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Sunday, November 8, 2009

EDITORIAL 05.11.09

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya




month november 05, edition 000342, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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









  3. 'GET OVER IT'


































  2. THE OIC

























The Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind has not done the Muslims of India any favour by adopting a clutch of resolutions that not only reflect the regressive agenda of the ulema but also strengthen the stereotyping of the community as backward-looking and refusing to change with the times. The most provocative of the resolutions is the one which endorses the 2006 fatwa issued by Darul Uloom, Deoband, prohibiting Muslims from singing the National Song, Vande Mataram, even in its truncated form which is the 'official' version. That the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind should have thought it fit to recall a fatwa issued three years ago is not without design: Clearly the mullahs who had gathered for the organisation's 30th general session at Deoband intended to demonstrate that the Muslim community is not bound by the national identity with other Indian communities. In a sense, the resolution against Vande Mataram is as much a reiteration of Muslim separatism as the resolution which calls upon Muslims to "don their Islamic identity" and say salam instead of namaste. Both the resolutions are of a piece with the 23 others that seek to carve out a separate space for India's Muslims where they will have the right to deprive women of their dignity as "bringing women into the mainstream will create social problems and issues including their security", enforce sharia'h on girls once they are 10 years old, prevent people from watching either cinema or television, and say no to the state's efforts to contain diseases like AIDS and polio. In brief, the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind wants a separate state within the Indian state which will be ruled by mullahs. At the same time, the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind wants all the benefits of a secular state to accrue to the Muslims. Apart from jobs in the public sector and education funded by tax-payers, the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind also wants proportionate representation for Muslims in elected bodies, including Parliament. The Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind does not want the Government to interfere with madarsas by way of setting up a Central Board because theological schools are meant to produce clerics. If so be the case, then the Government must not only cut-off all funding for madarsas but also withdraw recognition for certificates issued by theological schools. The public exchequer is not meant for producing Islamic clerics.

Tragically, the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind's antediluvian though insidious agenda and its provocative assault on Indian nationhood by reiterating the fatwa against Vande Mataram have been legitimised by the presence of Union Home Minister P Chidambaram at the Deoband gathering. This is not to suggest that he was party to the outrageous resolutions; after all, as Mr Chidambaram has pointed out, all this was done before he arrived to address the gathering. But two points merit mention. First, as Home Minister, he should have been aware of what had transpired at the meeting. The Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind did not keep the resolutions a secret; on the contrary, they were posted on the organisation's website. Second, it was expected of him to unequivocally condemn the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind's denigration of the National Song and register his disagreement with the ulama's vision of a joyless world where women are treated as no more than chattel and where modernity is shunned with vengeance. It is immaterial that the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind has craftily parroted the oft-quoted definition of jihad as being different from terrorism. Such vacuous declarations convince nobody, least of all jihadis who kill in the name of Islam.






The Government of Nepal couldn't have been in a more precarious situation. It faces serious challenges from both within and outside the 22-member ruling coalition. After a brief lull, Nepal's Maoists have resumed their programme of political agitation, picketing village administration and municipal offices, and blocking the proceedings of the Constituent Assembly. This has put the Government in a tight spot. With the Constituent Assembly almost paralysed, time is fast running out for the parliamentary approval of the Budget for the current fiscal year that needs to be secured within the next two weeks, or else the Government could run out of money to finance the country's essential services. On the other hand, the Madhesi People's Rights Forum, a constituent of the present Government, has threatened a series of protests in case their demands — which include greater political autonomy for the Madhesi people, their proportional representation in state institutions such as the Army, and official language status for Hindi — are not met. The MPRF's demands flow from the Madhesi movement that has long complained of discrimination against the Madhesi community that mainly inhabits the southern Terai region of Nepal by the country's hill communities. To that effect, on Sunday, MPRF president Upendra Yadav handed over a nine-point memorandum to Nepali Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, highlighting the demands of his party.

The political crisis in Nepal bodes ill for the entire region. It is indicative of the urgency of things that Mr Jhalanath Khanal, the chairman of the CPN(UML), and MPRF's Mr Upendra Yadav are in India to hold high-level consultations with the Indian leadership to find solutions to the political imbroglio in Kathmandu. It is absolutely imperative that there be a stable Government in Nepal. For, the Himalayan nation can ill afford another round of turmoil similar to the one it had witnessed during the decade-long Maoist insurgency. It is unfortunate that the Maoists have decided to brow-beat the Government into submission. Three years ago when the Left-wing ultras had laid down their arms to join the peace process, it was hoped that the Maoists had given up the path of violence for good. But the series of intimidating rallies and strikes that have been on display ever since CPN(Maoists) leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better known as Prachanda, resigned as the Prime Minister over the issue of the sacking of the Nepali Army chief, is evidence that the Maoists are still not above violence and conflict. The only way Nepal can rescue itself from the present situation is if all stakeholders in the peace and prosperity of that nation decide to set aside their differences and work together. This will require a lot of imagination and statesmanship.



            THE PIONEER




The India-China relationship has entered choppy waters because of a perceptible hardening in the Chinese stance. Anti-India rhetoric in the state-run Chinese media has intensified, even as China has stepped up military pressure along the disputed Himalayan frontier through frequent cross-border incursions. Beijing also has resurrected its long-dormant claim to Arunachal Pradesh, nearly three times as large as Taiwan.

The more-muscular Chinese stance clearly is tied to the new US-India strategic partnership, symbolised by the nuclear deal and deepening military cooperation. As President George W Bush declared in his valedictory speech, "We opened a new historic and strategic partnership with India."

The Obama Administration, although committed to promoting that strategic partnership, has been reluctant to take New Delhi's side in any of its disputes with Beijing. This has emboldened China to up the ante against India, with the Chinese Foreign Ministry employing language like "we demand" in a recent statement that labelled the Indian Prime Minister's visit to Arunachal Pradesh a "disturbance." The Communist Party's official newspaper, the People's Daily, after asking India to consider the costs of "a potential confrontation with China", ran another denunciatory editorial recently on New Delhi's "recklessness and arrogance".

New Delhi has hit back by permitting the Dalai Lama to tour Arunachal Pradesh and announcing an end to the practice of Chinese companies bringing thousands of workers from China to work on projects in India. And in a public riposte to Beijing's raising of objections to multilateral funding of any project in Arunachal Pradesh, India has asked China to cease its infrastructure and military projects in another disputed region — Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

The present pattern of border provocations, new force deployments and mutual recriminations is redolent of the situation that prevailed 47 years ago, when China — taking advantage of the advent of the Cuban missile crisis, which brought the world to the brink of a nuclear Armageddon — routed the unprepared Indian military in a surprise two-front aggression. Today, amid rising tensions, the danger of border skirmishes, if not a limited war, looks real.

Such tensions have been rising since 2006. Until 2005, China was eschewing anti-India rhetoric and pursuing a policy of active engagement with India even as it continued to expand its strategic space in southern Asia, to New Delhi's detriment. In fact, when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited India in April 2005, the two countries unveiled six broad principles to help settle their festering border dispute. But after the India-US defence-framework accord and nuclear deal were unveiled in quick succession in subsequent months, the mood in Beijing changed perceptibly. That gave rise to a pattern that now has become commonplace: Chinese newspapers, individual bloggers, security think tanks and even officially blessed websites ratcheted up an "India threat" scenario.

A US-India military alliance has always been a strategic nightmare for the Chinese, and the ballyhooed Indo-US global strategic partnership triggered alarm bells in Beijing. The partnership, though, falls short of a formal military alliance. Still, the high-pitched Indian and American rhetoric that the new partnership represented a tectonic shift in geopolitical alignments apparently made Chinese policy-makers believe India was being groomed as a new Japan or Australia to America — a perception reinforced by subsequent arrangements and Indian orders for US arms worth $ 3.5 billion in just the past year.

Clearly, New Delhi failed to foresee that its rush to forge close strategic bonds with Washington could provoke greater Chinese pressure and that in such a situation, the United States actually would offer little comfort. Consequently, India finds itself in a spot.

For one thing, Beijing calculatedly has sought to pressure India on multiple fronts — military, diplomatic and multilateral. For another, the United States —far from coming to India's support — has shied away from even cautioning Beijing against any attempt to forcibly change the territorial status quo. Indeed, on a host of issues — from the Dalai Lama to the Arunachal Pradesh dispute — Washington has chosen not to antagonise Beijing. That, in effect, has left India on its own.

The spectacle of the President of the most powerful country in the world seeking to curry favour with a rights-abusing China by shunning the Dalai Lama during the Tibetan leader's Washington visit cannot but embolden the Chinese leadership to step up pressure on India, the seat of the Tibetan Government-in-exile. Mr Obama also has signalled that America's strategic relationship with India will not be at the expense of the fast-growing US ties with China.

The Obama team, after reviewing the Bush-era arrangements, intends to abjure elements in its ties with New Delhi that could rile Beijing, including any joint military drill in Arunachal Pradesh or a 2007-style naval exercise involving the United States, India, Australia, Japan and Singapore. Even trilateral US naval manoeuvres with India and Japan are being abandoned so as not to raise China's hackles. As his Secretary of State did in February, Mr Obama is undertaking an Asia tour that begins in Japan and ends in China — the high spot — while skipping India. In fact, Washington is quietly charting a course of tacit neutrality on the Arunachal dispute.

Yet Beijing remains suspicious of the likely trajectory of US-India strategic ties, including pre-1962-style CIA meddling in Tibet. This distrust found expression in the People's Daily editorial that accused New Delhi of pursuing a foreign policy of "befriending the far and attacking the near".

Left to fend for itself, New Delhi has decided to steer clear of any confrontation with Beijing. As the Prime Minister of the Tibetan Government-in-exile, Samdhong Rinpoche, has put it: "For the past few months, China has adopted an aggressive attitude and is indulging in many provocative activities, which are being tolerated by Indian Government in a very passive manner."

Still, even as it seeks to tamp down tensions with Beijing, New Delhi cannot rule out the use of force by China at a time when hard-liners there seem to believe that a swift, 1962-style military victory can help fashion a Beijing-oriented Asia.

Having declared that America's "most important bilateral relationship in the world" is with Beijing, the Obama team must caution China against crossing well-defined red lines or going against its self-touted gospel of China's "peaceful rise".

The writer is professor of strategic studies at Centre for Policy Research.







It is true that public trust in the judiciary is a very important issue for any democracy. But with news of possible corruption in the judiciary making headlines over the last several months, that public trust has been rattled. In this backdrop, the decision of the judges of the apex court to voluntarily declare their assets on the Supreme Court website will undoubtedly help to strengthen the image of the judiciary. Nonetheless, one wonders whether in the absence of meaningful changes in the law, mere voluntary disclosure of personal assets will have any significant impact in terms of safeguarding against corruption.

Many judges with impeccable integrity have served in the Supreme Court. In fact, irrespective of public opinion, the apex court till date maintains a good reputation. But unfortunately, the situation in the lower courts is far from satisfactory. Allegations of corruption in these courts is far more prevalent. And the voluntary declaration of assets by the Supreme Court judges will have no legal binding on the judges in the lower courts.


Unless the Government takes concrete steps to make disclosure of personal wealth a mandatory requirement for all judges at every level in the judicial hierarchy, corruption in the judiciary will continue to remain an issue.

On the other hand, recent moves by the Chief Justice of India provide little hope that the Apex Court has any intention of bringing a change in the law for making declaration of personal assets mandatory. The Delhi High Court had recently passed a historic judgment stating that the Supreme Court was obligated to declare information regarding assets of its judges under the Right to Information Act. The High Court had held that the office of the CJI was a public office and that it came under the ambit of the RTI. But the Supreme Court has already filed an appeal against the High Court decision indicating that it has no intention to accept compulsory disclosure of judges' wealth.

There can be hardly any reason to imagine that a corrupt judge would voluntarily declare all his assets for public scrutiny. Unless disclosure is made mandatory, the deep-rooted corruption in the lower levels of the judiciary will continue to persist. The needful must be done immediately if the people's faith in the judiciary is to be cemented once and for all.









India cannot remain insulated from the worldwide campaign, launched on environmental grounds, against the use of plastic in carry bags and for packaging. The Ministry of Environment and Forests is reported to have framed rules for a complete ban on all plastic bags, containers and laminated packs, including those used for packaging chips and paan masala. Plastic manufacturers and sellers are permitted to file their reactions within two months of the notification. As a non-biodegradable material, plastic clogs drains and sewers; chokes water systems; litters tourist spots and pilgrimages; precipitates landslides during the rainy season in the hills and mountains; and kills cattle by accumulating in the bellies of famished animals, which feed on refuse in plastic bags.

Environmentalists and concerned citizens want a complete, nationwide ban on plastic bags and packets. Eco-friendly bags and packaging sourced from jute, leaves, cotton, coir and other fibres would boost cottage industries as well as provide alternative jobs to those in the plastics business. Recycling paper is another extremely viable option. It also ensures that trees are not felled for packaging purposes. Some months back, Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh expressed the fear that a complete ban on the use of plastic would lead to greater deforestation in the event that paper came increasingly to be used as a substitute. In view of this apprehension, the packaging industry needs to consider other materials, sourced from fibre, cotton and foliage. The approach must be geared to conserving the environment while generating employment. And the Government needs to frame workable policies and give incentives which encourage the plastics industry to switch over to eco-friendly materials.

The severe mid-2005 floods in Mumbai were blamed on plastic choking the city's sewers. Subsequently, the State Government imposed a ban, effective from September 24 that year, on the use of plastic bags despite the stiff opposition against this move by the plastics industry. Mr Arvind Mehta, managing committee member of the All India Plastic Manufacturers Association, had argued that over 1,000 units would be forced to shut down, thereby rendering 100,000 people jobless. Lobbyists pointed out that the floods were caused by a colossal failure in effective waste management. They cited the example of London, where households are required to separate biodegradable waste from its opposite, before being finally disposed off by the concerned authorities. They also drew attention to the United States, where widespread use of plastic packaging poses no threat to the environment since waste management is both efficient and scientific in that country. Here, garbage disposal remains primitive, with open terrain and water systems serving as dumping grounds.

These arguments failed to override objections to the use of plastic. Strident criticism by ordinary citizens and luminaries alike of the Congress Ministry's failure to counter the deluge that swamped India's commercial capital, crippling it totally, forced the ban. Other States — Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Jammu & Kashmir, Kerala and West Bengal — have also acted to limit the use of plastic bags. From October 2, Himachal Pradesh imposed a ban on the production, storage, use, sale and distribution of all types of bags made of non-biodegradable materials. Disposable plates, cups and glasses, staple items at tourist spots, could now be banished forever. However, packets for milk, cereals and other edibles were exempted from the ban. This Himalayan state seems to have taken the lead in acting against non-biodegradable packaging and containers. Over a decade ago, on January 1, 1999, a ban was imposed on the use of coloured polythene bags, manufactured from recycled plastic. Then, in 2004, under Section 7(h) of the State Non-Biodegradable Garbage (Control) Rules, the use of small polythene bags, less than 70 microns in density and of a size less than 18'x12', was prohibited. Under the Himachal Pradesh Non-Biodegradable Garbage (Control) Act, 1995, any violation would invite a fine up to Rs 25,000, with Rs 500 being the minimum penalty. Mr RK Sood, joint member-secretary of the Himachal State Council for Science, Technology and Environment, vouches that since 2004, plastic pollution has sharply reduced.

Gearing up for the Commonwealth Games, slated for next October, the Delhi Government ordered a complete ban on the use, sale and storage of all kinds of plastic bags on January 7. The ban, meant to cover all shopping areas, eating places, hotels and hospitals, is routinely flouted despite the threat of a prison term or fine, or both. The notification reportedly does not specify whether bags, with thickness of 40 microns and more, are permitted to be used, as before. Almost a year later, polythene bags of all sizes flood the markets and mandis; litter roadsides; and overflow garbage dumps. Cattle, pigs and dogs scavenge for food amidst lethal piles of polythene. The Yamuna, as the recipient of the city's refuse and industrial effluent, is choked with plastic wrappers and bags. These also clog the drainage system, raising fears of a deluge in the event of heavy seasonal rains. This certainly could not be the world class city that the ruling regime intends to showcase for foreign visitors during the Games. One can only hope that the ban is now enforced.








The news is bad, and it's coming in fast. Turn tens of thousands of scientists loose on a problem for two decades, and the results will seem pathetic for the first few years, because it takes time to gather the data — even to build the equipment with which you gather the data. But slowly the flow of data will grow, and at the end of 20 years you can expect major new insights every month or so.

That's where we are now with climate change. September's unwelcome news, from the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research in Britain, was that if fossil fuel use continues on the present trend line, the planet will be an average of four degrees Celsius warmer by the 2060s. This contrasts with the prediction of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, published in 2007, that we might see four degrees Celsius, at the most, by 2100.

This month's bad news came from the drilling ship JOIDES Resolution (Joint Oceanographic Institutions for Deep Earth Sampling), which brought up cores from the ocean bottom containing sediments dating back 20 million years. The news was that when the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was last at 450 parts per million, the average global temperature was three-six degrees Celsius hotter than now, and the sea level was 25-40 metres (80-130 ft) higher.

That is bad news because 450 parts per million is where we are hoping to halt the rise in CO2 in the atmosphere this time around. (We are currently at 390 ppm.) All the world's major Governments have agreed in principle that the warming must never be allowed to exceed two degrees Celsius, because beyond that we risk runaway warming — and it was thought that 450 ppm would let us stop at that point.

Not so, it would appear, or at least not for long. The leader of the JOIDES research team, Ms Aradhna Tripati of the University of California at Los Angeles, puts it bluntly: "What we have shown is that in the last period when CO2 levels were sustained at levels close to where they are today, there was no icecap on Antarctica and sea levels were 25-40m higher."

Suspicions that the 450 ppm target is much too high have been growing for some time. Late in 2007 Mr James Hansen, the director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, made a public appeal at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union to move to a 350 ppm target.

Mr Hansen's study of ancient climates had led him to the conclusion that the first time permanent ice appeared on the planet, after a complete absence for tens of millions of years, was when the amount of carbon dioxide fell to 425 ppm some 35 million years ago. His calculations had a possible error of plus or minus 75 ppm, so for safety's sake he settled on 350 ppm as the long-term target for human stewardship of the atmosphere.

Did that word 'stewardship' throw you? Many people instinctively recoil from any direct human intervention in the atmosphere, on the grounds that we don't know enough to get it right. But when we have already been changing the atmosphere unintentionally for two centuries, since the start of the industrial revolution, it's a bit late for such qualms. We have already destabilised it, and only we can reverse the changes we have caused.

Mr Hansen even thought that 350 ppm might still be too high, because the 'normal' level of CO2 during the 10,000 years of human civilisation, before we began burning fossil fuels, was only 280 ppm. Now JOIDES has given us a more accurate measure of ancient climate, from closer to the present.

By 20 million years ago, almost all the ice on the planet had been lost again, due to a prolonged period of volcanic activity in the Columbia River basin of North America. The carbon dioxide emitted by that activity had raised the average global temperature to three-six degrees Celsius above the current level, and all the melted ice had raised the seal level by 25-40 metres. But the actual level of CO2 that caused all that was only 400 ppm.

We will be there in five years, but we must not stay there for very long or history will repeat itself. In reality, we are going to go to at least 450 ppm, and more likely 500 ppm, before we get our emissions under control, and then we will have to commence the long and arduous task of getting the CO2 in the atmosphere down to a level that will preserve our present climate over the long term. That may have to be as low as 300 ppm.

And all through that time, we must prevent the warming from exceeding two degrees Celsius, which means that a resort to various methods of geo-engineering to keep the heat down is almost unavoidable. That is what these numbers are telling us, and we would be wise to listen.

The writer is a London-based independent journalist







In September last while addressing the State Director Generals of Police, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram admonished them for keeping quiet while their officers were being kicked around like football by the State Governments. The practice of senior officials keeping quiet in the face of irregular action by political leaders and pandering to their wishes and anticipations to the detriment of governance is, however, not confined only to the police department; other branches of the State Governments also exhibit this phenomenon.

Our parliamentary form of Government with the collective responsibility of the Cabinet of Ministers envisaged a symbiotic relationship between politicians (as Ministers) and senior civil servants with the latter giving objective and professional advice to the former and implementing unhesitatingly whatever were the final decisions. Correspondingly, Ministers were supposed to take political and public responsibility for Government's action and failures and defend civil servants in legislatures and outside. Civil servants were provided constitutional and legal protection against harassment. It was further assumed that politicians would come to occupy the high offices of Ministers with appropriate background and experience in public affairs and with commitment to the rule of law and other ideals enshrined in the Indian Constitution.

In the initial years following independence the system worked reasonably well with wise and experienced leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Lal Bahadur Shastri (at the Centre), and BC Roy and HK Mahatab (in the States) who were appreciative of independent thinking and viewpoints. They were ably assisted by senior civil servants who provided objective and professional advice.

The situation changed over time, erosion of the constitutional values took place; and our political scene is now crowded, among others, by caste-based leaders, religious and regional fanatics, inexperienced scions of political families, politicians with ill-gotten money and even persons with criminal background. Some of them are ill-prepared for the leadership positions they come to occupy in Government. There is no prior experience in public office, no sense of history and no commitment to the liberal values enshrined in the Constitution. Since many of them would like to operate a Government of men and not of laws, preference is for 'yes men' as advisers who can anticipate their views and tailor their advice and action accordingly. Many civil servants find it convenient to adjust to this 'reality' in our public service. Those others who show independence of mind or articulate a different point of view are subjected to frequent transfers and/or face marginalisation in their careers.

In this scenario, accountability suffers and nepotism and corruption prosper. Earlier, probity in Government was a major issue and anti-corruption agencies were strengthened to prevent corruption in the public service. Now no one even mentions 'corruption' to be any issue and the anti-corruption agencies are often times used to settle political and personal scores.

These trends in our public life can be illustrated by referring to a recent development, namely, the current mining scam in Orissa which has implications for Minister-civil servant relationships. The scam, in view of its scale and the extensive period over which it has taken place, is more a massive failure of the regulatory (mining) administration in an important mining area in the country than a case of corruption or illegal mining(which also it is). Appropriately, therefore, the elected Government, in particular the Minister(s) in charge of mining should have taken public responsibility. Instead the entire blame for essentially a governance failure is being passed on to a few departmental officials. The question that naturally arises is what were the Minister and the senior officers of his department of mining doing when the extensive illegal activities were going on over a number of years.

Secondly, allegations of complicity in illegal mining have been made against eight departmental officials. They must ponder if they participated in any illegal activity or not; and if they did, was it purely out of self-interest or they were responding to political direction and/or pandering to the wishes and anticipations of influential politicians. The consequences, in any case, have been painful and humiliating for the persons concerned.

Finally, in view of the allegation that the entire hierarchy of the mining department, starting from the Director of Mines to the mining officer in the field were involved in corruption in one way or the other and that too over an extended period, one wonders as to how the State's anti-corruption agency (the vigilance department) was not able to detect the illegality earlier ( ie before it was formally asked by the State Government to investigate the entire scam ), as part of its normal responsibility!

There are a few lessons that a public servant can learn from this episode. The original assumption that Ministers will take public responsibility for governance failures or defend their civil servants in the public is no longer valid. In the Minister-civil servant relationship, the civil servant is at a weak end, is vulnerable and can easily be sacrificed in order to suit political convenience and expediency. Therefore, acceding to the irregular wishes of politicians may give shot-term advantages but will lead to long-term pain. This means that the public servant has to take great care to protect himself against the vagaries and pitfalls of his career. This he can do only by adhering to the time-tested values of good conduct, integrity, honesty and professional competence. Without adherence to the norms and values, he will always be kicked around like football by his political masters.

However, the long-term solution to the problem lies with the people at large. The consequences of poor governance are faced by the general public, mostly the poor people. For example, in Orissa's mining scam the involved officials, mine owners and political leaders might have benefited but the general population continues in poverty, the local communities in the mining areas suffer and the forests and environment stand damaged. Therefore, the consequences depend on the kind of people we choose to govern us. We must remember that democracy is not about average citizens electing average leaders, let alone persons with questionable antecedents. Democracy is about average voters having the wisdom to select leaders who are best prepared (for law-making and governance). Or else, our politicians will continue to play their football game which we will be constrained to watch helplessly!


The author is a former civil servant.







Britain published new rules on Wednesday after a scandal over lawmakers' expenses, banning politicians from using taxpayers' money to pay for mortgages on second homes or hire family members as staff. Lawmakers also won't be able to claim expenses anymore for cleaners, gardeners, furniture or lavish meals.

Mr Christopher Kelly, a former civil servant who drafted the new rules, said it was difficult to calculate how much the new system will save, but predicted costs will be cut by at least eight million pounds ($13.2 million) per year, and likely more. "Our proposals are reasonable and fair and bring Westminster into line with other walks of life and other legislatures," Mr Kelly said, adding, "They recognise the unique circumstances of an MP's life, but are shorn of the special features which gave scope for exploitation."

Mr Kelly's rules will be phased in over five years for serving lawmakers, but enforced right away for legislators elected at the next national election — which must be held by June. His recommendations, which party leaders have agreed to adopt despite some protests from lawmakers, followed a scandal over outrageous expense claims by MPs.


Lawmakers manipulated housing rules for profit, and attempted to bill the public for items including porn movies, horse manure and an ornamental duck house. Some lawmakers used public money to fund mortgage interest payments or renovations on second homes either near Parliament or in the area of Britain in which they were elected. Others manipulated the rules to sell the homes for profit or to fund improvements to several properties.

In the future, lawmakers will only be reimbursed to rent an apartment in London, or to pay for hotel rooms while they are working in the British capital. A new 25 pound ($41) limit will be set for the cost of dinner if lawmakers work late.


The decision to phase in the new rules mean that dozens of lawmakers who currently employ husbands and wives as administrators won't be forced to fire them immediately. Some lawmakers have suggested that they could hire the spouses or relatives of other legislators — effectively swapping family members between offices — to circumvent the rules.

About 175 legislators have already repaid about 300,000 pounds ($475,000) since the details of their expense claims were leaked to a British newspaper earlier this year. More than 100 lawmakers have said they won't contest the next election as a result of the furore. One study claims as many as 300 of the 646 House of Commons lawmakers could lose their jobs, though most will go as result of an expected rout of Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labour Party by the opposition Conservatives.








PRIME Minister Manmohan Singh can hardly be held responsible for the death of a 32- year- old kidney patient who was in need of emergency medical attention and died while trying to enter a hospital in Chandigarh that had been sealed off for the PM's visit. But his security detail — this involves the Special Protection Group and the local police — have to ask themselves whether or not a human life could have been saved had they devised security procedures that took into account a very human condition called a medical emergency.


Mature democracies around the world scoff at the need to inconvenience the common person even as they spend millions in trying to protect their Prime Ministers or Presidents. The premises near the official residence of the Prime Minister of Britain or the President of the United States are, for instance, accessible to those who want to go near them. When they travel, there is very little of a traffic hold up.


The beauty of any security detail and protocol of a VIP is its invisibility. And the best security is the one that is unobtrusive.


The SPG and the security details of our VIPs are well within their right to provide the people they protect the best possible security. But they must always ask themselves the question as to whether there is any part of their arrangement that can be modified or adjusted to minimise the travails of the ordinary person.







IT IS appropriate that Justice R V Raveendran of the Supreme Court has recused himself from the gas dispute involving the Ambani brothers since his daughter is associated with a solicitors firm that is advising the Mukesh Ambani group. To the possible question over why he did not do so when he started hearing the case, the judge clarified that he came to know of the matter only recently.


However, the fact remains that he had been hearing the case till now though he owns shares in companies belonging to the Ambani brothers. Actually, Justice Raveendran did make this disclosure at the outset, as did Justice S H Kapadia in a case involving the Vedanta group. But both the honourable judges went on to hear the cases since no one objected to their link with the companies in question.


This is not really proper. No counsel is likely to object for fear of imputing that the judge was biased. Also, the question here is not always whether a judge actually displays bias while hearing such a case. The issue is also of justice not just being done but also appearing to be done. With the disclosure of their assets by the Supreme Court judges revealing that many of them dabble in stocks, a precedent must be established for judges to automatically recuse themselves if they are hearing a case pertaining to any of the companies in which they have shares. The same should apply when cases that judges had heard in the capacity of high court judges come before them in the apex court.







JUST why is the Indian Army chief Deepak Kapoor raising a scare over the possibility of another 26/ 11 type attack? The Indian Army has important responsibilities in ensuring the country's security, but those responsibilities do not run to providing offthe- cuff assessments of the terrorist challenge facing the country. General Kapoor's statement comes just a day after Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram, the country's point man for counter- terror policy, had issued a strongly worded warning that India could retaliate if any more Mumbaitype incidents occurred. While the Home Minister's comment has a touch of reassurance, the army chief's remarks appear to be merely negative.


When someone of the authority of the army chief makes the comment that attacks could not be ruled out, there is a presumption that he or she is speaking as an insider. In this case, either the General knows something, in which case he should not be broadcasting it; or, if he does not know anything, he should cease needless scare- mongering.


Our armed forces leaders have important responsibilities to look after. But given the nature of the positions they hold, they would do the country great service if they were less prolix.








HAPPY times are here again — for some. For the rest the daily grind has just got a little harder with the latest spike in prices. Hopefully, the make- believe world of the former will not distract the attention of our leaders from the hard existential realities of the latter.


The well heeled of Delhi are in a celebratory mood. Glamorous models walk the ramps at fashion weeks.


