could find and organise files and information, effectively becoming a way of organising the Internet. He made this technology publicly available, and it resulted in the World Wide Web. The computer he used at CERN became the first Web server. Web browsers like Mosaic and Netscape were developed in the early 1990s.


The rest is not yet history, because technological change in this area continues apace, and is even now dispersed to many parts of the world. Although the original development was largely concentrated in official defence and scientific circles, subsequently invention and innovation has become extraordinarily decentralised, so much so that the legions of books on the history of the Internet find it difficult to record the developments accurately and comprehensively.


New technologies and applications are constantly being developed, and the remarkable possibilities that already have been opened up by instantaneous human communication almost defy imagination. It has been said that the Internet is as much a collection of communities as it is a collection of technologies, and the technology is being constantly pushed in particular directions by meeting needs of these Internet communities as well as using members to further develop the technology.


The euphoria generated by this and related technologies was at least partly responsible for the dotcom bubble, which led to significant over-investment in some commercial applications that could not generate profits. However, while the bursting of that bubble did lead to an economic recession in 2000 and 2001, the proliferation of technological development has continued.


And, meanwhile, it has changed the contours of human life with amazing rapidity. While the digital divide does indeed remain a major issue, those who have access to the Internet have found their lives transformed. For many people who keep discovering or benefiting from particular applications, it can seem to be too good to be true.


The development of mobile phone technology has changed the nature of access, as more and more people in the developing world turn to mobile phones to access the Internet. In developing Asia, it is estimated that the majority of Internet users now access the net by phone instead of computer.


Email is often considered to be the most successful Internet application, though it actually predates the Internet. Other applications have multiplied and changed life so quickly that it must have significant social implications. The Internet has changed the way people keep in touch with each other, find out about each other, learn, work, purchase goods and services, handle many aspects of daily life, listen to music, find other entertainment, even make friends.


Obviously the technology is going to keep on changing. But while we can all celebrate this wonderful technology that has already shown so much potential for transformation, the hard questions about the Internet may emerge now. The very success of the Internet has meant that there are many more people (and companies) with diverse interests who have a stake in it. Although non-commercial use remains high, the Internet is increasingly becoming a support structure for commercial services provided for profit, and this is intensified by the fact that its own services are increasingly becoming commodities.


Already there are debates about how the Internet should be controlled and how to maintain the decentralisation that has been so productive and implicitly democratic. There are conflicts over domain name space, the form of the next generation IP addresses, the control of content that appears on the Internet, and much else. If the Internet is really to remain too good to be true, these are questions that must concern all of us.








The body is the servant of the mind. It obeys the operations of the mind, whether they be deliberately chosen or unconsciously expressed. At the bidding of unlawful thoughts the body sinks rapidly into disease and decay; at the command of glad and beautiful thoughts it becomes clothed with youthfulness and beauty.


Disease and health are rooted in thought. Sickly thoughts will express themselves through a sickly body. The people who live in fear of disease are the people who get it. Anxiety quickly demoralises the whole body, and lays it open to the entrance of disease; while impure thoughts, even if not acted out, will sooner shatter the nervous system.


Strong and happy thoughts build up the body. The body is a delicate instrument, which responds readily to the thoughts by which it is impressed, and habits of thought will produce their own effects upon it.


Men will continue to have impure and poisoned blood, so long as they propagate unclean thoughts. Out of a clean heart comes a clean life and a clean body. Out of a defiled mind proceeds a defiled life and a corrupt body. Thought is the fountain of action, life and manifestation; make the fountain pure, and all will be pure. Change of diet will not help a man who will not change his thoughts.


Clean thoughts make clean habits. The so-called saint who does not wash his body is not a saint. He who has strengthened and purified his thoughts does not need to consider the malevolent microbe.


If you would perfect your body, guard your mind. If you would renew your body, beautify your mind. Thoughts of malice, envy, and disappointment, despondency, rob the body of its health and grace. A sour face does not come by chance; it is made by sour thoughts. Wrinkles that mar are drawn by folly, passion, pride.


An excerpt from As a Man Thinketh by James Allen








Anniversaries are sentimental occasions. So it was with Indira Gandhi on the occasion of her tragic assassination a quarter century ago. Everyone remembered Indira with a certain admiration and fondness, including her critics. Nostalgia is the flavour of the moment.


The general assessment seems to be that she did some things wrong like imposing Emergency and Operation Blue Star, but that she was brilliant during the 1971 war against Pakistan and the emergence of Bangladesh. Or that on the whole she was a good, and even a great, leader.


There is a general longing for a strong leader that people imagine her to be in comparison with the run-of-the-mill politicians who crowded the public arena ever since she died and this includes Rajiv Gandhi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee.


The communists and the BJP -- her main political rivals -- have always been grudging admirers of Indira Gandhi's politics. The communists concurred with her socialist populism of the 1969-71 years including bank nationalisation and abolition of privy purses, and the BJP loved her Durga-like role in the 1971 war.


The two had opposed the imposition of Emergency in 1975. Condemning Indira Gandhi for imposing Emergency is not the way to understand Indira Gandhi or history.


Politicians lack the credibility to assess the Emergency in objective terms. The question they dare not ask is whether there were compelling reasons to impose the Emergency.


The historical evidence shows that the conditions were indeed critical. Jayaprakash Narayan was partly responsible for creating conditions conducive to the imposition of Emergency. He was a woolly-headed Gandhian and an irresponsible anarchist who wanted to dissolve the state.


As a person at the helm of the state at that moment, Indira Gandhi had to hit back. If she had truly been a leader, she would not have been frightened by the silly antics of JP and his followers who let loose enough mayhem on the streets between June 12 and June 25 when Emergency was imposed.


Instead of holding her nerve and displaying the steely resolve which everyone now thinks she had, Indira Gandhi panicked. The Allahabad high court verdict would have been overturned in the Supreme Court. Every legal expert worth the salt knew it to be a flimsy judgment. But she did not trust the system and she did not trust herself.


So, she succumbed to bad advice from the likes of Siddharh Shankar Ray and brought in the infamous 39th Constitutional amendment, taking away the power of the courts to decide election cases involving the President, vice president, prime minister and Lok Sabha speaker. The Emergency is a classic example of Indira Gandhi's bad leadership qualities.


The thing with Indira Gandhi was that she did not believe in anything strongly. She did not believe in socialism. She used it as a useful weapon in her fight against the Syndicate. She abandoned it without qualms when she returned to power the second time round in 1980.


She was not much of a dictator either because she was not comfortable with the Emergency. Remember that a majority of the middle class loved the Emergency and were happy that the trains were on time. As a matter of fact, the sneaking admiration of the Indian middle class for Indira Gandhi as a strong leader is a secret longing for a dictator. It was the poor people who hated this dictatorship and voted her out in 1977. In fact, she seemed quite relieved that she lost the election.


The mettle of a leader is tested in bad, and not in good, times. Indira Gandhi fails the test. She was a bad leader because she had no convictions, she could not handle a crisis and she could not deal with critics. More importantly, she lacked the ability to build a team of talented people in the party and in the government. She wanted trusted lieutenants and she had plenty of them around. But leadership is not about followers.





Sidharth Bhatia's comments on the present unenviable predicament of the once-mighty Congress ('With allies like this the Congress doesn't need enemies', DNA.Sunday, November 1) are objectively correct. As he rightly points out, the honeymoon between the Congress and NCP has somehow lasted 10 years but has not contributed to a better understanding between the two partners. The fact is that the Congress has had enough troubles from its so-called 'allies' since it decided to get into the coalition mode of governance, one would wholeheartedly agree with Bhatia when he says that Congress will have to become strong in the long term "to win on its own steam".
V Subramanyan, Thane



Apropos 'Gelling your number' (DNA, October 31) by Yogi Aggarwal, it would be beneficial to public at large, if there is a proper debate on the subject. The importance of evolving a suitable tool to improve the delivery mechanism, free of corruption, to reach out to the poorest section of the society needs be emphasised. However, one must not forget to ensure that there should be adequate checks and balances to prevent infringement of privacy, civil liberties and financial frauds by national and international hackers having access to such vast data. One hopes that Nandan Nilekeni and his team will take due cognisance of such genuine apprehensions before introducing the UIN.

-Subhas Mallik, via email



A senior leader is stated to have said "it took 12 days and 9 days in 1999 and 2004 respectively to form a government and that such deadlocks are not new to the alliance" ('NCP, Congress now haggle over urban, rural portfolios', DNA, November 2). This kind of justification is just not acceptable when the governance of the state is concerned. This shows complacency on the part of the leaders, now that the elections are over, and total disregard to the duties and responsibilities that lies on them. Time is the essence for good governance and cannot be frittered away like this.

LJ Prasad, Mumbai






Every year between 3 to 4 lakh people in India die of cancer. Worldwide, it is one of the top 10 leading causes of death. Yet, all too often this ancient and potentially fatal disease loses out in the race for policy attention, usually to heart disease or AIDS.


By setting aside Rs2400 crore to fight cancer in India, Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has brought this dangerous disease into sharper focus. This new allocation, under the National Cancer Control Programme in the 11th five-year-plan, is 10 times more than what was set aside in the previous plan.


While Azad's focus on cancer is welcome, it shows how much cancer detection, prevention and treatment have been neglected over the years. This is odd, considering that India gets 7 lakh new cases a year and some 15 lakh people require facilities for check-ups and treatment at any given time.


Our cancer facilities may have improved in the past decade or so -- under the National Cancer Control Programme there are 27 regional cancer institutes and 40 oncology institutes --but these are still grossly inadequate. This new scheme will allow community-based cancer prevention and control strategies and mobile outreach projects which ought to reduce the burden on large hospitals by early detection.


The financial assistance to those patients below the poverty line and the network of all cancer centres in India will also help with diagnosis and treatment. Oncology departments in medical colleges will also get a much-needed fillip; cancer-related content in MBBS courses is quite low at the moment.


These initiatives will attack the problem at the patient level -- rather than focusing on awareness and high-profile events or personalities. An unfortunate comparison is to the former health minister A Ramadoss's ideas about reducing the incidence of tobacco-related cancers by concentrating on film stars and advertising, though the initiative at least put the spotlight on the subject.


The problems with cancer are much more life-threatening than can be tackled merely with warning signs on cigarette packets or smoking in movies. In today's media-obsessed world, it is the public image that matters more than the actual issue.


Cancer has also been a victim of this, where more pink ribbons are distributed for breast cancer awareness than there are breast cancer detection camps. If all aspects of tackling a disease do not work together, you get a lop-sided response. This injection of money is welcome, but it has to be correctly administered to make a real difference.






Human Rights Watch, a leading international human rights organisation had its board meeting and retreat in the nation's capital for five days in mid-October. For over thirty years, Human Rights Watch has worked on the global stage and in close collaboration with nationally based groups to advocate for human rights.


HRW chose New Delhi as the location for this meeting in recognition of India's role as an emerging leader in international affairs, with the potential to be a powerful moral voice in defense of human rights.


It seems fitting to use this occasion to examine some arguments that are commonly raised when discussing human rights in the context of the developing world: Are human rights principles a tool of western imperialism?


This criticism certainly rings true and was especially highlighted by American domestic and foreign policy during the Bush administration. However, it also serves to underscore the importance of freely functioning local and international organisations that can "name and shame" governments in western democracies as much as they do in other parts of the world.Organisations such as Human Rights Watch are vigilant and vocal critics of US domestic and foreign policy and have been active in areas such as the use of extralegal detentions, the death penalty and US immigration policy. Double standards on the part of some countries are not a justification for other countries to violate human rights.

Should human rights advocacy inform foreign policy?

The question for many developing countries, especially one as populous and significant as India, is whether to make human rights advocacy an integral part of foreign policy.One view is that given the double standards of western democracies, nations such as India and China must reserve a right to their own realpolitik. Separately, most countries (including India) have spotty human rights records of their own andare reluctant to set precedents that impair their sovereign right to continue these violations.


There are a few rebuttals to these views. While, India must certainly weigh its strategic interests, a blanket dismissal of the human rights perspective is not necessarily a prescription for an effective foreign policy.India has a robust tradition of innovative and principled leadership on the world stage going back to Mahatma Gandhi's framework for non-violent resistance and Nehru's arguments for the right of newly independent nation states to be non-aligned. Judicious advocacy for human rights can arguably be a distinguishing feature for India's international persona, especially as it vies for influence with China and other world powers.Moreover, such advocacy can also help India assemble some positive coalitions of allies that could be helpful in other matters.


On the issue of India's own imperfect internal track record, hiding the facts and acting defensively, does not benefit its own citizens or the citizens of the world.Like the western democracies, India, the world's most populous democracy hasa robust civil society advocating for human rights and holding the government accountable. Achieving human rights for all is a continuum and an aspirational ideal. One does not have to be perfect to engage in this effort.


Human rights or economic development: A real choice or a false dilemma?The Indian economy has achieved strong GDP growth in recent years by freeing up its control over economic structure while maintaining its current political and civil liberties.India may actually be an interesting and evolving case study of how strong civil liberties and political rights and the unhindered ability of individuals and groups advocate for themselves to create more stable, accountable and perhaps more equitable development.









Former Jharkhand Chief Minister Madhu Koda is once again in the news for all the wrong reasons. He is now said to be the first former head of a state government to be charged by the Enforcement Directorate with money laundering and hawala transactions. Simultaneously the income tax department has carried out search and seizure operations in over 70 houses and offices belonging to Mr Koda and his associates in a bid to unearth property they are accused to have amassed by misusing the political office. Documents seized so far seem to indicate his involvement in hawala transactions of over Rs 2,000 crore and property worth Rs 400 crore. The income tax department has also let it be known that Mr Koda, at present an Independent MP, will be summoned for further questioning. While one must wait for the department to complete the inquiry before jumping to conclusions, it is telling that Mr Koda's assets grew from Rs 35 lakh in 2004 to over Rs 30 crore in 2009 as per his own declaration to the Election Commission.


While most politicians in the country continue to be sacred cows for the enforcement agencies, they need to be complimented for moving against Mr Koda. But with the Assembly elections in Jharkhand due later this month, the timing has provided him with an opportunity to cry foul and deny the charges, describing them as politically motivated. Allegations of financial impropriety against Mr Koda and his associates, however, are not new. The Opposition had repeatedly raised the issue in the Assembly and there were extensive reports in the media on their frequent foreign jaunts and their rags-to-riches stories. But, for reasons best known to them, the official agencies seemed blind to their shenanigans.


Significantly, the agencies have so far singled out Mr Koda and some former ministers in the state who were also Independent MLAs or represented smaller parties. There is no reason to believe, however, that other politicians of the state, including successive Chief Ministers, behaved much better. A more thorough inquiry, possibly by the CBI, appears necessary to reveal the contours of the rip-off and expose the politicians, bureaucrats and contractors who siphoned off public money and bled the state white in order to feather their own nests.








WITH the Afghanistan Independent Election Commission declaring President Hamid Karzai on Monday as the winner in the presidential poll, the political uncertainty in Kabul has come to an end. The commission cancelled the election run-off, scheduled for November 7, following the withdrawal of his candidature by Dr Abdullah Abdullah, a formidable challenger to Mr Karzai, on Sunday. The former Foreign Minister's decision had put a big question mark over the credibility of the election machinery in Afghanistan. Dr Abdullah had expressed the view that the poll run-off would have no meaning with the commission remaining unchanged despite the charges of massive fraud levelled against it. He wanted the commission to have new faces with many other changes in the administration for a free and fair poll.


However, the Election Commission felt that a second round of the poll was not justifiable under the circumstances. Though it was a major challenge to bring the poll process to its logical conclusion with no one in the fray to oppose Mr Karzai, the incumbent President's performance in the August 20 elections went in his favour. He had won a little less than 50 per cent of the votes cast in the first round. This had led to the poll run-off as Afghanistan and the world community could not afford to have a government in Kabul whose legitimacy would remain questionable from day one. It was feared that there could be massive opposition to Mr Karzai's authority if he was allowed to form his government again when he was not the clear winner. But the situation changed with Dr Abdullah's otherwise expected decision.


Dr Abdullah's withdrawal from the contest was being interpreted as his last tactic to force the constitution of a "national unity government". After all, he has emerged as the most prominent representative of the non-Pashtun segment of Afghanistan's population. But there was the danger of the two leaders pulling in opposite directions, endangering the fight against the Taliban. This might have been one of the factors that led to the failure of Dr Abdullah's last-ditch efforts. Let us hope what has happened helps in establishing peace in the war-ravaged country. 








THE Pink City became black when the Indian Oil Corporation depot in Jaipur was engulfed in flames that led to several deaths, caused thousands of people to be displaced, and a loss of over Rs 500 crore. Around 200 small and big industries located near the depot were damaged by the fire. Ideally, they should not have been there in the first place. But all this could have been avoided if the prescribed safety norms had been adhered to and immediate and effective steps taken to prevent the flames from spreading.


While a formal inquiry would be needed to ascertain the cause of the fire, there is unanimity among experts that prompt and adequate action at the very onset of the fire was the only effective way of tackling the situation, since once the fire spread, given the combustible nature of oil, there was nothing that could be done other than to allow the fuel to burn itself out. The response from the fire department and the state government was also tardy and uncoordinated. This is hardly surprising since fire safety in India as a whole has never been given the importance it deserves. As a result, firemen — who are often underpaid, lack training and equipment — seldom have the wherewithal to handle anything other than minor fires.


The Oil Industry Safety Directorate has since 1986 laid down norms and standardised the design and procedures at various oil depots, but since the Rajbandh oil depot fire in 2004, it has been felt that it needs to update its norms. Potential fire hazards should not be located near populated areas. In fact, they are not, but often cities grow and people start living around hazardous places. The depot in Jaipur is in a populated place, as are those in many other cities in India, including the nation's Capital. Ideally, they should be shifted out. Ensuring safety is a difficult task that needs proper planning, implementation and adequate resources. Lack of any of these prerequisites allows mishaps to turn into disasters, just as the Jaipur fire has become. 









Indira Gandhi's death anniversary brought much praise and some criticism of her tempestuous political career, but few have dwelled on how much she influenced Indian polity — for the better and worse. It was she who introduced a centralised form of government — the feint of a periodical debate on the presidential form of government notwithstanding.


Indira also introduced the bane of a "committed" bureaucracy, which became a loaded term to denote that a civil servant must not only be loyal to constitutional norms but must play the games of his or her political master. As the bureaucracy went, so did the police force and we are all of us familiar with the sad spectacle of wholesale transfers of police officers on a new chief minister taking charge.


A centralised polity was a recognition of the fact that modern governance has become simply too complex to be tackled piecemeal and must have a centralised structure staffed with experts to function effectively. In practice, this meant a radical expansion of the Prime Minister's Office to coordinate the work of various ministries and organisations. Indira was, in effect, following a worldwide trend.


But in changing the basis of the functioning of the bureaucracy inherited from the British, Indira was serving her own short-term interests, initially in the intra-party struggle she won, and later to restructure the Congress party. Instead of nurturing the grassroot worker who had stood the party in good stead in election after election, she built up conglomerates of achievers, usually of the wheeler-dealer variety, who could deliver quick results. In any event, in promoting her younger son Sanjay to assume the country's leadership, she needed short-cuts, instead of relying on the slower moving party bureaucracy. We are, as a consequence, facing the ill effects of a demoralised bureaucracy, with Ms Mayawati and Mr Narendra Modi now being some of Indira's avid followers in suborning civilian and police officers.


The Congress as the party of Indian independence was the trendsetter, and in politics "Congress culture" became the national culture. It was amazing how the Janata Party conglomerate, the first opposition outfit to rule the country, duplicated the terminology of the Congress in designating its party tiers of authority. And the Jan Sangh, which morphed into the Bharatiya Janata Party, also followed the essential Congress party nomenclature for all its differences from the Congress.


Perhaps some of the transformations in the country's political life were inevitable, given the transition from the urbane, highly educated men and women of the Independence generation to their more representative, mostly rural and more parochial successors. The ken of today's legislators is more limited and more prone to take cognisance of ethnic and religious differences. But Indira's methods remain a ready reference point for them in how to govern.


It can be argued whether the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty came first or it was in reality an expression of the Indian concept of obligation to one's kinsmen and kinswomen. For the Congress party, it served to fill a void. Not being a cadre-based party, it had to rely on identifiable leaders' image to win elections. A compact was thus formed, of leaders who won elections and exercised untrammelled power thereafter.


In is ironical that the BJP, formed in opposition to Congress policies and ideology and proclaiming it to be a party with a difference, should now be veering towards the concept of hereditary politics in their ranks in the states. Even the pull of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, tied to the BJP by an umbilical cord, has not been strong enough to withstand the attraction of following hereditary politics. And it seems a matter of time for the Left parties to catch the contagion.


There is a contradiction here between the demands of modern governance requiring centralisation and the need for decentralisation in reaching the fruits of government policies to the last man and woman. This can be resolved by strengthening local institutions and, as the landmark rural guarantee scheme has shown, it can be made to work, the degree of efficiency and effectiveness depending upon the calibre and integrity of local and regional officials.


Overall, a partisan bureaucracy and police force have had serious consequences for the country. The spread of the Maoist movement has proved how ineffective or venal governance has lit the fires of rebellion. Vested interests have traditionally frustrated land reforms and the plight of the tribal population in particular has been accentuated by the land requirements of an industrialising country, often carried out over their heads.


On the positive side, Indira did give patronage to the arts. Some work on heritage preservation continues, but the aesthetic sense of the bulk of our politicians remains woeful. And we continue to install carbon copy statues of the good and the great, which are blots on the landscape. Making the journey from delectable folk art in the villages to an urban environment, we have lost our sense of aesthetics and revel in kitsch.


Since Indira Gandhi's time, we have graduated into a consumer society, which has accelerated the process of ends justifying means, set in motion by Indira for short-term political advantage. In a sense, it is a worldwide trend; look at the inequities in a China having enthusiastically embraced capitalism. But in India's case, the example set at the top is particularly harmful, given the scale of poverty and deprivation that exists.


Indira was, of course, a child of her time. India was seeking to consolidate its statehood and move ahead in a difficult environment. The Nehru era, which set the country on an even course, was over. With intra-party struggles coming to the surface in the party of Independence, Indira felt she had to use any means she could to throw her figurative hat in the ring and prevail against party veterans adept at managing politics. Bank nationalisation, a committed bureaucracy and modern propaganda warfare were instruments of victory in her armoury. We must now surmount the hurdles they have become.








"Kaun aakhe sahib nu,

injj nahin injj kar;

Ikna de ghar putt,

puttan ghar potre;

Iknan de ghar ikk,

te oh vee jae marr;

Kaun aakhe sahib nu inj nahin inj karr."

"Who can tell the Lord this be done,

and that not be done;

Some are blessed with sons,

and the sons are blessed with grandsons;

Some have only one,

and he is snatched, with a jerk sudden;

Who can tell the Lord this be done,

And that not be done."


By nature's design wind blows and snaps some mangoes prematurely before they can spread sweetness. By nature's design some rivers dry up before meeting the sea. It is in the script, when the time for exit comes, the dark energy casts spell on mind and drives one to the mouth of the black hole that renders a palpable reality into a void.


He knew he had to stand valiantly carrying the stab, "…your son, Ram, is no more" in the chest that had been the wellspring of unconditional love in the rocky expanse of business-like world. He knew lightning had struck him and he had to stand still and bear it. He knew he alone, like the Atlas, will have to shoulder the unbearable weight of a son's coffin. Everyone stood clutching on thin air, today, no one could help the man who had tried to help everyone who had knocked at his door.


Her eyes widened and did not blink for the next 48 hours for she saw her son in the emptiness, others were unable to. How could she believe that the tree she had watered religiously and seen grow each day of the past 22 years had disappeared overnight? Others saw it had been stolen, she saw it very much there. She challenged everyone, including her husband, whom she loved, that her limb had not been chopped off by an invisible hand. Men cried but she didn't when the boy's head was placed in her lap. How could the boy leave the world without her permission who had always asked her before leaving the house?


It was only when their other son arrived and the pyre was lit in the gaze of hundreds that the dam of her denial gave in to the weight of grief, that erupted then and flooded the vastness.


Faced with a dear one who was alive a moment before, one is forced to look for the 'aspect' that gives life and upon departing renders a body lifeless. The ritual of congregating at cremations is important, for man needs to be reminded of frailty of life from time to time and the need to ponder on 'that aspect'.


Einstein's thought "God is not malicious, he is subtle" is perhaps the only feeble ray of hope one can hold on to, in the times dark clouds descend and a tornado uproots everything that was there a minute before.







THE withdrawal on Sunday of President Hamid Karzai's only rival in an election runoff effectively handed the incumbent another five-year term but without the clear mandate which would have nade him an effective partner in the struggle to stabilise Afghanistan.


Former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said he decided not to take part in the Nov. 7 poll because Karzai had refused his demands for changes to the country's election infrastructure to prevent the type of rampant ballot-box stuffing and other irregularities that marred the first round of voting in August.


The announcement plunged the country into uncharted legal and political territory, with no consensus on whether the runoff should still be held. Western officials, who leaned heavily on Karzai to accept a runoff election after the tainted first round, are pressing the president and Afghan electoral officials to find a legally acceptable way to cancel the poll and declare Karzai the winner. Neither the U.S. nor the United Nations is prepared to risk more lives for an election with only one candidate, said a Western official familiar with the talks.


American officials hope to help restore legitimacy to Karzai's government by encouraging him to build a reform-minded government that is ethnically representative and includes Abdullah's followers, the Western official said.


"He knows as well as anyone else does, even if he is crowned president, he cannot govern without Abdullah," said the official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.


The election imbroglio has taken place as President Barack Obama deliberates whether to deepen U.S. involvement in the war, including deploying tens of thousands of additional troops. A weak and discredited government in Kabul would make it more difficult to persuade a disillusioned American public and Congress to up the ante on a life-and-death commitment.


Although Abdullah's withdrawal was a blow to U.S. hopes for a legitimate Afghan government, U.S. officials Sunday sought to play down the importance of the move and held out hope that Afghans would have confidence in a regime that still might include officials from Abdullah's camp.


U.S officials were relieved that Abdullah, in his announcement, did not urge followers to boycott the election or "go to the streets."


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton released a statement that hinted at the Americans' hopes that Abdullah's group would have some voice in the government.


She praised Abdullah for running a "dignified and constructive campaign that drew the support of Afghan people across the nation. We hope that he will continue to stay engaged in the national dialogue and work on behalf of the security and prosperity of the people of Afghanistan."


American military officials emphasized that the command in Afghanistan and the Pentagon were working hard not to involve themselves in the politics -- remaining neutral on who should be elected.