Culture festivals, film festivals and leadership summits jostle for space in the city's social calendar. The health conscious do their half marathons while restaurants and clubs are full to bursting. The brand builders are hard at work in commercialising the city's social space and there are entertainment options to suit every taste in this make- believe world of the rich and famous.


That is where we are, depending on who you are, as the celebrations of winter gather momentum at the top of the city's social pyramid. Just a few steps lower down that pyramid, however, the scene is quite different.



Millions of office workers, shop assistants and ' class IV employees', as they are called in Delhi, commute long distances to their daily grind.


They travel in crowded buses or risk their necks on two- wheelers squeezed between millions of cars on roads that were meant to carry only a fraction of their load. These real citizens of Delhi are sullen and tired even on their arrival at work and totally exhausted when they get home, picking up the day's shopping on the way. Not for them all the celebrations of the beautiful people, only a titillating glimpse of it on TV or in the morning papers. Their larger concerns are about what other consumption to cut now in order to keep up with the housing loan EMI and the kids' fees in school.


Still further down the pyramid there are the domestic workers, casual workers and construction labour.


They commute less as they can only afford jhuggies at or close to their work sites. For them EMIs are out of reach, but jhuggi rents, school fees and winter clothes for the kids are unavoidable. To make ends meet as prices soar, they are cutting back on vegetables and eggs have just been dropped from the menu. The grand events of the beautiful people are quite beyond their point of reference.


This backdrop of Delhi's social context is essential for grasping the full import of the price shock that is hitting the city this bleak November.


Those at the top of the pyramid will barely notice. But for the rest a sharp spike in prices can make all the difference between staying afloat and going under. Staple vegetables like onions and potatoes are now selling at between Rs. 25 and Rs 30 per kilo in the retail markets. The prices of most other vegetables have similarly risen by 25 per cent to 30 per cent in the past one month. The price of sugar, milk, eggs, fish and meat have also increased sharply. Wheat and rice prices have also risen, but less sharply. Most citizens of Delhi will be eating less this winter, but the poorest will be the worst hit as usual. The poorer you are, the larger the share of your income that is spent on food.


Hence when food prices rise, the poorest will have to tighten their belts the most.

Clearly, what we are seeing in Delhi is not a local phenomenon but part of a wider development that calls for a national response. Hopefully, this silly season of celebrations will not deceive our leaders into believing that the good times are here again.


Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi, and emerging leader Rahul Gandhi continue to focus on the poor. They know well that it is the ' aam aadmi' at the bottom of the social pyramid, not the well heeled people at the top, who have put them back in power. Now it is their turn to return the favour. But what are they supposed to do?



To answer that question it is important to first understand why prices are rising. It is ironical that food prices should be rising now since there is usually a seasonal dip in prices at this time of year. With the Kharif harvest filling the grain mandis at this time, and the first flush of winter vegetables flooding the market, November is usually a month of low prices and good eating.


Not so this bleak November. A large part of the reason is the supply shock in agriculture.


A weak monsoon, followed by floods in Andhra and Karnataka, has resulted in reduced production of many Kharif products. That supply squeeze is forcing prices up.


Probably, there is also some element of speculative hoarding. While the overall private sector demand for credit has been subdued, the demand for agricultural credit has been strong. Besides, there is a great deal of liquidity sloshing around the economy and money is fungible.


Hence it should come as no surprise if some of it has gone into speculative hoarding of food items, further inflating food prices.



To the extent that high liquidity has enabled such hoarding, the RBI should actively move to reduce liquidity.


With inflationary pressures building up while growth is still subdued, policy makers have been in a dilemma: maintain the stimulus to secure growth or cut back the stimulus to contain inflation. As we remarked in an earlier piece, such tricky situations require a careful assignment of different instruments to different policy goals. Fiscal policy should focus on restoring growth, while monetary policy should now deal with inflation.


The Finance Minister has said that he will not withdraw the stimulus package till growth is secured, which is how it should be. The RBI however should now focus on inflation, its primary responsibility. Its policy announcement on October 27 has already signaled an end to easy money policy though interest rates have not yet been raised. In the next few weeks it should consider further moves in that direction.


However, macro economic policies alone cannot do the job. The government should take steps to augment domestic supplies of at least the most important food items. This can be done either through enhanced release of public stocks where it has them, e. g., food grains, or through imports where feasible, taking advantage of a strong rupee and comfortable reserves of foreign exchange.


The writer is Emeritus Professor at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, New Delhi ( sudipto. mundle@ gmail. com)








JUST imagine a light source that also doubles up as a stove or vice versa. Such a dualpurpose device can tackle the energy problem in rural India to a large extent. And if such a lamp- cum- stove can run on a non- conventional fuel, it can also address issues relating to greenhouse gas emissions.


At present, most rural households without electricity burn kerosene for lighting and fuel wood for cooking. To tackle this problem, the Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute at Phaltan near Pune has developed a lanstove ( lantern and stove) that runs on an ethanolwater mixture. This is a brainchild of Dr Anil K Rajvanshi, founder and director of the institute, who has been working on biomass- based energy systems for a long time now.


Rajvanshi, a product of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, has been working on rural technologies for the past two decades. The idea behind the lanstove, he says, is to set up decentralised distilleries in villages for producing low grade ethanol from locally available resources like sweet sorghum, poor quality jaggery or any other sugar bearing material.


Such factories can store it in sealed cylinders, which can then be supplied to consumers just like LPG. Rajvanshi has tested the new device in 20 houses in rural areas surrounding Phaltan.


Lanstove can also provide clean drinking water for households — the heat from the stove can be used for boiling water once cooking is finished. Problems such as high capital costs, says Rajvanshi, can be resolved if the subsidy that kerosene gets at present can be extended to lowgrade ethanol. As for fears of ethanol diversion for illicit drinking, the use of sealed cylinders can help.


Rajvanshi is also working on improving the efficiency of cooking vessels used in rural and semi- urban areas. He has developed an efficient cooking device based on the heat pipe principle to use the heat of flue gases for cooking a meal for a family of four. This is a slow cooker in which the food is brought to boil via steam cooking and then it cooks in its own heat. In fact, this is an improvement over this type of cookers which were in vogue in the country in the 1960s. These cookers were made of mild steel and had brass utensils which made them quite heavy. The improvised version is lighter as it is made of stainless steel and has an insulated outer jacket to reduce theheat loss.


We need more such innovations to address core issues in the climate change debate.


Instead of setting up more power stations — and emitting more greenhouse gases — we need sustainable solutions.



THE fire in the storage tanks of the Indian Oil Corporation depot near Jaipur is still on. This is a living testimony of how much we as a nation care for industrial safety as well as human life. In about a month's time, it will be 25 years since India witnessed the industrial disaster in Bhopal. The magnitude of the Jaipur disaster is no less. This may not be so in public perception because the chemicals involved in the Jaipur disaster — petrol, diesel and kerosene — are used every day.


We get exposed to diesel and petrol exhaust in our cities routinely and nobody dies of exposure to them, unlike Methyl Isocyanate that killed and maimed thousands in Bhopal.

But this is no reason to think lightly of pollutants in the former category. Both diesel and petrol fumes are a deadly cocktail of highly toxic and cancer- causing chemicals.


Diesel exhaust includes carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides, hydrocarbons and unburned carbon particles. The carbon particles are small enough to be inhaled and deposited in the lungs and they can occupy a large surface area. Organic compounds from diesel exhaust with known toxic and carcinogenic properties, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons ( PAH), adhere easily to the surface of the carbon particles and are carried deep into the lungs.


Besides causing and aggravating acute respiratory problems, these chemicals can even clog arteries and lead to heart attacks. Pregnant women exposed to intense smoke can give birth to babies with deformities. Several studies have linked diesel exhaust exposure to low birth weight in infants, premature births, and elevated infant mortality rates, besides a fall in sperm count in men. PAH in diesel exhaust is associated with DNA damage and is rapidly absorbed through the lungs into the central nervous system causing diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.




EVEN as India and China sparred over the Dalai Lama's visit to Arunachal Pradesh, botanists from China and India ( including those from Arunachal Pradesh) were busy working out a conservation plan for Rhododendrons , a genus which has its centre of diversity in the Sino- Himalayan region. Many rhododendrons are in danger because of excessive use of the flowering plants as fuel wood and habitat destruction due to human activity.

These plants are facing a change in flowering time possibly due to climate change impact in the Himalayan region.


At a three- day meeting in Delhi last week, experts from India, China and Nepal identified priority locations and discussed possible conservation strategies. The Indian participants categorised 14 of 45 priority Rhododendron species as ' critically endangered'. Winrock International India — which organised the meeting — is at present working on a landscape approach to conservation of rhododendrons in Tawang and West Kameng districts of Arunachal Pradesh, according to Sudipto Chatterjee who is coordinating the effort.


OUR performance in administration of essential vaccines to the newly born and infants is getting worse. Measles is a vaccine preventable disease, yet thousands of children are still dying due to it in India.

We account for a third of all deaths due to measles. The reported coverage of measles vaccination has been 80 percent since 1990, but ' evaluated coverage' has been found to be just 56 percent.


Most of the measles deaths are reported in children below five, which indicates huge gaps in routine immunisation.


This is a reflection of the weak health infrastructure in rural areas. To close these gaps, an expert group convened by the Public Health Foundation of India recently recommended a special campaign for mass measles vaccination, on the lines of polio. The fact that it is a highly contagious, lifethreatening disease and that a safe, cost- effective vaccine is available needs to be reinforced in the public domain


THE touted ad campaign of Idea Cellular — ' walk when you talk' — is misleading. This is because talking on your mobile phone while walking can be injurious to health.

Researchers at Western Washington University have found that this causes ' inattentional blindness'. This is a condition in which one fails to notice a fully visible, but unexpected object due to attention being engaged on another task.


The researchers found that cell phone users walked more slowly, changed directions more frequently, and were less likely to acknowledge other people than individuals in other conditions. It was also found that such users were less likely to notice an unusual activity along their walking route, such as a unicycling clown deployed in the study.


Cell phone usage may cause inattentional blindness even during a simple activity that should require few cognitive resources.


So, instead of telling people to ' walk when they talk', Idea should sell its service with a health warning: ' don't walk when you talk, it may cause inattentional blindness'.








PUBLIC trust in our justice system has dwindled sharply with reports of corruption in the judiciary frequently appearing in the media of late. Several retired Chief Justices of India ( CJI) have candidly admitted the presence of corruption in the legal system. The law minister, Veerappa Moily, has recently indicated that a new Bill would be introduced in Parliament to stop judicial corruption and overhaul the process to select judges.


The huge uproar that erupted within the legal community over the selection of an allegedly corrupt Justice P. D. Dinakaran, chief justice of Karnataka High Court, to the Supreme Court has further shaken public trust in the judicial system.


At this critical juncture when Indian judiciary is facing a serious credibility threat, the decision by the Supreme Court judges to declare their assets would undoubtedly help to uplift the sagging image of the legal community. But one wonders without meaningful changes in law, would mere voluntary public disclosure of personal assets by the honourable judges have any significant impact on eradicating judicial corruption? Until now, despite low public opinion about the overall legal system in India, the Supreme Court has maintained a good reputation before the international legal community. Unfortunately, most ordinary victims of crimes in India are not able to reach the Supreme Court in their quest for justice.


Corruption in lower courts across India is common knowledge.


The voluntary declaration of personal assets by the Supreme Court judges will have no legal binding on the judges in the lower courts.


Unless the government takes concrete steps to make disclosure of personal wealth mandatory for all judges at all levels in the justice delivery system, the revelation of the personal wealth by the present Supreme Court judges will hardly serve any purpose.


Retired judges should also be brought under the mandate to declare their assets. There is little doubt that the decline in the standard of Indian judiciary is the result of long- term decay in the moral values of a significant portion of the legal community including judges.


Unfortunately, radical changes in law and possible amendments in the Indian Constitution would be necessary before such reform is possible in the judicial system.

Kunal Saha via email



THIS refers to your question of the day ' Should the PM's security protocol change after the death of a kidney patient in Chandigarh?' Balance should be maintained in such a way that security of the Prime Minister and other such important personalities should not be responsible for the common man's suffering. A 32- year- old kidney patient who needed the emergency treatment died in Chandigarh after he was refused entry into the hospital where the Prime Minister was to attend a convocation function.


For him, those two crucial hours were a complete waste and it was this that led to this eventual death.


The deceased person's family said that it managed to go through the security cordon only after one of the security guards got into their vehicle. It would seem from this incident that the value of the common man in this country is equivalent to the waste decaying on the streets.


Kiran Sabharwal via email








The messy spectacle of the Afghan election has finally wound down, ending on a less than ideal note. With main rival Abdullah Abdullah withdrawing and the run-off election's subsequent cancellation, current president Hamid Karzai has won a second term. His problems, however, may just be beginning. Abdullah's withdrawal has left Karzai in an even shakier position than he was before the decision to have run-off elections. His government's legitimacy is in tatters as there are serious legal concerns about its right to rule.

In such a vitiated environment, US president Barack Obama's job will become that much harder when he takes a call on whether to send additional troops to Afghanistan or not, and if so, how many. To justify it to an increasingly sceptical domestic constituency will be difficult in the extreme. The effort must therefore be to stitch together some semblance of legitimacy for the Karzai administration. And this is likely to involve a fair bit of pressure to compel the Afghan president and his coterie to act, ironically, in their own best interests.

Karzai is said to be eager for a strengthened US military presence. Washington should use this as leverage if Kabul's rule is to mean anything beyond the environs of the city itself. Curbing corruption and delivering effective governance are essential. Neither is possible unless changes are made in the current administration. To this end, Abdullah must be co-opted to form a unity government. That would mitigate the negative fallout of the widespread electoral fraud. It will also lend a certain ethnic legitimacy to the government, always an important factor in Afghan politics. Karzai is unlikely to be keen on the idea. Abdullah may also have reservations given that doing so could undercut his current position. But the US and its allies must make every effort to forge an agreement between the rivals.

It is also time to involve regional players other than simply Pakistan. Iran, China, Russia and India all have a stake in Afghanistan's stability. They all bring something to the table, whether it is reconstruction aid or cross-border ethnic and religious ties. New Delhi, for instance, could play a role in training the Afghan national police and army. If Afghanistan's neutrality could be guaranteed through an international agreement, there would be less propensity for regarding it cynically as a theatre where western powers are playing geostrategic 'great games'.







It's two weeks since the Maharashtra assembly election results were declared. The Congress-Nationalist Congress Party combine were clear winners and the leadership question was settled early in favour of the outgoing chief minister. Yet, there is no sign of a government in Mumbai as the two pre-poll allies haggle endlessly over portfolios.

The NCP is issuing veiled threats to pressure the Congress to accede to its demands. Deputy CM Chhagan Bhujbal suggested that his party, the NCP, would prop up the government from 'outside' if its claims are not met. A minority Congress government supported by the NCP from the outside is a sure bet for political uncertainty and a gridlocked administration. Party colleague and civil aviations minister Praful Patel has since corrected Bhujbal. But the message has not been lost on the Congress. NCP leaders have indicated since the day of the verdict that they had offers from the Shiv Sena to split with the Congress. Such a turnaround, however, is unlikely to leave the NCP unscathed. The Congress also faces a predicament since it needs the whole of the NCP and not just a faction to make up the numbers to form the government.

It's been reported that the current impasse on government formation is mainly over two ministries rural development and tribal welfare. With the Congress winning more seats than in 2004, the party wants to change the previous portfolio-sharing formula. The NCP seems to have agreed in principle to the demand but doesn't want to part with ministries like rural development. The Congress argues that rural affairs and tribals are pet causes of the party nationally while the NCP points to its rural base to push its case. Lofty claims apart, the two ministries have a lot to do with the management of land, a precious commodity in Maharashtra as in other states. That the tussle is over ministries that hold the key to the lucrative area of changing land use patterns is revealing.

Governance has never been a strong point of the previous Congress-NCP governments. Infrastructure in the state is falling apart and employment opportunities are shrinking. Economic decay has contributed substantially to the rise of ethnic chauvinism. The new government has its task cut out. It is in the best interest of the state, and the two parties, that the stalemate is resolved soon.






There is a growing chorus of views - representing some very influential writers in India and elsewhere - in favour of direct cash transfer into poor people's bank accounts as a more efficient social security net than the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS). Economist Arvind Panagariya has called direct cash transfer ''the least costly policy to give immediate relief to the poor". Having returned from a series of field visits to understand the working of NREGS, i think it would be a bad idea. Under such a scheme, NREGS would morph into a gravy train for everyone and the rural elite would be laughing their way to the bank.

The challenge in designing any subsidy programme is of minimising what statisticians call type I and type II errors. Under the first, the scheme ends up excluding the deserving. Under the second, it includes the undeserving. Type I error implies failure to tempt and make it possible for all the poor and the needy to use the scheme to their benefit. Type II error mounts when the scheme offers the undeserving strong temptation to capture it. The scheme's design, including its underlying incentive structure, drives the pressure for type II error; quality of programme implementation determines the size of type I.

The NREGS launch in 2006 had created a widespread impression in many parts of rural India that it would eventually end up as a cash transfer programme. Many people believed the job card-holder household would be entitled to an annual cash transfer of Rs 10,000. This is why numerous well-off households and local bigwigs, including village sarpanchs, acquired them. If cash were to be transferred to all job card-holders in present conditions, type II targeting error would be extremely large.

NREGS design - guaranteeing 100 days' unskilled manual work toany household, rich or poor, willing to do such work - minimises type II error. Even if the rich acquire job cards, they can benefit from NREGS only if they are ready to do unskilled manual work, which they are generally not. NREGS self-targets the needy. The BPL card, ration card and NREGS job card under cash-transfer denote entitlement, not what their holders do. That NREGS reduces type II error is evident in the fact the number of households registering for work that is much smaller than that of job card-holders. Again many NREGS projects remain unfinished and funds are returned because those who registered for work do not show up. This would hardly be the case if all job card-holders were automatically entitled to Rs 10,000 deposited in their accounts.

It has been argued that information technology advances make direct cash transfers a feasible proposition. This would be true had the central government correctly identified the 3.9 crore poor households. Had doing this been easy, we should not have had a growth industry in fake ration and BPL cards. That only 2.6 crore out of 3.9 crore poor households sought NREGS work may suggest poor implementation but it pretty much rules out the scheme's capture by the elite.

Another argument - that works undertaken under NREGS would be of dubious quality and not benefit those who work - deserves attention. But suggesting cash transfers as an alternative is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The need is to focus on ways to improve the quality and impact of NREGS works. We need to distinguish between the scheme's wage and non-wage benefits such as better village roads, groundwater recharge and irrigation channels. While the poor may enjoy both, the non-poor would be interested primarily in the non-wage benefits. The key challenge is to enhance the stake of both groups in maximising the latter.

Creation and maintenance of natural resources in rural India suffer from an 'incentive deficit' because of their largely common pool nature. In earlier times, this deficit was overcome by forced labour or by what Robert Wade called "mutual cooperation through mutual coercion, with some coerced more than others". With the decline of traditional village authority systems, these institutions have disappeared. Today, a farmer who benefits from a village tank is unwilling to regularly desilt it unless others who benefit cooperate too. Those threatened by water logging are likewise unwilling to clean village drains and those benefiting from canal irrigation are unwilling to help clean canals. NREGS can bridge this incentive deficit and mobilise village communities to protect and build natural resources.

The common pool resource in which everyone has a stake today is groundwater, on which rural India has come to depend overwhelmingly. Most NREGS investments, on private or public land, contribute to ground-water recharge as a significant spillover benefit. Desilting village ponds or digging new ones, cleaning field channels, digging farm or fish ponds - all contribute. It is in this context that the furore over using NREGS funds on private lands needs to be viewed. If building and/or desilting farm/fish ponds or irrigation channels under NREGS on private lands promotes durable assets through better supervision by owners and enhanced groundwater recharge, there may be merit in supporting such investments.

The writer is a senior fellow at the International Water Management Institute.







Should India hire consultants from abroad to beef up its science establishment?

Do India's premier science research institutes such as the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) need to hire experts from abroad to lend muscle to their projects? Why just CSIR? It could be any government or private establishment for that matter. And whether the people being hired are of Indian origin or foreign is immaterial. Going by the controversy over an Indian-American scientist who was hired and then fired after five months from the CSIR, it appears that there are supporters of a resident Indians-for-Indian-jobs approach. That's a misplaced attitude in a modern country aspiring to be a knowledge power.

The specific case of Shiva Ayyadurai the scientist who accuses CSIR of arbitrariness and is in turn accused of demanding stratospheric wages is only a case in point. The larger question is whether India should welcome specialists from various fields to contribute to our own research and development endeavours. And, should they be paid more than their Indian counterparts for the services they provide?

Most advanced countries have not got where they have by relying on indigenous talent alone. Whether it is America or Europe, they have benefited from pursuing a policy that welcomes the best and brightest from across the world. This is especially true of America, where the best scientific or entrepreneurial minds are not necessarily all-American. They come from all over the world and they contribute to the progress of the world's leading science establishment.

A growing economy should be less worried about where the brains come from. It should be concerned more about getting ahead and in turn creating more opportunities for its people. Instead of quibbling over the nationalities of our scientists or other professionals for that matter we would do well to concentrate on working towards securing our place in the group of advanced societies. Indian vs foreigner is a divide that does not hold in the 21st century. An outward-looking society is more likely to succeed in our times.







Should India hire consultants from abroad to beef up its science establishment?

It's outsourcing in reverse. Instead of India benefiting due to jobs being shifted to this country from places like the US because of cheap labour and greater efficiency, highly skilled individuals are coming to our scientific institutions at disproportionate pay grades, depriving home-grown talent of jobs at prestigious institutes like the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. If reports are to be believed, there is an ugly spat brewing between CSIR and an Indian-American brought in to a leadership position. This could've been avoided entirely if CSIR had not tried to hire an outsider for a local's job.

India is a poor nation, and it should conserve its resources. There is no need to pay someone an inflated fee when an Indian could probably do the same job for a fraction of the cost. Discrepancy in pay creates a bad environment within the office, with old-timers feeling betrayed and bitter. After all, from their perspective, not only were they deemed not good enough by implication, they were not compensated adequately for their work. But pay scales are only one issue when foreign personnel are brought in to scientific establishments to provide expertise. Cultural mores also play a part. Foreigners brought in for these jobs do not understand the way things operate in India, neither are they clued in to local needs. That leads to misunderstandings which complicate the situation, and the project suffers for it.

What's wrong with hiring local? It's high time Indians were weaned off this fascination for foreign faces and degrees. Desi is more than good enough. Indians have the acumen, all they lack is the opportunity. Of course there will be resentment if an outsider usurps a job that those who have come through the system have worked hard to get. It's simply bad management. Instead of spending so much money recruiting interlopers, if scientific institutions like CSIR invested in nurturing home-grown talent, there would be no need to consider hiring foreigners at all.






The news that most states favour classes in English in model schools should warm the hearts of English lovers. But, unfortunately, our Janus-faced politicians cry foul over giving precedence to English because of its foreign provenance. It is a legacy of the Raj, yes. But it is not the lone legacy bequeathed to us by the British, we have a legion of practices that the Brits so kindly left behind. The opposition of the netas is trained on English alone, however, which defies logic. Parliament often resounds with anti-English fulminations. Recently, a member cautioned another who spoke in angrezi, "Remember, you are not in London, but in the Lok Sabha." Hypocrisy is writ large on the faces of these double-faced English-baiters, for they have no qualms about sending their wards to English medium schools and foreign universities. What they proffer to their children they try to deny to the less well-heeled. Yearsago, one of their ilk, a Union minister, nationalist to the hilt, shopped in foreign malls till he dropped and was brash enough to delay the flight that carried him home, inconveniencing fellow passengers. Perhaps their aversion for English stems from their inability to learn it!

For some, though, the mother tongue is a holy cow. They argue that only through the mother tongue can one express oneself effectively. Indian English writers, whose mother tongue is not English, give the lie to this claim. Franz Kafka, a great in European literature and a Czech, wrote his books not in his mother tongue, but in German. Similarly Arthur Koestler, Joseph Conrad and Jacob Bronowski, to mention only a few names, wrote theirs in languages that were not their mother tongues. There is a grouse that English subdues vernaculars, the way Sanskrit was accused of doing earlier. In the sixties, the literary world of Kerala was set abuzz with an anti-Sanskrit movement led by overzealous lovers of Malayalam. But it soon burnt itself out. The purists who wanted to rid Malayalam of Sanskrit influence were up in arms against writers using Sanskrit words. They argued that Sanskrit was a mrita bhasha, or a dead language. Alas, look at the poverty of their vocabulary! Even to abuse Sanskrit they had to take recourse to borrowing words from a language that they sought to ridicule!








No, the Gujarati greeting of 'Su khabar?' has not been replaced by 'Flu khabar?' Yes, it's good to hear that Narendra Modi is swiftly recovering from his bout with swine flu. He must. How can aapno strongman show any signs of weakness?


Last week, a mysterious 'Rameshbhai's' swab tested positive for the H1N1 virus at Ahmedabad's Civil Hospital. When it was revealed that it belonged to none other than the chief minister, the state felt as if it had been clobbered by every dandiya this side of Navratri. Mass contact programmes are endemic to politics, and when the politician is as popular as Shri Modi, that many more make contact with the masster.


Those exposed to his infection weren't just any Hasmukhbhai, Tansukhbhai or Mansukhbhai from the stream of visitors who had lined up to bow a welcome to their beloved 'NaMo'. Equally under threat were the high-profile business leaders who had travelled on Modi's jet to Moscow and back, as well as the ministers who attended the marathon cabinet meeting called on his return.


The fellow travellers learnt that such proximity to the sun can leave you hot and feverish. As for the latter group, the minutes don't record the number of times Narendrabhai sneezed during the three-hour session, but if his H1N1 germs had been distributed like dry fruit barfi on Diwali, you could say that it would have created a 'constitutional' crisis. Fortunately, none of the good and the great who had schmoozed with the CM tested positive, and Gujarat's envied GDP did not deteriorate into Gross Debilitating Pneumonia.


The vulnerable officials and ministers were simply asked to stay away from office and the chief minister. Gujarat Inc was told it could ink any deal but not shake hands to seal it. These guys may not be the air-kissing kind, but it would still be advisable to notify them that MOU-MOU is okay, Mwah-Mwah is not.


The source of the infection is more piquant. Could contracting any kind of flu from the former Soviet capital be described as a cold war? Hopefully nyet, for much trade is at stake.


Oil and natural gas is not the contentious domain only of the country's two most controversial Gujaratis. Indo-Russian bhai-bhaism blows hot and cold in the Sakhalin oilfield. And Gujarat itself sits on a Gir lion's share of the country's largest oil and natural gas reserves. In fact, the Modi-led delegation had gone to Moscow to attend the International Energy Week.


Besides, Russia is one of the world's largest producers of rough diamonds and Gujarat is the largest processor of these gems. Since Mr Modi is so rapidly on the mend, the diamond trade between the two parties should happily remain unflawed.


Have you noticed how much there is in common between Modi and Putin themselves? One, both are more than just the brand ambassadors of Teflon. Superhuman powers are attributed to the God of Gandhinagar, and the Russian president supposedly saved a beleaguered TV crew from a tiger, bear or perhaps a unicorn.


Two, our own poster-boy would nod approvingly at Putin's celebrated 'Poster girl', a fiery leader of the Young Guards named Maria Sergeyeva who 'despises the West, hates immigrants and loves Margaret Thatcher'.


Three, the media either loves Modi/Putin or hates him. However, no paper in Gujarat has faced the fate of the Moskovsky Korrespondent which was shut down after it published a report that Vladimir, 57, planned to divorce Ludmilla, 50, in favour of Alina Kabaeva, 24, Kremlin 'babe' and former rhythmic gymnast.
No such sexploits have been attributed to our suave bachelor with the 56" chest, but his recent illness must surely have left his admiring band of Manibens and mini-bens quite distraught. In fact the swoon factor may have been enhanced by the swine factor.








No one denies that VVIPs must be given top security. But when it comes at the cost of the common man, it becomes more than a bit annoying. The tragic case of Sumit Verma who died on Tuesday in Chandigarh after being denied medical attention reportedly due to the Prime Minister's security cordon is an example of this kind of obstructive procedures that we have come to take for granted. We have often seen emergency hospital attention being hindered due to VIP security traffic. There is not one among us who has not suffered being stopped on the roads because of VIP traffic passing through. We are not suggesting that security to people who require protection should be done away with. All we are demanding is that VIP security gets more professional — and that includes providing the necessary cover without unnecessary hindrances to the citizens for the sake of a show of prestige.


Then there is the unwholesome spin-off of security becoming a prestige issue for people who use it as a status symbol while having little to do with actual threat perceptions. In other countries, even where there are high levels of threat towards people in high places, the visible presence of security is kept at the minimal. The point is not to go on an overdrive to show that one is well-protected — although showcasing a VIP's safety is part of making him or her secure — but to balance security with non-intrusiveness. The reported action of the Prime Minister's security personnel surely comes as an embarrassment to Mr Singh, the last man whose idea of the importance of his own position resides in causing obstructions to others. A magisterial inquiry into the matter is a welcome and necessary move.


Our VIPs should insist that their security personnel treat people with respect. Important ceremonies must go on but not at the expense of public convenience. The case of Sumit Verma and the Prime Minister's Office tending an apology is perhaps the first case of a VIP in India registering regret for the inconvenience caused by a security posse. Let us use this tragic and unnecessary event to rehaul the way our security protocol works. Good security does not mean providing pointless hardships to others.