"We were doing back flips to stay out of the political arena of the election," said one Defense Department official.


Still, many members of the military continue to hold out hope that Karzai will cut a deal with Abdullah, to embrace some of his reforms, bring him into a government position or both. Such a negotiated settlement would bolster the legitimacy of the government, they agreed.


White House officials have debated whether to make the final decision on troop levels before or after the Afghan voting. If the election does not proceed, reasons for delay might seem flimsier.


"If anything, it will speed the debate up," a Defense official said. "Karzai is the guy. ... There is nothing we can do about it."


Other military officials believe the White House has settled on a timetable for making decisions and that Abdullah's withdrawal will have little effect on the timing. But how the events of the next few days play out could have a major effect on the substance of the strategy debate.


Senior Obama adviser David Axelrod said in a TV news talk show appearance Sunday, "I expect the president will make a decision within weeks."


"As you know," Axelrod said, " he has gone through a very rigorous process because the goal here is not just to make an arithmetic judgment about the number of troops, but to make sure that we have the right strategy."


Karzai's campaign, after initially resisting a runoff, focused last week on mobilizing a strong turnout for the president, particularly in the south, which is dominated by his fellow Pashtuns.


Campaign spokesman Waheed Omar said their "preferred scenario" was to go ahead with the vote, but the campaign would abide by the decision of the Independent Election Commission.


Azizullah Lodin, who heads the panel appointed by Karzai, said it would convene Monday to reach a decision in consultation with legal experts.


U.N.-backed auditors threw out more than 1 million votes cast Aug. 20, including nearly one-third of Karzai's

tally. That left the president just short of the 50 percent threshold required for an outright win and forced him into a runoff against Abdullah, his main challenger.


Last week, Abdullah announced a list of demands he said would help prevent a repeat of the fraud, including the removal of Lodin and two deputies. Karzai maintained that he did not have the authority to dismiss commission members, who can be removed only through the judicial system.


Abdullah announced his decision at a gathering of thousands of supporters from around the country, who met in a giant tent used for traditional gatherings of tribal elders known as loya jirgas. But he stopped short of calling for a boycott of the runoff, which some of his top supporters had pressed him to do.


"The reason that I decided not to participate is that I have strong feelings and reservations about the credibility of the process," Abdullah told journalists after the gathering.


He said it was a "tough" and "painful" choice but that his decision was final.


Abdullah played down fears that his withdrawal could trigger a violent backlash from his supporters and urged them "not to go to the streets, not to demonstrate."n


 By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post








SINCE the BJP came to power in Himachal Pradesh, it has paid lip service to climate change issues — be it the distribution of CFL bulbs or a ban on plastics.


That mega-project centred development focussing on building more hydropower projects, more cement plants and limestone mines, more thermal power projects and rapid industrialisation is highly resource-intensive is un-debatable.


There is little doubt also that such a model will only exacerbate the impact of climate change, be it flash floods, drought, unpredictable monsoon or receding glaciers. The brunt of these phenomena is borne by the communities depending heavily on the resources around them.


Spontaneous agitations have emerged at several locations against large projects in Himachal. The most prominent of these have been in Sundernagar against the Harish Cement Project, in Mandi district against the Lafarge cement green field plant on the Renuka dam in Sirmaur district; the Karchham Wangtoo hydropower project in Kinnaur and Jaypee's thermal plant in Nalagarh.


Let it be known that each of these projects is going to cause irreversible damage to the environment.


The proposed Harish Cement plant will be located right next to the Trambri Nature Conservation Park. The entire Bal valley, which is Himachal's food bowl, will be impacted by pollution from the mining and cement factory.


The Renuka Project will submerge more than 700 hectares of mixed Sal forests, including 49 hectares of the Renuka Wildlife Sanctuary. Lafarge's limetone mines will involve the destruction of 800 hectares of forests and grass slopes in Karsog tehsil.


The area is prominent for its wild pomegranate production which is the main source of livelihood for the local people. Jaypee's Karchham Wangtoo project has been surrounded by controversy ever since it was proposed.


Its tunnel construction has disturbed the water acquifers of the villages in the area causing a drinking water crisis. The project is one of the 20-odd cascade of projects planned for the entire Sutlej river basin.


Local groups have been crying hoarse about the permanent damage to the landscape and climatic conditions in years to come as much of the Sutlej river will flow in the tunnels instead of the valley.


As per the Himachal Forest Department's own data between 1980 and 2009, 8528 hectares of forests have been diverted to various projects in the state. Fifty per cent of the land was diverted for mining and hydropower projects.


Each of the agitations is resisting the destruction of natural resources but the government has in turn responded by restricting the issue to compensation and offering private benefits to divert attention from common properties and the larger environment-development debate.


Despite the passing of the Forest Rights Act 2006, which provides for recognition of rights of forest-dwelling communities to use and conserve forests, Himachal Pradesh, where 67 per cent of the area is under forests, is lagging behind in the implementation.


A recent report by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs on the status of implementation of the Forest Rights Act reveals that not a single claim has been recognised in the state under this project.


The State Pollution Control Board, which is the only regulatory authority to ensure compliance, has failed to ensure that clearance norms are complied with by companies.


A recent report by the Kalpavriksh environment action group on the state of environment compliance mentions "In the case of the Parbati II Hydroelectric Project in district Kullu of Himachal Pradesh, there has been continued dumping of muck/debris in rivers and down the hill slopes ever since the project construction work was initiated in the year 2000. While these observations were made in the monitoring reports and site visits from September 2003 to April 2007, they were regularly denied in the compliance reports submitted by the project proponent". The project continues to operate and has met with almost no action.


Civil society and community-based organisations in Himachal are demanding a moratorium on mega projects; scientific studies of river basins to understand the impact of hydropower projects; declaration of areas above 3000 feet as eco-sensitive zones where development activity is strictly controlled.


They have put down an alternative vision for formulation of a Himalayan Development Policy that is based upon the sustainable utilisation of natural resources for the creation of livelihoods and ecosystem services.


Global diplomacy and scientific mitigation have dominated the climate change discourse in India like elsewhere, sidelining resource exploitation and equity issues which should be at the centre of the debate.


If the government of Himachal is seriously committed to addressing the climate change issue, it is high time it should relook at its misplaced development agenda and lead the way for the other states as well as the government at the Centre. 


The writer is a researcher-activist based in Himachal Pradesh







Law Minister M Veerappa Moily has a peculiar problem. His office on the fourth floor of Shastri Bhavan has no attached toilet or washroom.


Every time he feels the urge, he has to go out of his office to use the washroom on the corridor. But even this is not easy as TV journalists hang around his room most of the time, waiting to catch him for a byte even before he could take a leak.


"Sometimes, I take the nature's call as late as two hours," he bemoaned. Why can't he order the construction of an attached bathroom, he was asked. "The Law Minister's writ doesn't run in his own office as the building is maintained by the Urban Development Ministry," he said, feeling helplessness.


The next question was how did his predecessor manage? Perhaps, that was the reason why the previous incumbent spent not more than two hours in the office, he reasoned.



At the recent ASEAN Summit at the Thai beach resort of Hua Hin, the meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao hogged the attention of the world media. Journalists virtually ignored what was going on at the ASEAN Summit and rushed to the Dusit Thani Hotel where the meeting between the two PMs was on.


However, Indian officials parted with very little information on what transpired at the meeting. But they were quite categorical in informing the media that neither the Arunachal Pradesh issue nor the proposed visit to the state by the Dalai Lama figured during the meeting.


The next day the same officials cut a sorry figure when Manmohan Singh himself told the media that the Dalai Lama and Arunachal issues did come up during his talks with Wen. Now can you trust the Indian bureaucracy?



Journalists belonging to the print media from Himachal Pradesh are upset with Commerce Minister Anand Sharma. The reason: the high-flying minister chose to ignore them while taking a media party with him on his visit to Nepal and Egypt.


The minister's entourage included representatives of select national dailies, but not those from his home state.


Recently, the minister faced some embarrassing moments at the PM's press conference in Thailand. Asked about the negative list in the free trade agreement with ASEAN, Sharma gave a long reply which hardly made sense.


When the PM noticed that journalists were quite confused, he intervened to say: "To sum it up, the FTA negative list is in place.'' 


Contributed by R Sedhuraman, Ashok Tuteja and Bhagyashree Pande








The inadequacy and under-preparedness of the State Fire Service – an integral component of the disaster-response mechanism – remains an area of serious concern. The fact that the city continues to expand in a haphazard manner only serves to heighten the fire-related hazards. The inadequacy of the fire service invariably comes to the fore during any major incident of fire. This is largely because of infrastructural and manpower constraints which impede quick and effective response during a fire. Another irritant that delays fire fighting efforts is the large number of narrow, crowded lanes in many localities, mostly commercial areas. Given the worrying circumstances, the move of the State Government to launch a special disaster-response force besides augmenting the State Fire Service Organization in terms of infrastructure and manpower is a welcome development. The past ten years have witnessed 1,808 fire incidents in the State, resulting in the death of 325 people and injury to 596 others. The estimated property loss stood at Rs 282 crore. With better amenities at its disposal, the fire service could have minimized the losses substantially.

Along with boosting the fire-fighting mechanism, equal stress must be given on ensuring that buildings including commercial establishments, educational institutions, market complexes, etc., comply with strict fire-safety norms. In fact, slack enforcement and corruption have invariably been resulting in rampant flouting of mandatory fire-prevention norms. If the authorities are indeed serious abut minimizing fire hazards, this appalling lacuna needs to be addressed at the earliest. It is questionable how many of the high-rises sprouting everywhere in the city adhere to strict fire-prevention norms. While all newly-built commercial buildings must be compelled to follow adequate fire-safety norms, old buildings not possessing the required facilities too need to be equipped with those. Any violation of fire-safety norms should be viewed sternly, and a hard crackdown on the violators is a must. It is an open secret that fire safety certificates can be obtained by greasing the palms of officials without taking the trouble of actually installing a fire-prevention mechanism. Unless such corrupt practices are checked, it would be impossible to effect a change in the situation. As long-term preventive measures, it should be ensured that all newly-developed areas possess wide roads, allowing easy access for fire tenders in case of any eventuality. The practice of granting licences for high-rises on small plots in residential areas ought to be stopped. On the whole, there is an urgent need for checking the unscientific and haphazard growth the city is experiencing.







Ironically when the rest of the world is extolling the virtues of Indian economy, that how it has come to the rescue of the world economy in arresting recession, India has wrecked it again. The Human Development Report (HDR), is a comprehensive ranking of the nations in terms of broad indicators like health, education and standard of living (income) done by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) annually since 1990. The first Human Development Report (HDR) was published in 1990, under the leadership of Pakistani economist and Finance Minister Mahbub ul Haq and Indian Nobel Laureate for Economics Amartya Sen. The principal motivation behind the HDR was, according to Sen, an overarching preoccupation with the growth of real income per capita as a measure of the well-being of a nation. Physical expansion of an economy, as measured by per capita GDP, does not necessarily mean that people are better off in the larger sense of the term: health, freedom, education, meaningful work and leisure time. In the latest 2009 Report, India's pitiable Human Development (HD) ranking stays at 134 while Pakistan at 141, Nepal at144 and Bangladesh at 146 bring some solace that we are at least somewhat better off than at least the comparatively perceived to be poorer neighbours. China at 92 has raced up 7 ranks from its last year's position while Singapore (23) and South Korea (26) remain remarkable cases of the South Asian miracle.

The west, as usual have a cherished growth path with some pretty surprises here and there. Norway is at the top of the human development index and is followed by Australia (notwithstanding the Indian baiting and beating), Iceland, Canada, Ireland, Holland, Sweden, France, Switzerland and our own old Asian giant Japan. Someone blogged on the net that how come Australia with the current poor record in law and order pertaining to Indians achieved the 2nd rank. Arguably, these alarming developments will be reflected in the forthcoming HDR since the current report goes back to 2007 data. The human development index is the story of development without any bias towards income and says, though income matters but it is not the only means to meet all ends. Though Norway with a per capita income (per capita GDP (Purchasing Power Parity to be precise) of $ 53, 433 holds the top most rank, yet Liechtenstein with $ 85, 382 is ranked at 19, Luxembourg with $ 79, 485 at 11, while the so-called hegemonic and mighty United States (US) with $ 45, 592 is placed at HD rank of 13. Notwithstanding India's 6 decades of planning, socialistic economy for 40 years and half baked market economy for nearly 18 years, we earn a paltry $ 2, 753 annually. We of course do earn some pretty dollars more than our poorer Asian counterparts Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. Ironically, Bhutan is placed 2 ranks ahead of India in the HDI and Bhutan is supposedly politically and militarily dependent on India.

What ails the economy that fails to assail human development issues making at least two square meals for all the citizens is a question, that has hovered over us since 1950 in the form of political debates to right wing to left wing to religious and linguistic politics, and also in arrays of economics and political science text books. We know the answers on the form of the causes of underdevelopment like overpopulation, agricultural underdevelopment, lack of industrialization, unemployment and a host of other reasons for which, we also have had umpteen number of agricultural, industrial and all other infinite policies. A massive Planning Commission, a huge federal and provincial bureaucracy, and hundreds of welfare and development departments with budgets amounting to billions of rupees annually, has resulted in a HDR of 134 amongst 182 nations. The votaries of the prevailing system will argue that sans these gigantic government machineries and given the multifarious constraints, India would have been at the bottom of the HDR. This is the tragic point of travesty of human development we have reached since 1947 that the policy makers now have to talk of inclusive growth and unwittingly accept the fact that economic growth, if we could call it so before 1991 (aptly called the period of Hindu growth rates well below 4 per cent per annum), and development failed to encompass the majority of the Indians, and brought riches to only a few million people.

It is easy to profess and difficult to achieve, and still easier to preach and more difficult to practice when it comes to implementing economic policies. Currently, the average Indian if one means that to be either the middle class with decent income levels and the poorer sections with infrequent income having a not so decent standard of living, is reeling under the bludgeoning consumer inflation that is unprecedented to the extent that people have cut down on their daily intake of pulses, vegetables, edible oils and so many other essential food items. All this is happening when the recession ravaged global economy looks forward to the Indian economy to help in their revival. The problem is of existence of a dual economy that in itself is a result of poor governance and misplaced policies. If we look into the problem of low human development as a case where a large majority of the population has been left out of the benefits of growth and development, the issues becomes very simple. As an answer to the key question of why and how did that happen is that what economists of repute have been telling us since we can remember. Agriculture has excess of labour resulting in negative marginal productivity in most cases, and very few non-farm activities due to small land holdings that could have created a large amount of employment in farm related activities like cold storage, transportation, agro-marketing, financing, communication and so on. Uneconomic size of land holdings or in other words, too many people working in the fields than what is optimally required, takes average productivity to ridiculous levels where implementing modern agricultural practices is not feasible, until and unless genetic engineering modifies seeds in such a way that a small piece of land has an yield to match what a large piece produces currently, whatever the crop be.

We can be hopeful, but not utopian in the sense of our current urgency to bring people out of the drudgery of poverty. To move excess labour from the fields, rural to urban connectors like roads, railway, transports, fuel, telephones and other forms of communications, ATM and different forms of cash and credit cards, digitalization of the systems for beneficiaries of the various government schemes have to be strengthened by the government. Its true as Sikkim's Chief Minister had remarked, "India has no good mechanism for marketing agricultural products. Foreign fruits and vegetables reach our cities easily whereas our own farmers living in remote villages are unable to market their products". Thus, these measures will lead to engagement of rural labour in non-farm related activities and such engagements are not very uncommon in States like Punjab, Haryana, parts of Western UP, etc. Governance is crucial in these areas as there is no dearth of schemes and programmes ranging from the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) to Bharat Nirman Yojana to sundry other plans. The Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had talked of only a few paisa out of a rupee, reaching the actual beneficiaries and though Dr Manmohan Singh, disagrees regarding the magnitude of leakage he does accept the existence of the same and that too in worrisome proportion.

Digitalization of the delivery system in rural and urban areas is a priority that no government can ignore as this will help in cutting down corruption to manageable levels. And a massive investment in this direction will make governance through the existing institutions much more pervasive, and make these very institutions more inclusive, if inclusive growth is what we intend to achieve by 2012 going by the claims and contents of the Eleventh (11th) Five Year Plan Document of India. The need of the hour is to make our Plans and strategies to have a change of attitude where the emphasis should shift from physical targeting to emotional concerns where we treat human beings (and the environment) beyond facts and figures. It is surprising to see the pain the students and academics of various universities abroad take to discuss, question and suggest on the intricacies of human development in India (and other poorer nations as well) when almost all had a very strong notion regarding a resurgent and leading India. And it was further surprising to see that how the pavements beside the busiest of the Manhattan streets in New York had slopes at intervals to make rolling of wheel chairs for the physically challenged or for the babies convenient. And also that scores of speeding cars and vehicles screeched to stop when even a single pedestrian especially women accompanied by children or aged people attempted to cross the streets. (India or the other developing nations have much greater constraints to allow us to be more civilized, yet half a century is not a small period that we have wasted, or seems to have been wasted due to poor governance.) Or one can also see the kind of conservation the English people have strived hard to achieve for almost all the old buildings and institutions, without making them obstructive to modernization including traffic and expansion of the London city. Moreover an average New Yorker or Londoner does not have to pay bribes for getting a gas connection and then again bribe to get his due cylinder (this is just a hypothetical example as they do not use these forms of fuel at home), or for that matter of fact, any other day to day transaction with the public service providers.

Agriculture is our mainstay and reforms in this sector essentially mean intensive changes to raise productivity to sustainable and commercially viable levels and extensive changes so that the industry has sufficient room to grow. And here comes the policies to take into account the human behaviour and reactions when they are implemented on ground. Only such policies can ensure that India at least moves within the first 100 nations in HDR by the end of the 11th Plan period in 2012. Because not only the rest of the world is progressing much faster, but also for the simple reason that we have much answering to do to our future generations when our efforts towards human development comes under scrutiny of history of economic progress and progress of human civilization.

(The writer teaches Economics in DDR College, Chabua)








The Domestic Violence Act, 2005 was passed by Parliament and it received the assent of the President on September 13, 2005. It is surprising that Act after-Act has been made to protect the fair sex, but till now no Act has been given birth to protect the male. We have already seen the misuse of Section 498A IPC by the women folk. This Section is used as a Caser's sword or used vindicatively by the aggrieved parties knowing that if a case is registered, it is non-bailable. Husband or other family members then have got no option left except to seek for anticipatory bail.

Though enacted for the protection of women, misuse of the provisions of the Act by the fair sex cannot be undermined. The Act, defines 'domestic violence' in Section 3 as any Act, omission or commission or conduct of the respondent shall constitute domestic violence in case it – (a) harms or injures or endangers the health, safety, life, limb or well being whether mental or physical of the aggrieved person or tends to do so and included causing physical abuse, sexual abuse, berbal and emotional abuse, or (b) harasses, harms, injures or endangers the aggrieved person with a view to coerce her or any other person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any dowry or other property or valuable security, or (c) has the effect of threatening the aggrieved person or any person related to her by any conduct, -or (d) otherwise injures or causes harm, whether physical or mental to the aggrieved person.

For understanding of the above provisions, it is clear that any woman living in a domestic relationship can file a case unlike under Section 498A of IPC where obviously the aggrieved party must be wife. To prove a person quality under Section 498A of IPC, the word 'cruelty' must be proved, which has of course a broader definition. But under this Act domestic relationship must be proved meaning thereby that the aggrieved party at one point of time has had a domestic relationship with the respondent.

The provisions incorporated in the Act will definitely curb immoral activities in our society, as any woman living in a domestic relationship can file a case against any man. During the regime of late Indira Gandhi, the Central Government banned the famous book

Lady Chatterly's Lover written by DH Laurence as it contained many illicit descriptions of physical intimacy between a man and woman and subsequently the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of banning the book.

However, the Act, has not defined the word 'residence'. It needs legal interpretation and it may vary from person to person. Till now, no case has gone to the Gauhati High Court so as to understand the legal interpretation of 'residence'as incorporated under Domestic Violence Act, 2005.

Procedure for obtaining in Section 12 of the Act which says'that an aggrieved person or a Protection Officer or any other person on behalf of the aggrieved person may present an application to the Magistrate seeking one or more reliefs under this Act provided that before passing any order on such application, the Magistrate'shall take into consideration any domestic incident report received by him from the Protection Officer or the service provider, etc. But it is ironical, that the Protection Officers are yet to be appointed.

It appears that our Parliament is anxious to make laws but not anxious for implementation of the same, which is, of course not a healthy sign for a welfare State like ours. We have got enough Acts to hate each other but not enough Act to respect for each other.

George Bernard Shaw in his preface entitled Preface on Bosses written for his play The mitlionairess says,'The law is equal before all of us' but we are not all equal before the-law.' Hope this Act will not be-taken in that way.

(The writer is Judicial Magistrate, Kaliabor).








Quality higher education is emerging as a hugely profitable business opportunity. A range of private enterprises, from India's largest, largest-hearted and best-run companies to fly-by-night operators, are making a beeline for the sector.

It is neither feasible nor desirable for the state to stem this tide. Rather, the state's role should be to modulate this enthusiasm to maximise social welfare. The first step should be to dump the fairy tale that education is a sacred mission and cannot be permitted to be a business. Allow companies to run educational institutions as well-run businesses that have transparent accounts and declare dividends.

But do so in the full knowledge that there is not even a single for-profit institution among the world's best universities. Entry of private funds into higher education is not a case for the state to withdraw from the sector. Rather, the state must deepen its involvement and give it a different shape. Higher education is an expensive business. A good part of the cost has to be realised from the students by way of realistic fees.

At the same time, it must be ensured that lack of funds does not kill the college dreams of any deserving high school graduate. A large part of government funding for education must be in the form of liberal scholarships. Securitised student loans with government backing would bring down the cost of education loans and these must be liberally available.

Universal identity codes would facilitate high repayment rates. But the biggest state push for broadening the base of quality higher education should take the form of new and numerous publicly-funded universities. America's so-called Land Grant universities, set up by state governments with federal funding, are a good way to go. The liberal arts and social sciences are unlikely to receive the attention they deserve in higher education funded entirely by the private sector and must get state funding.

Nation-wide common testing would be essential to determine eligibility for college admission and financial aid as also to measure, on a common scale, the outcome of a diverse graduation system. This could be a federal responsibility, along with a voluntary board of accreditation, whose value could be left to students and employers to judge.







Privatisation is no panacea when it comes to education. Nor can high-cost intervention at the tertiary stage produce quality talent. The back-bone of quality education is primary schooling. And improving that is not just a question of funding, even if the government does muster courage to raise expenditure on education from the present about 3% of GDP to the promised 6% of GDP. Granted, the UPA did raise this ratio from the level of 2.74% in 2003-04.


And it did take significant steps to strengthen elementary education through the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and also made elementary education a fundamental right of every child. But it has done precious little to increase the efficacy of public spending in education. For, that is a political and administrative task, rather than an exercise in budgetary allocation that can be managed in a Union ministry. Teachers who do not turn up to teach at rural schools (absenteeism is about 30%, according to one estimate) and teachers who are not equipped or motivated to teach but continue in service without challenge are part of India's socio-political reality. This needs to change.

But such a change calls for decentralisation of administration, empowerment of people at every level and, as some expert committees have recommended, abolition of state-wide teaching cadres in favour of direct appointment to individual schools from which no transfer is possible. But that calls for political courage not just to take on powerful teachers' unions but to reform the entire system of centralised bureaucracy, of which teachers are an integral part.

Socio-economic status has a huge bearing on how much of nutrition and mental stimulation a child receives in its most important growth phase of up to two years of age. Intervention at this stage is key to ensure that by the time children from deprived backgrounds make it to school, they are not already at a disadvantage vis-a-vis children from privileged homes. Girls drop out en masse post-puberty when schools don't have toilet facilities. Children perform poorly in tests when made aware of their caste inferiority. Reforming education is as much a cultural and political challenge as one of finding the needed material and human resources.







Now that the average Indian traveller also has to factor in Maoist attacks along with other travails when using the country's vast railway network, it is amusing to note that the newly-constituted public amenities committee set up by the minister has recommended "exclusive coaches" with "better facilities" for the benefit of foreign tourists.

Of the measly five million foreign tourists who come annually to India (compared to China's 52 million), it would be worthwhile to learn from the railways how many actually use their services, as also what percentage they would comprise of the total number of people — alas, mostly Indians — who travel by train on a regular basis.

Commendable as their concern is for the elusive dollar tourist, their suggestions also beg the question why amenities such as more leg room, wider berths, better-designed seats, nattier toilets, bigger windows, laptop ports and mobile charging facilities, besides smart cabin crews, are not being advocated for all rail passengers. So far, the Railways have focused on the extension and upgrading of its network, without taking the quality of services into account.

With the government pushing for international standards across sectors, it should not be inconceivable for Indians to expect national rail services to ramp up their facilities, even if it means extra charges. Just putting out limited-route luxury trains like Palace On Wheels, Deccan Odyssey, Royal Rajasthan on Wheels, Fairy Queen and The Golden Chariot (usually targeted at foreigners) simply will not suffice.

Nor should Indians take kindly to a differentiated approach by the Railways, skewed towards foreigners when some 500 million Indians tourists travel domestically each year, most of them probably by train for at least part of their journey. It would be far better if the committee's recommendations are regarded as a wake-up call for the Railways to offer better facilities for all train passengers.






No outsourcing here

Congress leaders say the UPA government has no plans to outsource decision-making on key government appointments. This means the efforts of some 'non-state' players to project former top cop Kiran Bedi as the new chief information commissioner will not make any headway.

It should not surprise anybody given how Ms Bedi had rubbed many in the Congress brass the wrong way when she abruptly resigned from service after being overlooked by UPA-1 while appointing the New Delhi Police Commissioner. Some Congress leaders also started recollecting how the BJP had tried to rope in the famed IPS officer as a party candidate during the past Lok Sabha polls. To be fair to Ms Bedi, not many think she herself will make any move that could compromise her quest to be a "fiercely independent" crusader.

Left-over Front

The 'principled evolution' of the so-called Third Front (TF) is on full display. After the crash-landing of the 'issue-based' TF that Messrs Prakash Karat and A B Bardhan knocked up to torpedo the nuclear deal, under the 'revolutionary' prime ministerial candidature of Ms Mayawati, the front has taken a 'free-market' rebirth. In this open-door approach that there is no bar for anyone to jump in or get out. Ms Mayawati was the first one to dump the front and go solo in Maharashtra and Haryana polls. The TF then found in RPI leader and discarded Congress ally Ramdas Athawale a new inspiring leader and 'nuclear deal betrayer SP' an ideological ally in the equally disastrous 'Mission Mahrashtra'. The CPI(M) and CPI which formed an 'exclusive Left Front' to fight the 'misdeeds' of Lalu-Paswan front in Bihar, will now piggyback on the same duo and SP in Jharkhand. In fact some suggest it is time to recast Third Front as 'Left-over Front'.

Bellary fun spoiler

The timing of the Bellary Brothers' move to bring the BJP brass down on their knees could not have been worse. No, we are not talking about the Karnataka crisis gate-crashing into the saffron party's attempt to manage the national crisis. BJP leader Arun Jaitley's knack for catchy coinage was in full flow when he came up with 'Spectrum Raja'. But he had hardly finished chiding the prime minister for not standing up to blackmail by his coalition ally when the Bellary mining Rajas began their blackmail and Mr Jaitley had to rush to Bangalore to begin a herculean course in appeasement that is still underway.

Grooming lessons

As the countdown begins for the mid-November Parliament session, one Union minister is desperately waiting for that missing call from the PMO. It is close to six months since minister of state Srikant Jena had raised the failed banner of protest over not being given a cabinet rank.

This JD-turned-Congress leader from Orissa argued his case, saying he was a full-fledged minister in the UF government. The Congress brass, who have an imperious contempt for the exaggerated pecking orders of the motley Janata Parivar, conveyed to Jena that he could try his 'Janata ways' in grand old party only by risking ejection. So Jena has unofficially ended his 'protest' of not attending office but is still finding himself in suspended animation with no ruling on his promotion plea. What a way to get Congress grooming!








Yesterday, 5,000 children — all below five years old — died in India. Not only yesterday, but day after day, about 5,000 children die. When some 3,000 people died in New York on 9/11, eight years ago, the world changed. When about 175 people were killed in Mumbai in November 2007, the nation was energised into action; a 100-day plan of action was announced, one chief minister and the Union home minister were, in effect, fired. Both these tragic terrorist events rightly generated anger, revulsion and action.


Popular activism replaced apathy, governments moved quickly and decisively, and all agencies were mobilised. Why, then, does the horrifying daily mass-death of thousands of children not shock us into similar action? What causes this benumbing of sensitivity?

Certainly, it is not the inevitability of these deaths: the government itself admits that 60% of these are preventable. The infant mortality rate in India is about 10 times that in UK; it is also far higher than a whole host of other developing countries (four times that of Sri Lanka, for example). Clearly, a vast majority of these deaths are preventable even with our present level of income. Other key health indicators, particularly maternal mortality and nutrition, are equally distressing. Amongst children below five in India, 46% are under-nourished, 36% stunted and 22% wasted. Imagine the impact on each affected family, the depth of the unnecessary human tragedy, beyond the cold statistics.

The magnitude of the health crisis has not got the recognition it deserves. While economic parameters are monitored on a monthly — if not weekly — basis and a sensex sneeze causes contagious colds in the business world and amongst many in the government, few in power seem to have the same concern about our health metrics. Civil society organisations too have not been able to mobilise widespread public awareness or activism. Where is the action plan on healthcare? Will we fix responsibility for being years — and millions of avoidable deaths — away from the target of "health for all"? More importantly, will we take corrective steps?

Some progress has doubtless been made: infant mortality rates have been reduced, child-care and mid-day meal schemes have been expanded and life expectancy is up. However, government health facilities continue to be inefficient, under-staffed and over-loaded, generally dirty and decaying. As a result, an increasing proportion of dissatisfied people is looking for alternatives, and go to private facilities even though they cannot afford the cost.

Due to the cost of treatment and loss of wages because of illness, for many this means taking a loan and then falling into a debt trap. Clearly, for the poor, sickness is not just a matter of physical ill-being but also has a deep and long-lasting economic impact. One bout of serious illness in the family can easily push it into the BPL or destitution zone.

Unfortunately, our model of health-care seems to be evolving towards a private, high-cost, US-style one rather than the UK/European model. The US system has largely been a private-insurance based one and as costs of healthcare have escalated, so have the insurance premia. Despite one of the highest overall expenditures on health, the outcomes are generally acknowledged to be inferior to those in Europe. The US itself is now amidst major reforms — this is one of President Obama's top priorities — and is moving towards the European model.

In India, lack of accountability and motivation has destroyed the public primary healthcare system at the grass-roots, and apex public institutions — like AIIMS, Delhi — are rapidly losing their excellence due to a combination of systemic factors and political interference. Yet, complete privatisation — by plan or default — cannot be the answer in our situation. It is time we re-visited our health-care system and stopped the drift towards abdication by the government of its responsibility in this area.

While the private sector is capitalising on unmet need and dissatisfied patients through conventional healthcare facilities, there is also a huge opportunity for technological solutions. New health devices — or cheaper and more portable versions of existing ones — combined with information and communication technology (ICT), can provide affordable, high quality healthcare even in rural and remote locations. Low-cost X-ray machines, inexpensive and portable ECG equipment, simple and easy-to-use blood-testing devices: these and many others are already a reality.

There is great scope for the development of new devices, and companies in the medical electronics, IT software and telecommunications sectors can build substantial business around remote healthcare: a unique opportunity to do well and do good. Such equipment, in conjunction with analysis and communication capabilities provided by ICT, can take specialist-level medical diagnosis and advice to patients who are thousands of kilometres away. With only a technician or para-medic in a village, patients there can access top medical specialists located in top-notch city-based institutions. The feasibility of this has now been well established, and it is moving to operational use.

The government needs to leverage these new possibilities and integrate them into a comprehensive healthcare system, rather than stepping back and leaving things only to market forces. Even at the low costs that should become possible with new devices and remote services, the poor will not be able to afford commercial healthcare for many years yet. It is imperative that, in conjunction with the use of new technologies, the potential to take health to all is actually realised.

The best way to make this happen, to improve the sad and shameful infant mortality and health indices, is to pass a Right to Health Act. Such an enforceable right may do as much good — or more — as NREGS, and will be a fitting complement to other existing rights with regard to education and information; hopefully, to food and shelter soon. It can be used to trigger serious action to stem the daily catastrophe which we presently choose to ignore.

(The author is a policy and strategy analyst)








In America today — and in the rest of the world — economic-policy centrists are being squeezed. The Economic Policy Institute reports a poll showing that Americans overwhelmingly believe that the economic policies of the past year have greatly enriched the bankers of Midtown Manhattan and London's Canary Wharf (they really aren't concentrated along Wall Street or in the City of London anymore).


In America, the Republican congressional caucus is just saying no: no to short-term deficit spending to put people to work, no to supporting the banking system, and no to increased government oversight or ownership of financial entities. And the banks themselves are back to business-as-usual: anxious to block any financial-sector reform and trusting congressmen eager for campaign contributions to delay and disrupt the legislative process.

I do not claim that policy in recent years has been ideal. If I had been running things 13 months ago, the US Treasury and Federal Reserve would have let Lehman and AIG fail — but I would have discounted their debt for cash at face value, provided that the debt also came with sufficient equity warrants. That would have preserved the functioning of the system while severely punishing the banking and shadow-banking systems' equity holders, and today nobody would be claiming that their risk management practices were adequate and did not need reform.

If I had been running things 19 months ago, I would have nationalised Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and for the duration of the crisis shifted monetary and financial policy from targeting the Federal Funds rate to targeting the price of mortgages. Ever since 1825, the purpose of monetary policy in a crisis has been to support asset prices to prevent the financial markets from sending to the real economy the price signal that it is time for mass unemployment. Nationalising Fannie and Freddie, and using them to peg the price of mortgages, would have been the cleanest and easiest way to accomplish that.

Nevertheless, policy over the past two-and-a-half years has been good. A fundamental shock bigger than the one in 1929-30 hit a financial system that was much more vulnerable to shocks than was the case back then. Despite this, unemployment will peak at around 10%, rather than at 24%, as it did in the US during the Great Depression, while non-farm unemployment will peak at 10.5%, rather than at 30%. Nor will we have a lost decade of economic stagnation, as Japan did in the '90s. Admittedly, the bar is low when making this comparison. But our policymakers did clear it.

It is worth stepping back and asking: What would the world economy look like today if policymakers had acceded to the populist demand of no support to the bankers? What would the world economy look like today if Congressional Republican opposition to the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and additional deficit spending to stimulate recovery had won the day? The only natural historical analogy is the Great Depression itself. That is the only time when (a) a financial crisis caused a widespread, lengthy, and prolonged reinforcing chain of bank failures, and (b) the government neither intervened nor passed the baton to a consortium of private banks to support the system as a whole.

It is now 19 months after Bear Stearns failed and was taken over by JP MorganChase with the assistance of up to $30 billion of Federal Reserve money on March 16, 2008, and industrial production stands 14% below its peak in 2007. By contrast, 19 months after the Bank of the United States, with 450,000 depositors, failed on December 11, 1930 — the first major bank collapse in New York since the Knickerbocker Trust failure during the panic and depression of 1907 — industrial production, according to the Federal Reserve index, was 54% below its 1929 peak.

Opponents of recent economic policy rebel against the hypothesis that an absence of government intervention and support could produce an economic decline of that magnitude today. After all, modern economies are stable and stubborn things. Market systems are resilient webs that offer the best possible incentives to people to make deals and use resources productively. A 54% fall in industrial production between its 2007 peak and today is inconceivable — isn't it?

If so, then the unavoidable conclusion must be that things would not have been so bad if the government had refused to implement an expansionary fiscal policy, recapitalise banks, nationalise troubled institutions, and buy financial assets in non-standard ways. The problem, though, is that all the theoretical reasons to think that depressions as deep as the Great Depression simply do not happen to market economies applied just as well to the 1930s as they do to today.

But it did happen. And it could have happened again.

(The author is professor of economics at the University of California at Berkeley and a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research)

(C): Project Syndicate, 2009








Assumptions can be intriguing. I'm frequently asked in advertising forums- given the recent spate of wins by countries like India, Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore at the Holy Grail like Cannes and other prestigious advertising award shows- what can Asia teach the world about creativity?


It'd be very presumptuous to say what can Asia teach, let's try and see what is unique about Asia and the kind of work that it produces.

At this juncture, to my mind there is much uniformity, a pattern the western developed world has settled into. Be that of language, of palate, of social hierarchy etc. The western imagery is a bit fatigued. Asia on the other hand has very fresh imagery, the vibrancy, the throbbing of life. Moreover, Asia continues to confound. There may be order, a set sensibility appearing in Japan, Singapore but for most part what bursts forth is the sheer multiplicity.

The languages, landscapes, culture, food, religions, gender dynamics –are at different stages across Asia and most often than not, different in the same place. Parts of Asia are hi –tech, parts of it look stuck in time. There is a sort of symphony in the incongruity. Contradictions a way of life, newer thoughts accepted without ancient wisdom being altered. There is blurring of lines, a certain comfort with chaos. This maybe more true of Asian pockets like India/ parts of South East Asia but it is a broad stroke you can paint Asia with.

Also, increasingly as we talk about globalization /multi culturalism, Asia in large parts is spontaneously practicing the next social buzz word 'transculturalism'- the interplay of your culture and my culture and a third form of culture emerging that is not linear but more complex and nuanced. This ease with things changing and yet not panicking about letting go, stems perhaps from the philosophical belief be that of Buddhism or Hinduism or other ancient eastern philosophies, that the concept of time is cyclical – the co existence of past present and future.

This is fertile ground for both the new and the old. Introducing something new doesn't necessarily mean weeding out the old- be it thought, concept or product. There is space for extremes and then some.

Take Asian contemporary art there have been large overlapping engagements with art and culture of the west, but not a wholesale adoption of foreign styles. Artists like; Rick Rit Tiravanidiya of Thai origin does installations in form of rooms where he cooks bringing the concept of architecture for living and socializing alive. Gu wenda of Chinese origin has a tendency to use human hair as a form of human identity and unity .But despite these newer forms of art emerging in Asia- the parallel art forms: Calligraphy of China or Lacquer painting of Vietnam or Patra painting in India is still very much alive.

Applying this layered environment to advertising, it'll become more challenging to have a common global campaign.

Moreover, today consumers are deriving their own meaning from the brand and expressing it. One brand means different things to different people. . There will be an enormous public participation with consumers co creating a brand. The question then emerges -Is there anything in control of the marketer and advertiser? Yes- the core value system. What people call a global idea perhaps needs to redefined as a global value system of a brand which is more sensorial in nature. Trying to articulate it too narrowly will lead to disappointment. We need to understand that the Brand is a living breathing organism and it will adapt to the existing environment, if given the space to.

This very ability inherent in Asia-to adapt-has resulted in a richer sensibility. Western thought and practice has been integrated and re-interpreted. The theory of reincarnation, of the existence of an internal soul which continues to exist just changing the external on its journey, is perhaps reflective in Asia's consciousness. The ability to retain the core and change the paraphernalia is immense. In brand and communication context, when we talk of a global idea, this understanding – that a brand/ idea can take various forms whilst remaining true to its core - is perhaps useful.

I'd also like to touch upon another Asian attribute- Profundity. Given that the cultures are ancient and a distinct Oral tradition –deep thought & wisdom has soaked in. Stating the profound simply and the ease with which higher philosophies of life are part of everyday conversations is unique. How, a product fulfilling a very basic function, could be elevated into something meaningful is perhaps, a learning. Asians tend to consume emotions. The ability to consume and yet not get consumed by it, is distinctive. The economically saturated, consumption peaked societies where greed is not so good anymore, can perhaps take from Asia the ability to see beyond pure consumption, and actively look for creating a value system along with and not just products.

So when often there are questions, due to a surge of awards hauled in, like "Is Asia getting more creative?"- to me it's incredulous.

A continent where civilizations have flourished for the last 5000 odd years- suddenly becomes 'creative"? It's just that there's an attempt by some, to make it more palatable to the West, to get the right dose of 'exotica' in.
This attempt to make things palatable and get recognition from the west is not just in advertising alone, it can be felt in the fields of art, writing and increasingly in films. It's felt that unless approval and appreciation from the West does not come through it is not complete. I am certainly not against incorporating influences, if it happens organically. But if a certain style of writing or of depicting art is consciously practiced which is not natural, purely for the belief that it will meet with western critical acclaim, then it is limiting.

This tendency to over simplify and sanitize our distinct complexities to make it easier to comprehend by those of a western /different sensibility is to me not just sad but shameful. When the western Opera style of performance is concerned– there is no attempt to make this art form more relatable or understandable to Asians- we have to extend our sensibilities to understand and appreciate it in its original form. A culture develops over years; its nuances get honed over period of time. In Indian classical music- meend and gamak are delicate ornamentations that have developed over the years.

Now if we simplify it for the sake of easier acceptance, then its layered beauty will get compromised. It's time that we become more confident of our sensibilities and do not dilute or distort our creative nuances. The world outside Asia will learn to reach out and appreciate our creativity in its original form.

(The writer is Executive Chairman, McCann)








A liberal scientific take on cloning says it represents a process which will, in time, allow scientists to create organs that are a perfect match for those in need of a transplant. The cloned organ would be based on the recipient's genetic material and would not require the use of debilitating therapies in order to suppress the individual's immune system. There would also be no chance of rejection, which is almost always fatal. Therapeutic cloning therefore symbolises the ideal in organ transplantation as it would provide an unlimited source of replacement organs to anyone who needs them.


A humanist ethical view, on the other hand, would aver that cloning, including so-called therapeutic or experimental cloning, creates a new life without a father, and reduces a mother merely to the role of a provider of an almost emptied egg. Nonetheless, the result is still a new human life and the determination to destroy or limit its use to scientific research for therapeutic ends compounds further the moral issues involved rather than for the protection of mankind. As such, cloning embryonic human life under any condition crosses an ethical line and takes an irrevocable step from which science can never hope to turn back.

That last observation, however, is tautological because it goes without saying that with each new discovery which is ultimately verified, science can never hope to turn back to an earlier model of itself without regressing to a more archaic understanding of nature. Meaning, by definition, science cannot afford to be static; it has to move ahead and be progressive — even if this means learning from mistakes. Yet, importantly, not unlearning from them.

But what about morality now? Would cloning embryonic human life for instance cross an ethical line and take an irrevocable step from which morality too can never hope to turn back? Or is morality also — horrors! — progressive? As far as history is concerned it has repeatedly demonstrated that such is, in fact, the case.

Every founder of a new belief system has changed, reinterpreted or — in some circumstances — completely altered ethical guidelines and codes of physical and spiritual conduct to be followed by the faithful. It would appear then that barring perhaps some fundamentally foundational aspects of morality (as indeed in science) the rest of the stuff is, to put it mildly, "subject to further notice".






There are two types of capital controls: quantity-based and price-based. India prefers the first, and Chile and Brazil (most recently) have relied on the second.


Quantity-based controls are very effective, but only temporarily. They are typically imposed to buy time to deepen domestic financial markets to absorb large and sudden changes in flows without being overwhelmed.

In reality, this rarely happens for a couple of reasons. First, it is unlikely that even the most vibrant of emerging economies will be able to match the depth of financial markets in developed countries soon. So relatively small waves of inflows will appear like floods to emerging markets for a long time.

Second, in the absence of adequate liquidity, the protected domestic financial institutions do not acquire the ability to handle large flows. It is like learning how to swim. One usually starts of at the shallow end of the pool, learning first to keep afloat. But if parents (read regulators) are really afraid of us drowning, then they keep the water too shallow.

No one ever drowns, but no one ever learns to swim either. Regulating the right depth of the pool is the problem. So to be safe rather than sorry, these controls usually end up being permanent till forced open by financial crises.

Are price-based controls any better? Tax on financial transactions is imposed to reduce inflows (and thus outflows). Empirically there is little evidence that these taxes per se rather than other reforms (including a more flexible exchange rate regime) helped Chile (which exemplifies the use of such taxes) achieve greater stability of capital flows. Did the controls allow space for the other reforms to take root? This too is not substantiated by data.

So should India impose such taxes? Inflows so far have been far from threatening. So, clearly there is no imminent reason to do so. What about when inflows pick up? I would argue not. We already have tight quantitative controls on government and corporate debt. For external commercial borrowings, one can quickly turn the current system into a price-based one by imposing an overall limit and auctioning the use rights (the market would find the appropriate price at which firms would be indifferent to borrowing abroad and domestically, obviating the need to impose a tax).

In the equity market we can construct such a tax (it would be more complicated than just imposing a straight tax as in Brazil, where the inflows are predominantly debt and not equity), but we shouldn't.

By design our regulators have made the equity market the economy's only financial shock absorber as we were reminded last October. If we shut this off, then the economy will have nowhere to adjust but through growth, and this we should avoid.

Ultimately the decision to impose controls or not will not based on empirical evidence or theory. It will be decided on faith. After the global crisis, the faith on capital controls, just as in foreign exchange reserves as self insurance, is at an all time high.






Some restraint on short-term inflows is desirable Emerging markets are vulnerable to surges in capital flows and may need to put checks in place. Ajit Ranade, Group Chief Economist, Aditya Birla Group

If there is any doubt whether foreign capital flows need to be regulated, just ask Iceland. The people of Iceland can only stare aghast at the devastation caused by the financial tsunami that hit them. Unlimited and unrestrained capital inflows ensured that banking assets went up from 100% to 1,000% of GDP in no time.

But when Lehman went under, all the capital fled, and the entire banking industry collapsed. The krona experienced a free fall, and industries began closing down. Even the normally recession proof McDonald's shut shop in Iceland.

It's not just the tiny Iceland, but most of Eastern Europe that is ruing helplessly, as they witness the downside of unrestrained capital flows. And, this is not the first mishap caused by unruly capital flows, although it may be the most severe. During the 1997 Asian crisis, Malaysia, the only country that restrained capital outflows suffered less damage than others who didn't intervene.

These days even mainstream bigwigs such as former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, and UK's top financial regulator Lord Turner are advocating some sort of Tobin tax on financial flows. James Tobin, Nobel Prize winning economist, had proposed this tax on forex flows in 1971. Even the IMF has long given up insisting that full capital convertibility be a pre-condition for membership.

Emerging markets like ours are more vulnerable to flow gyrations. Plenty of cheap money, earlier from Japan, and now from the US, is in search of higher yields. This is called carry trade. This capital surges into emerging markets. And such capital can flee abruptly ("sudden stop") when "head office" demands, or during episodes of risk aversion. Inward surge causes currency appreciation, and outward flows affects the entire economy, a la Iceland.

So, an emerging economy is vulnerable both ways. (Back in 1971, the US Treasury Secretary famously said that "the dollar is our currency, but your problem.") This vulnerability is a worry not just for small fries, but even for giants such as Brazil, which has imposed a 2% tax on all capital inflows recently.

India is bracing for an expected deluge of about $30 billion inflow this year. If all this were long term FDI, or purely in equities, it would be welcome. But if it is short-term speculative money, it can cause trouble, with abrupt U-turns.

If it is in debt markets, it can make interest rate movement quite volatile. There is also a concern that the rupee may strengthen sharply, causing much more money to come in. Hence some restraint, on short-term inflows, is desirable.

Unfortunately it is not easy to separate long from short-term money, or productive from speculative investment. Hence some blunt, and inefficient instrument may have to be used. There are other alternatives, such as Chile-type minimum residence requirement on foreign capital, or quantitative limits in specific sectors, or an incremental cash reserve requirement.

Which ever option is used, it will be messy and displease purists, but is well advised. As for India's dependence on foreign capital, note that the domestic savings rate is a healthy 35%.

The inefficiency of capital controls is to be seen as an insurance premium to be paid to avoid disasters like Iceland.








Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has finally admitted what many observers have held all along: the April 2010 deadline for a goods and services tax (GST) is unlikely to be met. GST fundamentalists might be dismayed but delay in not a bad thing.


GST wins over our existing tax system because it avoids cascading and hence improves efficiency. It beats sales tax because it secures revenue by collecting throughout the production chain: if a retailer escapes the sales tax net, the entire amount is lost but with GST not only is it more difficult to escape but also the amount lost is only the tax on the retailer's value-added. But the transition to GST is not easy.

In an IMF paper, 'What do (and don't) we know about the Value Added Tax? Micheal Keen, reviewing Richard M Bird and Pierre Pascal Gendron's The Vat in Developing and Transitional Countries, points to one of the main lessons from the experience of many countries that went in for the tax: the political difficulty of making sensible changes to a VAT once introduced.

Mistakes made at the time of introduction are hard to undo. (Incidentally, GST is nothing but a VAT on goods and services so Keen favours the term VAT; though given the common usage of GST rather than VAT in the Indian context, this piece uses 'GST' and VAT inter-changeably.)

That's not the only lesson, though. At a recent seminar hosted by National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP), Keen drew on the VAT experience of different countries to provide some key takeaways. To start with, he finds the efficiency of a VAT-based tax system (what he calls the C-efficiency) varies from a low of 33 in Mexico to a high of 105 in New Zealand, with most countries in the range of 45-60.

While the low efficiency ratio in Mexico is attributed to the large number of items zero-rated, the fact that, with the exception of New Zealand, even countries like the UK have an efficiency ratio of just 49% is sobering.

Contrary to widespread belief, reduced rates are a bad way to help the poor; the rich gain more than the poor from any subsidy extended by way of lower GST rates. As the Empowered Group of State Finance Ministers struggles with never-ending demands to add to the list of items eligible for concessional rates, it might like to keep that caveat in mind.

Keen concedes it is almost impossible, politically, to remove zero rating of food and food items. (Zero-rating refers to a scenario where you get input tax credit). Nonetheless empirical evidence shows zero rating does not really help the poor. Income support measures are far better.

If, for whatever reasons, income support measures are not possible (in the Indian context leakages and poor targeting of beneficiaries are a perennial problem) spending measures - eg on health, education etc - could be a good alternative to zero rating. The success of the Ethiopian experience where fewer items were zero-rated but government supplemented this with more spending targeted at the poor seems to bear this out.

Multiplicity of rates is best avoided. In the Indian context though there is no final consensus it is likely that we will end up with three or more rates. It would be instructive for the Empowered Group to keep in mind that of the 50 new Vats introduced since 1995, 60% have one rate.

Environmental damage and sin taxes on things like fossil fuel, alcohol and cigarettes are best addressed, not by higher rates of GST but by additional excise tax that should be levied over and above the GST. Exemptions (where you don't get input tax credit) go against the very logic of VAT by breaking the chain of tax offsets. The only unavoidable exemption is for small businesses.

Treatment of such businesses, he points out, is very important; many VAT failures are due to inclusion of small businesses at low thresholds. A high thresh hold means loss of revenue. However a low one adds to administrative costs. Hobson's choice! But then whoever said GST was easy.







Ambareesh Baliga, VP, Karvy Stock Broking told ET Now this morning that he expects the markets to slide further down over the next couple of weeks and that coming quarter could be worse in terms of results.


Will you sell on every rise or if the market would drift downwards then probably do some bottom buying?
For a short-term trader & for those who are sitting on big profits, I think it is time to book out on every rise. But, at the same time someone looking at longer term possibly the next 15 months -18 months sort of time frame surely, he has to be stock specific but when there is a dip I think it is surely a time to start buying. But, when I say buying one should be nibbling at this point of time because clearly if the Nifty breaks 4700 levels decisively which I expect to happen today. In that case whatever bounce back happens I do not think we will cross 4730-4750 very easily. So, clearly we are moving towards that 4400 mark over the next couple of weeks. So I think that is the time to slowly start nibbling in and started buying for long-term.

M&M and Ashok Leyland came out with a reasonable set of numbers on the back of cost consolidation. Would you still be tempted to go into that stock considering the fact that it is may be not moved up as much and it is still in that LCV/HCV space which has still got to see that big up on jump in volumes yet?

Not really. Ashok Leyland has moved up more than two times in the last six-seven months. Surely, Tata Motors and Mahindra & Mahindra and Maruti have been much better than Ashok Leyland but the numbers that came out –these were good – but the base was quite low last year especially if you are looking at LCV/HCV. So I think one also needs to look at all these auto numbers - whether it is two wheelers or four wheelers or even HCV/LCV I think we need to see month-on-month. I think there was a lot of latent demand and suppressed demand because of the sort of bleak outlook which we had around seven-eight months back. The figures for November and December would be quite crucial which I expect would be some sort of a disappointment as compared to the figures which we see in the past couple of months. So from that point of view and looking at the way the stocks have moved up so much I mean, I would be cautious at this point of time, I would not take a position in the auto stocks at this point of time. In case the stocks move up I think one should be exiting these stocks.

And the metal space has been fairly volatile. How do you see that sector reacting?