The first law of the Indian establishment: every NRI's candid assessment has an opposite reaction


Oh these talented, naïve NRIs roaming about the motherland! Don't they know that when in Rome they should wear their togas tight?

Indian-American scientist-entrepreneur Shiva Ayyadurai may be the best thing for Indian science and innovation since sliced idlis, but he decided to take on the Brahmins of the Indian science establishment. He had to pay the price.


Mr Ayyadurai was hired to work for the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) with the single task: of creating a new centre of excellence. His job was also to maximise the talent and research in India -- that he found to be world-class -- and make CSIR the next Bell Lab or CERN. Now, as all of us conversant with the quantum dynamics of Indian scientific excellence know, the way of building a world-class institution is to start with the premise that it's already a world-class institution with no blemishes at all -- you know, the `We invented the zero so everything else is a cakewalk' principle. Mr Ayyadurai tapped the wrong button. In a chapter of a report he submitted to the CSIR top brass, he made the fatal error of pointing out `challenges'. Now if he was a thoroughbred desi, our man from MIT would have realised that keeping the `challenges' in the airy-fairy domain would have sufficed. But no. He had to go on record about "lack of professionalism" and how some CSIR scientists felt a "loss of faith in leadership". Hmm, Houston, we have a problem.


In a hierarchy-obsessed culture like ours, Mr Ayyadurai's candid feedback amounted to making a lunch pack out of the hand that feeds you. Thus, a termination of his services ensued citing the NRI's demand for what serves as Mammon for all NRIs: more money. CSIR scientists supposedly crossed their fingers and hoped that Mr Ayyadurai's quantum leap in pay would create a domino effect in salary slips across the Indian scientific firmament. No such luck. In any case, Indian scientists don't need the money; they work to make their country proud. Right? Right.








It was a moment we glossed over.   


Last week, at this paper's annual leadership summit in New Delhi, keynote speaker George W. Bush was asked to comment on the feeling in India that we don't get noticed enough, that the West pays more attention to China than to India.


"Yeah, well," said George W, "Get over it."


Bush went on to quickly tell us what we really wanted to hear: that we were an ancient civilisation, a powerful country, a great democracy and all that jazz. But his spontaneous dismissal of our whininess revealed our blind desire for recognition, especially from the West.


Everyone craves recognition. But must we ask every unfortunate visitor: What do you think of India? Why do you think we are denied our greatness?


India's whines, old and new, reflect our innate insecurity and our ill-articulated view of the road ahead. After spending many eras under the yoke of conquerors and, until the 1990s, as a Third World backwater, I guess insecurity and cravenness go hand in hand.


Today, we think we can — and desperately want to — be saare jahan se achcha.


But being better than the world takes a little more than a few nuclear warheads, a semi-successful cricket team, the glamour of Bollywood and a 6-7 per cent economic growth rate. It takes vision.


The British bulldog Winston Churchill — he who was no friend of India — was, to me, the greatest exponent of national vision. When things looked dark for Britain during World War II, after the ignominious retreat at Dunkirk, Churchill offered his country an extraordinary, stirring vision: "... we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender."


Henry David Thoreau, the 19th century American philosopher, once said he would give all the wealth of the world, and all the deeds of all the heroes, for one true vision.


In one of my early notebooks, I've jotted down the following thought from something called The Visionary's Handbook: No one is less ready for tomorrow than the person who holds the most rigid beliefs about what tomorrow will contain.


Barack Obama swept to power and the Nobel peace prize purely on the strength of his vision: Yes, we can.


His former colleagues will reveal, in private, that former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was really an average rocket scientist. He attained his rock star status from an uncommon Indian ability: articulating a vision. The title of his best-selling book was: India 2020: A Vision for the New Millennium. "A developed India by 2020, or even earlier, is not a dream," Kalam once said. "It need not be a mere vision in the minds of many Indians. It is a mission we can all take up — and succeed."


Indian men and women of vision are hard to forget, people like Emperors Ashoka and Akbar; Dadabhai Naoroji; Mahatma Gandhi. Even the brutal Sanjay Gandhi had a vision, however, well, castrated.


Today's India craves approval for what it does. But we do not like to explain our actions — primarily because we are often unclear about our plans.


So, we gloat over our new ownership of world cricket, wrenched from the West. Except for triumphalism, we can't answer the question: What now?


So, we are triumphant that each Indian contributes 1/20th less to global warming than the average American. Except, we are the world's fourth largest polluter, but that's not something we want to even discuss. How about offering the world a vision?


We have now reached a point where our leaders shy away from articulating plans and vision, blundering directly into action instead. And action without vision, as several Indian internal quagmires reveal, is a recipe for disaster.


On cricket, we love to hear about Sachin's greatness from Western commentators, how cricket is a national religion, how fantastic it is to see the atmosphere at our grounds. This is nice. What isn't is our reluctance to explain the absence of other sporting icons in India, the unsporting behaviour of our crowds, the barbed wire that holds them back. We have no vision for improving our grounds, our sporting facilities, or giving our cricket-mad spectators seats, clean toilets and drinking water.


On climate change, visionaries (will R.K. Pachauri of the Nobel-prize winning team do?) will tell you that there is little harm in discussing the thought balloon floated by Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh; that we will win in the long run if we can start reducing our emissions; that there are profits to be made, lives to be improved. Given the extreme positions we take in India these days, it's hard for Ramesh to explain his vision.


On peace with Pakistan, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh finds it difficult to even talk of his vision, beyond gingerly saying we need peace in our time. By the way, if — as many say — they do indeed have a vision for Pakistan, its destruction, nothing could be more foolish or revealing of our lack of vision.


It's funny, though, that a Bush got me started.


Asked of his rush to act without considering the big picture, George W's father, George H.W. Bush, joked, "Oh, the vision thing." The Bushes, ever men of action, were not particularly hot on vision.


It's no surprise that they will soon be forgotten.








If history is the hunting ground of politicians, what makes one political interpretation of history more doubtful than the other? The question retains its topicality in India, where we witnessed another politically driven attempt at manufacturing history last month. On October 26, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi unveiled the logo for the forthcoming International Conference on Classical Tamil, which, apart from the image of the celebrated Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar, includes seven icons from Indus Valley civilisation.


This 3rd millennium BCE culture was spread across north and west India — far from either Tamil Nadu's heartland or borders. Notwithstanding this, the icons of the Indus, as the official communiqué accompanying the logo release says, symbolise a Dravidian civilisation. Since Tamil is a part of the bigger Dravidian language family, it seems the state government has assumed that there exists a link between the language and the civilisation.


Even in past, official logos in India have used historical symbols without thinking about the era they belong to. A striking example of this is the national emblem of India adopted in 1950 when the nation became a republic — an adaptation of the Lion Capital of Asoka, the Mauryan emperor who exhibited his Buddhist piety by erecting a pillar at Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh. It's the same spot where Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment. But unlike the Asokan epigraph-monument, the words inscribed on the national emblem are different and much older than those inscribed on Asoka's pillar. The emperor had used a vernacular language to inscribe his edicts on the pillars; the national symbol uses India's classical language par excellence. It quotes a short extract from the Mundaka Upanisad — 'Satyameva Jayate' — that's much older than either Ashoka or the Buddha.


But what makes the symbols on the national emblem more acceptable than what has been done by the Chennai government? The national emblem represented, in a manner of speaking, the ambitions of a newly independent India to act, as a harbinger of peace and goodwill, as had the ancient emperor whose symbol it adopted. While the violence accompanying  the creation of India and Pakistan makes the use of such a symbol slightly ironic, neither the non-violent intent of the Ashoka, on whose orders the Sarnath symbol was carved, nor the meaning of the more ancient Sanskrit words can be doubted.


In the case of the Indus civilisation, though, there's still no clarity on which language its people spoke or wrote in. In fact, the linguistic identity of that civilisation, ever since it was discovered in 1924, remains resistant to being deciphered. The script symbols have been seen as encoding a range of linguistic entities, including the Indo-Aryan and Dravidian language families. But it has yet to yield its secrets.


That, though, is not evidently the concern of the Chennai government, which seems to be convinced that the script characters are undoubtedly Dravidian. If so, by implication, the Indus civilisation can be showcased as the creation of the Dravidas. While deciphering the Indus script to everybody's satisfaction remains an academic concern, for politicians misusing history, academic veracity hardly seems to be a hurdle.


Nayanjot Lahiri teaches archaeology at the Department of History, University of Delhi


The views expressed by the author are personal






Hey, isn't that Danny `Dharavi' Boyle hobnobbing with our kids?

Yup. Why, don't you know how he got chafed with Slumdog starlets Rubina and Azhar's demand for more money to buy bigger flats and swooshing coupés? Since the Orangi Township in Karachi became the world's biggest slum, Boyle has apparently lost interest in our nice sprawling shantytown here in Mumbai.

You mean there will be Pakistani slum kids who'll now become the new faces of global impoverishment?

What's the harm? If Pakistan gets an image boost, it may even halt the Taliban there, which in turn is good for us, right? It's only fair that Pakistani counterparts of Azhar and Rubina also get a slice of the Boyle pie.

But what if Boyle plays a cheapskate to their demands too?

Now come on. Life doesn't stop at Danny Boyle. Once all subcontinental slum kids are `up there', there'll be dozens of directors we all can blackmail for bungalows in London, Paris, Mumbai or even in Islamabad.








They rode bicycles and motorcycles ten years ago, but fly in helicopters now.


Their father was a police constable; today they have personal swimming pools and fancy cars and run a business empire worth more than Rs 1,500 crore.


They are members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which promises to build a Ram Temple in Ayodhya in eastern Uttar Pradesh; but they once had a case slapped against them for destroying a 200-year-old Hindu place of worship due to explosions triggered for iron-ore mining.


Meet the Reddy brothers ­ Karnataka's Revenue Minister G.

Karunakara Reddy (47), Tourism Minister G. Janardhana Reddy (42) and MLA Somashekhara Reddy (41) ­ who became prime power-brokers in the state barely six years after they tried their hand at iron-ore mining.


The present imbroglio, involving the brothers wanting the removal of Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, is a case of private capital trying to brazenly determine how an elected government is run. In earlier cases of revolts against chief ministers, opposition came from seasoned politicians.


The BJP does not seem to be in a mood to oblige the brothers. Party spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad told Hindustan Times: "(We have) made it clear that Yeddyurappa will remain chief minister. We are against the influence of money bags in politics."


Politics has indeed changed: after independence, three-time Bellary MP T. Subramaniam, a Congressman, earned less when he turned from a legal profession to Parliament; today, parties ­ locals claim ­ distribute Rs 1,000 to each voter here before polls.


The Reddy brothers, iron-ore mining barons of mineral-rich Bellary, 290 km north of Bangalore, entered the business at a time when iron-ore prices soared due to demand from China, which was using steel for upgrading its infrastructure for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.


Their clout helped install the BJP's lone government in the south by making the party cross the majority mark of 113 (226-member House) in Karnataka by winning five independent MLAs.


The assembly election results of 2008 show the brothers' rising graph. Eight of Bellary district's nine assembly seats went to the BJP. The upturn had begun in the previous assembly polls itself: the BJP won three out of nine.


And they are high on the populist graph too. They began with a school for spastic children, and are now organising mass marriages. "Last month, 1,800 couples were married in Gadag district," said a local resident.


The Reddy community from Andhra Pradesh has a fair sprinkling in the districts of north Karnataka, where the three brothers command influence. The Lingayats ­ the caste of Yeddyurappa ­ too are influential in the northern districts. But in and around Bellary ­ locals say ­ the Reddy brothers have a strong hold.


The relations between Yeddyurappa and the Reddy brothers have steadily declined.


The reasons are many. One, the government imposed a toll tax of Rs 1,000 per lorry per trip on mined iron ore for flood relief. The Reddys opposed this, saying the mining lobby was already contributing to flood relief by offering money to construct 20,000 houses for those affected. Yeddyurappa saw this initiative as an affront. The government also removed many bureaucrats seen close to the brothers, much to their dislike.


Even as Janardhana Reddy camped in Delhi for the past few days to seek Yeddyurappa's ouster, the latter went on a tour of flood-affected areas to undercut the brothers' influence.


Another area of discord is the Reddys' dislike for Rural Development Minister Shobha Karandlaje ­ a woman with strong RSS affiliations ­ who, detractors claim, interferes in the functioning of other departments and is ire worth more than Rs 1,500 crore.


close to the Chief Minister. Many deri sively call her the second chief minister.


"If you come to power on the basis of lobbies, these will come back and threaten that power itself," said polit ical scientist Jyotirmaya Sharma. "The BJP suffers from the RSS fancy that politics is corrupt and the Sangh's influ ence in it is a purifying one. This makes Yeddyurappa believe he is a natural leader now, but the Reddys know they secured that wafer-thin majority for him. Politics is about resolving con tradictions, and they are unable to resolve them."


The Congress is playing a wait-and watch game. "The party will take an appropriate decision at the right time.


It is their internal matter and we don't want to poke our nose," said Legislative Council Opposition Leader V.S.


Ugrappa. "But I must say that at a time when people are facing floods, the BJP's ego-based factionalism is making relief work suffer."


 Vikas Pathakin New Delhi







GAURAV CHOUDHURY NEW DELHI Itwasdifficulttoaskpeopletoleavetheir jobs. I almost broke down when I saw the faces of some people standing on the roadsideonmywaytoofficeonemorning.These werethesamepeoplewehadaskedtoleave their jobs the previous evening. But we had to do it to survive.


M. RAFEEQUE AHMED, Chairman, Farida Group As the head of a company that exports footwear, Ahmed is a small businessman with a big worry. So is the case with the artisans of Moradabad, Barmer, Agra and Mysore.


India's exports contracted for the 12th successive month, plunging by 13.8 per cent in September, as orders from countries in Europe and the United States (US) dried up amid the worst economic downturn in the past 80 years.


At present, over 55 per cent of India's $168 billion exports are destined for Europe and the US, the regions worst hit by the global credit crisis.


The downturn in exports started in mid-2008 when retail orders from the European Union and the United States shrank because of the worldwide recession and changing consumer spending behaviour.


Shrinking world demand has affected exports of India's handicrafts, gems and jewellery, leather and textile severely in the last one year.
HUGE JOB LOSSSES This has led to job losses in these sectors. In 2008-09 an estimated 1.257 million mandays of jobs were lost in the export sector. (If two men work five days each a year, it means 10 mandays.) In August, the government had unveiled a mix of procedural measures and fiscal incentives for trading with nontraditional destinations such as Latin American and African countries.


"New emerging markets have been given a special focus to enable competitive exports ... Incentive schemes are being rationalised to identify leading products, which would catalyse the next phase of export growth," Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma said while unveiling the policy.


Exporters say that Indian products are becoming uncompetitive because of prices in the world market.


"Chinahasbeenabletooffermuchbetterpricessinceithasincreaseddrawback refunds in the past one year, from 11 to 17 percent,"saidApparelExportPromotion Council Chairman Rakesh Vaid.


Under the duty drawback scheme, exporters get refund for taxes paid on imported inputs used to manufacture products that are eventually exported.


Also, competition from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia has been hurtful for India.


"The focus is now on new emerging markets such as Latin America, Central Asia, Africa and South East Asia," said Rakesh Kumar, executive director of the Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts. "Places such as China, West Asia, South East Asia, Australia and Brazil are likely to witness faster recovery.
These areas can provide viable and sustainable markets in order to reduce India's reliance on the European Union and US for its exports," a United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) study said.

"Garment exports during 2009-10 will not cross the $9 billion mark unless there is a dramatic recovery in coming months," said Vaid.
HANDICRAFTS EXPORTS HIT In 2008-09, Indian garment exports totalled $10.17 billion.


"During April to August 2009, handicrafts exports have fallen more than 21 per cent due to the slump in global markets," Kumar said.


India's major handicrafts manufacturing and export centres are Moradabad (339 km north-west of Lucknow; known for brassware), Kutch (93 km north-west of Ahmedabad; known for embroidered goods), Mysore (140 km south-west of Bangalore; known for wooden art wares), and Agra (200 km east of Delhi; known for hand-printed textiles).


However, Vaid said the government's efforts to penetrate new markets of Latin America, West Asia and the region of Australia and New Zealand would take a long time to yield results.








Civil society" is a very loaded term. First of all, it implies that all those that are not part of it, are somehow uncivil, or possibly not part of society. Secondly, the use of the term implies that those covered by the term — and, truthfully, usually using it about themselves — have some particular worthiness that makes them able to more efficiently determine society's direction than other members of the duly constituted electorate. (Most of whom have never heard of the term "civil society".) This idea, that of particular worthiness, is the lie that has supported a thousand corrupt and self-serving oligarchies down the ages, and should never be trotted out without being refuted — especially when it is being used in the patently ridiculous manner in which it is currently being used, to support a frenzied campaign, created out of nothing, for Kiran Bedi as Chief Information Commissioner.


Of course, some will say that a group as varied as the one making a noise for Bedi — which includes, at last count, Aamir Khan the actor, Ramdev the yoga entrepreneur, activists Anand Kejriwal and Anna Hazare, and CEO-turned-intellectual Narayana Murthy — must be on to something. And surely they are representative? Mistaking variation for representation, however, is a mistake no first-year statistics or political science student would make. And, indeed, even could they somehow claim to be representative, it is also true that any workable democracy would require the executive to make decisions about appointments that are not subject to veto by self-appointed "representatives of the people."


The actual details of the campaign for Bedi are fairly ludicrous. Not least is the claim that they are personally owed an explanation for the government's choice — Khan, in his letter, says, with his accustomed graceful politeness, that "we would be grateful if it were disclosed how that person was found more suitable than Kiran Bedi." (He does not disclose if a correspondingly polite explanation would require a personal phone call from the prime minister to him and all the other letter-writers.) But that sums up the absurdity of people who sign letters somehow thinking that through that act they can trump the decisions of a democratically-elected government. The only losers in this campaign are those who are getting a reputation for attaching their names to letters that, in the final analysis, betray how little they understand of how democracy works.







A new pitch had been laid out at Srinagar's Sher-e-Kashmir stadium, and the return of Ranji matches to the city had generated considerable excitement. But the Jammu and Kashmir team and local spectators will have to wait a while longer, till November 10, to inaugurate it, when Haryana travel for the next tie. For now, the hosts have got a walkover, because the Services team failed to show up in Kashmir for their scheduled match. And in the meanwhile, if there is anger raging through the J&K Cricket Association, and presumably amongst cricket fans in the state, it is more than understandable. There is no cop-out in sport, especially cricket, more impolite than failing to show up on the field — as happened with the Services squad Tuesday. And to do so without giving a reason, as the Services are alleged to have done, is unforgivable.


The BCCI immediately responded to the outrage by barring Services from the 2009-10 Ranji season. That punishment is too light, however, as the circumstances of the forfeiture make clear. As Farooq Abdullah, president of the Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association and a leading politician of the state, asked, "What message do the Services want to send out? Do they want to say Kashmir is not normal?" The Services team represents the armed forces, and therefore the questions that Abdullah asks are automatically put to the forces and to the defence ministry. What were these extraordinary circumstances that prevented the Services team from showing up? Who, in the Services Sports Control Board or in the ministry, cleared the no-show? Surely there is a chain of accountability. Whatever be the reasons for the forfeiture, the Services team has sent out a larger message about the armed forces' view of normal activity in the Valley. If the forces in fact do not subscribe to such a message — and it is hoped, assumed even, that they don't — they will have to follow up Tuesday's incident with a proper response.


The Services are reported to have apologised and asked for a re-schedule. That's not enough. And while the BCCI may have followed standard operating procedure in affixing its penalty, the government must be more stern and inquiring in its assessment.







It has been eight years in the making, but the signature of Czech President Klaus on the Lisbon Treaty has transformed the European Union. Lisbon was conceived as a compromise after the failure of an effort at a European constitution which would enhance federal decision-making powers. Though welcomed at first, a Dutch and French reversal put paid to the constitution. Work to replace it began in earnest in 2007, under German leadership, and the Lisbon treaty that resulted can be viewed largely as a reform project.


Why revamp the EU anyway? First, the EU is often regarded as a fatally divided body, lacking concrete, binding leadership. Lisbon changes that to an extent. It departs from its predecessors — the Treaties of Maastricht and Rome — as it builds on the powers of the bloc and brings them up-to-date. Many components of Lisbon are borrowed from the constitution, but it does have opt-out clauses necessary to appease member states — notably Britain and Ireland, which succeeded in keeping domestic labour laws free from scrutiny. Benchmark clauses such as a NATO-style mutual defence clause and more regulated voting patterns are revolutionary; the appointment of a president of the European Council — a so-called "European President" and a foreign policy head might finally answer Kissinger's 1970s question: "Who do I call if I want to call Europe?"


Age-old euroskeptic arguments are being trotted out again: that Lisbon will lead to a loss of authority and sovereignty. But the new Europe has charted out a path for itself between the "superstate" those making that argument fear and the stagnation others feared. What can look like merely a shake-up in the EU's internal machinery should not only result in quicker, more decisive action, but will finally give the idea of Europe a recognisable face globally.








What ought to have been a rather mundane, routine appointment process — for the now vacant post of Chief Information Commissioner — has taken an interesting turn (not necessarily for the better) courtesy a motley "civil society" caucus. An eclectic group comprising of undoubtedly eminent citizens of India — corporate leader Narayana Murthy, actor Aamir Khan, activist Arvind Kejriwal, yoga guru Baba Ramdev among others — has written to the government strongly recommending the name of Kiran Bedi, the outspoken former cop, for the top job in the Central Information Commission. Some have also thrown an additional gauntlet to the government — if it doesn't appoint Bedi, the prime minister must explain how, and why, its chosen candidate is better than Bedi for the job.


This intervention is peculiar, interfering and damaging for a number of reasons. Peculiar because one doesn't quite know what made a group of such diverse individuals agree on a single, and judging by her past record quite controversial, name for such an important job. The point is well taken that the right to information has been incrementally gained by a clamour form ordinary citizens outside of government, and therefore we the people have a unique stake in tracking the CIC's post. However, is recommending candidates the right way to go about this? The general criteria/qualifications for appointment to the CIC are enshrined in the Right to Information Act in any case. By recommending just one person, someone who often polarises even larger civil society's opinion on a number of issues, this particular group of individuals has left itself open to well-justified criticism, of promoting vested interest, and a specific agenda, of their own making.


In doing so, they have hardly distinguished themselves from the government — at least their own perception of how government operates. Presumably Messrs Murthy et al strongly believe that the government is incapable of making a fair and appropriate decision. Like many other cynics, they perhaps believe that the government gives short shrift to merit in most important appointments. While there may indeed be numerous instances of such decision-making, it would be wrong to say that the government never makes appointments based on competence and merit. It does. The outgoing CIC, for example, had a very good record — and was appointed by the government.


In fact, in a democratic system of government, the electorate grants their chosen government the authority to make key appointments. Civil society cannot suddenly claim the right to have an equal say in the appointment of government officials. That's mixing up roles and interfering outside one's domain. After all, we don't want the government to recommend names for company CEOs or heads of prominent NGOs. Of course, civil society has every right to hold those appointed to important offices to account. And civil society groups have done a good job of this over the years. The move to make it compulsory for all candidates in elections to declare their assets was a civil society initiative. The move to make judges disclose their assets was also a civil society initiative to begin with. And that's the crux of civil society's role — strengthen institutional checks and balances so that the precise profile of particular individuals matters less.


Unfortunately, in India, there is a consistent bias in favour of the individual in preference to the institution or office that the person occupies. Governments are guilty of this, even if they do choose competent individuals often enough. If


civil society too begins to play in favour of individuals rather than institutions, then the cause of accountability and institutional strength will stand deeply damaged.


The best example of institutional strength within the larger set up of the government is the Election Commission of India. For an institution always manned by ex-bureaucrats, many of them chosen for their proximity to the government of the day, it has a remarkably good reputation for being an impartial authority which conducts the world's largest democratic exercise in a free and fair manner. It is a reputation which resonates with the people of India at large, and almost all observers of democratic processes anywhere in the world.


Some will say that it only acquired its independence courtesy an individual — T.N. Seshan. But that would be giving too much credit to one man. Remember that before Seshan, politics and therefore elections in India were largely unipolar, and it is only at around the time that he became chief election commissioner, did the disintegration of the "Congress system" and the first signs of a contested multiparty


system begin. Someone else in Seshan's place may have asserted neutrality and independence too, given that the rules and laws which protected the commission were in place in any case. Remember that there was a free and fair election in 1977 too when the Congress first lost power at the Centre.


Even if one gives Seshan some credit for asserting the Commission's independence, one mustn't forget that the assertion lasted beyond the somewhat megalomaniacal Seshan's term in office. The institutional strength enabled the commission to come out unscathed from M.S. Gill's questionable decision to join party politics not long after leaving office as CEC. Gill may have lost credibility but the commission did not. Similarly, despite the many allegations of political bias thrown at then election commissioner (and now CEC) Navin Chawla, the commission never lost its wider credibility. The case of the election commission is a classic case of the quality of an institution taking precedence over individuals who have occupied positions in it at different points of time.


And that really is the position a body like the Information Commission needs to aspire to. Even if the government makes inappropriate choices for the top jobs on occasion, the institution should have the checks — already enshrined in the legislation, and enforced by pressure from civil society — to remain strong and credible despite a less than satisfactory egg or two.


By joining the appointments game, however, civil society aspires to become a parallel centre of power, not a custodian of accountability. That's bad for the health of the system.








In recent months, India has sought to challenge its image overseas, and in growing quarters at home, as recalcitrant and obstructionist on climate change. In a showdown recently with the old guard, the reformist environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, had to tone down his climate advice to India's Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh. Political correctness won, but the loser was India's climate security.


In a tumultuous week for Indian climate politics that saw Delhi hosting a major UN technology and climate change conference, a regional meeting of South Asian environment ministers, a Sino-India climate change workshop, and MOUs with China, Japan and Norway, the political air was charged. As the week opened, the driver-in-chief of these high-level meetings, Jairam Ramesh, was engulfed in a firestorm over a leaked confidential communication to the Prime Minister.


As the Major Economies Forum got underway in London with Gordon Brown saying there was no Plan B for Copenhagen, news broke in Delhi that Jairam Ramesh had allegedly proposed dumping the Kyoto Protocol, ditching the G-77 in favour of the G-20, and taking on carbon cuts without concomitant financial or technical guarantees. In a country with a well- entrenched political consensus on India's role in international climate negotiations, his alleged remarks were seized on as heresy. Partisan press reporting, well-oiled with anonymous quotes by India's aggrieved negotiators and threats to resign, added fuel to the fire. Outraged opposition parties railed that the Minister had capitulated to the United States and NGOs charged him with damaging India's credibility with developing country partners.


In the storm that followed, the papers were full of indignation at Ramesh's supposed deviation from India's traditional hard-line climate position, but silent on India's climate risk. Yet it might make sense to be "flexible" on climate change; new approaches might be imperative if India wants to craft a fiendishly difficult global climate compact. Everything should not be cast as a sell-out to western interests — an unedifying neo-colonial spectacle more focussed on political point scoring than protecting India's people. Why is it that we are more concerned with doctrinal purity than climate catastrophe?


We have been down this road before. In July just after the G-8 meeting in L'Aquila when Dr. Manmohan Singh acceded to language agreeing a 2 degree Celsius limit to warming, a similar political firestorm erupted. His actions were also interpreted as a capitulation to western interests and a restraint on India's right to development.


Confusing degrees with percentages, some politicians screamed about agreeing to "two per cent" under US pressure. That the Maldives and Bangladesh were asking for a 1.5 degrees limit with much deeper emissions cuts by all nations, went unreported. As President Nasheed of the Maldives, the world's lowest-lying island nation, said in Delhi this week: "with so much damage being caused by less than one degree of warming, why on earth would we aim for two degrees?" At present trends, we are heading towards a 6 to 7 degree world by 2100. As the world's fourth-largest emitter and potentially the worst victim of climate change, India cannot afford the complacency its political class is fostering. Our water and food security lie wounded, our coastal aquifers are turning saline, our glaciers are melting.


Ramesh's suggested shift in India's hard stance has created momentum in climate talks, forcing developed countries to contemplate much deeper cuts than they wanted. A new set of possibilities has thus opened up that might just manage to dispel mutual fears of inaction and mistrust. The minister has no doubt publicly stepped back towards the party-line on India's climate negotiating position, but he opened a deadlocked debate.


Interestingly, China, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and even Indonesia are all considering variations of national and sectoral caps — not in response to western arm-twisting but to increasingly unequivocal climate impact projections, energy security, development and economic competitiveness concerns. Though the uproar over his advice has momentarily slowed his pace, a new political consensus on climate is forming. It has hidden, powerful supporters both within government and the opposition who are poised to occupy the climate spotlight and will have to respond to India's 670 million farmers and 100 million fisherfolk who are sure to ask: "If you knew about this climate threat, why did you keep it from us and why did you not act in time?" Meanwhile the science races on. Climate change is occurring faster and deeper than previously thought — while India's politics remains stuck. Ramesh has let the reform genie out of the bottle. New constituencies are clamouring for change. Hopefully the world will finally get the debate it deserves and India the politicians we deserve.


The writer edits 'Sanctuary Asia'. This article was written with Malini Mehra, the CEO of the Centre for Social Markets







Reading politics into a figure skating act

WHEN Anton Sikharulidze, the former figure skater and current United Russia member, was asked why he awarded low marks to pair of figure skaters who had just given a touching portrayal of lovers who reunite during the fall of the Berlin Wall, he answered, "Because their performance was overly politicised."Nonetheless,allofthe otherjudgesatSaturday's"IceAge"show, broadcaston Channel One, gave the couple the highest marks of the evening..


By a twist of fate, the pre-recorded ice show was aired on the same day that other television channels showed the opening ceremoniesofthe20thanniversaryofthereunificationofGermany.

IwassurprisedandalmostmovedtotearsbythewordsofGerman President Horst Kohler, former Soviet leader Gorbachev, former US President George H.W. Bush and former German Chancellor Kohl, who expressedmorekindwordsabouttheUSSRthanIhaveheardinaverylong time. But the problem is that our anti-Western paranoia is matched by an equally virulent anti-Russian paranoia from the US and Europe.


Recall the decision by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe equating Nazism with Stalinism, somethingthatistantamounttosacrilegeforRussianswhohadhelpeddefeat Hitler.Remembertheinternationalcommemorationofthe70th anniversary in September of the start of World War II. At times I almost forgot that the leaders were speaking of their common tragedy and mutual victory and half expected to see the Polish president lunge, fists flailing, at PM Putin, who would promptly defendhimselfwithacoupleofswiftjudochops...recallthesharp criticism that Obama endured by his countrymen for having voiced in Moscow the obvious truth that the end of the Cold War was not a victory of the US over the USSR but the result of their combined efforts.







It is a new experience for me to address a group of religious scholars and leaders. However, I am comforted by the fact that the invitation was genuinely warm and was personally and graciously extended by Shri Mehmud Madani, my colleague in Parliament. I am also grateful to Shri Qari Mohammed Usman, President of the Jamiat Ulema-e- Hind for his letter of invitation. The most learned Ulemas of India — over 10,000 — are present this morning, and it is my honour to address them. I also greet the Rector of the Darul Uloom and recognise the presence of many renowned scholars.


We know that the JUH was founded in 1919 in order to lend the support of the Muslim clergy to the anti-British movement. It was among the first organisations that stood firmly on the side of the nationalist forces and resolutely opposed the two-nation theory espoused by the Muslim League. After Independence, the JUH has focused on the promotion of the social, religious and economic interests of the Muslim community. I am therefore very happy to be able to share some thoughts with this august assembly.


Since the beginning of civilisation, the world has always been torn by conflicts. The birth of free India was under circumstances that could only be described as traumatic. The scars of partition and of the largest migration in human history still remain. Post-Independence too, the country has witnessed numerous conflicts — caste against caste, religion against religion, language against language. Nevertheless, we must always remember that pluralism is our inheritance. Pluralism should be our strength. It is only due to the thoughtless words and actions of some that we have, sadly, allowed our diversity to become differences.


The advent of Islam in the Indian sub-continent may have occurred during the life time of the Prophet himself... Let me recall some facts of history. One of the earliest acts of resistance to British rule was the Vellore Mutiny. It was in 1806, a good 50 years before the First War of Independence in 1857. During the freedom struggle, hundreds of Muslim leaders fought and suffered, shoulder to shoulder, with leaders belonging to other faiths. Who can forget the glorious contribution of Maulana Mehmoodul Hassain, popularly known as Sheikhul Hind, Maulana Qasim Nanauti, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi, Saifuddin Kichlu, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, M.A. Ansari, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai and Badruddin Tyabjee and many other freedom fighters?


No less has been the contribution of Muslims in modern India. Among them were outstanding Deobandi scholars such as Maulana Hassan Ahmed Madani, Maulana Hibzur Rehman and Maulana Asad Madani. Other renowned Muslims including political leaders and scholars, actors and artists, and sportspersons and scientists, too numerous to be recounted by name, have enriched our society. We cannot view Islam as an alien faith. Our Muslim brethren are honoured citizens of India. This is the land of your forbears; this is the land of your birth; and this is where you will live and work. It is a matter of pride for us that all major religions of the world, including Islam, exist and thrive in India.


A nation can ignore its minorities only at its peril. The golden rule in a democracy is that it is the duty of the majority to protect the minority, be it religious, racial or linguistic. It is a self-evident rule. It is a rule that is firmly rooted in the universality of human rights. Hence, we have no hesitation in invoking that rule when Tamils are denied their rights in Sri Lanka or Indian students are assaulted in Australia.


There is also a sub-rule to the golden rule. What is a minority in one place could well be the majority in another place: for example, Muslims in Jammu & Kashmir or Sikhs in Punjab. In such situations, the roles will be reversed. Although a minority nation-wide, the Muslim community in Jammu & Kashmir is bound by the golden rule as well as the tenets of Islam to protect the minority communities in that State. Alas, some think that the golden rule is dispensable or that it can be applied selectively. It is that thought that is pernicious. It is that thought that sows the seeds of communalism.


Moral and spiritual values form the core of a civilisation. The education system must instill these values in its citizens, especially its children. Education, however, has a larger purpose. It must empower the child. The education system must turn the wonder of the child into inquiry and the bewilderment of the adolescent into discovery. It is mathematics and science, and that fruit of a historical conjunction, English, that will equip our children to build a modern India. The implementation of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, especially the Scheme for Providing Quality Education in Madrasas (SPQEM) and Infrastructure Development in Minority Institutions (IDMI) and the setting up of Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas (KGBV) provide the best assurance of quality education to Muslim children.


While all manifestations of communalism are deplorable, the worst kind of communalism is unleashing communal violence. Violence and violent means to achieve any objective is the anti-thesis of a civilised society governed by the rule of law. The demolition of the Babri Masjid was a manifestation of religious fanaticism and an act of extreme prejudice. Likewise, taking to the path of violence in the name of religion must also be deplored in unequivocal terms. I am glad to note that the Darul Uloom at Deoband issued a Fatwa against terrorism on February 25, 2008 and categorically stated that "Islam rejects all kinds of unwarranted violence, breach of peace, bloodshed, killing and plunder and does not allow it in any form." I regard that decree as a call to duty to not only Muslims but to all right thinking people.


I would urge that more voices be raised, loudly and clearly, against terrorism and all forms of violence.








As the sun warmed the quiet winter air, the bowler running in, opening his shoulders, and sending the ball zipping past the batsman, was a sight perfect days were made of. Not too many years ago, sitting in one corner of the Ferozeshah Kotla stadium, leaning against the old wall beyond the boundary, was the best way to spend a cold afternoon.


It was a time when annual inter-college matches filled the stands. A time when first-class games commanded a die-hard following. When cricket, and not cricketers, drew thousands of eager spectators.


The Ranji Trophy, once celebrated on such lazy mornings by students playing truant from school and officegoers squeezing in a few hours between work, started this week in front of empty stands across the country. With cricket constantly playing on television — every day of the week, from every country in the world — the unhyped, unsung premier domestic tournament has over the years been lost in the by-lanes of new India.


Its runs and wickets no longer capture our imagination, and Ranji cricket's disconnect with the fans is never more evident than when stadiums are packed for IPL matches, and when the craze for the sport's glitz and glamour manifests itself in crammed hotel lobbies and long queues for tickets whenever the national team is in town.


As international cricket has grown to become an obsession over the last two decades and as the number of matches has multiplied, the stock of domestic cricket has fallen in direct proportion. In its glory days, India played eight to ten Test matches a year, and there were only a handful of one-day matches, if at all. The highest form of the game was a drink to savour, and domestic cricket was the standard beverage of the masses. It was also full of intrigue, with intense competition and genuine rivalries. Dilip Vengsarkar, for example, wept in the dressing room after Bombay lost the final by two runs to Kapil Dev's Haryana in 1991, and half of Wankhede stadium cried with him.


But when the dam burst open in the mid 90s, when the Indian team started playing all year round, when the stars stopped taking part in domestic cricket, it became a sideshow forced to compete with the main event that was running alongside. Soon, the public's interest waned, and its long-standing parochial contests (Delhi vs Bombay, Karnataka vs Tamil Nadu) suddenly lost their charm.


Today, the Ranji Trophy is seen as no more than a means to an end — to get an IPL contract; to make it to the Indian team. It's like an internal BCCI assessment — of the players, for the selectors, by the Board — completely devoid of the power to entertain. One of the thrills of a domestic season has always been spotting players who might break into the national squad, no doubt. But wasn't scoring the most runs, grabbing the most wickets, and winning the title, at least at some small level, meant to be an end in itself?


The burgeoning India argument notwithstanding, our cricket administrators have to take the majority of the blame for allowing domestic cricket to whither away simply because they didn't believe it could give them much in return.


The BCCI, despite its many shortcomings the best run sports body in India, has shown through the IPL that it has the power to build from scratch a glamorous, high-profile brand that can take the country by storm. Why, then, does it not use some of that marketing prowess to promote the Ranji Trophy, which is the very foundation of India's cricketing edifice?


A couple of hundred fans still turn out to cheer the Mumbai team every year, perhaps the weight of their 38 titles pulling in the last of the faithfuls long after the rest have jumped ship. One of them, a cab driver originally from Uttar Pradesh, once told me it was only a matter of time before he too would stop coming.


"Sport without fans is like a taxi without wheels," he gave his cryptic analogy in chaste Hindi, "you can take shelter in it when it's raining, but it won't take you anywhere."








The editorial in the latest issue of RSS mouthpiece Organiser, titled "Take action against love jihad", says: "What is the lure of Love Jihad? The problem is old. But the terminology is new, crediting its origins to some imaginative police officer in Kerala, who filed his affidavit in the high court following a widespread commotion against an alleged sinister campaign by Kerala Islamists to convert non-Muslim women to Islam through deceptive love and marriage. Such cases have become commonplace in North India and the readers of Organiser are familiar with them, as such cases have been written about in the journal. The problem received wider attention in Kerala because the Christian girls are equal victims of the jihadi Romeos as the Hindus, and the church has taken a serious view. The Commission for Social Harmony and Vigilance of the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council, which is actively creating public opinion against the organised menace of Love Jihad, says that women so converted to Islam are being used by male Islamist terrorists."


It adds: "...A concerned Kerala High Court ordered the state director general of police and the Union home department last month to file their reports on the matter after a thorough probe. Last week, the Kerala DGP Jacob Punnose filed a reply, which he later termed interim, in which he denied the presence of any organised campaign or outfit named Love Jihad. Experts termed his report politically dictated and funny because of its timing and contradictory observations. The Kerala-ruling Left Front, facing three by-elections on November 7, tried to woo the fanatic Muslims by presenting such a reply in the court. However, it backfired. The reply admitted that Muslim men had been trying to convert women to Islam through love marriages. Such Muslim youth could be getting external financial assistance for expensive clothes, motorbikes and money to attract girls, it said. The DGP's reply further revealed that these young men could be getting legal assistance for staying out of danger from police and public. Irked by the contradictions in the reply, the high court ordered the DGP to file a fresh report".



In an opinion piece titled "Policy for reducing global inequality" Bharat Jhunjhunwala writes: "Developing countries have to choose between two policies for reducing global inequality. One policy is of cooperation. Developing countries can hope for an increase in the growth rates of the developed countries. An increase in consumption by these countries will create demand for their exports just as the ancillary industry gains when sales of the parent company pick up; or as the village potter gains when the landlord reaps a good crop. The most efficient among the developing countries will gain more from such exports. The second policy is that of confrontation. Developed countries are importing the natural resources of the developing countries such as iron ore, oil rice and mangoes in large quantities. Developing countries can make cartels and jack up the prices of these exports just as was done by the oil-exporting countries in 1971 by forming OPEC".


He concludes: "The world economy can be divided into four parts. At the lowest rung are the poorest countries like Bangladesh. At the second level are developing countries like India. At the third level are middle income countries like Brazil and Hungary. At the top are the developed countries like the United States. We have to discover the main fault line among these divisions. The main problem of the world economy in my reckoning is the high consumption by the developed countries. Therefore, ideally, the lower three rungs should make a common cause and join hands against the developed countries".







Claude Levi-Strauss, the French anthropologist who transformed Western understanding of what was once called "primitive man" and who towered over the French intellectual scene in the 1960s and '70s, has died at 100.


A powerful thinker, he became an avatar of "structuralism," a school of thought in which universal "structures" were believed to underlie all human activity, giving shape to seemingly disparate cultures and creations. His work was a profound influence even on his critics, of which there were many. There has been no comparable successor to him in France. And his writing — a mixture of the pedantic and the poetic, full of daring juxtapositions, intricate argument and elaborate metaphors — resembles little that had come before in anthropology. "People realise he is one of the great intellectual heroes of the 20th century," Philippe Descola, the chairman of the anthropology department at the College de France, said last November in an interview with The New York Times on the centenary of Levi-Strauss' birth. Levi-Strauss was so revered that at least 25 countries celebrated his 100th birthday.


A descendant of a distinguished French-Jewish artistic family, Levi-Strauss was a quintessential French intellectual, as comfortable in the public sphere as in the academy. He taught at universities in Paris, New York and Sao Paulo and also worked for the United Nations and the French government. His legacy is imposing. Mythologiques, his four-volume work about the structure of native mythology in the Americas, attempts nothing less than an interpretation of the world of culture and custom, shaped by analysis of several hundred myths of little-known tribes and traditions. In his analysis of myth and culture, Levi-Strauss might contrast imagery of monkeys and jaguars; consider the differences in meaning of roasted and boiled food (cannibals, he suggested, tended to boil their friends and roast their enemies); and establish connections between weird mythological tales and ornate laws of marriage and kinship.


Many of his books include diagrams that look like maps of interstellar geometry, formulas that evoke mathematical techniques, and black-and-white photographs of scarified faces and exotic ritual that he made during his field work. His interpretations of North and South American myths were pivotal in changing Western thinking about so-called primitive societies. He began challenging the conventional wisdom about them shortly after beginning his anthropological research in the 1930s — an experience that became the basis of an acclaimed 1955 book, Tristes Tropiques, a sort of anthropological meditation based on his travels in Brazil and elsewhere.


The accepted view held that primitive societies were intellectually unimaginative and temperamentally irrational, basing their approaches to life and religion on the satisfaction of urgent needs for food, clothing and shelter. Levi-Strauss rescued his subjects from this limited perspective. Beginning with the Caduveo and Bororo tribes in the Mato Grosso region of Brazil, where he did his first and primary fieldwork, he found among them a dogged quest not just to satisfy material needs but also to understand origins, a sophisticated logic that governed even the most bizarre myths, and an implicit sense of order and design, even among tribes who practiced ruthless warfare.


Levi-Strauss' ideas shook his field. But his critics were plentiful. They attacked him for ignoring history and geography, using myths from one place and time to help illuminate myths from another, without demonstrating any direct connection or influence. Some of Levi-Strauss' theoretical arguments, including his explanation of cannibals and their tastes, have been challenged by empirical research. Levi-Strauss conceded that his strength was in his interpretations of what he discovered and thought that his critics did not sufficiently credit the cumulative impact of those speculations. "Why not admit it?" he once said to an interviewer, Didier Eribon, in Conversations with Levi-Strauss (1988). "I was fairly quick to discover that I was more a man for the study than for the field."


Claude Levi-Strauss was born on November 28, 1908, in Belgium to Raymond Levi-Strauss and the former Emma Levy. He grew up in France, near Versailles, where his grandfather was a rabbi and his father a portrait painter. Determined to become an anthropologist, he began making trips into the country's interior, accompanied by his wife, Dina Dreyfus, whom he married in 1932. "I was envisaging a way of reconciling my professional education with my taste for adventure," he said in Conversations, adding: "I felt I was reliving the adventures of the first 16th-century explorers."


By the 1980s, structuralism as imagined by Levi-Strauss had been displaced by French thinkers who became known as poststructuralists: writers like Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida. They rejected the idea of timeless universals and argued that history and experience were far more important in shaping human consciousness than universal laws. "French society, and especially Parisian, is gluttonous," Levi-Strauss responded. "Every five years or so, it needs to stuff something new in its mouth. And so five years ago it was structuralism, and now it is something else. I practically don't dare use the word 'structuralist' anymore, since it has been so badly deformed. I am certainly not the father of structuralism."


But Levi-Strauss' version of structuralism may end up surviving post-structuralism. His monumental four-volume work, Mythologiques, may ensure his legacy, as a creator of mythologies if not their explicator. The final volume ends by suggesting that the logic of mythology is so powerful that myths almost have a life independent from the peoples who tell them. In his view, they speak through the medium of humanity and become, in turn, the tools with which humanity comes to terms with the world's greatest mystery: the possibility of not being, the burden of mortality.


The New York Times







The issue of consolidation in the banking sector, particularly in the context of public sector banks, has cropped up once again, with reported differences emerging between the PM's honorary economic advisor, Raghuram Rajan, and the finance ministry. Rajan, in a letter to the PM, has advised the government against driving consolidation in the banking sector because the difficulties associated with the consolidation of banks are often under-estimated. He says that any final decision should be left to individual bank boards. Earlier, Rajan, as chairman of a committee on financial sector reforms, had supported the consolidation of banks as long as it did not kill competition and increase concentration. The finance minister, on the other hand, wants a push towards consolidation. In a way, both the finance minister and Rajan have valid points. The finance minister is right in arguing that consolidation among public sector banks will help strengthen and improve their efficiency. If Indian banks are to be globally competitive, scaling up is an essential requirement. So, consolidation should not be opposed on principle. However, Rajan is right in insisting that bank boards should take the final call. The government should certainly not interfere with their decision, whether in favour of or against consolidation. SBI has ironically been trying to acquire a number of subsidiaries, but has faced objections from the government.


The real differences between Raghuram Rajan and the finance ministry are probably not on consolidation in banking—there is quite a lot in common on this particular issue. The real differences are on the numerous reforms of the financial sector that the Raghuram Rajan Committee had suggested and which the finance ministry and RBI now want to put on the backburner. The government and RBI seem to have all but rejected the idea of an inflation-targeting central bank. For the moment, there is no appetite for reducing government shareholding in banks to below 50%. There seems no inclination to further liberalise government securities and corporate bonds to foreign institutional investments. Obviously, there has been a dramatic change in the global context since the Rajan Committee submitted its report. The global consensus seems inclined to caution on finance. However, it would be a grave mistake for the government and RBI to completely reject the recommendations made by the Rajan Committee. Finance in India is so underdeveloped that we don't have to worry about a Western style crisis for a while longer. The imperative in India is to provide cheaper finance to the fast-growing real economy. And unless the financial sector is reformed, cheap finance will be a distant dream. There is still reason to take Raghuram Rajan more seriously.






The 11th Five-Year Plan envisions an increase in infrastructure investment from 5% of GDP in 2006-07 to 9% by 2011-12. Around 30% of the required investment is expected to come from the private sector. Everyone agrees that infrastructure is the key driver for economic growth, necessary to kick-start other sectors. There is also unanimity that the government can't finance this driver by itself, as in a bygone era. Hence, the pursuit of private capital. What's equally indisputable is that such capital demands a shift from institutional frameworks created when policymaking, framing legislation, rule making and enterprise ownership converged on the relevant ministries. It demands independent regulators, which nurture competition and optimal utilisation of resources, as well as fix user charges in a rational and market-friendly manner. And the benchmark for fair regulation is an arm's length distance from concerned ministries. Else, a conflict of interest obviously undermines the regulator's legitimacy. It's in this context that we welcome finance minister Pranab Mukherjee's statement that the government is considering setting up regulators for coal and other infrastructure sectors.


As of now, to take selected examples, there is no sectoral regulator in transport or in railways, power or ports, or water and sanitation. For role models, we would turn to Trai and Sebi, which have seen success in telecom and securities, respectively. Even these entities don't deliver full satisfaction, as intermittent controversies suggest. Recognising that full satisfaction is never guaranteed in complex sectors needing regulation, how do we go forward? In a comprehensive paper on the subject, the Planning Commission has suggested that instead of autonomous developments in different sectors, what is needed is a coordinated and cross-fertilised pursuit. Piecemeal regulatory reforms are not uncommon in initial PPP phases; they were the norm even in the US and the UK. But, over recent decades, both countries have moved towards standardising the techniques of regulation. Unless it's prepared to pay high costs in terms of economic growth, India must do the same now. Why should regulators' tenures vary across sectors? Why should some sectors have appellate tribunals, and others not? Above all, as different concession frameworks made available to different national highway projects show, the absence of regulatory reforms makes costly room for non-standard and perhaps politically motivated interventions. We are not recommending regulation for regulation's sake; that would just make a bad situation worse. But without a fair, stable and transparent regulatory environment, Indian infrastructure doesn't have a hope of milking the private capital cash cow.








How important is a transaction of 200 tonnes of gold from an economic standpoint? At the moment, we have a case of the IMF selling gold and RBI purchasing the same at a value of around $6.7 billion.


There is another lot of gold (of similar amount) which will also be up for sale soon. Such transactions are not very common, but at the same time do not have any shock value. To begin with, there was some movement in the gold market, which stabilised subsequently. The last time the IMF had indulged in such a sale was in 1999-2000 when Mexico and Brazil were the purchasers. Still, this transaction is quite interesting for several reasons.


First, the sale of gold by IMF is significant because it evidently means that the Fund needs money to carry out its operations. They have tried to get members to supply funds but the sale of gold, which would otherwise have been residing in their lockers, is probably a prudent step. We are told that China may be the potential buyer for the second lot. Hopefully the money generated would be used for its core purpose—correcting imbalances in the balance of payments of countries. The IMF has come under scrutiny of late for losing its relevance at a time when global capital flows have taken care of forex issues of several countries.


Did the IMF get a good deal? The answer is yes, because when they had thought up this plan, the price was around $850/ounce. This means that the sale at $1,045 is a bonus of just over 20%.


Second, from our point of view, this purchase can be taken with a sense of pride, since we are increasing our gold reserves. In terms of share in forex reserves, as per latest


RBI data, such a shift would mean an increase from 3.6% to 6%. But, does this mean anything significant? Not really.


We have actually purchased gold at a time when the price has crossed the psychological $1,000/ounce barrier.


Therefore, the timing may not have been very appropriate. In case the RBI was keen to augment its gold reserves, there could have been savings by buying in the market as a Treasury activity. It appears that it has entered the fray merely because the gold was up for sale by the IMF. It would be useful if the RBI periodically evaluates the mark-to-market impact of holding on to these additional gold reserves.


Third, will the bullion market be impacted? It was affected to a certain extent when the news came out that the IMF was selling gold. But, it should not really matter because this entire transaction doesn't affect the markets—gold was merely moving out of the IMF's vault to RBI's locker. Nobody should have been affected by such a transaction and thus, besides the initial reaction, there have not been significant reverberations.


To the extent that there have been, it is based more on what will happen, or rather who is to buy the remaining 200 tonnes. Further, with average daily volumes of around 500 tonnes a day on COMEX, this quantity is not really significant as such. The good news here is that such bilateral sales are price neutral, which would not have been the case, in case the IMF sold actively in the market.


Fourth, there are implications for the dollar, which is serious. The fact is that nations are looking at alternatives to the dollar given the way in which the US economy has been functioning and the dollar weakening. There has been talk of countries moving over to the euro, which is considered to be stronger. The preference for gold is a corollary. However, with the IMF not expected to go beyond the 400-tonne level, there may not be too much to this transaction in terms of broader implications for the dollar.


Fifth, the decision for the IMF and countries like India to deal with gold is also slightly anomalous because the world economy had actually moved out of the Gold Standard after the Depression of the 1930s. The hope when IMF was created in 1944 was to move away from metals to currencies and the SDR came into being for this purpose. Going back to gold, which hopefully will not be a habit, does sound a bit anachronistic.


One may recollect that India had to pledge gold way back in 1991 when our forex reserves had declined and then had gone to the IMF for a loan. The IMF is not in a crisis situation but certainly requires liquidity. It is ironical that India is actually providing IMF with cash now, thus reciprocating an exchange from 18 years ago.


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








In this third part of the series analysing the sagacity of creating a super regulator for financial services, we examine benefits in the area of human resource management that could be derived from having a super-regulator vis-à-vis the current arrangement of sectoral regulators. Since it is the people that make or break any organisation, a sound regulatory system requires talented officials that can match the abilities of employees working in the entities that are being regulated.


In this context, it is pertinent to point out the following fact. In each of our regulatory institutions, only a handful of officials at the entry level are drawn from the top management schools in the country. In contrast, in the leading private banks of the country and foreign banks, a majority of the officials at the entry level are drawn from the top management schools. This difference matters for two important reasons.


First, given the increased use of financial engineering through securitisation as well as the use of financial derivatives, the importance of specialised expertise has increased manifold. Therefore, substantial differences in hiring policies between the regulated entities and the regulatory institutions can engender a grave danger to the financial system and, in turn, the macro economy. In sporting parlance, the umpire needs to be as smart and possess as much specialised expertise as the players themselves. Given the increased role of securitisation and financial derivatives, talent that is schooled in these specialised areas of expertise needs to be incentivised to join the regulator. Differences in human resource policies can have detrimental effects for another, more cynical, reason. Given the nature of the selection processes for our top schools such as the IITs and IIMs, students that get educated at these institutions differ in one significant, albeit negative, characteristic—the ability to play the system better.


On average, students from these institutions may be smarter than those from other institutions. But, the cut-throat competition in these institutions teaches these students to first understand how the system works and then to work the system itself. When many of the regulated entities hire personnel that have ingrained into their DNA the ability to beat the system, the regulatory institutions need to possess similar personnel who can call their bluff. While I do not intend to allude that personnel hired from these institutions are the equivalents of diamonds, the point I am making is that the regulatory institutions need to hire people that possess (i) the specialised expertise needed to operate in today's markets; and (ii) the street smartness that is needed to bring to light the suspicious activities indulged in by overzealous market participants.


Since regulators are public sector entities, they face similar challenges to those encountered by other public sector firms in attracting and retaining talented personnel. Providing compensation that is competitive with respect to industry standards is difficult. Though the perks and perquisites may be substantial, it is difficult to attract and retain the best talent that is available in the country without providing them challenging and enriching job content. While modifying the human resource policies at the regulatory institutions is an issue that demands first order attention, having a super-regulator can facilitate the hiring of the best talent in the country. Since super-regulator would span banking, insurance and securities sectors, rookies can be promised attractive job content.


As a single large employer of financial regulators, a unified agency would be better equipped at providing its employees exposure to all the different segments of financial markets when compared to sectoral regulators.


Further, compared to sectoral regulators, the super-regulator would be better suited to design firm-wide human resource policies that would be consistent across all sectors. Such firm-wide human resource policies can be utilised gainfully to formulate a rewarding career path for people hired from the top schools.


A super-regulator could have other subsidiary benefits with respect to the quality of human resource management. First, the super-regulator could foster the exchange of specialists between segments to support different supervisory functions. Such sharing of expertise has become critical given the emergence of financial conglomerates and the risks that they pose to the financial system. Second, the super-regulator can lead to sharing of best practices currently ingrained in each of the sectoral regulators. Further, the pooling of expertise can also lead to the development of best practices that can be commonly applied across all the market segments. Finally, efficiency gains may arise from the coordination of supervisory work on issues of mutual interest as well as from the pooling of common support staff and departments.


The author is assistant professor of finance at Emory University, Atlanta, and visiting scholar at ISB, Hyderabad








Exactly a week ago, Jaipur was engulfed in a smoky haze due to the massive fire which followed an explosion in the Indian Oil Sitapur depot. One of India's worst industrial accidents in recent times, it has led to several deaths, caused displacement of thousands of people and a monetary loss of over Rs 500 crore. It is not yet known what exactly caused the fire, but it is clear that the fire-fighting mechanisms of both the IOC and the state seemed to have failed.


The fire at IOC's (receiver of the 'most-safe OMC award' for 2008-09) depot took place exactly a week after the petroleum minister (who was at an Oil Industry Safety Directorate (OISD) function) had said that necessary steps would be taken to make OISD a statutory body for the upstream and downstream sectors of the oil industry. His assurance has now become a necessity. All attempts must be made to give the OISD statutory powers at the earliest. Ironically, the OISD, which is the most competent body to handle safety hazards in the oil sector, doesn't have statutory powers even though it is one of the bodies that sets standard procedure and practice for safety and firefighting in the industry.


A cursory look indicates that petroleum tanks and refineries are often located within the city limits. Companies and agents argue that when they had set up those facilities, the areas were fairly remote and an expanding city grew around them, which is not their fault. This may well be true but we have to deal with the current reality and address the potential risks, which requires sophisticated urban planning. Apart from zoning laws, proper maintenance and security systems have to be put in place and implemented. The government should follow a carrot & stick approach in such cases. Mere reallocation of depots won't be of any help. Global experience shows that fires at oil depots are primarily due to human failure where the establishment does not follow protocol, like routine equipment checks, or where someone down the line ignored signs of flaws. It doesn't take more than a short circuit or a misplaced cigarette butt to start a fire. What matters is how good we are at combating it.






This paper* discusses some of the impacts attributed to climate change that are likely to hit Southern Africa as a result of increasing global GHG emissions:


As South Africa is a significant contributor to GHG emissions and is currently the top-most emitter in Africa, the paper assesses the country's GHG emissions profile and possible future implications. It then discusses the strategic interventions proposed by South Africa to reduce the gap in emissions between what is required by science and what would happen if development continues without abating GHG emissions. Given that majority of emissions are as a result of energy consumption, the paper provides practical solutions to themes such as energy efficiency. With international treaties on the reduction of GHG emissions, there are business opportunities in the area of climate change mitigation. Thus, the paper finally discusses the Clean Development Mechanism scenario in South Africa and how the country can benefit from other emission-trading schemes being practiced in different regions of the world.