In fact, I have been seeing this for a while that the metal cycles seems to have peaked out, people should be utilising every rise in the stock prices to exit the space and I think that is what is coming out to be true now. What we have seen in the March and June quarters was basically the bottom line improving, margins improving because of cost cutting, top line is not really growing and again in September quarter we have exactly seen the same thing that the top line is not growing. And, at the same time beyond a certain point you have not been able to cut cost so because of which your margins also not improving and which is what has disappointed in the markets. So I think that the December quarter could in fact be worse in what we have seen in September quarter. So from that point of view, I would say this is surely the time to take note of the stocks which had actually gone up so much and in fact this is time to book out as much as possible.

Suzlon the numbers have been bad, the stock has been beaten down, would you buy it at lower levels?

Yes, I mean have a look at this stock at lower levels. I think in case it comes out levels of Rs 55-56 at those, at that point of time I will surely nibble into the stock.

We were looking at a 1% down take coming in, are you surprised that we have not cracked immediately on opening today morning?

Not really surprised because we still have some more time to go for the crack. I think this is just a beginning. The way I see it is we should be breaking this 4700 levels decisively. I mean, this 4678-4680 is not decisive, I mean clearly 4650 is what I am looking at for today.

Real estate and banking, these two sectors rate sensitive has seen vicious selling in the last week, you believe this would continue?

I think it should continue, one thing is like real estate fundamentally we are finding it extremely expensive. I have been saying this time and again that a stock like DLF we have NAV approximately Rs 230-240 and the stock was quoting nearly double at which we found it quite illogical.


As far as banking is concerned we have been saying for the last three or four months that going ahead there would be margin pressures, NPAs will start moving up and again the treasury income may not be in line what people are expecting so I think that will come true over the next quarter.

How about shipping?

Clearly the freight rates are not keeping pace, the cost are going up. So at least for the next two or three quarters should not really expect an any great showing from the shipping sector as such.

Suzlon and Reliance Communication both the stocks are down, would you buy or would you wait?

I would start nibbling in closer to around Rs 56-57 level. If you remember, you guys asked me when Suzlon was Rs 110 plus and I had given a price target of around Rs 70-72. But, that was without this set of numbers, so with this set of numbers I would be looking at a price target of around 56 to start buying. R Com I think I will just wait for another 10% fall from here and started buying at those levels.







Neelesh Surana, Senior Fund Manager Equity, Mirae Asset Global Investment India Ltd. in an ET Now interview said since market is trading at around 14 to 15 times FY 11 earnings, its better to remain fully invested. Excerpts:


What is it that you are doing with your fund at this point? What's the strategy?

Let me start with our view on the market. We have seen markets correcting by about 9-10% from the recent highs. We believe that these sort of corrections are healthy, they have been upto expectations and it makes the overall market moves more graded and more sensible rather than what would otherwise have been more like a bubble. From our investment point of view, we do not take asset allocation calls typically, so we continue to remain 90-95% invested. That said, we have of late tweaked our portfolio more in terms of defences. Defences essentially is not restricted to the FMCG and the pharma sectors. It would also include certain steady state cash businesses.

What did you make of the earnings season that has gone by and how did you tweaked your portfolio in the light of that?

No, overall I would say that the September quarter earnings have been satisfactory. It has been a mixed bag though within those in terms of the sub-sectors doing well. Some of the key points have been, we have seen at a broader level, a sharp acceleration in the operating margins of about 350-400 basis point. This has essentially been on three factors' A) the raw material costs have come down, B) excise duty reductions have taken place, and C) we have seen a lot of belt tightening in corporates, so all three put together have led to the margin expansion.

At a sectoral basis, I would say the clear out-performers in the season have been auto, auto ancillary sector and the IT sector. We have seen disappointment in metals and real estate, which was sort of expected. Telecom also has been a big disappointment.The remaining sectors I would say whether it is the FMCG, pharma or banking have been a mixed bag where certain stocks have done well.

A lot of the mutual funds basically have been big sellers in the last month or so. What have you been doing in terms of portfolio activity?

As I had mentioned, we continue to remain invested, I mean at current levels post the correction, market is trading at around 14 to 15 times FY11 earnings, so we remain fully invested because just that, one important thing, which we have seen over the last few months, it is important to be in right sectors and within that in right stocks. For example, we have seen a divergence in performance of a telecom or a banking sector, so to that extent, it is important to where we are invested rather than the overall investment level. As far as we are concerned as I mentioned, we remain fully invested.

Mid-cap space and the small-cap space, is that a space where it is time to start getting a little bit jittery because it is high beta, it is high risk. If markets are in a correcting phase, it might be a little safer to be with the heavy weights?
No, mid-cap typically as you rightly said, it is high beta, they tend to correct more. We are obviously not looking at small caps, within mid-cap, it is better to focus on large-size mid-caps company and I think it is more bottom up rather than clubbing it in large cap or mid-caps because we have seen certain large cap stocks also correcting heavily, so we do not have particular difference towards the large cap at this point in time, it is more stock specific.

You do have exposure to the mid-cap power space in Godavari Power & Ispat, some of it the top holdings at Mirae Global has in its fund. How are you looking at that pocket because there is a slew of power IPOs, which are heading the markets?

No, within the power space, again as I said it is more to do with stock specific, we have seen some of the IPOs coming in where clearly the valuations are on higher side, we have avoided those. It is clearly a combination what we like is a combination of let's say material space along with merchant power provided those are available at sensible valuation, so we do like power but only if the valuations are sensible.

Reliance Industries still is among one of your top holdings at this point in time given the way the stock has performed, it is back below 2000 by closing into 1900 in the session. What's the outlook on stock?
We typically do not talk about particular stock but that said while we do have position in the Reliance, it is underweight, it is not overweight position in that because there are concerns related to their refining margins at that point in time.

Would you want to build up on IT post the numbers? Infosys is also part of your portfolio. Is that a pocket that you are bullish on?

We are positive on IT and we have been overweight over the last few months and clearly we have seen in the September quarter, the volumes have been accelerating and from the various commentary of the management as well as indications like the salary hike given by few of the companies including increase in the variable compensation do indicate that the demand environment is improving, so we are positive on IT both large companies as well as select mid-caps.

The commodity stocks had had a good run. Would you like to shuffle around that portfolio holding now?
No, you are right. As far as assessment of steel is concerned, there are near-term pressures in terms of the pricing but let me say that's a differentiated product, the global commodity stock funds, so there will always be pockets that we find value in the commodity space and there will always be pockets where you do not see value and also in addition to that, there are certain businesses in India where we have seen over a period of time, some of the companies are positioning themselves on a very strong organic pipelines, which coupled with the lowest cost sort of cost competitiveness do offer interesting sort of investment opportunity, provided you buy at a decent price.

As far as you mentioned on steel, clearly we are also not at this point in time positive.







Apurva Shah, Vice-President & Head of Research, Prabhudas Lilladher told ET Now that the quarterly results were as per expectations and that there was little top line growth. Unlike others, he was not positive on the PSU Banking space. Here is the full text of what he had to say.


What was your takeaway from the earning season? If you were to pick out five companies that you would not mind putting into portfolio, which ones were those be?

It is pretty clear that overall the earning season has been nothing much to write about, it has been more or less along expected lines as far as the bottom line is concerned and somewhat disappointing as far as the top line is concerned. I think some of the sectors which reported good numbers you know were the obvious ones - auto is continue to do very well. I think some select auto stocks did exceedingly well, much ahead of our expectations, you saw decent performance even from the financials and from the technology space.

So I think these are the sectors which are looking good at this point in time from an earnings perspective. But from a portfolio perspective I think we have basically been recommending a somewhat defensive stance to our institution investors and this has been for the last almost 20-25 days. We were of course wrong for the first week or so but since then its turning out that way so our preference continues to remain basically in favour of defensives not so much because of the earnings but because of our view on the broader market.

Broad consensus is that it was treasury income for a lot of the PSU banks that helped to boost up earnings. But, we have seen a sharp sell off coming into these stocks, a defensive portfolio, what do you do with these banks?
We have been negative on PSU banks, we have been neutral on the banks but within that we have basically preferred the private sector banks. Our concern on the public sector banks essentially stems from two things, one is our concern essentially on the provisions that will come up over the next six months because of the changed RBI guidelines.

Also because genuine restructured assets going into non-performing segment and to that we expect basically the interest rate environment to be somewhat hardening over the next six months given that the RBI has made it pretty clear that the low interest rate period is now behind us. So on both these counts, I think the PSU bank space is looking weak.


L&T just came out with the strong order. Given the numbers of the company and the kind of guidance they have given in, what would be your call?

L&T results were much below expectations and that's been the concern that is there on the stock. So you have seen some bit of underperformance in the stock in the last month or so but I think the order book momentum remains very strong and my opinion is that over the next six months you should see increase in both the revenue as well as the profits for L&T. From here on I think L&T stocks is looking quite good to us.

Suzlon numbers, is it a case which Unitech was probably facing couple of months back, there are lot of jitters in the market about the debt position. How do you read the numbers and the price correction?
I think the bigger issue for Suzlon essentially is the very slow pace of orders that they are receiving in fact its basically almost non-existent. Their order book inflow has been very-very poor and I think that's the major concern. Six months out we do not know what the growth for this company is going to look like. Financing issues are of course there but I think it is not a very immediate issue for the company.

May be it's a little down the line that they will have issues with refinancing - of course the company has already made its intention of going in for refinancing quite clear. But it is a easier said and done, it's a pretty large amount of debt that they are carrying on their books. So, there are just too many uncertainties on the Suzlon stock. At the same time at around Rs 60 bucks the stock is probably pricing in lot of these negatives but at this point at least no reason why the stock should start moving up anytime soon.

Is there anything to cheer about in the markets?

If you see the numbers over the last two quarters or may be even more now it is pretty clear that the investment side of the markets is not doing well. What I mean is basically those companies which are dependent on the investment cycle both infrastructure as well as corporate capex are not doing well, you are seeing revenue numbers coming in are very poor and whatever bottom line growth you have seen is essentially because of savings on raw material prices.

So I think that side of the market is not doing well. On the other hand the consumer side of the story continues to do well, you have seen of course auto companies declared pretty good numbers, you know select even consumer stable companies actually delivered reasonably good numbers. So I think that's where it is right now. So overall I think there are not too many triggers in the near term and we continue to prefer consumption side over the investment side of the market at this point in time.





Infrastructure margins under pressure, Dollar-US economy key in short term: Axis Asset Management
Rajiv Anand, MD & CEO, Axis Asset Management gave his views on the markets and key sectors such as Auto, Banking & Infrastructure. Here is the full transcript

There are two schools of thought, one is that is it time to do some bottom fishing and the other one saying that this correction was long overdue. Some of the results that have come in have really not surprised on the upside, so for the time being there are very few positive triggers on the horizon.

We have had a great run and a correction at this point in time is perhaps justified. If you look at the numbers, barring telecom, where the numbers were a little weak and the expectations are that the incumbents would be under pressure especially with the one second billing coming in. Broadly speaking the numbers have been okay and it has been a classic sell on news trigger that has happened here. The other thing that is playing out as well is pretty much a synchronous movement with the strength or otherwise of the dollar and that is playing out at a global level and we are participating in that as well.


What are the concerns that you have with the Banking & Infrastructure spaces?

As far as banking itself is concerned that is a space that we clearly like. The broader arithmetic is that if we are to grow at 7% of thereabouts banking has to be one of the key participants. The broad rule of thumb being that credit growth should be in the vicinity of about three times GDP, so about 20-21% and the market leaders would probably grow beyond that. Yes, in the very short term there are some concerns in terms of volume growth of credit in the second half of the year. It continues to be fairly weak and also as you rightly mentioned, slippages of the restructured assets is something that one is watching out for at this point in time but broadly speaking financial services in particular is a sector that we like.

Infrastructure some of the larger players' order books have grown pretty well but there are two concerns on the infrastructure side. One is clearly on the execution side and two is the continued pressures on margins and therefore to that extent we have clearly seen some disappointment on the infrastructure side.

Do you think we have peaked out for the year 2009 - which is 5100 plus on the Nifty, 17000 plus on the Sensex?
Difficult question really, we have got a couple of months to go. It is quite interesting, the last time I was on your channel was the day on which the Reserve Bank of Australia raised rates and as I see Reserve Bank of Australia has raised rates again this morning. So clearly we are in a rising rate environment. Incrementally, liquidity will probably start to get tight globally, but, the key concern really is what happens to the US economy and more particularly what happens to the dollar and that in a sense in my mind will drive markets one way or the other in the very short term.

So as a tactical move would you buy banks only once the interest rate regime is clear for India? Would you buy commodities only once you know that how Chinese economy will shape up?

The concern as far as metals is concerned there has been huge amount of de-stocking that has occurred over the last three to six months. The question really is if this will convert into real demand going forward and that is a question that we do not have an answer to yet. Yes, the Chinese demand at least from a numbers perspective looks much better than what it did six months ago but whether that demand will continue going forward we are not really sure.

What is your view on autos?

Autos clearly has been the star of the quarter. We have seen very- very good volume growth kicking in and what you have also seen is the fact that because commodity prices etc. or input prices have come down, margins have improved as well and there is a very strong correlation to the availability of credit and the growth within the auto sector. Given the fact that we will continue to be in a reasonably benign interest rate environment at least for the next six months, we do believe that volume growth will continue to be reasonably strong going forward albeit the fact that post-Diwali there is a bit of a lull that typically happens which is more seasonal than anything else. But, one of the things that one needs to obviously watch out for is that at one level perhaps margins have peaked as far as auto companies are concerned and therefore valuation. So while one is positive as far as autos is concerned, one would need to look at the valuations on auto companies.

What is your view on the cap good space? They have been underperforming for a while but the order inflow in the recent couple of weeks has been pretty robust. L&T has guided today morning they came out on our channel and spoke about a plus 30% growth as well in terms of order inflow. Does it look exciting, the sector at all?

At a very macro level, I mean clearly infrastructure is a space that you have to have to be in as far as India is concerned but clearly we have seen some level of underperformance over the last three four months like we just discussed, there is some concerns in terms of execution at one level and two also in terms of margins which have continued to contract through the entire cycle.

Would it be a right approach to probably look at stocks which have underperformed massively due to bad numbers or otherwise a bad set of news and have corrected significantly, there are loads of them or probably look at spaces which have really outperformed are at their year highs because of the good performance in the hope that they could probably go up further.

A good strategy is probably somewhere in between. One should have a mix of companies which have fallen off the cliff quite sharply and companies which continue to demonstrate strong fundamental, strong demand and are participating in the two big themes in the economy - consumption and infrastructure.







Christopher Wood, the chief Asia-Pacific equity strategist at CLSA, is not very optimistic about the sustainability of growth in the US economy, which, he believes, is increasingly reliant on government support and is mired in a "Japanese-style liquidity trap". On the other hand, Wood believes that the growth outlook for China and India is strong and that stock markets in these countries could potentially trade at price-earning multiples that are "two or even three times that of the S&P 500". Wood spoke to ET NOW's senior editor Andy Mukherjee on the sidelines of a CLSA conference in Gurgaon. Excerpts:


What do you make of some of the most recent economic data in the US? The world's largest economy looks nowhere close to standing on its own feet without government support.

The point to highlight here is the continued reliance on the government for growth in America's now increasingly command-driven economy. This is clear from the severe slump in car sales after the end of "cash for clunkers". When it comes to mortgages, 98% or more of the issuance is underwritten by the federal government. So, basically, the US mortgage market is socialised.

All these are signs that the US economy is not fundamentally healthy. We had had a big inventory cycle as reflected in the ISM data. But consumption and unemployment situations remain fundamentally sub-par and we remain at risk in the US from what I call a "Japanese-style liquidity trap".

So, there really is no sign that fiscal stimulus has taken hold and it can now be safely withdrawn?

Fiscal stimulus is definitely helping the economy — and monetary stimulus, too — but in my view, if the market thought this entire fiscal and monetary stimulus was going to be removed tonight, the market would collapse. The stock market wants all the stimulatory policies to remain in place. In my view, these policies will remain in place. I am not expecting the Federal Reserve to raise rates in 2010.

What do you really mean by the US being in a liquidity trap and the macro environment there being deflationary?
I was in Japan in the early 1990s, and when you have a bursting of an asset bubble with a lot of debt, it is primarily a deflationary event and not an inflationary one because of the debt overhang. What I mean precisely by a liquidity trap is that you are in a situation where velocity of money in circulation is declining because of the deleveraging situation.

The central bank printing a lot of money can't end that de-leveraging process. It can help reduce the pain, but it can't turn the cycle around. How do you see that as a practical matter is that the central bank's printing of money leads to narrow measures of money supplies — the so-called monetary base — surging. We saw that in Japan, we have seen that in the US in the past year, but you don't see broad money supply or credit aggregates expanding. So, in the US today, you have a big pickup in the monetary base, but bank lending is declining on an annualised basis.

So, you don't really see inflation on the horizon?

No, I think that the risk in the US today is deflation, not inflation. First, because bank lending is declining; second, because the velocity of money in circulation is declining; third, because income growth is declining; fourth, because you've got lots of excess capacity.

What have been your key takeaways from the US earnings season?


The US earnings season in the past three quarters has demonstrated that the US corporate sector is extremely proactive in cutting costs. So, that is good from a bottom-up, equity standpoint. But the fact that all the improvement in bottom line was being driven by cost-cutting — and not by topline revenue growth — is another indication that the US economy is not fundamentally healthy.

Analysts are expecting a 25% growth in S&P earnings in 2010. Do you think such steep gains will materialise?
I think, the market is definitely vulnerable to disappointments on that point.

But I think, the more important issue is whether top-line growth can come back, because if we just see earnings being met by cost-cutting, the market is going to start worrying about that. In Japan, we have seen many years in which companies boosted profits by cost-cutting, but at a certain point, you want to see top-line growth.

You have been talking about a "melt-up" in global equity, where indexes get pushed up even higher from present levels as we approach the year-end. Do you still think that is going to be the scenario?

This is all short-term guess work. My guess has been that if we could get through the September-October period in global equities, there will be a risk of a melt-up into the year-end, because of underperforming fund managers chasing performance.

But I would have to say that Friday's action on Wall Street, where the market corrected on weak consumption data does mean that as of today, we have the biggest risk of a correction in equities since the March bottom in the S&P. The interesting point is that on Friday, the market reacted to weak consumption data; the market has been ignoring weak consumption data for the past few months.

What is your view on equities for 2010?

Fundamentally, I don't want to own equities in the Western world unless they are geared to the Asian emerging-market growth story. In my view, Western monetary policy is going to be extremely easy, besides growth is going to remain anaemic; and in my view that very easy monetary policy is going to cause the excess liquidity generated by the easy money policy, globally, to flow to the world's best story, which is Asian emerging markets. So, I would say the risk and the opportunity are that an extended period of easy money in the West will lead to asset bubbles in Asia and emerging markets.

What is going to be the stance of Asian policymakers? Are central banks going to try and resist appreciation in their currencies?

Asian policymakers will start to try and become more pre-emptive. I think, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) will tighten sooner or later; it is a matter of time. I am sure RBI will try to be pre-emptive. But in my view, Asia in general is probably only going to be incrementally proactive and not aggressively proactive when it comes to letting their currencies go up, or when it comes to raising rates or other administrative measures.

Probably, the single-most important policy measure, in terms of how Asia responds, will be the Chinese exchange rate. Right now, we are only expecting China's currency to appreciate next year and then only, aybe, by about 5%. That's not enough to head off the asset-bubble risk.

Will the Indian central bank be the first to tighten monetary policy in Asia?

My guess is yes, it will be. In my view, RBI is actually the best central bank in the world. Its management of the very large credit cycle in India since the beginning of this decade — huge expansion of credit-to-GDP from a very low base — has been remarkable. So far, the non-performing loan (NPL) fallout from that big pickup in credit growth has been remarkably benign. We are expecting NPLs to peak at only 5% of total loans.

Will monetary tightening by RBI spook the market?


Oh, yes, because the market is anyway looking for a reason to sell. There's a lot of profit on the table.

You have said one of the biggest risks for the Indian market is its previous outperformance. So, do you think it is time to take some money off the table in India and take it to, say, China?

This quarter, in terms of the recommended relative-return portfolio in Asia, we went overweight on China and reduced the overweight on India. I am still overweight on India relative to the benchmark, but I am always going to be overweight on India unless there is a real dramatic problem here because India's benchmark rating in the MSCI Index is too low, in my view, because of the free-float methodology of the MSCI.

What about equity valuations in India? Don't you think the Sensex at 16-17 times forward earnings is a tad expensive?

Well, it's definitely valuation that allows room for a pullback and a correction. But taking a five-year view, India is always going to trade at a premium multiple in the Asian context. India is unique in Asian equities. It is the only domestic-demand-driven economy in Asia at a time when you are worried about Western growth.

That is a big important positive. India and China frankly could end up trading at two or even three times the multiple of the S&P 500. I can see Chinese and Indian equities trading up to 20-30 times earnings, because the world is going to pay a premium to get growth, when the world has got a shortage of growth and the Western world is in a deflationary funk.

So, investors with a long-term view should not sell Indian equities today on valuation grounds. They should only sell Indian equities for the tactical reason that monetary tightening is coming and the S&P is looking like it is going to correct.

What is your view on the dollar?

I think, the dollar will rally in an equity correction, because, I think, the dollar is the new funding currency of choice: It is a dollar carry trade, not the Yen carry trade. This year, there is a large and negative correlation between the S&P and the US dollar index.

And a strengthening dollar will then lead to an unwinding of the carry trade?

The strengthening dollar will be the consequence of the unwinding of the carry trade.

What about gold? It will continue to do well even though there is no inflation?

Yeah, gold is not an inflation hedge; it is to the hedge against the debasement of Western paper. The endgame, sooner or later, will be the market losing confidence in the government guarantee backing the paper. My long-term argument in gold has remained valid since 2002 — $3500 per ounce.

What according to you will be the key investment theme in India in 2010?

I think, the key theme for India is the infrastructure story. To me, there is clearly a massive need for infrastructure. I think, the two areas where you have got the biggest promise are actually finally getting action again — power and highways. I think, it is almost impossible to exaggerate the benign multiplier consequences on the Indian economy if you get follow-through on infrastructure. And I think, the projects can be funded provided they are done in a rational way with proper incentives.







Robert Prior Wandesforde, Senior Asian Economist, HSBC Holdings told ET Now this morning that GDP growth could recover sharply in 2010-11 on the back of a recovery in agricultural output after a drought year. He expects RBI to start tightening rates next calendar year onwards.


How strong do you think the recovery would be for India given that we did not really fall into the crisis as the world did and in that light, what are the numbers that you are working with for growth in this region?

Well, the Purchasing Manager's Index for India having got as low as the early 40s or something like that is now essentially stable for about six months or so at 54-55, which is consistent with we think something like 8-10% year on year industrial production growth. The last number was just over 10%, so I think what it point to is a period of consolidation at least for industry. Actually quite a lot of the run-up in output has been inventory driven. I suspect that's going to come to an end.

Now we are going to see this levelling in terms of industrial production. As far as GDP growth as a whole is concerned, again a similar story, I think we are going to see a levelling off at around 6% and within that, agriculture looks certain to take a dive because of the drought, but, I expect services to take up the running somewhat and GDP growth to average something like 6.2% in the current fiscal year but hopefully improve sharply in the following fiscal year 2010-2011 where I just upgraded my forecast to 8.5% from 8% previously.

What's happening on the global economy front because you had the US GDP numbers surprise the street, you have the UK GDP numbers come out worse than expected. How do you see the next six months playing out in terms of highlighting the global economic recovery and also the money that central banks had put in two quarters back?

In the western world, it is probably going to be a bit bumpy really the ride, there clearly are underlying issues, underlying constraints on growth in particular. This de-leveraging process still has quite a lot further to run and that will mean that some numbers are okay, some numbers are not great. I suspect that at the end of the day, what we are going to see is at least a gradual recovery and an ongoing recovery in the US, in the UK, in most of the Continental Europe as well, so it is going to be a bumpy ride. But, the trend will be of at least modest growth and that in turn will provide a minor support to Asia. Asia, India is going to have to rely largely on its own domestic growth and its own regional trade cycle to continue to drive what has been so far a very strong recovery, and I am optimistic I think it is going to generally be a decent recovery and a sustained recovery in Asia despite a fairly subdued growth in the western world.

Economy, how do you expect the RBI to tackle that situation over the next six months in terms of monetary tightening?
I think they are clearly itching to raise rates, I suspect that the government is putting some pressure on them to take it easy a bit but it is only a question of telling obviously before the RBI does start to move. For its worth, there could be the first cash reserve ratio hike in January, the first policy rates hike in March, I am looking for 200 basis points of CRR hikes during the course of calendar 2010, 125 basis points of repo and reverse repo rates increases. The key here I suppose is combination, I think as we get into 2010, GDP growth starting to pick up again as the agricultural effects unwind and typically after a drought, we normally see a huge increase in agricultural output, which is partly why I think GDP growth will also pick up strongly in 2010-2011. Inflation, we suspect will be on the WPI measure will be 8% by March of next year, that combination I think will mean that we do get this series of increases despite pressure from the government to remain on hold or at least to keep things easy.






Hemang Jani, Senior Vice President, Sharekhan feels 4600 on the Nifty will be a good time to re-enter. On telecom, while he expects the next few quarters to be tough, he feels Bharti looks interesting from a valuation perspective.

We have already taken a deep cut. Would there be more downside and would you look at investing money if the market does trend lower over the couple of sessions?

What we feel is that because of the sentiment and the fact that we have some indications from RBI on the liquidity front, it does not look that encouraging. So, we think that there is probably some more pain in the market over the next few trading sessions. But, around 4600 or thereabouts -from a valuation perspective- things would look much better. So. we think at that level one should definitely look at investing in the market.

Take us through your picks this morning you have a buy on Dhampur Sugar and Torrent Pharma you are also particularly quite strong and bullish on mid-cap pharma?

That's true, we feel that sugar as a space both globally and here in India is looking pretty good. There are also reports that there is going to be some kind of a consolidation in the industry with Bajaj Hindustan or somebody else going to pick up a controlling stake in Balrampur Chini. So, I think this could actually cause some kind of re-rating across the stocks in the sugar space and Dhampur looks quite interesting from that perspective. Some of the other stocks in the mid-cap pharma space like Torrent Pharma and IPCA, we simply like because they are growing at about 20%-22% very high margin business even globally some of the markets have shown sign of recovery. So we think at about 8-9 kind of a PE both Torrent Pharma and IPCA Labs are looking quite attractive.

You also have recommendation Apollo Tyres and Bank of Baroda, what is the call there?