 Jongikhaya Witi, Vaibhav Chaturvedi; Climate Change Mitigation Potential in South Africa: A National to Sectoral Analysis; WP No 2009-10-02, IIM Ahmedabad, October 2009








The purchase of a sizable quantity of gold by the Reserve Bank of India from the International Monetary Fund is significant not just for India but for the IMF, and the global financial system as well. The RBI has paid approximately $6.7 billion to buy 200 tonnes, almost half the quantity put up for sale in September. For the RBI, the transaction is much more than a strategy of diversifying the risks in the management of reserves, although that is an obvious outcome. During the third week of October, the foreign exchange reserves with the RBI amounted to $285 billion and they were held in foreign currency assets, gold, and Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) with the IMF. Like most other central banks, the RBI has kept the bulk of its reserves in U.S. government securities. Gold has so far accounted for just $10 billion or less than four per cent of the reserves — it will now constitute six per cent. The RBI is set to become one of the largest holders of gold reserves among central banks. The IMF, which plans to use the sale proceeds to buttress its concessional lending programmes to poor countries, has succeeded in broad-basing its long-term sources of funds. It has won appreciation for the way it struck the deal with a central bank buyer rather than with a number of market players. Several other central banks are expected to follow suit.


It might be too early to say conclusively; but it is very likely that India's trend-setting purchase from the IMF will strengthen gold's claim to be the preferred asset of diversification. Gold prices, already ruling high, received a further boost after the details of the deal were made public. To a large extent, the yellow metal's recent strength mirrors the weakness of the dollar. Since March, the dollar has declined by 15 per cent against major currencies while gold has gained by an identical margin. The RBI's action might spur other central banks to rebalance their dollar assets portfolio and move into gold in a bigger way. Indeed many of them, including those of China, Russia, and Mexico, have reportedly been accumulating gold.Yet the dollar — currently under stress because of the large fiscal deficits of the U.S. Government — is unlikely to be dethroned from its position of supremacy in global trade, foreign exchange transactions or even as the predominant reserve currency. For India, as much as diversifying its reserves, the deal with the IMF tellingly demonstrates the distance the country has travelled since 1991. Down to its lowest level of reserves, the country then had to pledge some 70 tonnes of gold to meet its immediate import bill.







On November 1, Abdullah Abdullah, the opposition candidate in the runoff round of the Afghan presidential election scheduled for November 7, withdrew his candidature. The Independent Election Commission (IEC) then declared the incumbent president, Hamid Karzai, the winner, though the constitutional validity of cancelling the runoff, even with only one candidate standing, is not clear. Dr. Abdullah apparently plans a Supreme Court challenge, but there is little appetite for a fresh poll, and a challenge will probably fail. The runoff was needed because the original election, held on August 20, was so fraudulent that the U.N.-supported Election Complaint Commission (ECC) reduced Mr. Karzai's share of the vote from 54 per cent to 48.6 per cent, leaving him without an absolute majority. Dr. Abdullah's demand for changes in the personnel of the IEC, which ran the election, was entirely reasonable, as the Karzai-appointed IEC was itself responsible for much of the fraud. The United States and the United Kingdom, which led the NATO invasion of Afghanistan in November 2001, are frantically trying to spin the legitimacy of Mr. Karzai's new presidency. The election, however, has been widely called a fiasco and a shocking failure by the west to create a credible democracy in Afghanistan.


So Afghanistan now has a president of dubious legitimacy and an unquestionably corrupt administration; when making his inaugural speech, Mr. Karzai was flanked by two vice-presidents who are respectively said to be a drug baron and a war criminal. It is also unclear if the government will be an interim one lasting until another election can be held in the spring. Interim status would undermine Mr. Karzai's standing yet further; in any case the perception throughout Afghanistan is that the new government is a NATO creation and cannot survive without NATO. Even if, under western pressure, Mr. Karzai gives Dr. Abdullah a post in government, the Afghan state could lose control over northern areas, where Dr. Abdullah's support is concentrated. It is now even harder for the U.S. to gain support among ordinary Afghans for the 40,000 more troops President Obama plans to send to Afghanistan, and NATO has totally lost its way. It is a tragedy for the Afghan people that Mr. Karzai would probably have won without rigging the election. The Taliban could make huge political gains from the present shambles. There is an obvious parallel with the U.S.-rigged election which put Nguyen Van Thieu into power in South Vietnam in 1967, and there is a bitter contrast with the fate of the Palestinians, who are suffering Israel's brutal displeasure for having chosen Hamas in a free and fair election.









India is the largest supplier of foreign medical graduates to the United States and the United Kingdom. Yet, its own rural areas have remained chronically deprived of professional doctors. The historical antecedents of these shortages could be traced to a landmark health policy document, the Bhore Committee Report of 1946. That report constructed the concept of a 'basic' doctor as one trained through five-and-a-half years of university education. An alternative cadre of Licentiates who were trained over a shorter duration and who formed two-thirds of the country's medical practitioners then, was abolished, in spite of strong dissent from several members of the committee. These dissenting comments must be revisited in the context of India's persistently poor health indices and inadequate health services for the majority.



In October 1943, the Government of British India appointed the committee to survey the state of public health in the country, and make recommendations for future development. The committee chaired by Sir Joseph Bhore, a senior civil servant, comprised eight British and 16 Indian members. The Bhore Committee Report, published in 1946, was meticulously drafted and reflected its members' profound understanding of health matters. They presented statistics on the disease burden and attributed the poor state of health in the country not only to inadequacies in medical services and health personnel but also to the prevailing social ills — poverty, illiteracy, poor nutrition and unsanitary conditions.


The report is best known for providing the blueprint for a modern public health delivery system in India, along with the training of its personnel. Foremost among these was the 'basic' doctor of modern medicine who would be central to the delivery of primary healthcare. These were far- reaching recommendations and shaped the course of public health and medicine in independent India. But on closer examination, a number of flaws are revealed.



There were two classes of medical practitioners of Western medicine at the time of the Bhore survey: graduates who underwent a five-and-a-half-year course in the medical colleges, and Licentiates (LMPs) who underwent a three-to-four-year course in medical schools. Of the 47,524 registered medical practitioners at that time, nearly two-thirds (29,870) were Licentiates and one- third (17,654) were graduates.


The report informs us that in the rural areas health care was delivered through sub-divisional hospitals and dispensaries that were managed mostly by Licentiates. Besides, there were large numbers of indigenous practitioners providing affordable and accessible healthcare to the masses.


The Bhore Committee proposed a three-tier district health scheme. A primary unit would be at its periphery, a secondary unit at the sub-divisional headquarters would provide more specialised services, and a district organisation would be in charge of the overall supervision of district-level health activities.


Though conceptually well-organised, the scheme was designed to cover only a fourth of the population in the first five years (78,080,000 out of a projected 315 million in the report) and less than half (156,200,000 out of a projected 337.5 million) over the next 10 years. The report was silent on how the needs of the rest of the country would be met.


Nonetheless, the committee recommended that the Licentiate qualification be abolished, all medical schools be upgraded to colleges, and all available resources be directed into the production of only one type of doctor. He or she would have the highest level of training — a five-and-a-half-year university training, similar to what the Goodenough Committee had proposed for Great Britain as the gold standard. The committee believed that there was no role in the modern medical scheme for indigenous systems of medicine and its practitioners: these systems were considered "static in conception and practice."


Six members of the committee, five Indians and one Briton, put up a brave dissent. They repeatedly argued that in view of the manpower shortages, the country should use every possible means, including the shorter Licentiate course, to increase the number of trained medical personnel. They pointed out that England had abolished Licentiate teaching only after 100 years and Russia relied extensively on 'feldshers' (medical assistants) to run 48,000 dispensaries. They noted with anguish that since the new scheme would benefit only a section of the Indian population, "Public health over the remaining four fifth to one-half of the country… will atrophy. There will be no personnel like the licentiates even to help the regions and institutions which will come under neglect."



The dissenters' views proved prophetic. They said that the "basic doctor would not willingly fit into the rural scheme." India's six decades of chronic shortages of doctors in the rural areas are grim testimony to this fact. They argued that "while a majority on the committee can abolish the licentiate, they cannot prevent other practitioners, practising a variety of systems of medicine, taking his place." Time has proved this also to be a prescient observation. Studies show that since Independence and even today, much of health care at first contact in rural India is delivered not by qualified doctors but by informally trained and unlicensed private practitioners.


What happened to the highly trained basic doctor of the future?


The Bhore Committee estimated that around 15,000 doctors would be needed in the scheme in the first five years, and around 30,000 over 10 years. As the number of medical colleges roughly doubled during this period (from 19 in 1946 to 42 in 1956) it can be estimated that the number of graduates also doubled.


It is difficult to obtain exact data on how many graduates entered the health system over 10 years, but almost all of India's Five-Year Plans and national health policies since 1947 have lamented the shortage of doctors in the rural areas.


What is definitely known is that around 10 years later, in the early 1960s, nearly 18,000 graduate doctors from the Indian sub-continent migrated to the U.K. in response to Health Minister Enoch Powell's call to save the U.K.'s rapidly expanding National Health Service (NHS) from a staffing crisis. In November 2003, a BBC documentary "From the Raj to the Rhondda: How Asian Doctors Saved the NHS," acknowledged the contributions of doctors from the Indian sub-continent to Britain's most deprived areas, where no British doctor was willing to go.


Even today, the second largest proportion of doctors registered with the U.K.'s General Medical Council, by country of qualification, is from India: they number 25,720, or 11 per cent of the total. India also provides the largest pool of international medical graduates to the U.S.



Medical historians point out that the Indian doctors who collaborated with colonial rule were the ones who stepped into positions of power after 1947. Their socialisation into the western model meant that the "development of medical practice in India did not follow the pattern that was being advocated for developing countries at the time. Indian degrees were quite suitable for working in England, but probably totally irrelevant for working to the benefit of the vast majority of the Indian population." (Professor Aneez Esmail, 2007)


Ironically, even less-trained providers can efficiently deliver primary care. However, efforts to revive a Licentiate type of cadre, as recommended by the National Health Policy 2002 and outlined by a Task Force on Medical Education in 2007, have been non-starters. This is due to resistance from a section of the country's medical fraternity which carries a turf protection mindset, supported by obstructive legislation contained in the Indian Medical Council Act of 1956.



In view of the obvious deficiencies in India's overall rural infrastructure, it is unlikely that the rural areas will have a sufficient number of doctors over the next several decades. Thus, the solution to India's doctor shortages does not lie in building more medical colleges. A better alternative would be to draw from other countries' experiences of developing mid-level practitioners: Clinical Officers and Medical Assistants in Africa, Physician Assistants in the U.S., Nurse Practitioners in Canada, and the rural doctors in China who number more than a million. These cadres are typically trained for three years and empowered to provide clinical services. Studies so far suggest that their performance and outcomes are in no way inferior to that of doctors trained for longer periods.


In the short term, India must also upgrade the skills of existing unlicensed rural practitioners and empower government nurses and pharmacists to take on additional tasks. An alternative to the IMC Act is the Drugs and Cosmetics Act that empowers States to recognise practitioners other than MBBS-holders to provide a limited range of medical care services. Chhattisgarh has invoked this power to create a three-year diploma course for Practitioners of Modern and Holistic Medicine.


(Meenakshi Gautham, PhD, is a public health specialist (;K. M. Shyamprasad, M.Ch., FRCS, is a former vice president of the National Board of Examinations, MoHFW, India ( Legal inputs have been received from Indira Unninayar, Supreme Court Advocate.)









As the anniversary of the cataclysmic event of 26/11 draws near, undoubtedly the country will relive the painful and humiliating memory of its powerful financial capital held hostage for more than 36 hours by a group of murderous terrorists sneaking in from Pakistan, challenging the might and capabilities of the Indian nation. But instead of replaying those dark moments, Indians ought to remember with pride the aftermath of the tragedy. The days after the terror strikes saw a spontaneous nationwide outpouring of sympathy for Mumbai with all communities united in their anger and outrage at the impunity with which Pakistan-based jihadi terrorists had struck at India.


Indeed the Indian national spirit triumphed in that dark moment with thousands of citizens of diverse cultural and social identities rallying together to support Mumbai in that traumatic phase. There was a remarkable absence of communal violence with even the Shiv Sena in Mumbai resisting the political temptation of baiting Muslims in that stressful period. As a new generation of Indians made the political class and the political system the targets of their ire, one refreshing change was that there was absolutely no focus on communal and social identities. Projected was a collective sense of "we Indians" against the external intruders. All this showed that the enduring sense of national unity was a solid asset that helped the country tide over what could have been a deeply disintegrative challenge.


It is clear that with the United Progressive Alliance government emphasising its commitment to secular governance and the preservation of cultural pluralism, the minorities, especially the Muslim community, find little conflict between their civic identities as Indian citizens and their cultural and religious affiliations. When national identity is defined in cultural nationalist terms, the loyalty of minority groups to the national identity comes under intense pressure. In an increasingly disturbed security environment with terrorism sharpening in intensity in Pakistan, it is imperative that the UPA remain unswerving in its acknowledgment that without secularism and internal communal harmony, it would be difficult to fight terrorism.


In a departure from its usual reticence, the election campaign for the 2009 Lok Sabha saw both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi asserting that terrorism and communalism were two aspects of the same challenge and that a country divided by communalism could not fight terror. The logic of that argument needs to be sustained forcefully today in the face of renewed challenges to the minority groups' assertions of their cultural rights. The UPA must not allow the BJP which is battling its own internal demons to resurrect majoritarian Hindutva campaigns mounting pressure on the cultural rights of the minorities especially Muslims. The latest incident in which BJP leaders Murli Manohar Joshi and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi have sought to put Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram and a section of the Muslim community on the defensive is a case in point. The 30th general session of the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind at Deoband, western Uttar Pradesh adopted a resolution on November 3, upholding a fatwa of 2006 by the Deoband Ulema, describing the singing of the Vande Mataram as anti-Islamic because some of its verses were against the tenets of Islam.


The Deoband clerics apparently took pains to ensure that their objections to the singing of the Vande Mataram were not to be seen as being unpatriotic. The resolution that was adopted said categorically "Patriotism does not require singing of the Vande Mataram. We love our country and have proved this several times but Vande Mataram violates our faith in monotheism that is the foundation of Islam … We love and respect the mother but do not worship her." It went on to demand that "the issue of Vande Mataram should not be deliberately raised for causing communal discord and threat to law and order." It was also pointed out after discussions amongst the participants in the meeting that the resolution was necessitated by the fact that the song was being introduced in several government schools in BJP-ruled States.


It must be recalled that historically the Vande Mataram song did not become the national anthem precisely for the reason that it had strong Hindu connotations by depicting the Indian nation as Goddess Durga. Not only did Muslims object but virtually every other minority had objected, leading to the Jana Gana Mana being adopted as the Indian national anthem. The essence of the idea of cultural pluralism is to ensure that every religious or social group is allowed its own cultural space in which it has the right to practise its own beliefs and traditions. How would it be right to question the patriotism of Muslims and other minority groups because of their rejection of a song that is by no means the national anthem?


To accuse the Deoband Ulema, a critical support group in the fight against terror, given that it issued a fatwa against terror last year, of "a separatist mindset" as the BJP's Mr. Naqvi did on Wednesday is to needlessly provoke a confrontation. Mr. Chidambaram who had clearly made a special effort to underline the UPA's commitment to cultural pluralism by participating in this conference did well to assert that "a nation can ignore its minorities only at its peril", that Islam could not be viewed as "an alien faith" and that India was for Muslims, the land of their "forefathers" and of their "birth". But subsequent attacks on his participation in the Deoband conference by Dr. Joshi and Mr. Naqvi, asserting that his presence gave legitimacy to the resolution opposing the Vande Mataram song appear to put the Home Minister on the defensive with his stating that he was not present when the resolution was passed.


The UPA government, which in its second term has promised that it views communalism and terrorism as two equally dangerous aspects of the same challenge, must not waver in its defence of the rights of minority groups to have their unique cultural assertions. Given that the Indian national identity as defined in the Indian Constitution is anchored to civic and territorial parameters, there is no inherent conflict between loyalty to the Indian nation and a community's own religious beliefs. To question the patriotism of the Muslim community on the ground that it refuses to "worship" India as a concept is to make a mockery of the real meaning of patriotism and national loyalty.


As the framers of the Constitution wisely concluded decades ago, when they rejected the idea of including a reference to God in the Preamble to the Constitution, imposing such a concept would go against the spirit of the Constitution. As H.N. Kunzru told the Constituent Assembly during the debate on the Preamble, "Such a course of action is inconsistent with the Preamble which promises liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship to everyone. How can we deal with this question in a narrow spirit?"


For Dr. Joshi and his cultural nationalist colleagues to persist with describing the Deoband fatwa against the singing of the Vande Mataram song as "against the provisions of the Constitution" would be to misread recent Indian history. There can be no clearer assertion of the responsibility of the Indian state to provide for cultural pluralism and also of the rights of the citizens of India to enjoy cultural and religious freedoms, than is set out in the Indian Constitution. Cultural pluralism remains India's strongest card and its best defence against attempts to wreck its integrity or weaken its national structure from inside and outside.









Claude Levi-Strauss, the father of modern anthropology and one of France's most revered and influential intellectuals died in Paris a few weeks short of his 101st birthday.


Mr. Levi-Strauss' field work and writings transformed the way the western world looked at so called "primitive" societies and was to have an enduring influence on related sciences like sociology, psychology, ethnology, ethnography, philosophy, archaeology and social anthropology.


During his long life Mr. Levi-Strauss taught at various universities across the globe and held the coveted Chair in Social Anthropology at the College de France. He was covered with honours that included doctorates from Harvard, Yale and Oxford Universities and in 1973 was elected to France's prestigious Academie Francaise, the circle of writers and intellectuals known as the "immortals," created in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu.


The fact that Mr. Levi-Strauss' death has received massive media coverage and that ordinary persons have flooded the blogosphere and radio waves with anecdotes, tributes and remembrances is an apt comment on France's everlasting love for affairs of the mind, despite the advent of President Sarkozy and his acolytes who have displayed a real preference for the material over the intellectual.


Mr. Levi-Strauss was the author of such well known classics as Tristes Tropiques (1955), The Savage Mind (1963) and The Raw and the Cooked (1964). In fact when Tristes Tropiques was published, members of the jury of the Goncourt Prize, France's pre-eminent award for fiction announced they regretted not being able to honour the writer because the book was not a novel. Essentially a memoir detailing his time as a French expatriate throughout the 1930s, the book combined dazzling prose with audacious philosophical meditation and ethnographic analysis of the Amazonian peoples. The essence of Claude Levi-Strauss' work pertained to theories about commonalities between tribal and industrial societies.


A towering intellectual who was astonishingly erudite, Mr. Levi-Strauss reshaped the field of anthropology, introducing structuralism — concepts about common patterns of behaviour and thought, especially myths, in a wide range of human societies. Defined as the search for the underlying patterns of thought in all forms of human activity, structuralism compared the formal relationships among elements in any given system.


Mr. Levi Strauss died on Saturday but his death was announced in Paris by his publishing house Plon on

Tuesday. His son Laurent, a soft-spoken international civil servant said his father had died of "cardiac arrest" and that he had been buried in a small, intimate ceremony in the village of Lignerolles south east of Paris where he had a country house on the edge of a forest. "He had expressed the wish to have a discreet and sober funeral, with his family, in his country house. He was attached to this place; he liked to take walks in the forest, and the cemetery where he is now buried is just on the edge of this forest," The New York Times quoted Laurent Levi-Strauss as saying.


Mr. Levi Strauss' tetralogy, collectively entitled Mythologiques relates to the structure of mythologies and "is a seminal work on how to interpret customs and cultures in order to draw universal parallels," said Catherine Clement, a former student and life-long collaborator. Ms Clement was posted in India as head of the French Cultural Centre at the same time as her husband, André Lewin who was France's Ambassador to India.


Ms Clement who counts a biography of Mahatma Gandhi among her many books on India said in an interview: "Unlike other philosophers and political thinkers of his time, Claude Levi-Strauss placed a distance between himself and active politics, except in his early years when he was a militant socialist. He was not like Sartre, Camus or Bourdieu who felt they had to plunge into the hurly burly of political engagement. In 1968 during the student uprising when I told him of my political commitment, he said: 'You and your friends would do better to go away somewhere, a monastery perhaps, where it is calm, and spend the next two years thinking.'"


Mr. Levi-Strauss came from a distinguished Jewish family where the atmosphere was bookish, intellectual and musical. One of his uncles was a minor but respected composer and Mr. Levi-Strauss said often he would have preferred to be an orchestra conductor or a composer rather than a writer. A book that had a profound influence on him was Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote. "I was fascinated by the giants hidden by the windmills. It made me realise that one had to get behind appearances to discover reality and that is what I have tried to do all my life."


When Mr. Levi-Strauss turned 100 on November 28 last year, the Quai Branly Museum, devoted to native cultures and societies, organised a series of events, exhibitions and seminars. "I was astonished by the clarity and agility of his mind, his simplicity, humility and childlike curiosity," said sociologist Annie Lavergne who attended the seminars.


"He felt he was out of touch with this century. He did not like what he saw — globalisation, the destruction of cultures and tribes and he was convinced that small, well-preserved tribal societies were bound to vanish one day soon, to be swallowed up by what he called the 'mass civilization,' of a modern 'monoculture.' He sometimes expressed disgust with the West and what he called its 'own filth, thrown in the face of mankind.' I think he felt he was living in a world where he no longer belonged. Not so long ago, he said to me: 'I am not of this world.' In his mind he had already moved on," says Catherine Clement.









It has taken a long time for Willy Brandt's prediction to come true.


After the fall of the Wall, the former West German chancellor famously declared: "What belongs together is growing together." But now, if you stand at the Brandenburg Gate, which was built in 1791 to represent peace, and look eastwards down the wide avenue of Unter den Linden, you can see that in Berlin it has become a reality. The pulsating heart of the city has moved away from the staid old West to the luxury shops and cafes of the newly-developed East and the entertainment centres of Alexanderplatz, in what used to be the dark, Communist side of the city.


One of the East's new cultural heroes is a novelist born in Dresden, Ingo Schulze, who accuses the West of acting "as if freedom were its gift to us."


Some of his arguments are seen as heresy but they are gaining a wide audience. He says that, for many people, the basics of life under the now-reviled socialism of East Germany — like work and social welfare — were better than what followed and that freedom without social justice is no freedom at all.


He is challenging the united Germany to hold that debate now, because it never happened 20 years ago. The East is answering back. The influence of the East is already changing Germany in ways that are only slowly becoming clear.


Angela Merkel, the newly re-elected chancellor, is the daughter of a Protestant pastor from a backward part of the old East Germany which has still not recovered from the shock of unification — the forced privatisation of state enterprises which all but killed off some whole communities. And the political map after the elections a month ago shows East Berlin and the surrounding area in purple, the colour of the Left Party, which is the voice of those who were left discontented by the shotgun reunification of the two halves of Germany.


One man who symbolises the East German revolution is Jens Reich, a leader of the peaceful civic movement that eventually toppled the police state.


I met him at the scene of some of the most significant anti-communist protests, the Zion church in east Berlin.


"There were half a million people," he recalled of the dramatic events back then. "A sea of faces stretching to the horizon, and the sound from the loudspeakers was coming back at me from three sides.


"I had no idea how loud or how fast I should speak, I just had this piece of paper with some notes."


Jens Reich told that great crowd they must claim the freedom which the Communist Party had denied them. He was describing the mass rally at Alexanderplatz on 4 November 1989. By then the tide of popular rebellion had become irresistible. But he insists that outside forces alone — even the then Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's decision to let Eastern Europe go its own way — would not have caused the wall to fall. Grassroots dissent had grown up over many years in places like the Zion church.


It housed an "environmental library," where local people documented the regime's devastation of the land with toxic chemicals, cancer-causing uranium mines for Russian nuclear weapons and neglect of the architectural treasures of Dresden and East Berlin. And it had a samizdat (underground) printing press to fuel what became a people-power revolution.


In one bloody crackdown by the Stasi (The Ministry of State Security) secret police, dissidents were beaten up and arrested as they left the church. That was two full years before the Wall fell. But such clashes and the shows of defiance in many places across East Germany, finally brought millions of people out to risk their lives and bring down the one-party state with its brutal machinery of repression.


Today, aged 70, Jens is still, as he was then, a respected scientist. He is in a way still a dissident — like others in that people's movement who wanted a slow and equal unification with the West, rather than the route that was taken, with East Germany being swallowed up by the laws and constitution of the Federal Republic. No wonder some memories of reunification are bitter-sweet: less than two years after the Wall fell, at least half the East Germans of working age (perhaps five million people) were out of proper work.


The health polyclinics and social clubs which were much valued in communist times were shut down. But the East had its freedom and the deutschmark.


Jens Reich is happy that the Wall fell, grateful that new generations, including his own children, are now citizens of the world, free to live where they choose, in Britain, Spain and America.


But winning the prize of freedom was not as sweet as he imagined.


"What followed should have been more positive. Now it's a problem for a unified Germany."








While squabbles over money have split up many a marriage, the lingering global recession is helping keep couples together — for better and for worse. More than half of the 1,600 lawyers who responded to a recent American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers survey reported a significant drop in divorce filings since the last quarter of 2008.


"The current economic climate is proving to be far more unforgiving than estranged couples seeking a divorce," said AAAML president Gary Nickelson.


Overall, 57 per cent of the attorneys surveyed noted fewer divorce filings since this time a year ago. According to matrimonial experts, the average divorce ranges from $2,500 to $10,000. A contested divorce, however, can approach $100,000 in legal fees alone. "We've been getting as many consultations, but people have become much slower to file," said Atlanta divorce attorney Randy Kessler, whose client roster includes Tameka Foster Raymond, estranged wife of singer Usher, rapper Juvenile and Bishop Thomas Weeks III. "People are being much more cost-conscious about everything, including divorce."


And they're arguing less over picayune details. "I'd have people spending thousands of dollars arguing over an extra visitation day," Kessler said. "Not seeing much of that now."


That's bad news for private investigators and matrimonial accountants who generate a portion of their income on such business. Then there's the couples who are probably better off apart. I think they're doing the right thing for the wrong reasons," Kessler said of couples staying together for purely financial motives.








While the Indian citizen has never seriously grumbled about the security needs of VIPs — and this shows people are fully alive to concerns that have begun to haunt us on account of the rise of terrorism — it is dismaying to note that the modifications, realignments and upgrading of security procedures and structures for top national leaders from time to time have studiously omitted to take into account the existence of ordinary people who pay taxes to keep VIP security shipshape. The callous runaround given to a seriously ill patient for about two hours by the security apparatus in Chandigarh on Tuesday, occasioned by the Prime Minister's address at the Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, is likely to have led to the man's death by the time he gained admission to the PGI premises. By any yardstick, this is a shocking occurrence. It is only in a democratic dispensation that security routines can be modified to bring the citizen into the picture. While Dr Manmohan Singh is not to be personally blamed for the tragedy, and indeed he has voiced his anguish and ordered an investigation into the incident, it would doubtless occur to the Prime Minister that all is not well with the organising principles of the security system in place for VIPs. Citizens have suffered the hamhanded ways of security in silence over the years. When airspace is blocked and road traffic is held up for indefinite periods, it is not only time that is lost; the urgent business of countless individuals suffers, sometimes with consequences that are serious and sometimes fatal, as the Chandigarh episode underlines.


If terrorists are able to successfully launch attacks against top officials of the state, the impact will be felt on our democratic system as a whole. So it is futile to cavil at foolproof security for the top layer. But surely there are better, less conspicuous, ways to achieve the result without causing harassment to citizens. There is a case here for our security specialists to retool themselves by looking at the working systems of the Western democracies. It must be kept in view at all times that the best-laid security arrangements can unravel if the citizen turns callous or indifferent. There is another aspect to the security that operates in the country. Many B-grade politicians, not to speak of charlatans who come to occupy nominated offices by exploiting their connections, make demands on the security apparatus as a matter of right. They falsely think having government gunmen around enhances their prestige. Catering to their whims puts needless pressure on security sector resources that can be better utilised elsewhere, and increases the daily harassment of citizens. Massaging the egos of bit players cannot be the remit of a democratic system. It is time the bewildering large number of security categories created by the Union home ministry was compressed. High-value private individuals need to be encouraged to organise their security privately, as is done in other democracies.








Tony Blair's star-studded career has not quite ended yet, but his slim chances of fulfilling his latest dream, to head the European Union in the enhanced presidency following the expected approval in days of the Lisbon Treaty by all members, represents a stinging setback. Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown faced humiliation last week when he could not convince even European socialists in Brussels that Mr Blair would make a good candidate.


Mr Blair is doing very well for himself between his symbolic role as the Quartet's envoy to the Middle East (West Asia), his lucrative American speaking circuit, his own consultancy and other business interests and a fat advance for his memoirs. But he wanted the icing on the cake: the brand new presidency of the European Union (EU) to make a splash on the world stage.


Logically, any Briton would be particularly ill suited to be the face of the EU. The United Kingdom has stayed out of two key institutions, the common currency the euro, and the Schengen agreement that allows foreigners a common entry visa to all its members. Besides, Britain insisted upon and received special opt-out clauses on justice and home affairs. In addition, Mr Blair has the distinction of dividing the Union as never before by his enthusiastic support of George Bush's Iraq War during his stints as British Prime Minister.


Whether Mr Blair will make a last-minute appeal to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as British reports suggest, remains to be seen, but both France and Germany, who will influence the choice for the presidency, seem inclined to tilt away from Mr Blair. True, France's President Nicolas Sarkozy supported his candidature last year, but he has changed his mind, and the only European supporter Mr Blair has is Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, not necessarily an asset.


The EU presidency will probably go to a Centre-Right candidate, but British foreign secretary, David Miliband, is hovering in the shadows to aim for the enhanced position of European Union foreign policy chief, which would also serve as the vice-chairman of the European Commission under the re-elected Jose Manuel Barroso.


The Blair tragedy is, however, writ large. Why, when he had ensconced himself as a rich consultant guru with one foot in the political world in his capacity as the Quartet's envoy, should he aspire to be the new face of Europe? According to a British poll, fewer than one in three British voters want him as EU President. And the Financial Times gave him a full-page spread last Friday to unravel his business and philanthropic empire and how on occasion he has mixed business and diplomacy while he perambulates between Arab capitals and Israel in his sinecure as the Quartet's envoy. He has marked 10 days in the month for the last job.


Has hubris then caught up with Tony Blair? His has been a remarkable political career. He made the Labour Party electable and brought it back to power twice since his first historic win. In reinventing his party as New Labour, he stole some of Margaret Thatcher's clothes and made traditional Labour supporters unhappy. But he proved that he had the dynamism, charisma and stamina to lead his party to power and maintain its hold. In the end, he overstayed his welcome in his party and had to bow out after 10 years in the job.


The irony is that Mr Blair wants to be the EU President just when the Conservatives are set to return to power in Britain the next election. The Tories have, indeed, made no secret of their opposition to Mr Blair's new ambition, but their promise of reversing the approval of the Lisbon Treaty meant to streamline the EU by holding a referendum is likely to dissolve into thin air as and when they assume the reins of office. Britain remains a Euro-sceptic nation but Britons know on which side their bread is buttered.


Whether Mr Blair is defeated in his attempt to become President or withdraws from the fray beforehand, his ill-judged attempt to add another star to his name has misfired. The Blair brand name has suffered as a consequence although he can draw some comfort from the fact that he would not have to forego a fortune in lost consultancy fees and lucrative speaking assignments and business ventures.


Given the impending setback, how long will the one-man Blair industry last? At some point, the Quartet, made up of the US, Russia, the UN and the European Union, will want to end the fiction of helping a Palestinian-Israeli peace process that does not exist. Thus far, the Quartet has been a proxy for American policies and has proved to be a spectacular failure.


Second, if Mr Blair loses his peripatetic West Asian job, he will have fewer levers in securing profitable deals and will have limited access to those who count in the region. Americans are partial to big names and pay fancy fees to listen to them. But once Mr Blair is shown the door by the EU and is unpopular at home in Britain, his star appeal for Americans will diminish.


Financially, Mr Blair has built a nest egg and has no financial worries. But a man of his ilk does not live by money alone. He pines for the bright lights, cheering, adoring crowds as he unveils his newest dream or illusion. Those who admire Mr Blair and his brand of politics believe that he will not easily give up. If necessary, he will reinvent himself.


Yet Mr Blair's blunder in aspiring to hold the first enhanced presidency of the EU, which remains to be precisely defined, has broken the spell. Perhaps the greatest attraction of the job for him was that he could define the job to his own measure. If Napoleon could aspire for the European crown, why shouldn't Tony Blair become the modern equivalent of Napoleon by crowning himself the voice of Europe in the 21st century?







The idea behind the MP Local Area Development (MPLAD) Scheme is that since our MPs are people's representatives and are supposedly interacting with the masses on a regular basis, they are best placed to know what the people want. Thus, if an MP has funds at his/her disposal, s/he would be able to utilise it without having to go through the exercise that usually delays disbursal of funds and implementing small, local projects.


But the question is, are our MPs actually asking people what they want? The fact is that a majority of them lose touch with people once they get elected. It needs to be found out how the money is being spent and where.


Also, from a constitutional point of view, there are two things that should be taken into account when one talks about the MPLAD scheme. Our Constitutional set-up provides for three lists — the Centre list, the state list and the concurrent list. Subjects like health, education, and law and order fall under the state list. The state is supposed to draft plans and spend on these items. But, through the MPLAD scheme, the Centre's funds, which too is taxpayers' money, are directed for purposes that should have been dealt with by the state.


Also, in our set-up the legislature is separated from the executive. In fact, the legislature — the MPs in Parliament — is supposed to keep a check on the functioning of the executive. But through the MPLAD scheme, the legislature is being asked to get into the realm of the executive. Then the question is: How can the legislature keep a check when its members are themselves becoming the executive?


The MPLAD scheme comes under the purview of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. However, the information furnished through RTI can only help in discovering mistakes and assessing whether people's priorities have been met. It cannot influence the process of decision-making from the beginning.


The only way to ensure that people's problems are being properly addressed is by having a more "direct democracy". Decisions related to the development of an area cannot be taken in a general public meeting. The only way to understand people's needs is to establish and strengthen gram sabhas in the villages and mohalla sabhas in the cities. These ought to be the forum for the people to directly articulate their needs, which could be conveyed by sabha members to the MP, and the rest may follow.


Let people have a much greater role in what kind of development they want in their surroundings. Until vibrant sabhas are put in place, the MPLAD scheme should be scrapped.


Arvind Kejriwal is a Magasaysay Award winner and pioneering RTI activist




Don't scrap, just improve delivery


The MP Local Area Development (MPLAD) Scheme must not be scrapped. Though there are cases of its misuse by some MPs, I am of the strong view that the scheme should be continued with some checks and balances.


The MPLAD scheme has proved quite useful in improving the lives of those who do not have easy access to funds.

The demand for scrapping the MPLAD scheme is mainly made on the ground that some MPs are using the fund for private works, and get commission in return. This is true. But if some amendments are made that would allow the creation of only public property through these funds, the scheme could benefit a large number of people.


There have been instances in Uttar Pradesh where the state government neglected certain areas from where the state's ruling party lost the election. However, the MPs utilised their MPLAD funds to install hand pumps, improve school buildings and construct roads, among other projects.


In Lucknow, former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee utilised his MPLAD funds to establish a world-class scientific centre which is benefiting a large number of students, apart from raising the academic profile of the city. I have myself helped three city colleges in improving their infrastructure through the scheme.


I also built a government school where mostly Dalit children used to go as it was in a dilapidated state and the government was not doing anything about it. I have also helped refurbish the school where I was a student. It was in a poor condition. I have also utilised the MPLAD funds for upgrading the infrastructure of a Lucknow medical college which was not getting the support of the state government.


I am sure the MPLAD scheme can be made more effective with some checks. I suggest that the scheme not be used for awarding work to private companies, and beneficiaries should be clearly specified. I also suggest that the MPLAD funds be used for colleges, schools, health centres, roads and other public works.


The scheme should not be misused for building private colleges and schools. This has largely been inviting criticism. It is up to the MPs to use MPLAD funds judiciously, for the betterment of their constituencies. But, in the backdrop of criticism, some serious checks do need to be incorporated at the earliest.


Further, there should be a regular audit of the kind of works being undertaken through MPLAD scheme. Instead of scrapping it, steps are needed to improve delivery of public goods under the scheme.


Virendra Bhatia is a Rajya Sabha MP(Samajwadi Party) and former Advocate General, Uttar Pradesh








What, you may ask, is common between potatoes, tomatoes, brinjal, chilli, datura, tobacco and the deadly nightshade (belladonna)? They all belong to a plant family called Solanaceae. The Solanaceae family contains a number of important agricultural plants as well as many psychoactive and toxic plants. Solanaceae species are rich in complex chemicals called alkaloids and contain some of the most poisonous plants known to mankind. They produce alkaloids in their roots, leaves and flowers. These alkaloids can be hallucinogens, stimulants or outright toxic. For example, when potatoes are exposed to light, a chemical called solanin is produced which appears as a green tinge. Green potatoes can be toxic, damage an unborn foetus and cause abortions. Other plants of this family known for their toxic qualities are belladonna, datura and tobacco.


Farmers have been working for thousands of years to domesticate wild plants like those of the Solanaceae family, to make them safe for eating. Much of this exercise involved breeding out the toxins contained in the wild plants. Scientists too have used careful, selective breeding to "clean up" crop varieties which had good qualities but contained toxins. Now brinjal, a member of this family, has been genetically engineered (GE) to produce a toxin to protect itself against a particular pest. This seems to be a process working to reverse several thousand years of efforts to detoxify natural plants to make them fit for human consumption!


Genetic engineering in plants has not been mastered enough to rule out the creation of dangerous new products in the cells when genes are muddled during the insertion of new, usually foreign genes. Several cases are known when new proteins and toxins were produced in plants which were genetically engineered. For example, when genetically modified (GM) peas were being developed by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia to protect peas from the pest pea weevil, it was found that newly-formed proteins in the GM peas repeatedly caused immunity problems and lung inflammation when fed to mice. The experiments had to be abandoned. In another case, when mice were fed the genetically engineered Flavr Savr tomato, seven out of 40 experimental animals died within 14 days and the others suffered stomach lesions.


Genetic engineering in plants of the Solanaceae family could be dangerous since disturbing their genetic material through the process of inserting new gene constructs containing a battery of genes - including the toxin producing Bt gene - may trigger off metabolic processes that have been lying dormant. There are apprehensions that not only could new toxins develop but that old toxins that were removed by selective breeding may reappear.


Disturbing the cell metabolism (by genetic engineering) of species that are naturally genetically hardwired to produce toxins, is likely to call up old plant toxins in these species.


Testing for food safety is key in genetically engineered plants; it becomes more so with the Solanaceae family. At present biotechnology companies rely on the concept of "substantial equivalence" to demonstrate the safety of genetically engineered foods. In this method, the overall chemical composition of the genetically engineered food is compared to an equivalent conventional food. If there is no significant difference between the two, the GE plant is considered to be safe.


The Mahyco seed company has also tested its Bt brinjal in the same way. However, substantial equivalence is a highly contested paradigm, favoured by the biotech industry but rejected by most countries. This is because there is no mechanism in such an approach to detect unexpected or unintended changes like new toxic compounds in the cell.

Apart from the critical safety issues, there are other questions that arise with the impending release of India's first genetically engineered food crop. There is no system in place for labelling these foods. Indeed, how can one in the Indian situation label a vegetable that will be sold from farmers' fields, laden into trucks and taken to wholesale mandis? How will the vegetables on the vendor's cart or the corner shop be labelled as GM? The Government of India recognises the need to label GE food, and its position in the meetings of the Codex Alimentarius has been consistently in favour of mandatory labelling.


Accordingly, the ministry of health has drafted rules under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act to include labelling of GE food and food ingredients. But there is as yet no mechanism in place to label GE food, nor have any awareness programmes been conducted to explain the nature of GE foods and the need for labelling them. For most consumers, especially rural consumers, GE foods are a black box and unless they are made aware of the nature of GE foods, labelling would be meaningless. Despite these big gaps in preparedness, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has approved Mahyco's Bt brinjal for commercial production.


Does this mean that the consumer's right to informed choice about their food is about to be trashed? This right is enshrined in India's Consumer Protection Act and the GEAC approval will violate the provisions of this act. Further, labelling is not just about pasting a coloured sticker on a brinjal, it involves a rigorous process of segregation and identity preservation (IP) to keep Bt and non-Bt food segregated. IP is a complex and expensive process requiring separation of a GM food from non-GM food, starting from farmers' fields, all the way to vegetable shops. Without going through this process, labelling cannot be done. Or has the GEAC planned that all brinjals cultivated in this country henceforth will be genetically engineered?


And what about fixing liability for damage? There is no liability law in India. In the event of contamination of organic brinjal with Bt brinjal, what will be the process of recall? Who will be liable to the producers of organic brinjal? There are no provisions for monitoring the long-term impact of GE foods on the health of consumers. In case adverse health impacts are reported from eating Bt brinjal, who would be liable to pay compensation? How would the liability be fixed and what would be the quantum? In the absence of any kind of preparedness or safeguards, what would be the liability of the government for approving such food crops? And in the event of damage caused by Bt brinjal, will Mahyco be put in the dock?


Dr Suman Sahai, a genetic scientist who has served on the faculties of the Universities of Chicago and Heidelberg, is convenor of the

Gene Campaign








The Muslim community is ill-served by its leaders, whether they be conservative clerics, politicians in various parties or by stereotypical civil society representatives. None of them has adequately been able to articulate the problems and challenges facing the community, voicing forever a litany of woes or reinforcing the ghetto mentality that more enlightened souls say the community suffers from.

It is true that the majority of Muslims are economically and socially backward because of low educational levels, and much of the discrimination and disadvantage they are subjected to is greatly due to this. It follows therefore that community leaders should be working to change this state of affairs.

Instead, much of the deliberations head off in other directions. The 30th general session of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind — a moderate conservative association of clerics — held at Deoband, home to a large conservative seminary, reflected this confusion and weakness of the community. The association and the seminary are independent of each other, but each reinforces the generally confused stand of the other.

The most "newsy" part of the meet was the resolution against singing Vande Mataram because of its alleged references to idolatry. This is a non-issue for many reasons, not the least because it is hardly a subject at centre-stage at the current moment. More moderate voices have pointed out that those verses are not even sung in the national song.

But the other discussions also raise concerns. A resolution reiterates the need to forge unity "among Muslims and Dalits and for ending social differences" and it goes on to say, "Being Muslims, we should come out of the false notions of social superiority."

On the other hand, some of the resolutions passed at the session are not just retrogressive, but mindless too. Referring to the women's reservation bill, there is the curious formulation that "Such a desperate measure to bring women into the mainstream will create various other social problems issues (sic) including their security."

Though the Jamiat has a large membership, it would be a mistake to deem it as the voice of Muslims. Nor are its resolutions binding in any way on the millions of Muslims around the country.

Most Muslims would differ with some of its whimsical views and agree with the sensible ones. But if such meetings were to take robust stands on matters of grave concern to the community, they could provide some direction. That regrettably has not happened and a good opportunity has been lost.







The Congress and Nationalist Congress Party alliance got the maximum number of seats and the mandate to rule Maharashtra for the third time when the results of assembly elections were declared on October 22.

But it is now the first week of November and the two parties are still squabbling over sharing of portfolios. As a result, we have a CM — incumbent Ashok Chavan has been decided on — but no government. Instead, we have two parties being unable to decide on the division of ministries, both the ratio as well as the portfolios, between them, leading to an ego stand-off that has kept governance in limbo.

This state of affairs would be understandable if this was a fragile coalition of a motley group of parties where local, regional, social and other constituencies had to be kept in mind, or if the mandate was unclear and fractured, or indeed, if the parties were strangers in unfamiliar surroundings.

None of these scenarios is applicable. These are partners who know each other very well; many were once in the same party and the two parties have been coalition partners for 10 years.  This endless bargaining and posturing therefore is shockingly irresponsible.

For the last three weeks, both the Congress and NCP have worked hard, it seems, to undermine the confidence reposed in them by the electorate. Rather than being full of the requisite vim and vigour, rolling up their sleeves and getting down to the task at hand, they have indulged in grandstanding.

The NCP, by refusing to budge an inch despite putting up a relatively poorer performance must take the lion's share of the blame, but the Congress has not come out of it with credit either. It is surprising neither of them thought to work out some ballpark agreement before the elections; then this mess could have been avoided.

This impasse must end forthwith. The CM may have decided to get back to work, without a council of ministers, but that is not sufficient. The electoral victory was an appeal from the electorate for stability and the hope that this time round the government would show some sense of urgency about the many problems facing the state.

It cannot be business as usual in Maharashtra which is lagging on almost every human development indicator. The party bosses must now step in and solve this imbroglio fast so that a new government can get down to work. Too much time has been lost already.








In Karl Marx's vision, in the ultimate stage of Communism, the state is supposed to wither away. History has shown how wrong he was. Not only did Communism wither away first, the nation-state has stubbornly refused to follow suit. Even in the 21st century, we have seen the creation of new states, Kosovo being one of the latest.

But Marx was wrong not only in this sense. As the ideological progenitor of Communism — a revolutionary idea at that time — he should have known that states are born in the mind before they become politico-geographical realities. In the post-modern, post-internet world, many states exist more in the mind than in reality.

Take the Maoists. They are a state within a state. They may not control a territory entirely, but with their ideology and extended band of sympathisers they are able to make their writ run to quite an extent.


A state is not merely a historical or geographical entity; its defining characteristic is it ability to get its citizens to behave in a certain way, and when they don't, it can penalise them. Put another way, there can be no state without the ability to deploy power. A democracy may project this power less coercively than an autocracy, but the power to enforce is the critical element in the making of a state.

If we take the two ideas together — that the idea of state is essentially in the mind, and that a state is not a state if it cannot project power — we come to this conclusion: we can have states that are territorial in nature, but others can exist virtually by colonising the mind.

Does Dawood Ibrahim run a criminal enterprise or a state? He may have fled the country, but his writ runs in some parts of India, with sections of Bollywood, the police and even politicians and businessmen dancing to his tune. He may be ruling his subjects through fear, but the fact that he can enforce many of his diktats makes him a virtual state, albeit a criminal one. Like D Company, al Qaeda is also a state. It may not control much territory, but it can enforce internal and external discipline in its troops.

The same applies to the Catholic church, or to any of the faith-related organisations of the world — whether it is the Jamiat-Ulama-i-Hind (JuH) or the Tabligh-e-Jamaat (TeJ), or the various Sangh Parivar entities. When the RSS says that all Indians must sing the Vande Mataram, it is essentially trying to imprint its idea of state in the minds of it followers. Ditto for the JuH, when it says Muslims must not sing the Vande Mataram.

Ditto for the Tabligh, which tries to systematically erase all syncretic practices followed by Indian Muslims. Ditto for the Vatican, when it says birth control or abortion is wrong.

All religious or quasi-religious entities are virtual states because they can get their followers (virtual subjects) to behave in specified ways even when they don't rule territories. Religious power begins by addressing the mind with the help of ideology, and this is the base from which it acquires political power at some stage. Political power may also lead to the creation of a geographical state, as the creation of Pakistan or Turkish

Cyprus or the Vatican show. In Islam, this relationship is explicit, with religious power and political power going hand in hand with the idea of state. In western democracies, there is a theoretical separation of church and state, so we have two states residing in the minds of citizens — a geographical entity and an ideological one.

There are other kinds of virtual states, and corporations are one example. GE is a state more than a corporation. Every GE executive knows what its corporate culture is, and why he has to adhere to it if he is to rise in the hierarchy. Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, in their book Built to Last, explain why every great company adopts cult-like practices for longevity.

Wal-Mart employees scream their Wal-Mart cheer (Give me a 'W', give me an 'A' and so on till the last letter 'T' in the Wal-Mart name is reached). The screaming ends with a question: "Who's No 1?" (The answer, in case you are wondering, is "The customer"). Wal-Mart is thus a state of mind for its employees; those who don't subscribe to it are usually weeded out. Precisely what a state tries to do with people who don't want to belong to it.

The existence of virtual states within states is the reality we have to deal with. While legal legitimacy rests with the nation-state, the others exist in a kind of implicit power-sharing arrangement with it.

When power-sharing is explicitly rejected by states or virtual states, they have to be decided one way or the other, either through court battles or ideological compromises or armed conflict. The Maoists have so far rejected compromise. Whatever their reason for existence, they cannot coexist with the idea of the Indian state.







I have just heard two very different bits of news today. One, that Manmohan Singh has announced that "tribals must be the primary beneficiaries of the development process." And second, that Claude Levi-Strauss, the French anthropologist and founder of Structuralism has died.

I didn't know that Levi-Strauss was still alive. Which is perhaps fitting for the philosopher who gave no importance to individuals and was fascinated instead by the processes of human society, the author who triggered the view of "the death of the author" shaped by Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes.

While we struggled with Structuralism and Post-Structuralism and their various descendants, the grandfather of it all was living quietly in Paris. He would have turned 101 this month.

There is no grief when you hear that one you thought was dead had died. Yet, as the news of his death sank in, sank slowly through the layers of once-precious but long discarded thoughts, through memories of fresh adulthood, I felt a strange loss. Levi-Strauss made you feel uncomfortable, often angry.

His attack on Jean Paul Sartre, prominent among my many heroes at one time, calling him a "prisoner of his cogito" was of course unacceptable. But it was difficult to brush aside his point that Sartre may not have grasped the complexities of the 'primitive' (or 'savage') mind. Levi-Strauss's belief that there is no primitive mind, just a human mind that is the same for all, and his great respect for tribal myths helped change our ethnocentric view of life.

Not entirely, of course. Discrimination and high-handedness towards the tribal population flourishes shamelessly in our country. Hence our Prime Minister's emphasis on equitable growth is a relief. "There has been a systemic failure in giving the tribals a stake in the modern economic processes that inexorably intrude into their living spaces," said the PM. He spoke of the resulting alienation and how it had taken "a dangerous turn in some parts of our country".

In short, he was accepting that Naxalism had been nurtured by state apathy and desperate poverty in the tribal areas. "The systematic exploitation and social and economic abuse of our tribal communities can no longer be tolerated," he said.

And he expressed concern that the interdependence of the forest and the forest dweller has not been appreciated and that the Forest Rights Act had not been implemented. He spoke of recognition of rights, livelihood opportunities and environmental protection — even of the harassment of tribals by government officials.

This is a most significant — if incredibly belated — step towards dealing with the Maoist militancy. The state has miserably failed to look after its people in the tribal belt. Most forest dwellers have no rights over their habitat and, treated as encroachers, live at the mercy of government goons. The tribal areas still retain their natural wealth, roughly accounting for 80 per cent of our mineral deposits and 70 per cent of our forests.

Lured by mammoth foreign and Indian investments, the state is forcing the tribals out of their homelands to pave the way for industrialisation that will not benefit them. With the state clamping down on Maoists, who had promised them what the state failed to give, the few options the tribals had of eking out a living have been snuffed out. If the PM does succeed in making the tribals the primary beneficiaries of the development process, Maoism won't have a leg to stand on.

And in the process, if we re-examine the ideas of 'development' and 'knowledge', we may all gain from it. As Levi-Strauss said, "Enthusiastic partisans of the idea of progress are in danger of failing to recognise... the immense riches accumulated by the human race. By underrating the achievements of the past, they devalue all those which still remain to be accomplished."

The writer is is Editor, The Little Magazine






What we hear might go something like this: The purpose of relationships is to meet my personal needs, to have my own interests come before the welfare of others, even if it causes feelings of separation. I want instant gratification in my relationships. I never want any criticism or disagreement from anyone.  I want to be liked, loved, and accepted even when my behavior is hostile or obnoxious.

The purpose of all relationships is to show everyone that I'm the one with the power. Remember, if there ever is a lack of harmony in our relationship, I am always right and you are always wrong. And I really want you to realise that if there is ever any problem in our relationship, you are the cause of it and the one to blame.

The ego goes on to say: There is a double standard that makes it okay for me to be jealous, controlling and manipulative. At the same time, it's okay for me to be dishonest, to keep secrets from you. But none of these things are okay for you to do.

I make the laws in all relationships, and one of my laws is that it is unforgivable for you to do anything that I don't want you to do.  The ego looks at relationships in a very negative way. It would have us concentrate on differences, rather than similarities, and tell us to look upon differences as potential sources of deep hurt in our lives.

The ego tells us to never let go of past hurts because it is crucial to forever remember just how dangerous relationships can be. It would have us believe that without fear, we would not know how to be safe and secure.

The Belief System of Love: Love looks at the world very differently. From the standpoint of the spiritual self, which is pure love, the purpose of our relationships is to experience a joining with one another and to remember that love is the only true reality there is.

From Love is the Answer by Jerry Jampolsky and Diane Cirincione






The bombings that killed hundreds of civilians last week in Baghdad represented a worrisome security lapse on the part of Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki's government — but one that Maliki, not the United States, must rectify. Coping with acts of terror is a vital step for the Iraqi government. As tragic as the bombings may be, they should not deflect president Obama from keeping to his timetable for pulling US combat troops by the end of next August. And in the days following the recent carnage, some of Iraq's feuding political factions made an encouraging effort to resolve remaining disputes about January's parliamentary elections.

Al Qaeda in Iraq took responsibility for striking "the dens of infidelity'' in an Islamist website posting that also expressed contempt for Iraqi Shi'ites in thrall to Iran. By striking at Baghdad ministries, Al Qaeda no doubt hopes to humiliate Maliki's Shi'ite-dominated government, provoke sectarian vendettas, and derail the upcoming elections.

But the latest bombings have motivated Iraq's political and clerical leaders to urge compromises that should enable the elections to take place on time. Iraqis are moving away, tellingly, from the sectarian enmities Al Qaeda is trying to inflame. They are forming big-tent alliances based on varying conceptions of government and nationhood.

Al Qaeda fanatics are massacring children and other innocents in the name of a holy war to replace all existing Arab and Muslim governments with the fantasy of a multinational Islamic caliphate. The less Americans are caught up in this war within the Muslim world, the harder it will be for the regressive forces of Al Qaeda to survive. —The Boston Globe(USA)





It is a shame that our military cricket team felt it was unsafe to play in Jammu and Kashmir ('Intel alert made Services back out of Srinagar match', DNA, November 4). The damage to our prestige, image and tourist industry is unfathomable. We bristle when other governments issue advisories against travelling to India and here we have our very guardians not venturing to areas entrusted to them for maintaining security. Are we to understand our guardians who fear to venture forth into our own territory are capable of defending us against the enemy in hostile lands? The BCCI suspending the services cricket board is just a small ineffective gesture towards repairing the damage.

PR Arvind, Navi Mumbai


By endorsing the 2006 edict issued by the Dar-Ul-Uloom, the Jamait Ulema-i-Hind has provided a readymade cannon fodder to the right wing organisations in the country to fire at the "secular" lobby ('Islamic clerics uphold Vande Mataram fatwa', DNA, November 4). It will be interesting to see how the latter are going to react to the demands raised in the resolution passed by the supreme body of the Islamic clerics in India. Some of the points raised in the form of diktats are of controversial nature, which can be exploited by the "communal" forces that were hitherto lying low following their successive defeats in the Lok Sabha as well as the Assembly polls.
Arun Malankar, via email


Howard Carter's 1922 discovery of his virtually intact tomb has made Tuntankhamen Egypt's best known king ('King Tut's tomb', DNA. factfile, November 4). Surprisingly little is known about this 'boy king' and his parents. It is however assumed that his parents were Akhenaten, the 18th dynasty 'heretic king' and his secondary queen Kiya. Tutankhamen was married to Ankhesenamen, daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti. After perhaps 10 years on the throne, Tutankhamen died unexpectedly and was burried in a small non-royal tomb in the Valley of Kings.

CV Vaidyanathan, via email


I was surprised to read 'State govt said no to C'wealth Games in Mumbai', (DNA, November 4) and Suresh Kalmadi's statement that Mumbai let the opportunity pass for lack of funds. One cannot but believe Sushil Kumar Shinde's denial of Kalmadi's claim. I feel sorry for Kalmadi. What did he gain by making such a statement
Yash P Verma, via email








Although the Services Sports Control Board (SSCB) has apologised for opting out of its Ranji Trophy match against Jammu and Kashmir at Srinagar on Tuesday and even offered to play the match on a future date, the damage caused by the thoughtless decision has been done. By this inexplicable act, the Services have given a lie to its own oft-repeated claims that the situation has become normal in the valley. As a result, what could have been a goodwill exercise has turned into a major goof-up. The Services should have been alive to the sensitivities involved. First class cricket was returning to the valley after five years. Even otherwise, the Prime Minister and Mrs Sonia Gandhi have visited the state, as have thousands of tourists. In such an uplifting atmosphere, it had no reason to spoil the party by staying away and touching a raw nerve.


If there were any security concerns, these should have been raised long ago and with the BCCI, since the match schedule has been out for four months now. It should have taken the BCCI into confidence if it had received any specific tip-off that some incident was being planned against its team. By simply pulling out of the match, it has caused the country an embarrassment. Had the Services pulled out from another tournament for some reason, it could have been perhaps understood, but what they have now done cannot be popular not only in J&K, but also elsewhere in the country.


The BCCI is right in banning the SSCB from this year's edition of the Ranji Trophy. The incident cannot be explained away simply as an "administrative slip-up". After all, the SSCB is headed by the Vice-Chief of Naval Staff. Responsibility must be fixed as to which official asked the Services cricket team not to play its scheduled match in the valley. Or is it the typical case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing in the government? 








THE Centre plans to import two million tonnes of rice and a formal decision is expected at a meeting of the empowered group of ministers on November 12. Scanty rainfall in half of India and floods in Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh have caused a shortfall of 16 million tonnes in the country this year. The kharif foodgrain output at 96.63 million tonnes this year has been the worst since 2002-03. There is nothing to worry, however. The government has sufficient buffer stocks of both paddy and wheat. It is, perhaps, looking far ahead.


Such foresight is commendable, but rare. There is no foolproof mechanism to predict drought/floods and demand/supply of food, which could help the government and farmers to make advance preparations. If farmers had known the prices of sugar, pulses and edible oils would shoot up, they would have devoted more areas to these crops. The price rise in the case of these crops is understandable because there has been a shortage. But what has stopped the government from importing more of these commodities in advance, especially when the foreign exchange position is comfortable? Food inflation has been unreasonably high and yet government intervention has been tardy.


If the foodgrain prices have climbed up despite comfortable stocks, it is because ministers and government officials dither on market intervention. They would rather let foodgrains rot in the open than release them in the market and cool the prices. This mismanagement of food supplies has resulted in a situation where the growers get low prices for their produce, while the consumers are forced to pay heavily. It is the middlemen — traders and hoarders — who stand to gain. The government had not cared to accumulate sufficient stocks of sugar, pulses and other food items. Besides, low private and public investment in building storage infrastructure has cost the country dearly. Every year huge quantities of foodgrains, vegetables and fruits go waste.