Apollo Tyres came out with extremely good set of numbers and we think that with CV growth coming back on track the overall volume growth for Apollo Tyres is going to be good. Even though the stock has run up to these levels about Rs 46-47 thereabouts, it still is available at about five and a half to six times. So, we like that from that perspective.

Bank of Baroda actually within the banking space, it is a clear leader in terms of operating performance and we think that this new provisioning requirement that RBI has stipulated Bank of Baroda would be the biggest beneficiary and it is doing pretty well on the credit off take front, on the NIM front. So we think that, that should do well.

The telecom space the stocks have corrected quite a bit, you believe there is more downside or they would

probably languish at the current levels?

I think over the next one or two quarters this space as a whole could be under pressure because now that this tariff cuts have been implemented one would like to watch how the quarterly numbers look like next at least one or two quarters. But yes, from a valuation standpoint at least Bharti looks pretty interesting at about 10-11 times forward PE with Rs 9000 crore of net profit. At some stage people would find this very attractive and I do not think this kind of a scenario is going to play out for too long. After about two-three quarters you will see some sanity coming back so Bharti is looking very interesting from an investment perspective.







how would you play the index today?

The Index would be really avoidable today because we have missed out yesterday's session where there could have been a large drop in the market and the adjustment process is not very clear - how we will be taking that absence because stocks are not that strong in Asia today. So, I think wait and watch today, stick with the individual stocks.

Come to your stocks, you stuck with the basics at least fundamentally - Tata Motors, a decent set of numbers, you have a buy on that and Idea Cellular, telecom is seeing a weak take. How further down can it go?

Telecom did not do well even when the market was rising and Idea is now something like at a five or six month low, so it is showing absolutely no signs of bottoming out.

About auto, you like Tata Motors for sure. Anything else in that space?

They move as a group, but, Tata Motors is clearly pretty strong. It has closed at a one-week high on Friday, which was not a good day at all for the markets. So, if we have even a neutral sort of day today, it should be good for a stock like Tata Motors, so I think better to stick with leading stock in the sector, though Ashok Leyland and Mahindra are not too bad but Tata Motors is clearly at an away sort of move up.

What are the targets on Hindustan Zinc and Reliance Capital?

First of all for trading, it is perhaps a good idea today not to do anything for the first half an hour and see, which way the market is planning to go, so these are really one or the other kind of situations unless there are strong two-way moves in the market. Given that Reliance Capital -though it closed a little higher on Friday- it had started falling towards the end of the session on pretty high volume. So, that becomes a sell thing. It could be good for a 2-3% fall even intra-day if it starts going down. Likewise for Hindustan Zinc, this has been quite a good stock, it closed at a one-week high not unlike Tata Motors, good momentum, some buying towards the end of the session, so this could definitely benefit from a positive or even a neutral market.








The past two years have been a roller-coaster ride for chief economic advisor Arvind Virmani. He has seen double-digit growth, and also tackled the world's worst economic crisis for decades. Before joining as India's representative at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), he told ET that the global financial crisis is over and the economy is back on track. Excerpts:


How you do you assess the current economic scenario?

Clearly, the global financial crisis is over and so one need not worry about impact of other negative developments in the global economy on India. The situation has changed and now one can get away from this issue of financial stability which was there till March-April. The new element now is supply side and pressure from agriculture sector.

What are the indications that the crisis is over?

Well, the simplest one is change in discussion. At the global level, too, no one is now talking about slipping into a great depression. Also, other indicators such as recovery of the organized sector reflected in IIP numbers and stock market. The requirement for outside funding has gone down. The investment recovery will be slow but the indications are there.

So you are positive on the growth rate which you projected in the economic survey?

Yes, I am. Since March I've been saying that we are expecting a U-shaped recovery. Average growth for the full year will be around 7%. If you want the monsoon adjustment, one would reduce it by 0.5%. Besides, global situation is much better than it was in March. The industrial production figures and the stock market recovery makes this assumption more firm.

So is it the right time to work out an exit policy?

Exit policy can be very confusing. We've suggested that WPI inflation will rise and it's not a surprise. As of now RBI decision to not change interest rates, I agree with that completely. Also, it's not a question of exit strategy. These were special financial arrangements done for tackling the crisis and when they're over, they'll be withdrawn. They are for specific period and there is no reason to withdraw them sooner or later.

How about the rising fiscal deficit and can disinvestment be used as tool to counter that?

Fiscal deficit will be brought down as it has been mentioned in the budget. There is a path laid down. As far as disinvestment is concerned, the policy is very clear that it will proceed. Disinvestment is by each department, so by definition it has to be one by one and hence a roadmap cannot be formulated.

Is Dual listing an issue, which now needs to be looked into?

Dual Listing is an issue. It is important to set up a process to see what policy we should have for next 6-12 months from now. So there should be deliberation that next time we are ready. You have to also take in account other emerging countries. Tomorrow there will mergers in East Asia, South Asia and we should have a reasonable policy.

How about energy issues, you have raised this concern time and again?

Yes. Look the oil prices would eventually rise. There is a window of opportunity we've perhaps for next 18-months to get the policy regarding petrol and diesel prices. I believe a task force has already been appointed and which will give its recommendations soon.

How has been your stint in the finance ministry and any piece of advice for your successor?

My stint in the finance ministry started with '91 reforms and it has ended with three big challenges. It has been a very satisfactory journey. The challenge is to come out with policy which is sound and practical. As far as the nugget of advice, very simple basic experience is that if you want to be effective, you've to be patient.







Reliance Industries' refining margins could pick up to $7-9 a barrel next year and then back up to $11-12 a barrel by 2011, says Neil Beveridge, analyst, Sanford C Bernstein. In an interview to ET NOW, Mr Beveridge says that an adverse ruling in the company's ongoing legal battle with RNRL could knock off Rs 150-200 off RIL's stock price. Excerpts:


How do you read RIL's financial performance for the second quarter?

RIL's earnings were pretty much in line with our expectations. What you saw was a weak performance in refining with margins down from $13 per barrel to $6 per barrel, partly offset by the ramp up of KG-D6 gas production and strong performance from the petrochemical segment.

The bulk of RIL's exploration acreage is in the offshore space, deepwater, where costs are high. Do you see that as a disadvantage for the company?

The costs of exploration are significant but deepwater is also where the highest returns are to be made. In deepwater, there is opportunity of significant discoveries and as well as high production rates.

Analysts have assigned significant valuations to RIL's oil & gas portfolio, of which D6 is just one part. There was also the recent news of the company abandoning an exploratory well in the D9 block. How does this affect the overall picture?

Yes, Reliance has reserves in several blocks including D6. We estimate they have about 1.5-2 billion barrels of contingent resources that are not on the books yet. We would value these reserves at $1-2 per barrel. Clearly, if Reliance can find another Dhirubhai in the acreage it holds, that would be a catalyst for a significant upside.

A big overhang on RIL's stock price is the ongoing court case. What is the possible impact of a negative outcome?

The worst case is that they would be forced to supply gas at $2.34 to RNRL as well as NTPC. This would mean a revenue loss of Rs 75,000 crore. The share price could be hit by Rs 150-200.

Refining still accounts for the bulk of RIL's business — what kind of margins do you see for the company over the next few years?

We are pretty close to the bottom of the cycle now. I would expect to see refining margins pick up to $7-8-9 a barrel next year and then back up to $11-12 a barrel by 2011.


We understand you have made a presentation to the RIL board very recently. What was it all about?

We have been talking to Reliance just about the future potential of deepwater, the longer term value of the acreage that the company holds. That is one of the key points with the stock in terms of the upside potential for Reliance.

So Reliance will be drilling 12 new deep water exploration wells over the next 12 months. We have to wait and see what is delivered there but clearly still significant upside with the exploration portfolio.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The move by the Securities and Exchange Board of India to cut the number of holidays in the country's stock exchanges is more than welcome. The sooner it happens, the better for the market. India has the most holidays — 19 — compared to other major countries; the United States has the least — nine days. But holidays are a malaise that is not limited to stock exchanges, it afflicts the nation as a whole. And what makes holidays in India really pernicious is that they are essentially "political" holidays, typical of a soft state. They are there to please different groups and communities; and in addition to national holidays each state has its own specific ones. One can understand closure on Republic Day, Independence Day or the major festivals of various religions, but why are the exchanges, banks and government shut on so many other days? Every year the number of holidays keeps going up in the name of appeasement. For that matter, why should it be the business of state governments to instruct banks when they may or may not close? Should this not be left to the Reserve Bank of India, whose job it is to regulate banks in this country? All these holidays are in addition to Sundays, when everything is shut, and Saturdays, a full holiday for some and a half-day for many other offices and banks, etc. It is time the government gave some thought to this subject, and in consultation with all sections of society evolved a nationwide code for holidays in India. It might not be a bad idea to take a cue from some other Asian countries. They have far fewer holidays than we do, and most of these are for occasions which much larger sections of society can celebrate. In China, for instance, March 8 is a holiday for International Women's Day; and there is a Children's Day and an Army Day. Japan has a Coming of Age holiday, Greenery Day, Vernal Equinox, Respect for the Aged Day, Autumn Equinox, besides of course Christmas and New Year. It will be good, therefore, if Sebi can take the lead and drastically curtail the number of days that India stops working. One can only imagine the loss if one considers the daily turnover on two major stock exchanges, which average a total of Rs 70,000 crores to Rs 1.5 lakh crores, even though almost 80-90 per cent of this is speculative trading. Having said this, holidays are not the biggest reform that Sebi has to undertake; changes that can bring more real business than mere curtailment of holidays will. The one issue crying out loud for implementation is the settlement in derivatives. There is an increasing demand for settlement in futures and options to be done in shares and not cash as it is now. This is now causing considerable damage — making it a speculative rather than investment market. The cash turnover on both the National Stock Exchange and Bombay Stock Exchange is between Rs 10,000 crores and Rs 20,000 crores, while in the futures and options segment it is nearly Rs 80,000 crores. This causes tremors in the market as the settlement day approaches on the last Thursday of every month. The outstanding position in October was over Rs 1 lakh crores, and one could see the effect on the markets as the Sensex plummeted below the 16,000 mark by Friday. Settlement in shares was supposed to be a temporary measure, till the futures and options system was ready. The question now is: how long will this take?








The Kerry-Lugar Bill, which was recently cleared by both Houses of the United States Congress, has been signed into law as the "The Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act 2009". Its stated objective is "the development of an enhanced strategic partnership with Pakistan and its peoples", and under this law, the US has undertaken to provide economic and military aid to Pakistan of $1.5 billion every year for the next five financial years (2009-2013) — a total of $7.5 billion to be utilised for economic and social development, as well as military assistance and arms transfers for counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism as part of the "war on terror". Provisions for oversight on expenditure by the donor have been extended to cover the additional Coalition Support Funds, which are separately provided to coalition partners for operations against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in their respective countries, Pakistan being one of the major beneficiaries.


Disbursement has also been made subject to annual certification by the US secretary of state that such funds are being spent in accordance with the prescribed preconditions, which include ending sponsorship by the Pakistan Army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of terrorist groups such as the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, and preventing the use of Pakistani territory for terrorist attacks on neighbouring countries, specifically India and Afghanistan. But there are also provisions for waiver of stipulations "if the secretary determines it is important to national security interests to provide such waiver". The founding ideology of Pakistan has always been based on permanent politico-military confrontation with India. Its strategic alliance with the US during the Cold War by posing as a certified "free world" enthusiast and enrolling as a member of American-sponsored mutual defence treaties like the Central Treaty Organisation and the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation, was directed solely towards building military capabilities against India and the modern weapons and equipment so acquired were extensively employed during Pakistan's wars in 1965 and 1971 over Kashmir and Bangladesh. Later, in 1979-89, the US granted Pakistan the exclusive franchise for "Charlie Wilson's War" against Soviet forces in Afghanistan, for which huge amounts of unaccounted weapons and ammunition were provided to the ISI by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), including the then latest Stinger man-portable surface-to-air missiles. A large proportion of these were again diverted and stockpiled for use against India in Kashmir.


At present, the Pakistan Army and the Air Force are extensively employing heavy firepower against the Taliban in Federally Administered Tribal Areas and there is every likelihood that they will again try to blackmail the US to exploit the "national interest" clause for procuring similar weapons through the Kerry-Lugar provisions as well, for subsequent diversion against India. The US has repeatedly condoned such breaches of its own stipulations on the end-use of military aid by Pakistan, whenever it felt it served its own national interest, through US presidential decrees in the Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations, based essentially on misrepresentation of facts.


The same charade was continued through the 1980s though hard intelligence had become available to the CIA by then of nuclear (and missile) proliferation by China (and North Korea) to Pakistan, which then further sold it through the A.Q. Khan "nuclear Wal-Mart" functioning under official patronage of the Pakistan Army to countries categorised as "rogue nations" by the US.


Even a series of legislative amendments introduced in the US Congress from 1987 to 1990 (Symington 1976, Glenn 1977, and most important, Pressler 1985) to stop American military and economic aid to countries engaging in illegal nuclear activity were sidestepped "in the national security interests" of the US, in respect of Pakistan in view of its role as a frontline state supporting the Mujahideen against the Soviet Army in Afghanistan. Events have now come full circle, and the situation in Afghanistan after the proclamation of the war on terror by the US post-9/11 is very similar to that prevalent earlier during the anti-Soviet Mujahideen war of 1979-89.


Pakistan's military and intelligence hierarchy has always been accorded a special relationship of permissive non-accountability regarding American military aid by successive US administrations, and have been traditionally allowed to siphon off large portions from this largesse for private enrichment. Attempts by the new Obama administration to monitor and impose oversight and end-use restrictions on these funds have naturally touched a raw nerve of self-interest within the Pakistan Army. Orchestrated demonstrations of public anger have been organised at what is being proclaimed as insufferable interference by the US in the internal affairs of the country.


As the lead nation in the global war on terror, the US is handicapped by the compulsions of coalition in managing rogue allies like Pakistan. Former US President George W. Bush sought to mollify them with the accolade of "major non-Nato ally" notwithstanding the obvious reluctance and disinterest of the Pakistan Army in fighting against its co-religionists in the Taliban or Al Qaeda, which are considered strategic assets against India, and for re-establishing Pakistan's control over its strategic depth area in Afghanistan.


US President Obama's administration is attempting to cajole a recalcitrant Pakistan Army into a show of cooperation with the US, however superficial, with the socio-economic inducements in the Kerry-Lugar legislation. Neither approach seems to be working, and the Pakistan Army meanwhile continues to double cross its patron by selectively targeting only its own "bad Taliban", the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan of Hakimullah Mehsud which are directly attacking the Pakistan Army inside the country, but not its "good Taliban" of the Quetta Shura, the Haqqani network, and the Hizb-e-Islami of Gulbuddin Hikmetyar, which operate only against Western troops in Afghanistan.


India's historical experiences naturally raise questions about American military aid. Will history be allowed to repeat itself and the weapons provided to Pakistan under the Kerry-Lugar Bill be diverted for use against India? And is the US again going to support the diversion by exploiting its "waiver" clause?


Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former Member of Parliament








The good news is that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, aka the Obama stimulus plan, is working just about the way textbook macroeconomics said it would. But that's also the bad news — because the same textbook analysis says that the stimulus was far too small given the scale of our economic problems. Unless something changes drastically, we're looking at many years of high unemployment.


And the really bad news is that "centrists" in Congress aren't able or willing to draw the obvious conclusion, which is that we need a lot more federal spending on job creation.


About that good news: not that long ago the US economy was in free fall. Without the recovery act, the free fall would probably have continued, as unemployed workers slashed their spending, cash-strapped state and local governments engaged in mass layoffs, and more.


The stimulus didn't completely eliminate these effects, but it was enough to break the vicious circle of economic decline. Aid to the unemployed and help for state and local governments were probably the most important factors. If you want to see the recovery act in action, visit a classroom: your local school probably would have had to fire a lot of teachers if the stimulus hadn't been enacted.


And the free fall has ended. Last week's GDP report showed the economy growing again, at a better-than-expected annual rate of 3.5 per cent. As Mark Zandi of Moody's put it in recent testimony, "The stimulus is doing what it was supposed to do: short-circuit the recession and spur recovery".


But it's not doing enough.


Suppose that the economy were to keep growing at 3.5 per cent. If that happened, unemployment would eventually start falling — but very, very slowly. The experience of the Clinton era, when the economy grew at an average rate of 3.7 per cent for eight years (did you know that?) suggests that at current growth rates we'd be lucky to see the unemployment rate fall by half a percentage point per year, meaning that it would take a decade to return to something like full employment.


Worse yet, it's far from clear that growth will continue at this rate. The effects of the stimulus will build over time — it's still likely to create or save a total of around three million jobs — but its peak impact on the growth of G.D.P. (as opposed to its level) is already behind us. Solid growth will continue only if private spending takes up the baton as the effect of the stimulus fades. And so far there's no sign that this is happening.


So the government needs to do much more. Unfortunately, the political prospects for further action aren't good.


What I keep hearing from Washington is one of two arguments: either (1) the stimulus has failed, unemployment is still rising, so we shouldn't do any more, or (2) the stimulus has succeeded, GDP is growing, so we don't need to do any more. The truth, which is that the stimulus was too little of a good thing — that it helped, but it wasn't big enough — seems to be too complicated for an era of sound-bite politics.


But can we afford to do more? We can't afford not to.


High unemployment doesn't just punish the economy today; it punishes the future, too. In the face of a depressed economy, businesses have slashed investment spending — both spending on plant and equipment and "intangible" investments in such things as product development and worker training. This will hurt the economy's potential for years to come.


Deficit hawks like to complain that today's young people will end up having to pay higher taxes to service the debt we're running up right now. But anyone who really cared about the prospects of young Americans would be pushing for much more job creation, since the burden of high unemployment falls disproportionately on young workers — and those who enter the work force in years of high unemployment suffer permanent career damage, never catching up with those who graduated in better times.


Even the claim that we'll have to pay for stimulus spending now with higher taxes later is mostly wrong. Spending more on recovery will lead to a stronger economy, both now and in the future — and a stronger economy means more government revenue. Stimulus spending probably doesn't pay for itself, but its true cost, even in a narrow fiscal sense, is only a fraction of the headline number.


OK, I know I'm being impractical: major economic programmes can't pass Congress without the support of relatively conservative Democrats, and these Democrats have been telling reporters that they have lost their appetite for stimulus.


But I hope their stomachs start rumbling soon. We now know that stimulus works, but we aren't doing nearly enough of it. For the sake of today's unemployed, and for the sake of the nation's future, we need to do much more.








Forty years ago, on October 29, 1969, a network link was established between two mainframe computers, one in the University of California, Los Angeles, and the other at the Stanford Research Institute, both in the United States, through a system known as "data packet switching". This network was known as the ARP-ANET, because the idea originated within an informal research group at the United State Government's Department of Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). This group was led by the head of the agency, J.C.R. Licklider, a visionary scientist who as early as 1960 had called for a network of computers connected to one another by wide-band communication lines which, he anticipated, could provide the functions of libraries as well as information storage and retrieval and other symbiotic functions.


ARPANET became the technical core of what would eventually become the Internet. The problem was one of connecting separate physical networks to form one logical network. By 1973, a system was worked out whereby the differences between network protocols were hidden by using a common "internetworking protocol", which meant that the concept of the network could be separated from its physical implementation. This spread of Internetworking began to form into a global network that eventually came to be called "the Internet", based on standardised protocols that were officially implemented in 1982.


Originally, the development and use of the Internet was confined to the military, the government and some privileged universities in the US. Over the 1980s, the technology and the networking possibilities began to be spread across the world. ARPANET was overtaken by the rapidity of technological change elsewhere, and the project ended in 1990 to be replaced by newer networking technologies. Commercial activities were allowed by the US Congress in 1992, leading to the emergence of private Internet service providers and new commercial applications. By the end of the 1980s, the Internet had entered Asia, with institutions in Japan, Singapore, China and even Thailand becoming early users.


In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee, a scientist working in the European government-funded CERN in Geneva, invented a network-based implementation of hyper-text that could find and organise files and infor-mation, effectively beco-ming a way of organising the Internet. He made this technology publicly avail-able, and it resulted in the World Wide Web. The computer he used at CERN became the first Web server. Web browsers like Mosaic and Netscape were developed in the early 1990s.


The rest is not yet history, because technological change in this area conti-nues apace, and is even now dispersed to many parts of the world. Although the original development was largely concentrated in official defence and scientific circles, subsequently invention and innovation has become extraordinarily decentralised, so much so that the legions of books on the history of the Internet find it difficult to record the developments accurately and comprehensively.


New technologies and applications are constantly being developed, and the remarkable possibilities that already have been opened up by instantaneous human communication almost defy imagination. It has been said that the Internet is as much a collection of communities as it is a collection of technologies, and the technology is being constantly pushed in parti-cular directions by meeting needs of these Internet communities as well as using members to further develop the technology.


The euphoria generated by this and related technologies was at least partly responsible for the dotcom bubble, which led to significant over-invest-ment in some comm-ercial applications that could not generate profits. However, while the bursting of that bubble did lead to an economic recession in 2000 and 2001, the proliferation of techno-logical development has continued.


And, meanwhile, it has changed the contours of human life with amazing rapidity. While the digital divide does indeed remain a major issue, those who have access to the Internet have found their lives transformed. For many people who keep disco-vering or benefiting from particular appli-cations, it can seem to be too good to be true.


The development of mobile phone technology has changed the nature of access, as more and more people in the developing world turn to mobile phones to access the Internet. In developing Asia, it is estimated that the majority of Internet users now access the net by phone instead of computer.


Email is often considered to be the most successful Internet application, though it actually predates the Internet. Other applications have multiplied and changed life so quickly that it must have significant social implications. The Internet has changed the way people keep in touch with each other, find out about each other, learn, work, purchase goods and services, handle many aspects of daily life, listen to music, find other entertainment, even make friends.


Obviously the technology is going to keep on changing. But while we can all celebrate this wonderful technology that has already shown so much potential for transformation, the hard questions about the Internet may emerge now. The very success of the Internet has meant that there are many more people (and companies) with diverse interests who have a stake in it.


Although non-commercial use remains high, the Internet is increasingly becoming a support structure for commercial services provided for profit, and this is intensified by the fact that its own services are increasingly becoming commodities.


Already there are debates about how the Internet should be controlled and how to maintain the decentralisation that has been so productive and implicitly democratic. There are conflicts over domain name space, the form of the next generation IP addresses, the control of content that appears on the Internet, and much else. If the Internet is really to remain too good to be true, these are questions that must concern all of us.








They live in underground colonies with a queen, her harem of favourite males, soldiers to defend the tunnel system and workers to keep excavating in search of food. But despite having the social structure of an ants' nest or beehive, naked mole rats are mammals about the size of a mouse. And among their many peculiarities are features that could, if understood, be of great relevance to human health and longevity.


Their lifespan is of extraordinary length for a rodent. Mice live a couple of years but mole rats can reach the venerable age of 28. The long life is probably a consequence of their protected existence. Mice have a short lifespan because they have many predators. Grey squirrels, on the other hand, have fewer enemies and can live for more than 20 years.


The naked mole rat lives an even more protected lifestyle than do squirrels. The queens never come to the surface. Even the workers are exposed only when they need to shovel dirt to the earth's surface.


A colony's principal danger is other mole rats who may break into the tunnel system, testing the soldier caste's defences. Another risk to life is a kind of civil war that breaks out when a queen dies. Other females, intimidated into staying barren while the queen lived, regain their fertility and fight until one emerges victorious.


Mice are very prone to cancer; in some strains, 90 per cent of them die of tumours. People have stronger defences against cancer, as is necessary for a long-lived animal: The disease accounts for 23 per cent of human mortality. But the mole rat has taken its anti-cancer defences even further: It seems not to get the disease at all. "These animals have never been observed to develop any spontaneous neoplasms", Vera Gorbunova and colleagues said in an article in the current Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Gorbunova, who works at the University of Rochester, has taken a first step toward understanding the genetic basis of the mole rat's surprising immunity to cancer. She and her colleagues have found that the rats' cells have a double system for inhibiting irregular proliferation, compared with the single system in human cells.


Normal human cells grown in a lab dish show behaviour known as contact inhibition. Once the cells come in contact with one another, they form a single layer and stop dividing. Gorbunova has found that both human and mole rat cells have the same system of contact inhibition, mediated in both species by a gene known as p27. But mole rats, in addition, have an early acting version of the same system and presumably use the p27 system just as a backup. When mole rat cells in glassware make just a few contacts with one another, they stop growing and dividing. This early contact inhibition system is mediated by a gene called p16-ink4a. People also have the p16-ink4a gene, but it seems to play almost no role in contact inhibition of cells. The mole rat's double system may be part of the reason for its remarkable immunity to cancer.


Another cell-level difference between the species is that mole rat cells maintain an active system for letting cells divide. Called telomerase, this system is switched off in mature human cells, presumably as a defence against cancer.


Gorbunova believes the mole rat can afford to keep telomerase switched on, because its anti-cancer defences are so good, and that the active telomerase may confer longer life on stem cells, which are responsible for repair and maintenance of the body's tissues.

But Ronald da Pinho of Harvard Medical School, an expert on cancer and telomeres, disagreed, saying that inactive telomerase can be a cancer risk for human cells because it leads to genetic instability.


Mole rats seem to lead something of a food-and-famine lifestyle. They live on tubers, the underground larders of nutrients laid down by plants in desert environments. One tuber can feed a colony of 100 mole rats for months.


But even though they are careful to gnaw away at the tuber without killing the plant, the time comes when they must find another. Because the rats do not venture above ground, they must rely on the skill of their tunnel-digging work force to locate other tubers in the neighbourhood.


The mole rats, presumably, get pretty hungry between tuber finds. Yet another of their quirks is that they have pushed the concept of recycling to extremes and will eat their own excrement. The continual alternation of food and famine might set off the same life-extending mechanisms in mole rats as does caloric restriction. But an expert on the genetics of caloric restriction, Leonard Guarente of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, noted that mole rats enjoyed long lives in captivity, where they were presumably well fed all the time.


Gorbunova plans to set up a colony of mole rats in her laboratory with plastic piping connecting a network of cages to serve as a tunnel system and carrots standing in for desert tubers. To understand human longevity and cancer, she said, "it's important to study species other than mice". "I think", she continued, "this is the beginning of a long journey".








Of late, amidst the murder and mayhem accompanied by an absence of government or any signs of governance, a group of citizens have been circulating an email message exhorting whoever to "bring back Jinnah's Pakistan".


Now, to bring back something that existed for a mere moment in the life of this nation is more than difficult at a time when the national mindset is what it is. Mohammad Ali Jinnah's Pakistan was denounced six months after his death when the Objectives Resolution was passed, negating the words he had so eloquently spoken to his Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947: "...You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the state". Thus, willy-nilly, the state was made the custodian of religion.


In the early 1950s, the British writer Hector Bolitho was commissioned by the government to write an official biography of Jinnah. It was published in 1954. Such was the moral dishonesty and hypocrisy that had taken a firm hold and rooted itself in the country's psyche that the ruling clique of the day perverted Jinnah's words, and printed in the book was this version of the quoted sentence: "You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state". In 1984, when wily Zia-ul-Haq ruled, came the finest biography of Jinnah so far written. Prof Stanley Wolpert's well-researched book, Jinnah of Pakistan, was published in the United States by Oxford University Press (OUP) and 500 copies were sent to Pakistan for sale.


Prior to its release, two copies were sent by OUP to the information ministry seeking permission to reprint locally. The minions of this pernicious ministry, which should not exist, took exception to certain passages in the book in which our founder-maker's personal tastes and habits were mentioned. The 498 copies of the book lying with OUP were removed from their storeroom and reprinting, of course, denied. To top this crass idiocy, Wolpert was approached and asked to delete the offending passages so that it could be reprinted and sold. Naturally, Wolpert's response was that as a scholar he was unable to compromise on basic principles and any deletion/amendment was out of the question. Thus the book effectively remained banned in Pakistan until 1989, when, to give full credit to Benazir and her government, permission was given to OUP to reprint and the book was released for sale. Zia's was an exercise in pure futility.


Pakistan's large neighbour also has blinkered intolerant elements in its midst. There is a long list of books that are banned in India, amongst them Stanley Wolpert's "factional" novel on the assassination of Gandhi, Nine Hours to Rama, which was banned by the government in 1962. And now, this August, two days after its release, the government of Gujarat saw it fit to issue a notification "forfeiting" and "prohibiting" Jaswant Singh's Jinnah: India-Partition-Independence. The book was banned with immediate effect because it was alleged that its contents are highly objectionable, against the national interest and that it is defamatory in regard to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who is largely regarded as the architect of modern India.


Now, to the bringing back in totality of Jinnah's Pakistan — that we can never do as half of his Pakistan was shorn by the collusion of our politicians and Army generals. The deadly mixture of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Gen. Yahya Khan threw away East Pakistan through a lust for power coupled by incompetence and insensitivity. What can be saved, if we had the leadership to do so, is the spirit of Jinnah's Pakistan as expressed by him on that August day.


Had a large part of the Middle Eastern region and parts of South Asia been able to heed Jinnah's words that religion, caste and creed "has nothing to do with the business of the state", the world may well have been in better shape today. It is possible that the extremism that has galloped away in these areas would not have taken root had various states not been allowed to force upon the world their dangerously distorted version of a religion. As for Pakistan, the Objectives Resolution forms the preamble to Zulfikar's constitution and was inserted as an annex by Zia-ul-Haq. No government has been strong enough to take on the mullah fraternity whose grip has strengthened with the years. To bring back Jinnah's Pakistan, we must have a revolution of the national mindset and a latter-day Ataturk to ensure that it is successful.








Ever since the dawn of the modern era, it has been somewhat taken for granted that the natural resources of the earth are available for human exploitation. This conviction is of direct relevance to industries such as mining. In West Bengal, this matter has taken an odd turn with the decision to build a new airport on land (allocated for the project) underneath which there is a rich deposit of coal. There is a school that argues that land for the airport could easily have been given elsewhere and the present site left vacant for future mining of the coal deposits. The counter-argument is that the deposits are far too deep to be exploited in the near future with the available technology. A more advanced technology for mining could be available a few years down the line. Not only is that uncertain, the delay opens up the question of compensation for those who stand to benefit from the present airport project. When the coal is mined (assuming that it will be one day), the entire Indian economy and many industries will benefit from that process. But this possibility lies in the future. Why should the inhabitants lose the present opportunity of gaining from the airport project only because the whole of India will gain from the mining? There should be some mechanism of compensating the people of the region for the sacrifices they will be forced to make for the future. The Planning Commission should perhaps look into this issue. When addressing the question of coal-mining for the future, it is necessary to keep in mind two factors. One, that coal-based industries always adversely affect the environment. Two, advances in technology could make coal irrelevant for future economic development.


The building of the new airport also opens up questions relating to State and private ownership of airports. The new airport is to be built through private initiative and private investment. The old airport in Dum Dum remains in the hands of the State. There was always the possibility of making the old airport into a retail hub by allowing it to be privately owned similar to the airport in Delhi. On the other hand, since the new airport involves vexed issues of land acquisition and of compensation, it should have remained in the hands of the State. Exactly the opposite has happened. This only suggests that not adequate thought is being devoted to projects of the kind that are being discussed here.







Sri Lanka recently released more than 41,000 of the internally displaced persons from one of its relief camps in the north. The people were transported to their respective villages, which, according to the government, had been de-mined and made suitable for resettlement. But it is not merely the earlier 'unsuitability' of habitations that has been holding up the release and relocation of IDPs. The perceived security threat from them was a major factor behind the delay. That this was suddenly overlooked after months of hedging is what makes the government move unprecedented. The release, which came days after a 10-member delegation from Tamil Nadu visited the country, may have done wonders for the delegation's popularity rating. But the Sri Lanka government was more concerned about itself than about the Indian visitors while taking the decision. Only six months after its stupendous military victory, the Mahinda Rajapaksa government is facing an uphill task holding on to its achievements. It is suddenly beleaguered by pressures from the international community and from domestic politics. Already warned by the European Union that its access to the generalized system of preferences plus trade scheme that sustains its textile industry may be suspended, Sri Lanka's problems have been compounded by the American war crimes report that alleges human rights violations. The United States of America has shown that it means business by summoning the Sri Lankan army general, Sarath Fonseka, who was on a personal visit to the US, allegedly to testify against the defence secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. Although the diplomatic impasse resulting from this is likely to be cleared up, the message will have been conveyed to Sri Lanka.


Given the build-up in international pressure that could lead to cuts in aid, Sri Lanka's humanitarian gesture is perhaps rightly timed. It cannot afford to allow a financial crisis to worsen the domestic situation. The Rajapaksa administration now faces opposition in the form of the United National Front that includes powerful adversaries, and the resurgent and troublesome Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, with the trade unions and students' groups under its aegis. It is not without reason that elections have already been declared, although they may, in fact, reduce the possibility of more substantial releases from camps.









It is 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the cataclysmic event that changed the face of Europe, and 50 years since I first went to Germany. I studied in Kiel in the early 1960s; the scars of defeat and division were then still etched on the landscape and on the minds of Germans. I remember visiting Berlin soon after the wall was erected. The wall was only for Germans; it did not stop foreigners like me. I had gone with an American friend; we drove past the checkpoint. There was little traffic — not even many Trabis around. We parked the car close to Checkpoint Charlie and went for a stroll. When we came back to the car, we found a Volkspolizist keeping watch on the car. The Kiel number plate made the car suspicious.


At that time I remember thinking, how impractical all this is. The East Germans would have to build hundreds of miles of wall; in Berlin itself they built over a hundred miles of it, 12 feet high. And yet it could be scaled or breached anywhere. So they would have to build watchtowers to keep an eye on every yard of the wall, and man them with thousands of soldiers. It was possible that a guard may go to sleep — or over the wall. So he had to be provided with a companion to keep watch over him. The border went over mountains and across forests; so a swathe of land had to be cleared all the way along it. Anyone intent on escaping would study the location of watchtowers and find a place where he could evade detection. So mobile patrols had to keep driving along the border all the time. Jail was not enough to deter many who wanted to leave; so they had to be shot. Such were the consequences of the logic of division.


Yet there are many borders across the world; only a few of them have walls or fences. Some of them are not even marked; for example, the border between Norway and Sweden, or between the United States of America and Canada, is hardly noticeable. The reason why East Germany fenced off its long border with West Germany was that if it had not, it would have become a wasteland, for most of its people would have migrated to the west. Between 1949, when East Germany was separated from the West, and 1961, when the wall was built, 2.7 million people crossed the border into West Germany. Of them, 160,000 escaped between January and August, 1961. East Germany survived as long as it did because of the wall. And it ceased to survive because its people found a way of escaping that a wall could not block off: they went to Hungary and asked the West German embassy there for asylum.


The East German government would not, of course, have admitted that it was preventing people from leaving its territory. It called the wall an "anti-fascist protection wall"; in other words, it was saving its people from being contaminated by the virus of fascism. The original fascist was Mussolini, who defined fascism as reaction — reaction to, and rejection of, the liberal avalanche unleashed by the French Revolution which engulfed much of the West by the 20th century. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity — that was the slogan of 1789. The liberal civilization of the West went into crisis after World War I; all the industrial countries suffered terrible unemployment and economic decline. Capitalism was discredited; people sought alternatives. Russia sought it in communism; Italy and Germany sought it in fascism.


So it is ironic that the East German communists called the West fascist. Behind it was a fallacy of association. After World War II, the political and military leaders of Nazi Germany were tried and sentenced. But in West Germany, the Allies thereafter called a halt. They decided not to pursue the thousands who had served the Nazi government, and called it a day so that their part of Germany could recover and return to a normal life. The East Germans did not do it any differently, but found it convenient to transfer the mantle of fascism to Western shoulders.


That was political rhetoric. But what led millions to want to leave the east and migrate to the west was not fascism or liberty or democracy, but the sheer prosperity of West Germany. When I went to Germany, large parts of its cities were still in ruins. The hills along the north coast of the Bay of Kiel are dotted with luxurious villas today. So they were in the 1930s too; but in 1962, they were like haunted houses — broken and surrounded by unkept, overgrown gardens. But people had jobs; they had work to do, and they were paid to do it. Work was the new religion of West Germany; the people I came to know just put their past behind and worked to build a future. I remember getting into a train once and finding myself next to a man who had recently been released by the Soviets and had come back to West Germany. He started talking to me of the past — of how times were better under the Nazis. Our neighbours shut him up; they just did not want to remember the past. Life was hard enough. For many of them, life must have been better under the Nazis. But that was all past; all that mattered was the future, and they wanted to make it better.


And the reason why they were so focused on the future, and on economic success, was that unlike the socialist societies, national or otherwise, they had to compete to succeed in the new Germany. Germany has very good social services, and had elements of them even in the 1960s; but when it came to the goods and labour markets, there were no hiding places. Everyone had to compete, and had to do his best. When East Germans came west, the West German government gave them 100 marks. But for the next 100 marks, they had to find work. Everyone admires the way the Germans work. This is justified. The Germans are extremely methodical; they lay even paving stones with the precision of a surgeon. But they do so not because of any biological quirk. It is not because Germans are addicted to work and do not know how to relax or enjoy themselves. One only has to visit Berlin over a summer weekend today to see how relaxed — and even cheerful — Germans can be. They work so well because that is how their labour market works. Their employers expect perfection, and their training schools make that perfection universally attainable.


So the German miracle — the miracle that melted the Berlin Wall — is a miracle of the market economy, of an economy that makes everyone compete, but which also gives people a helping hand when they cannot compete — for instance, when they are too young, too old or too sick — and helps everyone hone his skills for getting the best out of the market economy. More than being a free country, it is a school for freedom.








The Bharatiya Janata Party continues to blot its book with public squabbles that do it no good, particularly after its virtual decimation at the hustings earlier this year. The Karnataka chief minister, B.S. Yeddyurappa, standing his ground against the Bellary brothers means that the falling-out must have been over a contentious issue because the three were close political partners till recently. The brothers hold sway over Southern politics, and are equally close to the Andhra Pradesh leadership, particularly to Jagan Reddy, the son of the late Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy.


What had happened to bring about this schism? That is what we need to know, and this critical ingredient has not been revealed in the narrative that is being doled out. Will the party throw its weight behind the chief minister or will it support the rebel factor in a desperate attempt to stay in power?


Someone in the party needs to take charge, present a strategy, and stand by the mandate it devises for itself. Witnessing the unfolding of this tragic saga in which the major Opposition party, ridden with infighting, seems to be falling apart is a frightening sight for those in the public domain. We need a strong Opposition to ensure that the many checks and balances necessary for a functioning and well-oiled democratic machinery are in place. The inability of the top leadership of the BJP to rapidly reinvent itself and put in place a younger, and more intelligent, set of leaders from within only goes to show the paralysis that has gripped its body. Who will move to force the change? Which faction will lead the battle charge?


After Atal Bihari Vajpayee's exit, the BJP became rudderless and was not able to replace Vajpayee with another, equally Machiavellian, persona. It became a deadpan organization with a one-dimensional central leadership that brooked no dialogue within the portals of its party edifice, thereby alienating many of its talented members.


New way


If the party is in the painful process of revival and reinvention, we shall all have something to look forward to and combat with. Hopefully, the Parliament will cease to be adjourned frequently by the chief Opposition party, and it will start taking a strong position on the many critical issues that face modern India.


Our federal democratic framework is in dangerous waters: the Maoist problem is now seemingly uncontrollable; there are contentious foreign policy issues that have to do with aggressive neighbours at our borders; a weak Opposition in Parliament has diluted a serious discourse on national concerns, raising the possibility of attempts to divert opinion from the real issues of political failure; corruption pervades every sphere of social activity and the administrative service is in constant denial about indulging in exclusive governance. As a people, we must compel the restoration of good practice based on humane values and ethics.


The forthcoming session of Parliament needs to set a new standard. Perhaps the prime minister should call a meeting to work out a joint strategy, which will give dignity and honour to the institution that represents India's diversity, plurality and unity. The dignity of Parliament has to be restored and the leadership of different parties, however ideologically diverse, must together respect and abide by the Constitution.


India cannot be derailed by incompetent, corrupt men and women who have personal agendas and no real national commitment. Discussion is the way forward. Consensus on national issues is the directive that the bureaucracy needs to be given. Only then will that corroded administrative machine cease to pit politicians against each other by using the lack of consensus as an excuse. This truth comes across the footlights loud and clear.







There is very little that is inspiring or reassuring in the run-up to the elections in Britain, writes Anabel Loyd


The impression during the recent Conservative Party conference was that we were already in electioneering mode with the Conservatives barrelling into combat at full tilt. I can't say that I found either the party leader, David Cameron, or the shadow chancellor, George Osborne — sombrely telling us how bad things really were — particularly inspiring, but there was certainly more energy in the air than at the flat Labour event.


The Liberal Democrat conference this year was unusual because of the extent of internal party disagreement, with even the most popular politician in the country, the treasury spokesman and deputy leader, Vince Cable, managing to put his foot in things. He announced a new party policy plan, without consultation or pre-warning, for a mansion tax on houses worth more than £1 million, managing to upset not only his own party but a great many moderately well off working people and potential LibDem voters. The mansion tax would be levied to fill the gap caused in the event of additional laws to raise the rate of income tax being inadequate, but the one does not add up to the other, at least in the minds of most of the LibDem party and a large number of outraged voters whose entire wealth is in their homes. As it happens, it is all a pie in the sky, as the Liberal Democrats will not win an election — but they are in a position to gain or lose votes, and members of parliament.


The small parties are flexing their muscles, particularly the British National Party, led by the repellent Nick Griffin, a self-satisfied, violent, bigoted racist and now member of the European Parliament. The BNP is presently being forced to change a constitution that bans membership of non-whites. My feeling is that it should be left alone to be seen as bad as it so obviously is. Griffin had been given airspace on the prestigious BBC Question Time, chaired by David Dimbleby, recently. The worry for the mostly moderate population, and probably the BBC, and for Dimbleby was that Griffin did not come across as the madman he is; on kissing terms with the Klu Klux Klan among other extreme rightwing groups.


Griffin has canvassed carefully among the disaffected and has support, for example, from some families of young servicemen fighting a war and dying for a cause in Afghanistan that they believe has nothing to do with this country. He is playing all the cards about poor equipment for soldiers too, aligning his views spuriously but neatly with half the generals in the British army. The BNP also stands for corporal and capital punishment. Beyond that no one should imagine that there are not plenty of people in the country who might not consider themselves racists but have discovered they are afraid of the so-called Muslim threat, and have a long-time resentment of 'people who come here and take our jobs'. There was a vast audience for the television programme.


The extreme views of the BNP are quite beyond the pale but the possibility of a lurch to the Right is always a fear if we get an overly triumphant Conservative Party again. Osborne may be correct in believing that voters expect to tighten their belts further after the last year or so, but his proposed spending cuts are hardly likely to be popular in reality, however necessary. David Cameron has gone out of his way to embrace liberal beliefs over the last few years of party-rebuilding, but he has not yet fully shown his hand. He attacked the big-size government in his conference speech and is determined to grab every element of the economy by the scruff of the neck, which it may not need. A doctrinaire approach to a reviving economy and heavy-handed government meddling in banking and the City may flatten those green shoots before they flower, even if it is a good electoral move to be seen to be bashing the bloody bankers.


There is some scary stuff going on over Europe too, that is doing nothing for the Conservative's moderate image. Cameron has said that he will "not let matters rest" on the ratified Lisbon treaty. What this means exactly we don't know, but he veers towards a worrying Euroscepticism that has most recently taken his party out of alliance with the European People's Party into a new Eurosceptic alliance, the European Conservatives and Reformists. This group consists mainly of far-Right Eastern European parties, some with alleged anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi backgrounds. The shadow foreign secretary, William Hague, is in the United States of America, getting, we are led to believe, an ear-bashing from the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, who has no desire to see her country's British allies marginalized with the thugs in Europe. On the contrary, the United Kingdom is most valuable to the US when it takes a front seat in European politics. William Hague, a disastrous party leader, is now a respected politician, with the stature of an elder statesman in spite of his relative youth. Neither he nor David Cameron is either anti-Semite or share many of the beliefs of the extreme Right in Latvia or Poland. Nobody should forget, however, that he is the product of Thatcherite nurture and a Eurosceptic to his backbone.


This week, with all parties back at the coal face in the parliament, policy and doctrine have gone out of the window as the ordure of expenses of the members of parliament rises again to the top of the agenda. The independent auditor, Sir Thomas Legg, has set levels for expenses such as cleaning and gardening at second homes, and is expecting members to pay back in arrears any larger claims made before the imposition of the new rules. Not surprisingly, there is an uproar among MPs who had not previously broken expenses rules, however lax and unsatisfactory they may have been. Cameron is taking a hard line, allowing him to manoeuvre out of parliament any MP with a tarnished reputation whose politics or person does not suit the current party image. The real bad eggs were weeded out during the traumatic summer cull and it is not surprising that some MPs are now feeling aggrieved over demands for repayment of relatively small and previously legitimate claims. The country as a whole thinks they all deserve everything they get and Sir Thomas's approval ratings must be sky high.


Revived press attention towards the whole sorry mess continues to throw Parliament and politicians of all parties, even the decent ones, into disrepute. The House of Commons fees office and its largely anonymous staff must bear a good deal of the blame for not stopping the rot over corruptly excess claims which put this sickening saga into the public arena and continues to tar all MPs with the same brush.


Well, roll on the election and then we will see who we consider worthy of our vote, if anyone. Labour is doing its best to lose any election, Gordon Brown in particular, but I do not believe it is all going to be as easy as the Conservatives might like. The latest polls are quoting a Conservative parliamentary majority of 100 but the Opposition leadership has not yet won the heart of the country and talk of iron-fist policies and a doomsday scenario may or may not be what is needed come spring. There is certainly none of the excitement or hope for change we had when New Labour burst onto the stage with a fresh, new message. We now know it was flawed and perhaps we have grown more cynical as a result. Lord Mandelson still makes the Conservative front bench look like a bunch of schoolboys, but even his PR skills may only succeed in making the fight look less one-sided.







Way back in 1962, travelling with my family from London, the train stopped for a while at a somewhat deserted station called Cambridge — the land of Newton, Rutherford, Dirac and so many icons of history, I mused. The manicured natural beauty of the legendary 'backs', generously sprinkled by the hauntingly beautiful Cambridge colleges — surely, I said to myself, this is one of the most romantic places in the world, and this is no ordinary romance. It is a heady mix of the most original ideas in history — a romance with an unusual level of serenity and beauty, yet passionate beyond belief; at the same time, a romance of pure fun and joy with a dash of panache thrown in.


That was Michaelmas term, Christ's College, Cambridge, 1964. What was incredible, however, was a magnificent sense of freedom after the constraints of class timings back home. No one told us what to do or not to do. Thus, one soaked in the pleasure of unchartered freedom almost immediately after one's arrival in Cambridge. In our exuberant youthfulness, we became hopelessly irresponsible. Beatlemania was at the top of our social agenda. Long hair and jeans, red flags in Petty Cury (a street, opposite our college), and a firm conviction that communism is the only answer to the world order — such thoughts crowded our minds.


Come summer, the prospect of exams loomed large, but the enticing possibility of the May Ball, the Valentine Ball, the elegant summer parties, occupied our thinking vectors. Some of us were reckless enough to even come back to the college at dawn, and were often asked by the cheekiest and naughtiest porter, "Are you coming in or going out, sir?" One was usually not in a position to answer that with any degree of certainty. The style, however, was irresistible. With the Caribbean tune floating all over King's Parade, May Ball ended with punts drifting towards Grantchester for breakfast, more champagne, and often ending up in the river and sobering up almost immediately.


Towards the end of the first year, the great professor, Brian Pippard, chided me gently, dropping hints that I was wasting my time and the opportunity of coming up to Cambridge. My tutor at Christ's, a frustrated nuclear physicist and an acid drop, even suggested that I go back to India and sit on the laurels of the First I had obtained there. Sir Nevill Mott, the Cavendish Professor and later a Nobel Laureate (who was my mentor in England), commented that he doesn't see me much at his lectures.


By their very presence, the Master of the college, the formidable Lord Alexander Todd, already a Nobel Laureate, and even Jack Plumb, the great historian, made me jump with the agony of lost time. The glorious history of Newton Milton, Rutherford, Dirac, Darwin, Crick and Watson stared at me uncompromisingly. I woke up and never much veered from that awakening. After the finals, we all went down from Cambridge and plunged ourselves in different currents of life. Although Cambridge slowly faded away, a fluctuating sense of nostalgia lingered on; only occasionally, the romance of the salad days stirred somewhere deep within.


In December 2008, and like a phoenix from the ashes of history rose the prince of 19th-century Indian science, Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, resident undergraduate of Christ's College, Cambridge, from 1881 to 1884. It was decided by the college authorities that a bust of Bose would be installed to mark his 150th year. Sibaji Raha, the director of Bose Institute, Calcutta, arranged for the bust to be sculpted and took it to Cambridge.


We all trooped into the college on a cold but sparklingly sunny morning, on December 6. The bust was on the stage of the lecture hall, waiting to be inaugurated. The function was hugely successful, with many excellent talks. Cambridge luminaries from past and present attended, followed by a lovely party, hosted by the Master, Frank Kelly. By the end of the day, every corner of the college had come alive.

This year, I am visiting Cambridge once again, as a so-called distinguished visiting scholar of my college, courtesy Frank Kelly. As I write this, sitting in my flat at 66 Jesus Lane, memories like old photographs flash through my mind. I realize, with an endearing nostalgia, that my digs in my final year were a few yards from my present abode on Jesus Lane.


Everything has remained the same, yet everything has changed. The college buttery (bar) is not as attractive now. "Nobody wastes time drinking these days", someone said. The present Master is at his charming best; the procedure at the high table remains the same — crazy Latin before and after dinner. The church bell tolls every hour, an all-pervasive tranquility prevails, despite the agitation in one's head, lost in the memory cans of long-past years.


Sir J.C. Bose now rests peacefully, looking pensive under the incense cedar, surrounded by trees of heaven and mahonia at the newly established Yusuf Hamied Court of the college. The penetrating gaze of another famous Christ's man, Charles Darwin, settles on Bose. Bronzed, aged 22, Darwin sits on a bench with a mischievous brilliance in his eyes. We are celebrating 200 years of that first evolutionary biologist. A few nights ago, Stephen Hawking described flashes of ideas as "the Eureka moments". Stephen went on to say, in his very original way, "I will not compare [the Eureka moments] with sex; it lasts longer". Cambridge is the mother of "Eurekas". For 800 years, it has been witness to many geniuses. Nothing changes much in Cambridge, yet many things have changed in the world because of Cambridge.











It is wrong to view the acrimonious fight between the two Ambani brothers over the supply of natural gas from the Krishna-Godavari basin, which has moved from the Bombay high court to the Supreme Court, as only a private dispute between two corporate houses. Public interest is involved in the case as the allocation of a scarce natural resource and its pricing are at the crux of the dispute. The high court had upheld the claim of Anil Ambani for gas at a price agreed upon in a family MoU but which is lower than the floor price approved by an empowered group of ministers. Mukesh Ambani is unwilling to sell gas at that price. The high court also had, and now the Supreme Court has, unwisely, suggested arbitration or mediation to settle the dispute.

But mediation between two private parties cannot decide on the  use of public property. The issue also goes beyond the legal status of the MoU signed between the two brothers. There are public sector companies which are among the user industries. The government has much to answer for the mishandling of issues in the natural gas sector. Petroleum minister Murli Deora has said that the government would protect public interest in regulating the use of gas and its allocation. But he himself and senior officials in the ministry have been accused of partisanship on the issue.

The government's policy on pricing and utilisation of natural gas has been defective and non-transparent. International norms and practices were not followed and therefore the price fixation was wrong. The allocation policy has been subjected to frequent ad hoc changes from time to time. Lack of consistency has imparted uncertainty to the scenario. Natural gas is an important resource. Exploration is capital and technology-intensive, and there will be need for participation by the private sector. But private players will not be interested in the venture if there is no clarity on policy and authorities are vulnerable to lobbying. That is why a recent auction of oil and gas blocks did not evoke any good response. The lack of enough number of interested parties can lead to a situation in which a few players will seek to control the field. That will hurt the ultimate consumers, whether they are in the private or the public sector. These wider interests should not be held to ransom by a fight between two companies.








Israel must reverse its policy of denying the Palestinian people access to adequate water. A report by Amnesty International (AI) says that Israel has "entirely appropriated the Palestinians' share of the Jordan river" and uses 80 per cent of the Mountain Aquifer, the main source of underground water in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. West Bank Palestinians are not allowed to drill wells without Israeli permission, which is often impossible to get. Even harvesting rainwater isn't an option for Palestinians as the Israeli army often destroys the cisterns. The report says that average consumption of water by an Israeli settler in the West Bank is four times that of the Palestinian.

While the Palestinians have no water to slake their thirst, Israelis waste it on lush gardens and swimming pools, the report says. The situation in Gaza is worse. The International Committee of the Red Cross has said that Gaza's access to clean drinking water is on the brink of total collapse. Gaza's already weak water infrastructure was bombarded by the Israelis during their offensive in Dec-January. Sewage-contaminated seawater and toxin-infected agricultural overflow has left Gaza's only underground aquifer unfit for human consumption.