AS the Pakistan Army on Monday claimed significant headway in the war against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan in South Waziristan, 35 people were killed in a suicide bomb attack close to Army Headquarters in Rawalpindi. The incident occurred close on the heels of 92 deaths as terrorists hit Peshawar with the most powerful car bomb blast ever experienced by the NWFP capital. In October alone over 300 people lost their lives in nine incidents of terrorist violence in different parts of Pakistan. Army Headquarters, too, has not been safe from terrorists, who attacked it in an audacious manner on October 10, resulting in the death of 19 people.


The responsibility for most of the recent terrorist strikes has been claimed by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, headed by Hakeemullah Mehsud, who took over the militant movement after the death of Baitullah Mehsud in a US Drone attack. The Pakistan government has no clue about the whereabouts of Hakeemullah and his 18 close associates on whose head it has announced bounties totalling $5 million. The spate of terrorist attacks has begun to bring pressure on Islamabad to abandon the military drive against the Taliban in South Waziristan and, instead, hold dialogue with Hakeemullah and his lieutenants. The dangerous argument is that the situation is becoming unbearable and, therefore, some way other than the use of the armed forces must be found to stem violence.


Any strategy that calls for talks with the Taliban killers will only embolden the terrorists. They must be ruthlessly dealt with to send a strong message that those indulging in terrorism can never succeed. This is the time for Islamabad to show firmness. It must devise a clear-cut anti-terrorism policy. Pakistan has to do more to eliminate terrorist outfits. This is in the interest of both Pakistan and the rest of the region. The elements in the intelligence networks sympathetic to the cause of the extremists must be identified and punished. Reliable intelligence gathering is the key to achieving success on the terrorism front.









ALL those working for peace and development in Afghanistan are heaving a sigh of relief with the presidential election concluding there peacefully. The Taliban had threatened to disrupt the election run-off to create more confusion in the ranks of those fighting against the extremists. The Independent Election Commission declaring the incumbent President, Mr Hamid Karzai, as the winner is obviously an upsetting development for the Taliban.


The extremists would have been happier if the tussle for power between Mr Karzai and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah had taken a turn for the worse with no clear winner at the end of the second round. Such a possibility could not be ruled out, as most voters were expected to remain indoors because of their disenchantment with the Karzai government's functioning in the past. However, the situation changed with Dr Abdullah withdrawing from the contest.


 Mr Karzai not only failed to provide an effective government during his previous tenure, but also did little to prevent corruption from spreading to every level in the administration. How far he is able to fulfil his latest promise of uprooting corruption remains to be seen. He, however, appears to have become wiser as he has begun to work for stability so that he is in a position to launch a concerted drive against corruption.


Mr Karzai, who is closely identified with Pushtun interests, may have to include in his government the Northern Alliance representatives who have their bases in the non-Pushtun segments of the population. It all depends on what Washington wants, but the fact remains that the new Karzai government cannot afford to ignore the interests of the non-Pushtun voters with a view to ensuring stability and legitimacy for his administration.


 An all-inclusive government may be successful in providing the atmosphere required for the speedy reconstruction of Afghanistan. That is why India has indicated its preference for such a dispensation. And what New Delhi says carries weight in Kabul because of India's involvement in many development projects in Afghanistan. In January this year India handed over the 218-km-long Zaranj-Delaram highway to the Afghanistan government after completing it despite the Taliban threat to those working on the road project.


The highway, a shining example of India-Afghanistan cooperation, can give a boost to trade and industrial activity in the region. The road that has taken 339 engineers to complete it in three years will provide an alternative route to supply goods to Afghanistan from India via Iran, reducing dependence on Pakistan. It will also help promote regional cooperation as Afghanistan has now got access to the sea through Iran's Chabahar deep-sea port.


The Zaranj-Delaram highway is, however, only one of the many contributions of India to the reconstruction of Afghanistan. India is involved in a big way in power supply projects like the 220-KV power transmission line to Kabul and the Salma dam project in Herat province. India has helped modernise the telecommunication networks in Afghanistan. Over 400 buses gifted by India can be seen plying in different areas in that country. India has been involved in the construction of the parliament building in Kabul. New Delhi has also been engaged in projects related to health care, education, etc. All this has helped blunt the Taliban's anti-India propaganda. People in Afghanistan today realise how India's "aid diplomacy" has been effective in giving them a new lease of life.


India's development strategy to win over the hearts and minds of the Afghans has become an interesting subject of discussion. During a recent visit to Brussels (Belgium) this writer was witness to how European Union officials and senior European journalists during discussions on Afghanistan made a special mention of Indian efforts in rebuilding that country despite the odds New Delhi had been faced with.


The EU wants to cooperate with India in whatever way it is possible in making the Afghans leave the path of violence. There is realisation that India's success story can help considerably in convincing the Afghans that the activities of the Taliban and those aiding the extremist movement — Pakistan's ISI — have only made the life of the people more miserable. These elements have proved to be the real enemies of Afghanistan.


India's pledge to invest as much as $1.2 billion in development projects in the coming few years has raised its status as the sixth largest donor to Afghanistan. New Delhi cannot allow the gains of its "aid diplomacy" to get affected by developments like the Taliban attacks on the Indian Embassy in Kabul.


This has not only unnerved Pakistan, which has been unsuccessfully seeking "strategic depth" in Afghanistan, but has also made the US feel alarmed. Gen Stanley McChrystal, the top US commander in Afghanistan, is believed to have mentioned in a recent confidential report that the "increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani counter-measures in Afghanistan or India."


Those who are scared of India's rising influence in Afghanistan, unfortunately, fail to realise that the war against the Taliban cannot be won unless the use of the military is accompanied by large-scale efforts to rebuild the infrastructure needed to revive economic activity. India has been of the view that war alone cannot solve any problem, as External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna pointed out recently in the course of an interview to The Wall Street Journal. India, he said, did "not believe that war can solve any problem and that applies to Afghanistan too".


Of course, India knows that no development project can be implemented without providing adequate security to those engaged in it. The Taliban insurgents have to be tackled militarily. But the question is: who should do it? The US-led multinational forces have failed to eliminate the Taliban threat despite the investment of billions of dollars and loss of hundreds of lives. Their unending presence on the Afghan soil is being seen as one of the factors responsible for the Taliban resurgence. Doubts are being expressed about the necessity of the Obama administration preparing to send more troops to Afghanistan. There are already nearly 100,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan aiding the 200,000-strong Afghan security forces. Yet they are not sure of victory over the Taliban.


The Afghans have little faith in any Western approach, as the McChrystal report says. That is why there is now talk of trying a regional approach with India playing the lead role. The Afghan security forces should be further strengthened by substantially increasing their number, equipping them properly and providing them the essential training for fighting the Taliban. No other country in the region is as much qualified as India in taking on such elements.


Pakistan may obviously object to any regional strategy that gives India the most significant role to play. But the truth is that such a strategy can ultimately help Pakistan, too, in eliminating the Taliban threat to stability it has been faced with. Pakistan must accept that the Taliban factor on both sides of the Durand Line remains the most serious challenge to peace and progress in the region.








Many of those attending the special award ceremony of the 17th annual convocation of the University of Kashmir last month did not miss the pitiable sight of the Boys Hostel damaged in a fire incident the previous week.


The damaged building is separated from the newly come up gorgeous convocation complex by one of the entrance routes to the campus. Though the structure of the two-storey building stands erect, the tin roof, windows of the upper floor and part of the wooden ceiling between the ground and upper floors have been reduced to ashes in the fire.


Most of the teachers, writers, scholars and politicians and senior civil and police officers at the convocation were disappointed over the damage caused to the building.


The (old) Boys Hostel now known as "Sheikh-ul-Alam Boys Hostel" after some more hostels and buildings in its vicinity came up during recent years, has been host to many students for over five decades. Of them a majority of the alumni occupy varied positions in the institution, other educational institutions, different fields of life and, civil and police administration.


All the 26 rooms on the upper floor have been damaged while 26 others on the ground floor are seemingly intact. "This is sad…. The hostel where I stayed during my studies has been destroyed", moaned a civil administration officer on duty while another police officer lamented saying: "I have also lived here (as student)".


The hostel accommodating about 100 students may be repaired but the blaze has bruised the sweet memories of a long list of the alumni. I cannot be an exception for having availed the opportunity of being one among them, 27 years ago. Then it was the lone hostel building on the Hazratbal campus, while Ghani Kashmiri Hostel close to it for research scholars was under construction.


Life in this hostel then was unique in many ways like the locales of the campus with its sprawling lush green lawns, and serene atmosphere away from the maddening crowd of the city. A long list of memorable incidents can be recalled. One was the shooting of a Bollywood movie starring Farooq Sheikh and Smita Patil. On a pleasant summer evening, over 20 enthusiastic boarding students ran down the central wooden stairs creating drilling sounds to watch the shooting and the stars in the nearby Botanical Garden.


The announcement of holidays on the occasion of the death of the then Chief Minister, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, months after the passing away of his close associate, Mirza Mohammad Afzal Beigh that year, became unforgettable moments for the young students. That is what Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said in his convocation address: the youth want to be free. "When in school they crave to be in college, when in college they crave to be in the university and finally be free", he said.









THE Union Home Ministry's audit reports and the Central Vigilance Commission's recommendation of a CBI probe into several deals approved by the UT Administrator, General S. F. Rodrigues, speak volumes of the way he tried to govern Chandigarh . Much of all this has already been widely reported in the media.


He now threatens the media with befitting action, including defamation. He finds the Adviser to the Administrator, Mr Pradeep Mehra (who blew the whistle), to be a dirty mole. General Rodrigues has hurled accusations against two Union ministers – Mrs Ambika Soni and Mr Pawan Bansal – that they have been targeting him as he had dared expose their 'nefarious designs' to grab prime land for their project, Delhi Public School.


Officials close to him are strangely contending that the Union Home Ministry has no understanding of the accounts and the business of administration. It remains to be seen whether they will say it again after the General leaves Chandigarh in mid-November.


The report of the auditors reveals that land from the farmers was acquired at dirt cheap rates of Rs 30 lakh an acre or even less and handed over to industrialists and real estate developers at rates much below the market price – from Rs 40 lakh to Rs 2 crore an acre.


All for the laudable purpose of setting up great projects. For example, close to the IT Park, the market price for 1,000 square yards is Rs 4 crore and an area of 4,840 square yards was offered for Rs 40 lakh.


All rules were thrown to the winds to favour the few. Allotments without applications, fudging documents and accounts to accommodate the favourites and delaying the depositing of cheques to lose interest were the norms. The total loss is estimated at a whooping Rs 2,000 crore.


The Union Home Ministry has found that the acquisition of land for the IT Park Phase III has no justification. The IT Park project was without a feasibility study.


The Rs 250-crore land was given at a throwaway price to DLF to set up a mall, specifically for IT. It is now a purely commercial venture, caring little for the notices from the Administration.


The audit suggested that the Theme Park bids should be called again. The potential land value was not considered for paying compensation; inadequate compensation was paid to the farmers after the land acquisition.


There were serious lapses in the allotment of a five-star hotel site in the IT Park. Several cases of direct allotment at very low prices were noticed. The price for land allotment in the IT Park was arbitrarily fixed. Allotment policies were not transparent.


The Government of India wants an immediate recovery of the revenue loss to the government. It has asked the administration to deposit the IT Habitat Project revenue with the government and devise an effective mechanism to check violations.


The payment and accounting system should be transparent and strengthened. The Home Ministry should look into the functioning of the Chandigarh administration and appoint a Chief Commissioner to streamline it.


The Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) has ordered a CBI probe into the allotment of two mega projects – the Film City and the Amusement-cum-Theme Park – approved by the Chandigarh Administration.


The CBI has been directed to conduct detailed investigations into the allotments as a CVC inquiry had pointed out violations of the rules in awarding the two projects to private parties. The CVC noted that the administration had suffered a loss of Rs 250 crore.


The CBI has been given the choice to first register a case against the prima facie culprits (officials of the UT Administration) and then proceed with investigation or first conduct a preliminary investigation and then register a case against the erring officials followed by their arrest.


The Administration's top brass, including the Administrator, are in the dock for allegedly favouring private companies by allotting land at cheap rates. The MHA special audit has also highlighted many obvious discrepancies.


The Administration had allotted a huge chunk of land on a revenue-sharing basis to Unitech by ignoring another real-estate giant DLF, while the latter had offered 13 times more revenue to the Administration.


DLF had offered a share of 13.5 per cent of its revenue to the Administration, yet it chose Unitech, which offered a paltry sum of 1.1 per cent revenue. One RTI activist had alleged favouritism in his complaint to the CVC saying that this questionable allotment of 73 acres of land in Sarangpur village is actually worth about Rs 3,000 crore.


In the case of Filmcity, in January, 2007, the Administration found Parsvnath as the highest bidder and gave away 30 acres of land for Rs 191 crore on a lease of 99 years. However, last-minute changes in the conditions for the project became a bone of contention between UT Adviser Pradip Mehra and the Administrator, General Rodrigues, which brought the issue in the public domain. Complaints were also marked to the CVC. Mehra wanted Rodrigues to give a nod for a CBI probe into the entire project. Rodrigues did not approve. The Union Home Ministry has already barred the Chandigarh administration from acquiring land for any further project without its approval.


The ministry's audit report has asked for an immediate recovery of the revenue loss to the government on account of policies of the Chandigarh Administration. It has also recommended that the revenue received from the IT Habitat Project should be deposited in the government account instead of depositing it with the Chandigarh Housing Board.


The audit found that the Social Engineering Project decided by the Chandigarh Administration regarding surplus land generated from the habitat project contravened the principle of government accounting.


The audit took a serious note of "keeping public money out of the Consolidated Fund of India and undertaking a project without going through the budgetary process and norms as a lapse."


The Home Ministry wants an effective mechanism to ensure that the provisions are observed and no violations occur. There is a need to strengthen the pre-check, payment and accounting system. The extent of the delegation of financial, administrative and other powers under to the Administrator or the administration need to be reiterated and there should be no ambiguity.


It was stated that any scheme beyond the delegated powers must be appraised by the ministry. The system of parliamentary financial control must be strictly enforced and the Chandigarh projects have to conform to the well-established budget formulations, execution and reporting process.


But the matters will not rest here. General Rodrigues has publicly accused two Union ministers, Mrs Soni and Mr Bansal, who represents Chandigarh. He has alleged that "Bansal was offended when I pointed out serious irregularities in the land allotment to the DPS Society which is headed by Ambika Soni's husband… It has Soni and Bansal as vice-chairpersons and their family members as directors. This automatically put me on a collision course with both Bansal and Soni. From then onwards, I was seen as a potential threat to their business interests."


Why has he taken so much time to reveal such 'misdeeds'? Mrs Soni has vehemently denied all this and since the case is pending in the high court, she would not go into the details. Bansal was all fire and declared that the Administrator was resorting to falsehood just to "salvage" his image.


It is for the first time a Governor has chosen to level serious allegations against two members of the Union Cabinet and it is also for the first time that a Union minister has used strong language against a Governor. The question remains: Why has the Governor been allowed to stay on for five long years?








Iran has been controlled since June by a hard-line clique of extremist clerics and leaders of the Revolutionary Guard who believe they are destined to make their country a nuclear power that dominates the Middle East. It follows that their opposition – a mass movement that has been marching to slogans such as "death to the dictator" and "no to Lebanon, no to Gaza" – is bound to be a more plausible partner for the rapprochement that the Obama administration is seeking.


Or maybe not. The enduring nature of Iran is to frustrate outsiders who work by the usual rules of political logic or who seek unambiguous commitments. The West relearned that truth last week as the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dragged a straightforward plan to swap its enriched uranium for fuel rods into a swamp of double talk and counterproposals.


Ataollah Mohajerani, who has been a spokesman in Europe for presidential candidate-turned-dissident Mehdi Karroubi, came here to address the annual conference of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The mostly pro-Israel crowd was primed to cheer what they expected would be a harsh condemnation of Ahmadinejad and his bellicose rhetoric, and a promise of change by the green coalition.


What they heard, instead, was a speech that started with a rehashing of U.S. involvement in the 1953 coup in Tehran and went on to echo much of Ahmadinejad's rhetoric about the United States and the nuclear program. Mohajerani, who served as culture minister in the liberal Iranian government of Mohammed Khatemi in the 1990s, distanced himself from the current president's denial of the Holocaust and remarked at one point that Iran "should not be more Palestinian than the Palestinians."


But he went on to assert, as per the current regime, that the countries seeking to freeze Iran's nuclear program themselves possess nuclear weapons, as does Israel; that Israel had contracted to supply nuclear weapons to Iran's former shah; and that Ahmadinejad's threats to destroy Israel were no different than what Hillary Clinton had said about Iran during her presidential campaign. Asked whether Israel had a right to exist, he refused to respond.


As for Western support for Iranian democracy and human rights, he warned against "taking advantage" of Ahmadinejad's weak regime to strike a deal "that would not be in Iran's interest." The suggestion was that the opposition would consider any concessions to the West by Ahmadinejad illegitimate – a position that was borne out by statements last week by green-movement leaders attacking the uranium swap plan.


Mohajerani's speech infuriated not just the Americans but also liberal Iranians in his audience; one of them, scholar Mehdi Khalaji, later pointed out that while Mohajerani might speak for Karroubi, he did not represent the vast numbers of younger Iranians who had joined the street protests. "The true leaders of this movement," he argues, "are students, women and human rights activists, and political activists who have no desire to work in a theocratic regime or in a government within the framework of the existing constitution."


That's probably true. But the fact remains that, were Karroubi and fellow opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi somehow to supplant Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the main changes in Iranian policy might be of style.

By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post






AL Gore, the former American vice-president, has hit back at critics who are labelling him the first "carbon billionaire" from his earnings as an investor in green technology, dismissing them as "global-warming deniers".


Since leaving office in 2001, Mr Gore has become a powerful advocate of government policies to limit carbon dioxide emissions. This week sees the launch of his latest book, "Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis", a sequel to his earlier work, which was also a successful film, entitled An Inconvenient Truth.


As the Copenhagen talks on a new climate-change treaty approach and the US Congress grapples with draft laws to curb emissions, Mr Gore's profile will only swell further. But as it does, so does the chorus asking if his advocacy for action on climate change is about self-enrichment as much as saving the planet.


Some of his green investments were outlined on Tuesday by The New York Times. Mr Gore is a partner in the Silicon Valley venture-capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers, which has interests in companies developing alternative energy and energy-efficient technologies. He is also a co-founder of London-based Generation Investment Management, which has holdings in eco-energy companies.


He defended his business activities on ABC TV and denied he was on the way to becoming a carbon billionaire. "I am proud to have put my money where my mouth is for the past 30 years," he said. "And though that is not the majority of my business activities, I absolutely believe in investing in accordance with my beliefs and my values."


The new book reiterates the mantra that nothing will happen on climate change without political will.


The book also explores numerous possible solutions to climate change, touching on such issues as forest management, geo-thermal energy and nuclear power generation, drawn from a series of "solutions summits" he held at his Tennessee home with experts.


It was almost inevitable that Mr Gore would become a target of those unconvinced by the alarm bells about global warming, particularly on the American right. "If you really want to save the planet, put down the cheeseburgers and pick up your veggie burger," Glenn Beck, the conservative TV anchor, quipped recently, apparently referring to the dangers of methane emissions from the bovine species.


Mr Gore, who earns in excess of $100,000 (£60,000) for speaking engagements reacted testily to the implication in her question about a possible conflict of interest. "Congresswoman, if you believe that the reason I have been working on this issue for 30 years is because of greed," he said, "you don't know me".


 By arrangement with The Independent








The issue of large hydropower projects on the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra continues to hit the headlines, with eminent environmentalist Sundarlal Bahuguna voicing strong reservations about the utility of the move. Questioning the rationale behind the Centre's grandiose plans of harnessing the North-East's power potential through 160-odd dams, Bahuguna warned of disastrous consequences that were to follow once such an ill-conceived move materialised. As increasingly being pointed out by the opponents of mega dams, the damages resulting from a major intervention on a fragile geological zone and a biodiversity hotspot would simple be irreparable. Man, nature and the environment will bear the brunt of the devastations that would far outweigh the benefits sought to be realised from power generation. It is only after the environmentalists started crying hoarse over the developments that the Centre is now talking about a thorough assessment of the possible dam-induced impacts by a third party. Indeed, the hurried manner in which the projects are sought to be pushed through without addressing the primary concerns such as downstream impacts in the form of floods, loss of biodiversity, damage to agriculture, seismic vulnerability of the region, etc., seems to indicate some hidden agenda of the Government. As Bahuguna says, water is going to be among the most precious resources in the coming years and any tinkering with river systems that evolved through millions of years could drastically cut short the longevity of these life-giving waterbodies.

The double standards of the Centre vis-à-vis mega dams is also evident from its opposition to the reported move of China to construct a massive hydropower project on the Tsangpo (which is Brahmaputra in Assam). If one single mega dam in China can jeopardise our interests what about the cumulative impact of hundreds of proposed large dams in our own land, and many of those on the same river? The situation is certainly grave, and calls for a reassessment of the Centre's hydropower policy for the North-East. Brushing aside the growing opposition of the scientific community as well as the indigenous populace would only jeopardise the lives of thousands of people likely to be affected by the dams, not to speak of the perilous impact on the environment. A predominantly agricultural and downstream State like Assam stands to be the worst-hit by the projects – something corroborated by a spate in dam-induced floods in recent years. The Assam Government has to take a strong stand on the issue and persist with that. Any complacency on its part would cost the State dear.







The unexpected withdrawal of former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, chief rival to Hamid Karzai, from the run-off elections for the Afghanistan Presidency has done more harm than good to the latter. Karzai's image had already taken a beating during his first tenure, with accusations of corruption and being soft towards Afghan Taliban, being levelled at him from different quarters. It had been further tarnished during the first round of the current elections which had taken place a few months back, when he was accused of large-scale rigging. Ironically, it was the Western allies who underlined the veracity of the Opposition's allegations when the UN-backed panel overseeing the elections threw out nearly a million votes for Karzai, one-third of the total received by him, on the ground that they were fakes. Since only a third of the total electorate had voted, and Karzai had received less than fifty per cent of these votes, his pretensions of truly representing the Afghan people lay sadly exposed. The run-off, therefore, loomed as a golden opportunity toward an image makeover, no matter that, like in the first election, potential voters may have been violently targeted by the Taliban. By quitting the race and thereby having the run-off cancelled, Abdullah has deprived Karzai of this opportunity, a clever move on his part to boost his own image with an eye on future elections.

But the developments now threaten to throw a spanner into the plans of President Barack Obama to increase American troops in Afghanistan, even while laying greater stress on economic development and winning over the population. Abdullah's charge that he cannot expect a transparent run-off has caused anger among his followers, deepening the schisms that have surfaced of late in the socio-political scenario in this complex country. Establishment of a united and credible government was sine qua non for the planned American 'surge', but Karzai's deteriorating image has deprived the US of this vital crutch. As a 'democratically' elected President Karzai has his work cut out. During his earlier tenure the nation was subjected to a great level of violence, with central governmental control being absent in vast areas. Yet Afghanistan has not been able to set up a well trained army and police force, and must rely on outsiders to fight its battles. The opium trade continues to thrive with impunity, much of the profits being siphoned off by the Taliban to finance its own activities. These are but a few of the numerous problems of Karzai would be expected to tackle, his task now made even more difficult in the absence of a undisputed popular mandate. Clearly, Karzai in his second term would be wearing a crown of thorns rather than a wreath of laurel, not a propitious outcome for the Obama administration.








Uzbekistan is the very heart of Central Asia occupying a huge land mass of 447,800 sq kms with a population of 27 million. India's total land area (3,287,000 sq kms) is 7 times that of Uzbekistan and India's population (1,125 million) is 42 times that of Uzbekistan. The comparative densities are 378 for India and 63 for Uzbekistan. While Uzbekistan has about the same population as Assam (26.65 million), its land mass is about 6 times that of Assam (78,438 sq kms).

The major part of Uzbekistan (90 per cent) is covered by deserts. I have traveled hundreds of kilometers through the Kizil Kum desert without seeing any habitations till I reached Amu-Darya river on one side and Aydarkul lake on the other. In Uzbekistan distances are great because it stretches 1,425 kilometers from east to west and 930 kilometres from north to south. The total area covered by river valleys and oases is less than 10 per cent. Uzbekistan is one of the two doubly landlocked countries in the world, the other being Leichenstein. This means that the countries which completely surround Uzbekistan (Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgystan, Afghanistan) are also landlocked. It has a dry climate, the temperature variations being as much as +40ºC in summer and - 23ºC in winter. The annual precipitation is 100-200 mm (3.9 to 7.9 inches) against Assam's 100-120 inches. Some parts of the country are hilly, the highest point being Khazret Sultan which is 4,643 metres above the mean sea level.

Uzbekistan is a developing country. Its GDP, estimated on purchasing power parity (PPP) basis, is US $65.3 billions in 2007. The per capita income is US $2430 per annum. In terms of human development index (HDI) Uzbekistan has the 111th position in the world with an index of 0.694 against India's 127th position with 0.602. There are great differences between the middle classes in the cities of Uzbekistan and the poor in the rural areas. The situation appeared to be similar to that of India with one exception. Unlike India the cities in Uzbekistan are not clogged with vehicles nor there is any traffic jams. They manufacture Nexia cars in collaboration with Korea's Daewo. They have also imported some used cars from Korea. But camels and pony carts are widely used in deserts and rural areas. People appeared to be healthy. At least in the cities people are well dressed. Even otherwise people seemed to be neat the clean probably because the literacy rate is 99.3 per cent against India's 86 per cent (World Development Indicators, 2009).

The present Government of President Islam Karimov claims to have succeeded in implementing the 'Uzbekistan Economic Model' which, according to the Government, is 'a unique example of a smooth transition to the market economy while avoiding shock, pauperization and stagnation'. The strategy seems to be practical and pragmatic in a situation where finances are limited. The Government is trying to thoroughly rebuild cities and to create new towns and villages with western type housing, tourist and boutique hotels, multiplexes and supermarkets selling consumer gadgets and branded articles, wide roads and good transport facilities. In this the Government have succeeded to a great extent. In the old parts of ancient cities, for example, monuments, mosques, mosoleums and madrassahs have been very competently and thoroughly repaired and spruced up. This is bringing in tourism millions which is being reinvested.

More habitats are also being created. But in the inner cities there has been hardly any improvement. There are many narrow lanes and bi-lanes where the tall periphery walls have been rebuilt to hide the dilapidated 'haveli' type of mud houses with the old sanitation system. It seemed to me that the economic strategy is not equitable. It is favouring only a section of the people while leaving out the majority and particularly the poor.

In agriculture Uzbekistan has made significant advances in cotton production. There are big cotton fields all along the roads in irrigated areas. The country has become the world's sixth largest producer and the second highest exporter of cotton. At cotton harvest time so much extra hands are required that according to critics "all students and teachers are mobilized as unpaid labour to help in the fields". This is a clear violation of human rights. This craze for cotton production has led to tremendous pollution and 'devastation of air and water in the country'. The Aral sea, for example, has shrunk to less than 50 per cent of its area since 1960 due to misuse of its water, the volume of which has gone down by two third. Many seminars have been held and many scientists have offered suggestions for revival of the Aral sea but nothing seems to have worked so far.

It is true that the Government of Uzbekistan's efforts have accelerated the cumulative annual growth rate of GDP to 4 per cent between 1998 and 2003 and to 7 to 8 per cent thereafter so between 1995 and 2008 the country's GDP has doubled. However, the country experienced galloping inflation of about 1000 per cent per year during 1992 to 1994. Corrective measures brought it down to 50 per cent in 1997 and 22 per cent in 2002. Drastic measures since then have been able to bring down the inflation rate further. There is now a single digit inflation. But the currency depreciation continues so that the Uzbekistani currency – soum- which had fallen to an abysmal level of US $1= soum 1295 by December, 2007 has fallen further to US $1= soum 1497 in September, 2009. The rate is more depressed in the black market. On the other hand, increase in cotton and gold exports, as also of natural gas and manufactured goods and enhanced remittances from the Uzbek diaspor have doubled the country's foreign exchange reserves to US $3 billions. This is really welcome. Firm statistics from the Government of Uzbekistan are limited. Therefore, one has to rely on data available in the Wikipedia as well as the World Bank publications. The detailed 46 page statement of President Islam Karimov entitled 'The Global Financial-Economic Crisis, Ways and Measures to Overcome it in the Conditions of Uzbekistan' (August, 2009) is very helpful for understanding the situation in the country.

The future looks encouraging because of the stability imparted by Karimov. He has been accused of manipulating the elections, trampling human rights and putting down the 2005 civil unrest with very inhuman measures. Uzbekistan has been described as one of the world's most repressive societies. Moreover, corruption is alleged to be very high under Karimov's rule. Karimov, of course, has denied the allegations and publicly stated that his Government had conducted only anti-terrorist operations and that corruption is going down.

It is true that Uzbekistan has succeeded in keeping insurgency and unrest under control. It has also been able to keep the Talibans away from the country. All attempts at infiltration from Afghanistan have been thwarted. There is considerable peace and amity among the different communities in a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual country, where the population of 27 million consist of Uzbeks (80 per cent), Russians (5.5 per cent), Tajiks (5.5 per cent), Khazaks (3 per cent), Karakal Pakistanis (2.5 per cent), Tatars (1.5 per cent) and others (2.5 per cent). While Uzbek is the official language Russian is widely used by the educated people and for inter ethnic communications. In the cities almost everyone speaks two or three languages because the population composition is multilingual.