Israel's response to these reports has been one of outright denial. It has dismissed the AI report accusing it of disproportionate appropriation of water as "distorted and superficial." It claims it has met its obligations under the Oslo agreement and blamed the Palestinians for not distributing water efficiently. Denial will not make the injustice go away.

It is not just the Palestinians that are upset with Israel's moves to corner most of the region's water. Syria and Lebanon too have issues with Israel occupying land (the Golan Heights) where rivers originate or diverting rivers to water its own land. The past couple of years have been particularly difficult for the region as it is suffering the devastating impact of the worst drought in many decades.  Israel's unilateral actions to appropriate water instead of sharing it are triggering anger across the region. Israel cannot hope to build security for itself and its people so long as it continues to occupy other's land and hog resources meant to be shared fairly. Its refusal to give the Palestinians the water due to them is fuelling rage and may jeopardise Israel's security.









The contrast could not be more striking. Pakistan made a further descent into chaos and terror last week, with its Interior ministry ranting wildly against India even as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke in firm but conciliatory tones in Srinagar about pushing for reconciliation and development in J&K through dialogue. He separated 'humanitarian' from 'political' issues while keeping open the door for Pakistan to join the process by abandoning cross-border terrorism.

The horrendous Peshawar carnage is a message Pakistan must heed, namely, those that play with fire risk being incinerated. The very future of Pakistan is today the core issue, with Kashmir, a long irrelevance, becoming an albatross around its neck.  

The prime minister spoke of facilitating enhanced trade and movement across the LOC in J&K with the provision of banking and trade facilities, trade fairs, an expanded list of tradable commodities, quicker travel clearances and speedy release of prisoners on ether side who have completed their sentences.

This is what people want, not jihadi hate and terror perpetuated by vested interests who desire conflict in the name of barren ideology. He also referred to creating conditions to encourage a reverse brain drain to J&K and creating constructive openings for talent and energy through better connectivity and the guarantee of more firm power during winter. Restoration of the Mughal road and further extension of the Anantnag-Qazigund railway, just inaugurated, were also mooted.  

Not mentioned but worthy of consideration would be liberal operationalisation of the Srinagar international airport and broadband connectivity to promote the development of two or three new growth poles along the Valley's railway corridor and in the Jammu region for returning Pandits and Muslim youth who fled the state and went to study and work in other parts of India in the 1990s to avoid forced marriages and extortion or being press ganged into militancy.

FICCI has just taken a group of high powered industrialists to the valley to showcase possibilities of investment and joint ventures that could give a boost to employment and income generation in the state. IT-assisted services and agro-processing hold out great promise and there is no reason why such ventures or special economic zones should not receive counter-guarantees in respect of certain heads and for a limited period in order to provide the initial stimulus. This should be accompanied by training facilities for upgrading technical and managerial skills.  

Prior to the PM's visit to J&K, the Union Homer Minister P Chidambaram announced the government's intention to promote quiet talks with all sections of opinion in J&K that abjure violence so as to build a consensus leading to an internal settlement in J&K. The emphasis on quiet talks is important as previous deliberations under the full glare of publicity has short circuited the talks and led to futile grandstanding and blackmail by ideological spoilers at home and terrorists and Pakistani agencies across the LOC. These elements will of course need to be confronted as soon as the ground is well prepared. The Hurriyat has been invited to talk and can no more equivocate or claim a veto.  

Pakistan can have no role in these internal talks, which could cover issues of human rights, reconciliation, disappearances, compensation and justice where due, centre-state relations and regional autonomy. Pakistan's own constitutional relationship with Pak Administered Kashmir, let alone the newly designated Gilgit-Baltistan region is abysmal and blatantly colonial as a reading of the two constitutions imposed on them by Islamabad amply reveal. But it is up to Pakistan to order its own relationships with the areas under its control across the LOC.  

As far as an international settlement is concerned, busybodies must be firmly told that there is no 'dispute' over J&K other than UN-admitted aggression by Pakistan. The US too should be reminded that it has recognised India's sovereignty over all of J&K (refer Warren Austen in the Security Council), a position unilaterally changed by it after Pakistan became a 'frontline' state around 1949, and further compounded by its gratuitous cartographic fiddling in the Siachen area post-1967 through the US defence mapping agency.  

Northern terminus

The framework of an international settlement has in principle been agreed to in the Manmohan-Musharraf formulation 'making boundaries (the LOC) irrelevant' without derogating from either country's sovereignty. An extension of the LOC beyond NJ 9842, the last point demarcated under the Karachi Agreement of July1949, 'thence north to the glaciers' without admitting of any no-man's land, constitutes an unambiguous and sanctified delineation of the northern terminus of this boundary.     

The highly glaciated area beyond Pakistan's fictitious latter-day 'claim line' from NJ 9842 NE to just west of the Karakoram Pass, and the region west of the Indian AGPL up to K2, should then be converted into a 'peace and science park' for international glaciological, hydrological and meteorological studies in order to study potential impacts of climate change and take appropriate countermeasures.

Participation in two recent high level Track II dialogues with Pakistan has once again shown how empty and uninformed their rhetoric is about India's alleged evil designs on their share of Indus waters and the Indus Treaty generally. The future now lies in moving to joint cooperation in the investigation, development and management of projects in the upper three western rivers of the Indus, whose headwaters lie in India, under Article 7 of the IWT. 

The way forward is clear. J&K is not an 'Islamic' problem and the OIC has absolutely no role to play. More jihad over J&K may hurt India but threatens to destroy Pakistan which confronts an end-game.









The Japan-US security alliance that has remained the lynchpin of the East Asian security architecture since the World War II, is likely to undergo some changes under the DPJ-led government of Yukio Hatoyama. Even before Hatoyama won the elections held on Aug 30, he had spoken of building 'an alliance on an equal footing' with the US, which had attracted considerable scrutiny, given the rare instance of a cross-party transfer of power in Tokyo – only the fourth since the Meiji era.

With this kind policy pronouncement, comparison with DPJ's brief honeymoon with power with Hosokawa at the helm in the early 1990s is inevitable. Yet, in fact a stronger parallel exists with an earlier change of government. In a landmark election to the Imperial Diet in 1924, three opposition parties got together under the banner of anti-bureaucratism and proclaimed to protect the Constitution and effected Japan's transfer of power by winning under two-third of the seats.

In pursuance of his pronounced foreign policy somewhat independent of the US, Hatoyama wants to chart his own 'autonomous diplomatic strategy.' Far from resolving the contentious issues that continue to remain irritants in the bilateral ties, such a policy stance is bound to cause more concern in Washington. Issues such as the 'Status of Forces Agreement,' the planned Futenma relocation, the 'sympathy budget', the non-nuclear principles, the Indian Ocean refuelling mission and the anti-piracy maritime dispatch that beg solution may continue to remain irritants for a longer period of time.

The inclusion of the Social and Democratic Party of Japan (SDPJ) within the governing coalition might further complicate the matter. It might be remembered that the SDPJ reversed its prior recognition of the 'Japan Self Defense Forces' constitutionality in February 2006, which it had agreed to during its unwieldy cohabitation in power with the LDP during the mid-1990s.

What is likely to emerge in the coming months is that even while Hatoyama and Obama will rethink the relationships between Japan and the US, they will expand their ties from the narrow alliance to a partnership that can deal with a broad range of global challenges. Analysts might interpret this approach as undermining the bilateral relationship but on the contrary, the relationship will show greater maturity with vision of share responsibility beyond bilateral to global sphere.

Obama's forthcoming visit to Japan on Nov 12-13 will provide a good opportunity for the Hatoyama government to set a new direction in Tokyo-Washington ties. In other words, he needs to clarify what he means when he advocates an 'equal' relationship with the US.  

For a start, the National defence Programme Guidelines (NDPG) is likely to be delayed and Hatoyama is in no great hurry to rush through it. The NDPG has been issued previously in 1976, 1995 and 2004. It serves as a framework document outlining defence principles and proposed capabilities that subsequently inform medium-term procurement priorities.

The NDPG is due to be revised later this year but with a new government in office, Hatoyama will study the recommendations on national security and defence policy presented by the outgoing LDP government-appointed advisory panel. Under the circumstance, the guidelines are expected to be delayed into the next year.

Hatoyama needs to make his assessment of Japan's  defence needs and security priorities and he ought to make it clear when the US president visits Japan. Tensions have risen between Tokyo and Washington over the planned reorganisation of US forces, especially Hatoyama government's efforts to review the 2006 bilateral agreement on the relocation of US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

US security analysts are of the view that though the alliance is necessary to continue, it is no longer sufficient as the nature and scope of challenges that confront the two countries have widened.  

According to Washington-based think-tank, Council on Foreign Relation President Richard Haass, most of the global challenges today ranging from the financial crisis to climate change and fighting international terrorism go beyond the scope of traditional alliances that 'tend to be formal relationships in which countries agree on what they are against and what they are going to do in certain situations.'.

As such, it is argued that consultations in the most creative sense of the word are necessary as 'effective partners' to deal with the global challenges. It is unclear at the moment how the Japan-US security alliance relationship will be redefined under Hatoyama administration. The Asian security order is likely to be reshaped as a result. 

(The writer is a senior fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis, New Delhi)









However adequate one's repertoire of social skills may be —positive attitude, tolerance, emotional stability, discipline or sophisticated manners, a harmonious existence depends largely on people around us. At every step of the way an inscrutable chain of events decides on the level of happiness.

While discussing ways and means of handling difficult situations, a young friend observed that these so called 'strategies' are only temporary tranquilizers that sweep serious and profound issues under the carpet. Agreed. Yet, when the looming world and its people cannot be changed at will, the least that can be achieved is through alterations at the cognitive level.

Since we can be affected by the mere idea or concept of an uncertain future, it makes good sense to be prepared. Certain forms of behaviour identified and strengthened as healthy habits help building resilience.

"The physical world has to be more beautiful. Ecologists, artists, musicians and architects create beautiful things to increase the chances that living in the world will be positively reinforced," observed B F Skinner. The trick is to simply immerse oneself in an activity that promotes and offers meaningfulness to existence. The other foolproof strategy is to look inwards and bring out the tableau of pleasant memories.

The cackle of a child's laughter, the unmistakable fragrance of old books, especially Penguin classics, soft and tiny baby clothes, the minutes when you had your feet in a sparkling, gurgling brook, photographs imprisoned in aged plastic folders, greeting cards and letters that nurture shy compliments give the much needed strength to face any adversity. Divine voices of friends, albeit over the phone, can offer support and energy to meet cantankerous elements, both internal and external.

Tranquilisers they may be. Nevertheless they readily lend the supreme ability to laugh at oneself while tackling people or events.







We regret the decision by Afghanistan's opposition leader, Abdullah Abdullah, to withdraw from this week's runoff election for the presidency. After President Hamid Karzai's supporters tried to steal the first-round vote, Mr. Abdullah had strong reason to mistrust the process. But Afghan voters deserved another chance. And Afghanistan's government — under assault from the Taliban and its own corruption and incompetence — desperately needed the legitimacy of a cleaner vote.


Now that Mr. Karzai has been re-elected by default, he is going to have to do everything in his power to persuade his people — and the rest of the world — that he is deserving of their trust. After the last seven years of mismanagement and corruption, that will be a hard sell.


The Obama administration, which had to twist Mr. Karzai's arm to get him to agree to a runoff, is going to have to twist even harder to get him to build a viable government. President Obama's characterization Monday of the Afghan election process as "messy" was, to say the least, an understatement. We hope that he and his aides are talking a lot tougher in private.


To start, Mr. Karzai must appoint a new group of ministers and provincial governors who are committed to rebuilding their country, not enriching themselves. (We hope rumors that he plans to fire the competent governor of Helmand Province, Gulab Mangal, are false.) The Interior Ministry, which oversees the corruption-plagued Afghan national police, must be reformed. The agriculture, energy and private development agencies all need better leadership.


The Afghan people need to see their government working to protect them and improve their lives if they are going to risk their lives and resist the Taliban.


Mr. Karzai must also reach out to members of the opposition, choosing competent technocrats for senior jobs. Mr. Abdullah has ruled out joining a unity government. But the government would be stronger if some of his supporters decided to participate. We hope Mr. Abdullah is committed to playing an active, constructive role in Afghan politics.


Mr. Karzai must — urgently — break ties with his most unsavory cronies. During the campaign, he allied himself with Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, a notorious warlord whose forces have been accused of killing thousands of Taiban prisoners of war in 2001. Justice demands that General Dostum stand trial for his crimes.


And Mr. Karzai must finally cut his ties with Ahmed Wali Karzai, his brother who, American officials say, is a big player in the opium trade. Washington must also cut its ties with the younger Mr. Karzai, a member of the Kandahar provincial council and the most powerful figure in an area where the Taliban insurgency is the strongest. The Times reported last week that he has received regular payments from the C.I.A. for the past eight years. That must end.


Getting a credible government in place is essential. But it is only a first step. The list of policy problems that have been ignored or mismanaged is depressingly long. President Karzai needs to work with the Americans to come up with a strategy to try to woo midlevel Taliban leaders in from the cold. The two governments need to quickly develop a plan to accelerate training of the Afghan security forces.

Mr. Karzai and the Obama administration don't have much time to get this right. The Taliban's military strength is growing by the day. Americans' appetite for the Afghan war is evaporating nearly as quickly.








The Obama administration and Congress appear to be moving toward agreement on a federal shield law, which would protect reporters who refuse to reveal confidential sources. The bill that is emerging is not perfect, but it would help ensure that Americans get the information they need about the workings of government, business and other institutions that affect their lives.


Senate Democrats and the administration have tentatively agreed on a bill that would, in some cases, allow judges to quash subpoenas asking reporters for information on confidential sources. Parties wanting to force reporters to testify about sources would have to show that the information is essential to their cases. Judges would then balance the desire to reveal a source against the public interest in news gathering.


The level of protection would depend on the kind of case. In civil cases, the burden would be on the party that wants the information to show that the interest in disclosing it clearly outweighs the interest in protecting it. In criminal cases, the test would be tilted more toward disclosure. Reporters would have to answer a subpoena unless they could make a "clear and convincing" case that the public interest in the free flow of information argued against it.


Cases involving classified information would generally work the same way. But a judge would not be able to quash a subpoena if prosecutors could show that the information they wanted would help prevent a terrorist attack or other acts likely to cause significant harm to national security.


It is gratifying that the Obama administration, which had been wavering, agreed to the compromise. Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat of New York, deserves credit for helping get the deal done. Senator Arlen Specter, a Democrat of Pennsylvania, and Patrick Leahy, a Democrat of Vermont, also provided support.


Among the weakest points of the compromise is the standard for criminal cases, which puts too heavy a burden of proof on reporters. It is also unfortunate that the agreement does not protect nonconfidential material, such as information in reporters' notes that does not make it into a newspaper article.


Over all, however, the bill would be a clear improvement on the status quo. The House has already passed its shield bill. The Senate should pass this compromise bill quickly, and the president should sign it into law.







Among the many dubious provisions in the 2005 energy bill was one dubbed the Halliburton loophole, which was inserted at the behest of — you guessed it — then-Vice President Dick Cheney, a former chief executive of Halliburton.


It stripped the Environmental Protection Agency of its authority to regulate a drilling process called hydraulic fracturing. Invented by Halliburton in the 1940s, it involves injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals, some of them toxic, into underground rock formations to blast them open and release natural gas.


Hydraulic fracturing has been implicated in a growing number of water pollution cases across the country. It has become especially controversial in New York, where regulators are eager to clear the way for drilling in the New York City watershed, potentially imperiling the city's water supply. Thankfully, the main company involved has now decided not to go ahead.


The safety of the nation's water supply should not have to rely on luck or the public relations talents of the oil and gas industry. Thanks in part to two New Yorkers — Representative Maurice Hinchey and Senator Charles Schumer — Congress last week approved a bill that asks the E.P.A. to conduct a new study on the risks of hydraulic fracturing. An agency study in 2004 whitewashed the industry and was dismissed by experts as superficial and politically motivated. This time Congress is demanding "a transparent, peer-reviewed process."


An even more important bill is waiting in the wings. Cumbersomely named the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act, it would close the loophole and restore the E.P.A.'s rightful authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing. It would also require the oil and gas industry to disclose the chemicals they use.


The industry argues that the chemicals are proprietary secrets and that disclosing them would hurt their competitiveness. It also argues that the process is basically safe and that regulating it would deter domestic production. But if hydraulic fracturing is as safe as the industry says it is, why should it fear regulation?







Councilwoman Diana Reyna, a Democrat from City Council District 34 in Brooklyn, is battling two formidable foes in Tuesday's election. One is a vengeful Democratic Party boss, who rails about her independence, and the other is the Roman Catholic bishop of Brooklyn, who has made robocalls supporting the party boss.


If Ms. Reyna is defeated as a result of these misplaced efforts, it will be a real loss for the residents of her district. Ms. Reyna has helped her struggling constituents with housing and school difficulties. Her willingness to stand up to Assemblyman Vito Lopez — the boss who increasingly runs the Democratic Party in Brooklyn with an iron fist — shows extraordinary political courage.


In his recorded phone messages to every registered voter in District 34, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio does not mention Ms. Reyna or her opponent, Maritza Davila of the Working Families Party. His pitch is to support Mr. Lopez, who has been helpful to the church. But the subtext is clear: Mr. Lopez has been working overtime to elect Ms. Davila instead of his party's candidate.


Mr. Lopez has, indeed, helped the church, most recently by blocking legislation in Albany that would have temporarily lifted the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits involving the sexual abuse of children. The church has returned the favor by ordering a priest to drop his fight against the rezoning of a 31-acre parcel that Mr. Lopez favors.


It is that same rezoning, for a housing project called the Brooklyn Triangle, that helped land Ms. Reyna on the boss's enemies list. Ms. Reyna sided with community members who opposed the secretive way the project has moved forward through the city's development process. Voters in City Council District 34 should reward that independence by re-electing Ms. Reyna.








President Obama made an appearance in Florida last week that should have gotten more attention. At a time when many Americans are apprehensive about the state of the economy and uncertain about the nation's long-term prospects, Mr. Obama delivered an upbeat speech that offered a glimpse of a broader overall vision and a practical way forward on the crucial issues of energy and jobs.


Speaking at the opening of a solar energy center run by the Florida Power & Light Company near Arcadia in rural DeSoto County, the president touted his administration's $3.4 billion investment in the so-called smart grid, a potentially revolutionary advance in the way electric power is produced and delivered in the U.S.


The president spoke at a scene described by The Times as "futuristic," a sea of shimmering solar panels tilted toward the sky across the vast acreage of the DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center.


Mr. Obama said that the plant will produce enough power to serve all 6,000 residents of Arcadia. He added: "Its construction was a boost to your local economy, creating nearly 400 jobs in this area. And over the next three decades, the clean energy from this plant will save 575,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, which is the equivalent of removing more than 4,500 cars from the road each year for the life of the project."


The energy center was one of dozens of projects receiving grants from the federal government and private industry for the development of smart-grid technology. These are the kinds of baby steps that, if encouraged, replicated and systematically expanded, can put the country on the road to a saner, more prosperous and more secure future.


More significant than the size of the grants being handed out was the thrust of Mr. Obama's remarks, which sounded like a national call to action. He offered a compelling analogy:


"Just imagine," he said, "what transportation was like in this country back in the 1920s and 1930s, before the Interstate Highway System was built. It was a tangled maze of poorly maintained back roads that were rarely the fastest or the most efficient way to get from point A to point B. Fortunately, President Eisenhower made an investment that revolutionized the way we travel — an investment that made our lives easier and our economy grow.


"Now it's time to make the same kind of investment in the way our energy travels — to build a clean energy superhighway that can take the renewable power generated in places like DeSoto and deliver it directly to the American people in the most affordable and efficient way possible. Such an investment won't just create new pathways for energy — it's expected to create tens of thousands of new jobs all across America in areas ranging from manufacturing and construction to I.T. and the installation of new equipment in homes and in businesses."


The president then made the conceptual leap from an innovative plant in rural Florida to a bold new landscape of energy for all of America. "We can imagine the day," he said, "when you'll be able to charge the battery on your plug-in hybrid car at night, because your smart meter reminded you that nighttime electricity is cheapest. In the daytime, when the sun is at its strongest, solar panels like these and electricity stored in car batteries will be able to power the grid with affordable, emission-free energy.


"The stronger, more efficient grid would be able to transport power generated at dams and wind turbines from the smallest towns to the biggest cities. And, above all, we can see all this work that would be created for millions of Americans who need it and who want it, here in Florida and all across the country."


They were stirring words. It was a powerful and important call from a sitting president. On the same day, Vice President Biden announced in Wilmington, Del., that a General Motors plant that had been shut down would be reopened by a company that plans, with the help of loans from the federal government, to manufacture long-range, plug-in, electric hybrid vehicles.


What was missing from these appearances by the president and vice president was the feeling of excitement that should accompany the early stages of an important national mission. Mr. Obama made his appearance in Arcadia, delivered his remarks and quickly moved on to other matters. The nation was not moved. The president's remarks were not widely heard.


The news media, perhaps understandably, took a ho-hum approach to both appearances. The reporters had heard similar rhetoric before. There were no signals from the White House that something big and important was happening.


Mr. Obama's vision, briefly glimpsed, seemed to vanish in an ocean of other concerns.








Since April 2007, New York magazine has posted online sex diaries. People send in personal accounts of their nighttime quests and conquests. Some of the diaries are unusual and sad. There's a laid-off banker who drinks herself into oblivion and wakes up in the beds of unfamiliar men. There's an African-American securities trader who flies around the country on weekends to meet with couples seeking interracial sex. (He meets one Midwestern couple at a T.G.I. Friday's.)


But the most interesting part of the diaries concerns the way cellphones have influenced courtship. On nights when they are out, the diarists are often texting multiple possible partners in search of the best arrangement.


As the journalist Wesley Yang notes in a very intelligent analysis in the magazine, the diarists "use their cellphones to disaggregate, slice up, and repackage their emotional and physical needs, servicing each with a different partner, and hoping to come out ahead."


Often the diarists will be on the verge of spending the evening with one partner, when a text arrives from another with a potentially better offer. To guard against not being chosen at all, Yang writes, "everyone is on somebody's back-burner, and everybody has a back-burner of their own, which they maintain with open-ended texts."


The atmosphere is fluid, like an eBay auction. This leads to a series of marketing strategies. You don't want to appear too enthusiastic. You want to invent detached nicknames for partners. "Make plans to spend day with the One Who Cries," a paralegal, 26, from the East Village writes. You want to appear bulletproof as you move confidently through the transactions. "I have a Stage Five Clinger on my hands," a TV producer writes. "He asks me to hang out again this coming Sunday. I do not respond."


People who send in sex diaries to a magazine are not representative of average Americans. But the interplay between technology and hook-ups will be familiar to a wide swath of young Americans. It illustrates an interesting roadblock in the country's social evolution.


Once upon a time — in what we might think of as the "Happy Days" era — courtship was governed by a set of guardrails. Potential partners generally met within the context of larger social institutions: neighborhoods, schools, workplaces and families. There were certain accepted social scripts. The purpose of these scripts — dating, going steady, delaying sex — was to guide young people on the path from short-term desire to long-term commitment.


Over the past few decades, these social scripts became obsolete. They didn't fit the post-feminist era. So the search was on for more enlightened courtship rules. You would expect a dynamic society to come up with appropriate scripts. But technology has made this extremely difficult. Etiquette is all about obstacles and restraint. But technology, especially cellphone and texting technology, dissolves obstacles. Suitors now contact each other in an instantaneous, frictionless sphere separated from larger social institutions and commitments.


People are thus thrown back on themselves. They are free agents in a competitive arena marked by ambiguous relationships. Social life comes to resemble economics, with people enmeshed in blizzards of supply and demand signals amidst a universe of potential partners.


The opportunity to contact many people at once seems to encourage compartmentalization, as people try to establish different kinds of romantic attachments with different people at the same time.


It seems to encourage an attitude of contingency. If you have several options perpetually before you, and if technology makes it easier to jump from one option to another, you will naturally adopt the mentality of a comparison shopper.


It also seems to encourage an atmosphere of general disenchantment. Across the centuries the moral systems from medieval chivalry to Bruce Springsteen love anthems have worked the same basic way. They take immediate selfish interests and enmesh them within transcendent, spiritual meanings. Love becomes a holy cause, an act of self-sacrifice and selfless commitment.


But texting and the utilitarian mind-set are naturally corrosive toward poetry and imagination. A coat of ironic detachment is required for anyone who hopes to withstand the brutal feedback of the marketplace. In today's world, the choice of a Prius can be a more sanctified act than the choice of an erotic partner.


This does not mean that young people today are worse or shallower than young people in the past. It does mean they get less help. People once lived within a pattern of being, which educated the emotions, guided the temporary toward the permanent and linked everyday urges to higher things. The accumulated wisdom of the community steered couples as they tried to earn each other's commitment.


Today there are fewer norms that guide in that way. Today's technology seems to threaten the sort of recurring and stable reciprocity that is the building block of trust.








West Chester, Pa.

THE Great Recession is over. The nation's gross domestic product expanded at an annual rate of 3.5 percent during the third quarter, proving that the longest, broadest and most severe American downturn since the 1930s has finally given way to recovery. It is no accident that the recession ended just as Washington's fiscal stimulus program began providing its maximum impetus to the economy. If the financial crisis had been allowed to continue unchecked by aggressive government action, we would not yet have reached a turning point.


Still, the recovery remains fragile. No doubt, there will be moments in the coming months when the economy appears liable to falter again. In order to ensure that today's tentative recovery becomes a lasting expansion, the government must now make it a priority to deal with employment — particularly among small businesses.


Small businesses are especially vital to job growth. Establishments with fewer than 20 employees account for 25 percent of all jobs, but these same-sized companies generated 40 percent of the job growth in the last economic expansion, from 2003 to 2007. In their recent efforts to recharge the economy, policy makers have all but forgotten small business, finding it both easier and more visible to help large multinational firms. Unfortunately, though, big business can't provide the jobs needed to power the economy forward.


Businesses may not be shedding jobs as aggressively as they were earlier this year, but they still aren't hiring. Unless they start doing so soon, consumers won't have the wherewithal to keep spending, and the economy could slip back into recession. A cycle of falling wages and prices would likely begin, adding to the danger and giving the Fed and Congress fewer options and resources to respond.


It is conceivable that businesses will resume hiring soon. Employment growth historically lags a pickup in gross domestic product. But firms typically increase production by first increasing workers' hours and adding temporary help. Neither has happened so far: working hours remain stuck at a record low of 33 hours a week, and the number of temporary jobs is still in decline (nearly a million have been lost in the past three years).


Small firms are now struggling to obtain credit; their principal lenders, small banks, are under intense pressure, and hundreds more are set to be taken over by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Credit card lenders, another key source of loans to small business, have aggressively raised their underwriting standards. Policy makers could offer quick relief by empowering the Small Business Administration to provide more credit.


The Small Business Administration guarantees bank loans to small businesses, but banks aren't making very many because the loan's interest rates are capped at less than 6 percent — not enough to compensate for their risks at a time when business bankruptcies are high and rising. Creditworthy small firms would gladly pay somewhat higher rates to obtain credit. Increasing the maximum size of an S.B.A. loan and temporarily raising the percentage of the loan guarantees to as high as 97.5 percent, from 90 percent, would also prompt much more lending.


To help small companies with cash flow, policy makers should also extend provisions in the current stimulus bill that allow money-losing firms to receive refunds of taxes paid on profits earned in previous years. (In return, they agree to pay higher taxes in the future.) Rules permitting such refunds are scheduled to expire at the end of this year; an extension through next year would provide quick cash for many firms that might otherwise be forced to close. Given the tens of thousands of bankruptcies in the works by businesses of all sizes, expanding this tax benefit to bigger firms than are now permitted in the stimulus package would be a plus. Allowing companies with as many as 250 employees to take advantage of the benefit could potentially help well more than a quarter-million firms.


Finally, the government could help minimize the number of new job losses by promoting work-share programs. Nothing damages morale at a company more than layoffs; the experience not only is crushing for those who lose their jobs, but also weighs on those who remain, including managers. Layoffs are also costly, given severance expenses and the costs of rehiring or training new employees when business picks up again. Seventeen states offer effective work-share programs. Under these arrangements, employers cut workers' hours — not their jobs — and states make up a portion of workers' lost wages with unemployment insurance payments. Congress should provide financing to expand such programs nationwide.


These policy steps would not be free, but they could be surprisingly economical. Most of the credit and cash provided by taxpayers up front would come back; loans would be repaid and businesses that are given tax refunds would pay higher taxes on their future profits. This kind of help from Washington could help sustain the new signs of recovery and firmly put the recession behind us.


Mark Zandi is the chief economist at Moody's








MEMO to the 108th mayor of New York, Michael R. Bloomberg: You didn't have to do it. You didn't need to set a new national campaign spending record. You didn't have to become a one-man stimulus program, employing costly campaign consultants, ad producers and all those "volunteers." You didn't need that barrage of television ads, those wasteful glossy mailings or maddening robocalls.


None of it. You are the incumbent. You are in and destined to stay in after today's mayoral election because — unless unduly provoked — New York voters don't reject their incumbent. They're pragmatic, even complacent, when their city is not in anguish. You could have spent more on your philanthropy and less on yourself and still be leading your Democratic competitor, City Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr., in the polls.


Too bad. Mr. Bloomberg once told me that a provocative high school teacher in his hometown, Medford, Mass., had aroused his keen interest in history, but that lesson obviously did not cover New York politics. A good look back could have saved him a lot of money. No incumbent mayor of New York City has ever lost re-election unless done in by corruption, financial ruin or racial tension.


In the last half-century, only two of seven mayors lost re-election — three if you include Edward I. Koch's bid for an unprecedented fourth term. Abraham D. Beame failed after his ineffective response to a severe fiscal crisis. David N. Dinkins lost to Rudolph W. Giuliani after a single term marred by racial flare-ups, a crime wave and a bad economy. Mr. Koch might have won a fourth term if not hurt by a corruption scandal, though it did not touch him directly.


Even the beleaguered John V. Lindsay, who infuriated the white middle class and allowed damaging municipal labor strikes, won re-election against two rivals who split the opposition. And Mr. Giuliani easily gained the second term allowed under the city's new term-limits law — the one Mr. Bloomberg and a most amenable City Council changed to allow themselves another dip.


And yet Mr. Bloomberg's expenditures in this campaign have already surpassed the $85 million he spent to win re-election four years ago, and could easily reach more than $100 million. By mid-October, the mayor had pumped an astonishing $245 million of his own money into his three mayoral campaigns — more than any American has ever spent in pursuit of public office. That is not much to him; his wealth is estimated at $16 billion. But even the superrich make spending decisions and Mr. Bloomberg could easily have made this decision differently.


When asked at a recent Crain's New York Business forum why he was spending so much, the mayor said it was because the city is overwhelmingly Democratic and he is now an independent (with Republican support). But Mr. Giuliani, proud Republican, easily won re-election, his questioner noted. "It was a different time then," said the mayor, implying he is in a tougher fight. Really? Mr. Bloomberg, when still a Republican, handily won re-election in 2005, defeating Fernando Ferrer, the Democrat, by 19 percentage points.


New York's mayors benefit from more than the usual advantages of incumbency. They are all-powerful, enabled by a weak city legislature and encouraged by influential figures in business and the news media who have seen the damage caused by ineffective leadership. The city's mayor controls the budget, policy, perks, contracts, appointments; in Mr. Bloomberg's case, he has also disbursed generous personal philanthropic contributions to grateful cultural and civic groups. New York is so assertively mayor-centric that incumbents scare off potentially strong opponents; this time out, it was Representative Anthony D. Weiner of Brooklyn and Queens who prudently backed off.


Mr. Thompson might now wish he had made the same decision. He is at a stark money disadvantage, and has no strong issue other than his complaint about the mayor's self-interested push to extend term limits. The mayor would no doubt be ahead in this race even if, instead of outspending Mr. Thompson by more than 14 to 1 (and counting), he had limited himself to his rival's spending — a total of about $6 million as of last month.


Polls show the mayor is still popular, despite strong resentment about his brash tactics in overturning term limits. The city is stable and well managed — and he is the incumbent. With a better understanding of New York history, he could have saved himself a few hundred million dollars and New Yorkers could feel as though he was asking for their votes rather than buying them.


Joyce Purnick, a former City Hall bureau chief for The Times, is the author of "Mike Bloomberg: Money, Power, Politics."








The political chickens that the PPP hatched are coming home to roost, in a rather hurried manner. The first major crack in the ruling coalition has appeared with the polite but firm advice by MQM chief Altaf Hussain to President Asif Ali Zardari: step down to save the system. The MQM has officially decided to oppose the NRO, leaving the other two coalition partners, the ANP and the JUI, in a difficult bind as these two parties have not benefited from the NRO. What is surprising is that Altaf Hussain has gone many steps forward in asking for the resignation of President Zardari, and not of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. He thus has come to the point straight on, hitting the nail right on the head. In tandem with all this, the PML-N Quaid Nawaz Sharif has come up with strong words promising to hit out at the NRO in parliament. He has clearly stated that there is no gray area on this issue; it is either black or it is white. This means the PML-N is also changing course, giving up its image of a friendly opposition. There has even been some thinking in the PML-N to resign from the assembly if worst comes to worst. The NRO crisis has thus taken the shape of a national political crisis at a time when the country faces a massive wave of terrorism which the security forces are fighting. With the National Assembly beginning its latest session, the PPP, and primarily the prime minister who has enjoyed the confidence of the house so far, have now to come up with a response which not only averts the NRO crisis but does not further destabilise the system. The PM has been repeatedly saying that parliament must be sovereign and supreme and that the 17th Amendment must be undone to restore the balance which former president Pervez Musharraf had distorted for his own interests. Now it is time for parliament to assert its sovereignty and if some influential elements in the PPP want to pass a black law, the saner elements in the party must come forward to reject it. The best option for the PPP would be to itself reject the law, gain some moral ground and let those who have cases against them face the courts.

The alternative is political chaos which neither the political system nor the security situation can sustain. Saving the corrupt deeds of a few, who have amassed immense wealth at the cost of this poor nation, would be no service to democracy and would deprive the present political system of whatever moral legitimacy it has at the moment. The terrorists and their ideological masters who do not mince words in claiming that they will soon rule this country in their own warped way will be the only beneficiaries of this mass political suicide by parliament and politicians; and this is what it will be if the passing of the NRO comes about. The best process is one which has self-correcting mechanisms, and now is the time for our political process to make those corrections if it wants to survive. Leaders must lead with courage and they will get the support they need at this hour of crisis. But any failure, in the interest of a few, would be an unforgettable disaster. The black sheep in our political system must be identified and removed. If parliament can do this self-cleansing, then it does not need any one's help to become sovereign.







There was a time when wars were fought between armies and navies; soldiers and seamen who were employed for the business of battle. They did the business, buried the dead, tended the wounded and then went back home. Civilians, if they were involved at all, were generally not considered part of the fight. That changed with the emergence of aircraft as a weapon of war and by the end of World War Two it was no longer the soldiers that were the principal casualties, it was civilians. Thus it is today. Although there is a daily toll of military dead in the existential battle we are fighting, it is civilians who are now being deliberately targeted by the terrorists we are fighting.

There has been a shift in terrorist targeting since the death of Baitullah Mehsud, a shift away from targets that are primarily military to the softer and easier-to-hit targets like Meena bazaar in Peshawar and now the explosion on Mall Road in Rawalpindi that has killed at least 30 and injured more than 45. Many of the dead were elderly or retired people waiting in a line outside a bank for a token in order to collect their pension. It is hard to fathom what the terrorists hope to achieve by this. On the one hand they may think that they are 'forced' to do this because of the actions of the military and civilian agencies that have them under pressure. On the other terrorist thinking may be that by bombing the innocent they can 'force' the military and civilian agencies to cease and desist from their pressurizing. They would be wrong in either case. We cannot, will not, allow this country to be brought low by terrorism. We cannot allow a small section of society to impose its will by force upon the rest of us, despite the knowledge that it is going to be civilians who increasingly pay the ultimate price for our victory.







A schoolgirl subjected to gangrape in a Khairpur village, allegedly at the hands of her schoolteachers, has been seeking help against powerful elements who she claims are protecting the perpetrators. Similar charges were placed before the Sindh High Court, which is hearing the case. We have no way of knowing where the truth lies in this specific case. But it is a reminder of the fact that the poor continue to lack access to justice. Even when young women pick up the considerable moral courage it takes in our social circumstances to report a crime such as rape, their efforts are thwarted by a corrupt setup. This latest case has come into the spotlight mainly through letters to the media by the victim. Most cases undoubtedly are never heard about. Local officials continue to hold sway over their fiefdoms in rural areas with little check. This lack of accountability allows them to break the rules as and when they please. It is only when they are asked to explain their actions that a precedent will be set and a momentum leading towards change created.







Shafiq Ahmed Khan described himself as a Balochistani, spoke about the rights of the Baloch people and publicly mourned and condemned the assassination of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti at the hands of Gen Pervez Musharraf. Even then he was killed by those who insist they are fighting for the Baloch cause.

On Oct 25, Balochistan education minister Shafiq Ahmed Khan was shot dead by gunmen waiting in ambush near his house in Quetta. The killers escaped on a motorbike, but the Baloch Liberation United Front (BLUF) made sure that there was no confusion about the identity of the attackers by immediately claiming responsibility for the assassination. BLUF spokesman Shahiq Baloch said the minister was killed due to his anti-Baloch policies, and to avenge the state-sponsored murders of Baloch nationalist leaders Ghulam Muhammad, Sher Muhammad and Lala Munir in Turbat in Balochistan sometime ago.

Shafiq Ahmed was the second Balochistan minister to be killed in the last few months. In July, the minister for excise and taxation, Sardarzada Rustam Khan Jamali, was gunned down in Karachi, a city with a significant Baloch population. The motives for his murder aren't sufficiently clear, though it shocked and unnerved his colleagues in the large and unwieldy PPP-led coalition government ruling Balochistan. Subsequently, the house of Balochistan information minister Younis Mullazai in Quetta came under a grenade attack. There have been other targeted killings in the province, along with frequent acts of sabotage against government installations, infrastructure and utility services. A new trend in this campaign is the blowing up of properties of pro-government tribal elders. Frontier Corps soldiers and policemen are attacked and the settlers, the ones whose parents and grandparents came from other provinces to settle in Balochistan, are now a major target of Baloch separatists.

Shafiq was also considered a settler, even though he was born in Quetta in 1954. He studied in schools and colleges in Quetta before getting admission and qualifying from Balochistan University. He thrice won elections as councillor of the Quetta Municipal Corporation. Twice, in 2002 and 2008, he was elected member of the Balochistan Assembly on the ticket of the Pakistan People's Party.

Senator Mir Lashkari Raisani, the PPP's Balochistan president and brother of chief minister Nawab Aslam Raisani, unwisely and carelessly referred to Shafiq Ahmed's family origins being from the NWFP, wondering aloud whether this could be a reason for his assassination. This was something farfetched as BLUF had publicly declared that he was killed for pursuing anti-Baloch policies. Shafiq Ahmed's assassination had no link with the ongoing Taliban-inspired militancy in the NWFP and its tribal areas. Lashkari Raisani should have refrained from categorising Shafiq Ahmed as a settler.

Lashkari Raisani also highlighted two other intriguing points. One was his belief that Shafiq Ahmed was killed for raising his voice against Indian involvement in Balochistan's affairs. This meant that the minister was eliminated for accusing India of supporting acts of terrorism in Balochistan. The other point that Lashkari Raisani made was the campaign of targeted killings of teachers in Balochistan and its culmination in the assassination of Education Minister Shafiq Ahmed. All this in his view was part of a conspiracy to deprive students of education and keep Balochistan underdeveloped. Lacking focus, Lashkari Raisani's statement tended to create confusion about the motive behind the assassination.

In comparison, Chief Minister Aslam Raisani's condolence message was sensible. He described Shafiq Ahmed as a Baloch leader. He termed his assassination as a violation of Baloch and Islamic traditions and asked the insurgents not to shed the blood of their own people for external forces seeking to destabilise Balochistan and Pakistan.

Shafiq Ahmed's family had migrated to Quetta several decades ago from the village of Maloga near Oghi town in Mansehra district. His uncle, Ali Bahadur Khan, was a judicial commissioner in Balochistan and his father, Sher Bahadur, did business in Quetta. The family belongs to the Hindko-speaking Tanoli tribe living in parts of Mansehra and Abbottabad districts. Shafiq Ahmed and his family did maintain links with relatives in Mansehra and the rest of Hazara, but it was for all practical purposes now a Balochistani family. Asked in a recent event sponsored by the BBC Urdu service in Quetta whether he was a Pakhtun or Baloch, Shafiq Ahmed remarked that he was a Balochistani.

Apart from the sizeable number of families from the NWFP's Hazara region who settled in Quetta long ago, there are also substantial groups of settlers from Punjab, Sindh and Afghanistan who call Balochistan their home. Like every urban centre, Quetta has been attracting outsiders, particularly those with some skills, and its population has been growing. Urdu-speaking families and members of minority groups such as Parsi, Hindu and Christian also have been living and working in Quetta and some other cities and towns in Balochistan. Many families decided to settle in Quetta when it was being rebuilt after the devastating 1935 earthquake.

But it seems most settlers are now unwelcome because the Baloch separatists want to settle scores with the federal government, the military and the Punjab-dominated Pakistani establishment. The victims are scapegoats in a battle in which the increasingly violent Baloch separatist groups are pitted against Pakistan's security forces, law-enforcement agencies and pro-federation political forces.

Denial of Baloch rights and the five military operations since independence have taken its toll on the population of Balochistan, but it seems no lessons have been learnt as force is still being used to resolve a conflict that is essentially political in nature and primarily concerns the socio-economic rights of the people of the province.

The BLUF appears more aggressive and violent than the Baloch Liberation Army and Baloch Liberation Front, the two armed separatist groups that have been active for some years now in Balochistan. In February the BLUF kidnapped American John Solecki who headed the UNHCR mission in Balochistan, and freed him unharmed after much efforts, and probably a deal. The kidnapping signalled the arrival of the BLUF as the most radical of the three Baloch separatist groups even though it isn't clear if these are separate or overlapping factions operating under different names. One lesson from the proliferation of splinter factions, which are far more radical militants and led by younger and emotional men, is that one must try and do business with the older and original groups headed by mature people because the leadership is passing to commanders who are mostly inflexible. This holds true for all militant groups, whether secular, nationalist or Islamic.

Young Baloch separatists forming part of the diaspora and living in Kabul, Kandahar, Dubai, London, Brussels and Geneva are now often calling the shots in Balochistan and setting the agenda. The Khan of Kalat, Mir Suleman Daud, and Herbeyar Marri are in London, Brahmadagh Bugti could be in Afghanistan. They largely control the radical separatist groups and it isn't going to be easy doing business with them. They are presently demanding an independent Balochistan, but there are strong indications they are willing to remain part of Pakistan after grant of provincial autonomy under a deal guaranteed by international organisations and world powers. The trust deficit between them and the Pakistani establishment -- which is wary of the external, primarily Indian influence on the Baloch separatists -- is the main hurdle in making them talk to each other for a possible deal on managing Balochistan's affairs.

Though an overwhelming majority of elected representatives in Balochistan are pro-Islamabad and the pro-federation political forces outnumber the ones demanding independence, it would be wrong to dismiss the Baloch nationalists and separatists as insignificant. They have the capability to keep Balochistan unstable through political means and armed struggle. Acts of sabotage and targeted killings, like that of Shafiq Ahmed Khan, aim at keeping up the pressure on Islamabad to accede to the separatists' demands.

And this is not the only challenge confronting Balochistan. There is the issue of the Quetta Shura of the Afghan Taliban, which the US, without providing any evidence, is insisting operates out of the Balochistan capital to attack NATO forces across the border in Afghanistan. And, last but not least, is the issue of Jundullah, the Baloch Sunni militant group responsible for terrorist attacks in Iran's Sistan-Baluchistan province and based according to Tehran in Pakistani Balochistan. Sadly enough, the secret hand of the US also seems to be behind Jundullah.

The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. Email: rahim







I tell you this simple story for the simple reason that perhaps the problem lies in the details, Your Excellency, in the details of ordinary lives. The problem itself is simple, and the solution is not as simplistic as American foreign policy would like us to believe. The problem, Your Excellency, is the wilful and malevolent perpetuation of a universal state of inequity and injustice – a state of dangerous contradictions poised to implode despite the many hasty and ill-thought out designs to alleviate the burden of poverty and privation. Today, I see you standing before a computer, accompanied by a permanently beaming President and a stately Minister who gives away money to the needy, once a month, as long as the needy are defined by a certain parameter. Your Excellency, apparently you are to push a button on the computer which shall randomly select a winning family which shall benefit from the munificence of a government functioning almost entirely on the rhetoric generated by martyrdom. That this family is then to return the awarded amount while those in government have loans worth millions of dollars written off is an irony as sharp as the fact that the family in Thor Nallah had never heard of this benevolent scheme, nor have they ever received the benefit of electricity which could possibly power a computer on which their names could be listed.

Your Excellency, I had worked with my mother in the region of Gilgit-Baltistan for thirteen years before her untimely death in the region she had come to love. For most of the people of this region, as for most of the people of the four provinces of my beloved country, such schemes have remained inaccessible, much like gainful employment, health care, education, land, and the most ubiquitous of all rights: justice. It is ironic that those who have denied the people of Pakistan these essential rights are the ones you are now accompanied by: the grinning and ingratiating folk who surround you on your visit. Your Excellency, how can we possibly be anointed with the ink of democracy when the parchment we have been writing on is brittle with conflict, fragile with prejudice, and infested with a feudal ethos which eats into the very fabric of democratic principles? How can we, ordinary Pakistanis, believe that those with whom you do business are truly representing our interests, the interests of the family in the Thor Nullah and countless others like them in Awaran, in Badin, in Zhob, in Gwadar, in Dir, in Bakkhar?

Your Excellency, I am not trying to dissuade you from your noble mission to inform us of what is already written in blood, the blood of men and women and children killed in a war we did not create. As I write this, news filters in of the deadly bombing of the heart of my father's beloved city Peshawar. Tonight the sound of mourning, of women wailing for lost children, of babies seeking lost mothers, shall fill the sky above my country. Can you hear that song, Your Excellency, that lament of despair, that elegy to a nation defeated by those who sold it for another song, a song of greed and a malignant lust for power? That is not a song anyone would willingly want to hear, and unless you and those in positions as significant as yours are willing to hear that elegy, I fear that very soon, too soon perhaps, there shall be no space for further burials in this beloved, blighted country of mine. In closing, allow me to offer you the lines of the wonderful British poet who made America his home: I am moved by fancies that are curled/Around these images, and cling:/The notion of some infinitely gentle/Infinitely suffering thing. (T S Eliot – Prelude)


The writer is the author of "No Space for Further Burials", a novel based on the American presence in Afghanistan. Email:








On a two-day visit to Kashmir last week (October 27-28), the Indian Prime Minister launched what is being billed as a major initiative to bring peace to Kashmir. The move was made one month before the expected meeting between the Pakistani and Indian Prime Ministers on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Summit in Port-of-Spain (Trinidad and Tobago). The Indian Prime Minister's "peace overture" consists of three elements.

First, he invited all Kashmiri organisations ("every group, provided they shun the path of violence") to join the Indian government in talks on the future of Kashmir. This invitation was primarily meant for the "moderate" faction of the All-Pakistan Hurriyat Conference (APHC) led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.

Second, Manmohan Singh expressed India's readiness to discuss all issues with Pakistan "if an appropriate atmosphere was created". He declared that there were no pre-conditions for talks, but they could not "make headway unless Pakistan brings under effective control terror groups [operating in the country]."

The third, and most important, Manmohan signalled – without saying so explicitly – Delhi's keenness to continue the back channel dialogue with Islamabad on a resolution of the Kashmir dispute that began during the Musharraf dictatorship.

"Talks on talks" between the Indian Government and the "moderate" faction of the APHC have been in progress since summer this year. This group also held talks with Delhi from 2004 to 2006 but broke them off in view of public misgivings at a process in which only the extent of autonomy within the Indian constitution was on the table.

To make things easier for the APHC, Delhi has announced that it was withdrawing one army division from the Jammu region. For the same reason, India has also refrained from defining the scope of the proposed talks. Two weeks before Manmohan's visit to Kashmir, Home Minister Chidambaram declared that "everything would be on (the negotiating) table."

As expected, the APHC faction led by the Mirwaiz has welcomed India's offer. At the same time, in order to maintain its credibility, it has urged New Delhi to take confidence-building measures, such as pulling out of troops, release of prisoners and an end to human rights violations. The group led by Syed Ali Shah Gilani has denounced the Indian offer and demanded tripartite talks between India, Pakistan and Kashmiri representatives. Shabbir Shah, who is considered a moderate, has also rejected the offer and called for trilateral talks. It now remains to be seen whether the Mirwaiz will still go ahead with a dialogue with Delhi. If he does, he is likely to marginalise himself in the Kashmiri people's struggle.

Partly in order to encourage the APHC to accept the Indian offer of dialogue, Delhi has also expressed willingness to hold talks with Islamabad on all outstanding issues, including Kashmir, without pre-conditions. It is now very likely that when Gilani and Manmohan Singh meet at Port-of-Spain, there will be substantial progress in resuming the composite dialogue.

The main reason for the Indian Government's new tack is its keenness to finalise the deal on Kashmir that Musharraf and Manmohan had worked out in the back channel dialogue between 2004 and 2007. In his Srinagar speech, Manmohan described this period as one of "the most fruitful and productive discussions ever with the Government of Pakistan." He waxed eloquent about the increased travel and trade between Pakistan and India and between the two parts of Kashmir. But he did not say – for obvious reasons – that the most productive part of these discussions, from the Indian point of view, was the non-paper on Kashmir which would effectively legitimise the Indian occupation of Kashmir.

Delhi, therefore, wants not only that the back channel should be reactivated but also that this dialogue should resume from the point that it had reached under Musharraf. The Indian policy was summed up in an article in the Times of India on 27 October in these words: "The dialogue within [with APHC] should be complemented by restarting the New Delhi-Islamabad backchannel on Kashmir, to ensure that Pakistan has no incentive to subvert the internal track. This should, of course, take off from precisely where previously designated special envoys had paused in their discussions."

The Zardari government has already signalled its willingness to resume the backchannel dialogue by appointing former Foreign Secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan as its special envoy on Pakistan-India relations. The question now is whether the government would also agree to the Indian demand that this dialogue should be continued from the point it had reached under Musharraf.

If it does, that would mean that this government, like that of the former military dictator, is prepared to virtually recognise the LoC as a permanent border. This is a "solution" that India has been seeking unsuccessfully for nearly six decades. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto turned it down even at Simla in 1972 when Pakistan was on its knees. We had lost a war. India was in occupation of thousands of square kilometres of our territory and was holding more than 90,000 Pakistani prisoners of war. Yet, Bhutto did not give in. Today, we are in a stronger position. We are a nuclear power and India is in no position to dictate terms to us. Besides, the situation in Kashmir is much more favourable. In 1972, Kashmir was quiescent. Today, the ground realities in the occupied state are much more favourable. If an attempt is made to impose a "solution" which does not meet the Kashmiri people's demand for azadi, they will reject it.

The Indian foreign policy establishment has been unnerved recently by signals emanating from the Chinese Government that it does not accept Occupied Kashmir as an integral part of China. For one thing, the Chinese Embassy in Delhi has been issuing visas to Indian passport-holders belonging to Kashmir on a separate paper. Besides, according to the Indian press, some Chinese official maps have been showing occupied Kashmir as a country separate from India. Musharraf was prepared to accept a Kashmir settlement on Indian terms because it suited his personal agenda. The same goes for Zardari. In fact, he has gone even further. He has insulted the entire Kashmiri population by equating the freedom fighters with terrorists.

The response of our foreign ministry to Manmohan Singh's "peace initiative" was revealing not for what it said but for what it did not say. There was not a word on the Indian offer of talks with APHC. This can be interpreted in one of two ways: either we are willing to treat it as India's internal matter; or we support the proposed talks between Delhi and APHC. Either way, it amounts to a letdown of the Kashmiri people. The foreign ministry can still make amends by declaring that any talks between Delhi and Kashmiri groups cannot address the question of Kashmir's status or affect India's international obligations under the UN Security Council resolutions. Besides, the Foreign Ministry should call upon the APHC to hold talks with other Kashmiri groups fighting for azadi.

The question of back channel dialogue is even more important. The prime minister has so far left our Kashmir policy largely in the hands of Zardari. It is time Gilani, as head of government, assumed full responsibility in the matter and repudiated the backchannel deal negotiated by the previous government. Otherwise, he should be prepared to go down in history as a betrayer of the Kashmiri people's struggle for azadi.