Islam is the religion of 88 per cent of the population. It is also the State religion. About 8 per cent practise Orthodox Christianity. There are 93,000 Jewish people in the cities, where there are a few Synagogues also. Zarostrians (same as Persis of India) have died out in the past few decades althrough they had a strong presence about hundred years ago. It was feared that after the break up of the Soviet Union and independence for Uzbekistan in 1991 there would be an upsurge of Islamist fundamentalism. Fortunately this did not happen. Karimov has been able to maintain communal harmony and also keep the Talibans away.

Even otherwise the Muslims of Uzbekistan are very different from those of the Indian subcontinent and Afghanistan. Uzbeks are educated and enlightened. There is no religious bigotry. There is absolutely no purdah system. Women do not wear veils nor are they segregated except in the Mosques and the remaining few functioning Madrassahs. Co-education is practiced in the Maktabs and the public schools. Both men and women have taken to western dress. Women wear jeans and western skirts. Students of Madrassahs are also seen wearing western uniform including neckties. Women work with men everywhere in offices, shops, restaurants, hotels and specially in the tourist attractions. I saw hand holding by young couples in public places. But there is neither indecent exposures nor any vulgar show. On the Ramadan or Idd day in Samarkand (September 21, 2009) I saw families come out in their brightest attires and enjoying meals in restaurants which were jam packed. Like Kamal Ataturk of Turkey and Gamel Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Islam Karimov has been successful in modernizing and westernizing Uzbekistan. Of course, the pioneering changes were enacted during the Soviet times.

My optimism about Uzbekistan is based on several ground realities. Many of the development indicators for Uzbekistan are encouraging.

(The writer is a former Chief Secretary, Assam)








The partition of India in 1947 was probably a blessing in disguise, although the nation has to part with a part of its land and suffer turmoil temporarily due to the atrocities meted out to the Hindus and Sikhs by the Pakistanis soon after the birth of Pakistan, which compelled the people of those two religions to leave the newly born Islamic State and take shelter in India.

Lots of heated debates took place at that time and even today historians all over the globe differ in their opinions regarding the history of partition of India but the fact remains that Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel were politically sound enough in not allowing Jinnah to became the first Prime Minister of undivided India with the offer of 33 per cent of reservation to the Muslim community in different Government services all over India. This decision of the then Congress Working Committee pioneered by Nehru and Patel ratifying the partition of India are being debated and argued in various intellectual and historical forums. After ruled by the Muslim rulers and remaining in the clutches of the British for hundreds of years there was no reason whatsoever to allow the Muslim League and Mohammod Ali Jinnah to take over the rein of independent India even though the historical events of those pre-independent days throw ample light that Jinnah was a secular and broad-minded leader who had the potential to rule India in a secular manner.

The main hurdle of partition was not probably Jinnah but his immediate subordinates in the Muslim League like Liaqut Ali Khan and others who were hardcore Muslim and had there been no partition then these leaders of Muslim League after the death of Jinnah in September,1948, would certainly have shaped India's future political destiny in an Islamic pattern because there is no shadow of doubt that the vast majority of leaders of Muslim League were conservative Muslims and did not have faith in the democratic process of secular administrative governance of this nation. The political history of Pakistan after the death of Jinnah confirms this to be true. Mahatma Gandhi was silent about his political view on partition in his autobiography although Gandhi opined that Jinnah should be made the first Prime Minister of India to prevent the tragedy of partition. Yet Gandhi did not take any of his revolutionary non-violent political actions in an aggressive manner to prevent partition. With his political statesmanship he could foresee that socio-political turmoil and unrest would engulf the future political history of India if Jinnah and Muslim League were allowed to take over the rein of free India. Mahatma Gandhi was secular in every drop of his blood and loved Hindus and Muslims equally and there can probably be no doubt about this. His prayer Raghupatti Raghava Raja Ram Patitapabana Sita Ram, Iswara Allah teri naam sob ko sanmati de Bhagavan confirms the highest faith of Gandhi in Allah. He loved and respected Islam and the Islamic population of India from the core of his heart and his laying down of his life for the sake of secularism confirms this to be true without even an iota of doubt. But Gandhi's faith in Allah and Islam does not necessarily demand that a person with so much of political wisdom like Gandhi should repose his faith in the conservative leaders of the Muslim Lague.

While Gandhi was passing the last days of his life after independence and India was burning in communal riots there were frequent statements from fundamentalist Hindu leaders that Gandhi was biased and that he opposed Hindu fundamentalism but hardly spoke anything against Islamic fundamentalism. That allegation was levelled by leaders who could not assess Gandhi's political vision. It is felt by various political circles that Gandhi took step against the fundamentalist leaders of Muslim League by not undertaking a fast unto death programme to prevent partition. Most of the Indian and western writers regard Gandhi as stainless and accept that the Mahatma was not responsible for partition because Nehru, Patel and the Congress Working Committee did not pay any heed to Gandhi proposal of making Jinnah the first Prime Minister of free India to prevent partition, but the fact remains that Gandhi was an undisputed leader to lead the freedom struggle of India since 1920 and even in those last days of British rule Mahatma Gandhi had ample political control over Nehru, Patel and Congress Working Committee. Gandhi never staked his life to prevent partition although he had taken fast unto death programmes a number of times against the British and even after independence. May be considering all those pros and cons, Mohammad Ali Jinnah who had faith and respect for Gandhi stated that "a wicked Hindu died" after hearing the news of Gandhi's assassination.

From all these historical considerations one can probably interpret that Gandhi silently ratified the partition of India for the future political well-being of a secular India and this silent ratification by the Mahatma has become politically and historically beneficial for the country.








The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has done well to bring out a discussion paper on power-of-attorney (PoA) mandates. Given reports of widespread misuse, it is only fitting that SEBI, in its role of furthering investor education, should lay down the minimum safeguards to be incorporated in such authorisations.

Unfortunately, financial literacy, globally, and especially in India, is woefully inadequate. The net result is a large number of, not only individuals but corporates (and if the recent financial crisis is any indication) and 'sophisticated' financial players undertake financial transactions without understanding their full implications. In such a scenario, SEBI's role, as guardian of investors' interests, to educate investors, especially retail investors to whom it owes a higher duty, of the pitfalls in dealing in financial markets is paramount. One such pitfall arises from liberal, and often poorly-thought-out, grant of PoA mandates.

A PoA is a legal authority given to another person/entity to act on your behalf, strictly in accordance with the authorisation given to it. Hence it must be very carefully worded and even more carefully delegated.

The SEBI paper spells out the basic requirements to be incorporated in PoA mandates to be granted to stock brokers/ depository participants. Cautionary advice such as the 'PoA shall not be executed in the name of any employee or representative of the stock broker and/or depository participant, but only in the name of the concerned entity and the PoA should be executed and stamped as per the rules /law prevailing in the place where the PoA is executed or the place where the PoA is kept as a record, as applicable' may seem basic to a person who has some knowledge of law but not to the vast majority who transact in our capital markets.

It is common knowledge that most people sign documents, whether loan documents of banks, or subscribe to initial public offerings without reading the related prospectus. True, a fool and his money are easily parted. But it is the regulator's job to teach investors not to make such parting easier. The discussion paper is a welcome step in that direction.







The resolutions adopted at the 30th general session of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind (JUH) reflect the contentious relationship between forms of modernity and such religious bodies. That problematic relationship, of course, extends to such bodies across communities as they attempt to negotiate a political position on certain issues while yet retaining a strongly conservative social agenda.


Thus, the JUH's resolutions did mention issues like implementation of the Sachar Committee report and backwardness of Muslims, but they also opposed madrasa reform and endorsed patriarchal control of women. Union home minister P Chidambaram's welcoming of the Deoband Dar-ul-Uloom's 2008 fatwa against terrorism, while addressing the JUH meet, is thus also a somewhat tricky issue.

First, there could well be a case for representatives of an avowedly secular state to maintain a distance from overtly religious institutions. But that could be termed a peculiarly unworkable idea across the world, and certainly in India. For, religion has a deep and complex role in many spheres of our life, and some religious bodies could claim to represent sections of their respective communities.

It would, thus, per se be a positive development — not least due to the difficult, often xenophobic climate Muslims face — that Deoband issued such a fatwa. But a political endorsement of that not only runs the danger of officially enshrining the claim of a religious body to speak for an entire community, but also of giving legitimacy to religious edicts and, perversely, implicates the whole community by transferring a certain onus to condemn extremism onto it.

Embedded in the whole issue is also a critique of the failure of the modern nationalist project which has reduced the minority to an acknowledged state of marginalisation. Combating that is a task of aiding assimilation into mainstream ideas of democracy and development. Of, say, gradually assisting madrasa reform while yet envisaging minorities as part of civil society and polity as a whole — not just embodied by a few religious bodies. But that would also entail refashioning democracy as being genuinely inclusive, and not based on a politics of competitive identity management. And that calls for real leadership.







This incident probably marks the first time that Kashmiris have protested against a pull-out by the Services — albeit in their cricketing whites, not camouflage fatigues. The refusal of the Services team to play a Ranji league match in Srinagar is not excusable, even if the reasons are understandable.


Often sportspersons are put on the frontlines to prove a political point. Teams are sent to potentially dangerous areas on the grounds that sporting events should not fall prey to political vicissitudes. There is also some underlying assumption that since sportspeople presumably do not have any agenda beyond winning their tournaments, they would not become targets — and victims — of wider geo-politics. There is enough evidence, however, to disprove this naive thesis such as the militant attack on Sri Lankan cricketers in Pakistan this March.

While there is merit in the argument that cancelling or relocating sports events can be construed as being cowed by terror threats, should sportspeople be expected to put their lives on the line for greater glories than a tournament trophy? The incontrovertible truth is that as far as extremist objectives are concerned, anyone is fair game, whether they are construction engineers, tea garden managers or Rajdhani train passengers.

Against this backdrop, it would certainly have been a great political statement to make — a Services team playing a
cricket match in the very stadium that was, till just a couple of years ago, occupied by the security forces. Conversely, that could also have given miscreants more reason to plan a symbolic retaliatory gesture aimed at sportsmen-in-uniform there. What remains unanswered is why the Services decided to pull out, having first accepted Srinagar as a venue. Were the security forces unable to convince these cricketers that it was safe for them to play there? Or did the players feel especially unsafe as they are a part of the armed forces, and therefore probable targets?







In April of this year, a public opinion survey, put out by the Teacher's College, Columbia University, threw up a few surprises. The surprise was that respondents were close to being split on some of the questions they were asked. Which, by itself, might sound an inconsequential issue to begin a column with.


But if one considers that the questions were to do with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict — for some the greatest moral problem of our time (Nelson Mandela's words), and for others the major font of strife around the globe — and the fact that the respondents happened to be Israeli Jews, it does make for eyebrow-tugging news. The study found that as many as 47% people believed that the 1948 Palestinian refugees were expelled by Israel; in contrast, only 41% respondents accepted the official Zionist narrative that rejects even partial expulsion and claims that the Palestinians actually left on their own accord.


The study, of course, also found that on many other critical issues, the people's view was still quite what the Israeli government's propaganda put out. But, as an exercise aimed at trying to pinpoint the role of collective memory in the conflict, it concluded that the Israeli population was finally beginning to take a more critical view of their nation's role. Rafi Nets-Zehngut, an Israeli, a Fellow at the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution at Teachers College, and one of the people who conducted the study said that "it suggests that the Israeli-Jewish society has changed to become more critical, open and self-reflective, allowing it to adopt less biased narratives."


Given the intractable nature of the west Asian conflict, and the despair it arouses, that by itself would make for some hopeful news. Only slightly so, actually. For, in a nation as militarised as Israel, the peace movement one could envisage a questioning of official narratives to logically lead to, is still woefully weak and marginal. Not for nothing, for example, did Netanyahu's right wing coalition come into power.


Which has, among its senior members, chaps whose personal and stated political position calls for the wholesale expulsion of the entire Arab population in Israel, if not making them second class citizens first. The latter, actually, is almost a de facto reality. The wider problem, of course, is the disjunct between a vast body of international opinion which holds it to be a self-evident truth that Israel's occupation, or siege, or brutal aggression against the occupied territories, is illegal and genocidal; and that which the Israeli regime, ably supported by western governments, calls unjustified Palestinian terrorism.


But, if possibly changing public opinion within Israel can offer only embryonic hopes, a report is doing much more. A report which investigated atrocities committed during last winter's Israeli onslaught on Gaza was put to the vote for further action in the UN general assembly yesterday. The Goldstone report, which accused both Hamas and Israel of crimes, but largely implicated the latter, was being seen as the very first instance where Israel might finally be held accountable for war crimes before an International war crimes tribunal.

The war on Gaza, called Operation Cast Lead, left more than 1,200 Palestinians — including scores of children — dead, and devastated the insanely overcrowded, impoverished strip. Afterwards, given the outcry, the United Nations Human Rights Council called for an investigation. And Richard Goldstone, a South African judge, agreed to lead it. His report, which accused Israel of waging war on the entire population of Gaza, led to angry denunciations and predictable rejection from the Zionist regime.

It is probable, given its habitual practice, that Israel could have labelled the judge and the report anti-semitic. Except for the fact that the man happens to be a Jew and a self-confessed Zionist at that! And one who led investigations into genocides both in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda, and whose stated objective was to evaluate Gaza on humanitarian law.

The mere thought of Israel being formally charged of war crimes is momentous. And concomitantly, there are attempts by some western powers to prevent such an eventuality. Which may well succeed, and the report merely remain confined to being discussed in the Human Rights Council, and the evidence never forwarded to the International Criminal Court. But just for once, it does seem there might be the first cracks in the wall of Israeli impunity.









Heard of waste-pickers worldwide gathering to highlight how central they are to urban existence? Yes, wastepickers from 40 countries (including two from India) converged for a conference in Bogota, Colombia a while ago. The event, 'Wastepickers without borders' was the first World Congress of Wastepickers hosted by the Bogota Association of Recyclers.


The wastepickers assembled, mostly from developing countries, shared experiences, not so unfamiliar in our own country. A Kafkaesque tale was told of a Venezuelan group of wastepickers forced to work for no social security and poor wages at a plastic recycling factory, subcontracted by the government to a private agency.

There being a strong co-relation between a country's GDP and the municipal solid waste it generates, economies like India and China are confronted with an enormous waste management problem. The Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology explains that higher income, economic growth and changing lifestyles lead to a change in the waste composition. Electronics have emerged as the world's fastest-growing solid waste stream. The Manufacturers Association for Information Technology estimates that India itself generated about 330,000 tonnes of e-waste last year, besides illegally importing an additional 50,000 tonnes.

While precious metals are melted and sold as ingots, other recovered materials are reused in new electronics components. A tonne of ore from a gold mine yields an average of 5 gm of gold, whereas over 150 gm can be recovered from a tonne of discarded mobile phones, says a study. Today, many entrepreneurs are busy collecting the trash and converting it into cash. Unlike in other countries, Indian companies are not obliged to pay for recycling their products and hence waste picking outfits fix and resell what is salvageable and then sell the waste.

For example, the Chennai-based Gupta Group with an annual turnover of Rs 225 crore has been processing discarded human hair — a $1 billion market — and exporting it since 1974 to Korea, Italy and China. A Mumbai start-up, Sustainable Technologies and Environmental Projects uses a thermal catalytic conversion method, 'polycrack', to convert plastic and organic waste like kitchen, animal and agro refuse into petroleum fuels. A company in Noida ships PCBs to Belgium, Japan and Malaysia for metal extraction and the wires to Singapore.

The department of chemical engineering at Jadavpur University extracts dyes from waste flowers for use in the textile industry and for bio-fertilisers. The Mumbai-based Rs 110-crore Gujarat Reclaim and Rubber Products recycles old rubber from tyres. Style Solutions at Manesar, near Gurgaon, processes slaughterhouse waste into raw material for medicines, aquatic and poultry feed, pet food and fertilisers. Sugarcane stalks called bagasse produces steam and electricity. Likewise, methane generated by municipal solid waste produces energy.

The US Environmental Protection Agency began enforcing in January 2008 a new rule specific to cathode-ray tubes, TV and computer display screens that contain lead. Lead has become a particular focus, especially in items made for children. Lead alloy, on the other hand, remains a favoured material for costume-jewellery makers. Nationwide, China's costume-jewellery industry has annual sales of about $4.5 billion, and about 70% is exported.

Since the mid-1970s, the European Union has taken the lead and enacted rules for waste management. One of the EU directives relates to the implementation of the Basle Convention (1989) on trans-frontier movement of waste. The convention allows wastes which can be recycled. Besides the 'polluter pays' principle, the internalisation of environmental costs of production accepted at the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the overwhelming refrain of the 'Green message' lies in 3 Rs: Reduce, Re-use, Recycle. Some of the international vocal groups like Friends of Earth and the Worldwatch Institute maintain that reduction of as much as up to 90% alone would help.

There is a need to educate the consumer on disposal and reuse. It is said that some 60% of household waste is dumped, 33% incarcerated, and 70% composted. An acute shortage of disposal facilities has been a universal experience. Again, illicit dumping or burning rubbish in the backyard has its social cost higher than landfills. Recycling plastic articles may consume more energy than it saves. Studies in DOW chemicals revealed that recycling plastic bags required more energy than it saved.

Problems arise in the case of packaging made of different materials. Drink cartons can be recycled and valuable materials retrieved. The use of such material for new drink cartons is forbidden. In this important campaign to reduce waste and recycle it, India has its task well laid out. It is an enormous challenge in the country where elementary civic sense and hygiene are in short supply. The Indian penchant for fanfare in developing a concept but failing to implement it is so evident: the eco-friendly eco-mark is largely unknown to the people, leave alone making regular use of it.








Generally all our thoughts are related to something about the past or the future. We cannot have thoughts about the present. In the present moment we can have only consciousness, no thoughts. Thoughts are either related to some joyful experiences that you had in the past and want to have in the future, or painful experiences that you had in the past and don't want to have again.


Even in the peak of joy, you will have some unconnected negative thought and even at the time of some serious problem, you will suddenly have a positive thought. If you sit down alone and write your thoughts on a sheet of paper for ten minutes, without suppressing or editing any of the thoughts, you will be amazed to see that there is no logic in the way thoughts form in your mind!

For example, you see a dog on the street. Immediately you remember the dog from your childhood. Your thoughts then jump from your childhood days to your school teacher and then to the house where she used to live. There is no logical connection between the dog that you saw recently and the teacher who taught you in school. However, in a few seconds you simply jumped from seeing the dog to your childhood teacher.

Understand, that no two thoughts are logically connected. No thought is responsible for the creation of another thought. They all appear randomly, independently and illogically. How do you 'unclutch' from this random stream of thoughts? Unclutching means experiencing the neutral space that exists between any two thoughts in our mind. That neutral space, that silence that exists between two thoughts, is peace and bliss.

When we no longer grab onto thoughts and connect them to the past or future, we remain 'unclutched'. As we remain 'unclutched' from our thoughts we become more aware of the neutral spaces between thoughts. The gap between the thoughts will automatically extend when we remain 'unclutched'. We will dwell in the neutral space longer and experience more and more peace and bliss.

When you completely unclutch, tremendous awareness, energy and intelligence happens in your system. If we learn this one simple technique of unclutching, we will be able to retain a significant amount of energy in our system, in our being. As a result we will be many times more productive and creative. Relationships will improve. Life will have a different quality and you will become a different person in the world.

Be Blissful!








Dear Dr Manmohan Singh, You have identified the Maoists as India's single most vital internal security challenge. And you have called for a nuanced approach for tackling the Maoists, given the potential for multidimensional collateral damage of a strategy that relies solely on the force of arms. Senior colleagues within the Congress party, including general secretaries Digvijay Singh and Rahul Gandhi, have articulated similar sentiments. Yet, the government's operative policy on Maoists would appear to be combat, led by the ministry of home.


I suggest, Sir, that this failure to reflect the nuanced understanding of the problem in the operative strategy stems, to a large part, from the limitations of the government's administrative arrangement. The security apparatus is one silo within the government, the developmental machinery, another. So even when a problem requires both verticals to work together, the normal rules of business and entrenched administrative inertia make sure that they do not.

You have used the mechanism of groups of ministers, empowered or otherwise, to get ministries to coordinate. Actually, only the ministers coordinate, while in committee. Their respective ministries go on as before, even if with a slightly altered mandate, thanks to an input from the group of ministers.

May I suggest a different strategy when it comes to tackling the Maoists? Create a new ministry of development and put Mr P Chidambaram, who heads the ministry of home, in charge of this ministry as well.

This new ministry is to be conceived quite differently from the present ministries of rural development, tribal development, etc. These latter ministries implement assorted schemes, each in its own narrow vertical. The ministry of development's job should not be to implement yet another series of schemes, but to ensure that every single scheme and policy of the government has the desired development impact. Thus, it should have the mandate to ensure any policy proposed by the mining, commerce, agriculture, urban development, coal, steel, home, industry, roads, power or whatever ministry aids, rather than hinders, development.

But doesn't this already happen, when the collective Cabinet clears notes prepared by individual ministries? Well, it clearly does not. The policy on Special Economic Zones did not have a clear-cut attendant policy to convert those who lose land to the new project into stakeholders in what comes up on their alienated land. Similarly, the current practice of allotting mining leases only helps create the likes of Madhu Koda and the Bellary brothers, not development of the people at large. It is entirely conceivable that a minister with perspicacity and perseverance would be able to vet all policy proposals and developmental schemes cleared by the Centre for its contribution to development, and insist on appropriate changes, if required.

A road ministry's focus is on delivering roads, the power ministry's on delivering power. For them, development is an ancillary goal, at best. If there is a separate ministry charged with development, its goal would be to pursue development, by modulating all policies of the government to this end. It could relate with state governments as well, on schemes that require central approval or assistance. Such a ministry could also take charge of projects like skill development, which cut across multiple ministries and the federal divide. This is the case for a new ministry of development.

Why choose Mr Chidambaram to head it? He already heads home, and leads the charge against the Maoists from a security point of view. If he also has the mandate to tackle the development dimension of this challenge, he would modulate his combat strategy appropriately. This is the immediate rationale. But there is a more substantial reason.

Mr Chidambaram routinely dons, after putting on his white shirt and mundu in the morning, an air of patronising superiority. Yet he wins the grudging respect of even those who dislike this dress sense, with his competence, hard work, attention to detail and perseverance. We need precisely such a minister to deliver on development, liaising and negotiating with other ministries and state governments.

All this, of course, begs the question: what is development, what is it that the new ministry should seek to achieve?

Development should be understood as realising the creative potential of all individuals. Admittedly, this simple definition rests on much conceptual complexity. No one has any predetermined creative potential — it constantly expands, depending on the growth of the individual's cognitive skills and the scale and manner of his interaction with nature and society. Conventionally, this is understood to mean that there should be more investment in education, healthcare, etc. In one of your recent speeches, you said as much. May I suggest, Sir, that such a formulation sees development as something that can and should be distributed by the government, perhaps with the aid of earnest voluntary organisations.

Development, however, cannot be dispensed, any more than democracy can be exported. It is a function and product of politics. People, particularly the deprived, must be mobilised to collectively demand their rights, secure them and thus be empowered as citizens. If mainstream political parties fail to empower them, but only seek to secure their silence, at best, by throwing them some crumbs, they will end up with the Maoists, who seek their empowerment in the overthrow of the present social order.

So the key task is political mobilisation of the deprived to realise their right to life, liberty and dignity. This can be done only by a political party — neither ministry nor an NGO can do this.


So, do I contradict myself, and negate the suggestion for a ministry of development? Not in the least. That ministry would ensure the wherewithal of political mobilisation in every sphere, such as the Forest Dwellers Act of 2008, of which you are justifiably proud. And political parties that appreciate that substantial emancipation can be achieved within the framework of a liberal democracy would use this wherewithal to mobilise the people to demand and secure their rights. An awakened, empowered people would become creative and transform the world.








Tim Harford, the author of Undercover Economist does not mind being called a 'dismal scientist', but agrees that almost all forecasts by economists go wrong just the way weathermen keep getting it wrong all the time. In an interview with ET, Harford explains why and says that India needs to open more for foreign capital. Excerpts.

Why do you think forecasts are not needed?

Experts and forecasters go on television a lot, and people would laugh at them just the way they laugh at weatherman. So, economic forecasters get it wrong for similar reasons, when compared with weathermen. We recently looked at the economic forecasts over past 20 years, across government think-tanks, journalists, journals, and other organisations — and all of them were wrong. But that doesn't mean experts cannot forecast, it basically means that you cannot forecast the world.


But you were a scenario planner at Shell, didn't that involve forecasting?

I used to be a scenario planner at Shell, and was responsible for creating plausible stories, at least two of them, which were contradictory. Both the stories had to be convincing, so that people realise what they don't know about a given scenario. If you look at what is called 'now casting', it's a very hard task. Beginning of 2008 we said that the US will avoid recession, but that was not to be true. Now, what is interesting is that the initial forecast was written at the time when the US was actually in a recession—and everybody missed that.

What impact will this recession have on people in general?

The impact is very uneven. While some people kept their jobs and even stabilised their income, there were some who lost their jobs. For people in the US and Canada, who have lost their jobs, the effect of this recession is going to last for 10 years or more. This is because during recession, when they lost their jobs they had to shift their skills and were caught in the middle. These people will try to get back to their preferred industries over next few years.

Do you think India did the right thing by nationalising its banks?

According to the conventional wisdom, the mainstream economies were in recession and India was perhaps right in its strategy because it avoided recession, especially the Asian downturn. But, when it comes to openness for foreign capital, there is need to be more rational.

This recession also brought the 'corporate greed' debate to the fore. Do corporate need to be greedy to remain profitable?
Corporate are by nature greedy because they have to seek profit. But it's nonsense to think that if they give up greed, they will not be profitable. Also, law should not be the only reason for doing ethical business. Apart from law and regulations, we also need public disapproval of financial behaviour as and when required. Moreover, not all corporate are greedy in that sense. Bill Gates, for instance, did not find Microsoft for making money. His vision was to dominate the Operating System market, not make money. Rich people become rich because they don't want to become rich, but achieve something else.

So, how do you prefer to be addressed—an undercover economist or a 'dismal scientist'?

I think an undercover economist is better. Not many people know that the term dismal scientist was used to attack economists by Thomas Carlyle. And I am proud to be a dismal scientist.

What do you observe when you look at India as an economy?

One of the first things that strikes me is that India is leaping forward in chunks. So, the airport infrastructure is fantastic, hotels are really good, but there is problem with traffic and other infrastructure. I see new and old worlds exist together in India, which is a good thing, but it's going to put India under strain.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




While the Indian citizen has never seriously grumbled about the security needs of VIPs — and this shows people are fully alive to concerns that have begun to haunt us on account of the rise of terrorism — it is dismaying to note that the modifications, realignments and upgrading of security procedures and structures for top national leaders from time to time have studiously omitted to take into account the existence of ordinary people who pay taxes to keep VIP security shipshape. The callous runaround given to a seriously ill patient for about two hours by the security apparatus in Chandigarh on Tuesday, occasioned by the Prime Minister's address at the Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, is likely to have led to the man's death by the time he gained admission to the PGI premises. By any yardstick, this is a shocking occurrence. It is only in a democratic dispensation that security routines can be modified to bring the citizen into the picture. While Dr Manmohan Singh is not to be personally blamed for the tragedy, and indeed he has voiced his anguish and ordered an investigation into the incident, it would doubtless occur to the Prime Minister that all is not well with the organising principles of the security system in place for VIPs. Citizens have suffered the hamhanded ways of security in silence over the years. When airspace is blocked and road traffic is held up for indefinite periods, it is not only time that is lost; the urgent business of countless individuals suffers, sometimes with consequences that are serious and sometimes fatal, as the Chandigarh episode underlines. If terrorists are able to successfully launch attacks against top officials of the state, the impact will be felt on our democratic system as a whole. So it is futile to cavil at foolproof security for the top layer. But surely there are better, less conspicuous, ways to achieve the result without causing harassment to citizens. There is a case here for our security specialists to retool themselves by looking at the working systems of the Western democracies. It must be kept in view at all times that the best-laid security arrangements can unravel if the citizen turns callous or indifferent. There is another aspect to the security that operates in the country. Many B-grade politicians, not to speak of charlatans who come to occupy nominated offices by exploiting their connections, make demands on the security apparatus as a matter of right. They falsely think having government gunmen around enhances their prestige. Catering to their whims puts needless pressure on security sector resources that can be better utilised elsewhere, and increases the daily harassment of citizens. Massaging the egos of bit players cannot be the remit of a democratic system. It is time the bewildering large number of security categories created by the Union home ministry was compressed. High-value private individuals need to be encouraged to organise their security privately, as is done in other democracies.








In 2003, I was on a trip to Iraq and had arranged an appointment in the Green Zone with a member of the then-Iraqi Governing Council. Security was tight. I was with my Iraqi translator, a middle-aged man who had once been a teacher. When we arrived at the council, I showed my ID to two young uniformed US soldiers. They told me to wait, went inside and out came a man wearing civilian clothes, one of those fishing vests and an Australian bush hat.

He never properly identified himself, but it was obvious that he was a "civilian contractor" from the logo on his shirt. When I tried to explain why we were there, he literally told me to shut my mouth until I was told to speak. Then he told my Iraqi translator to sit in the blistering heat while he escorted me — the American — inside to see if our Iraqi interviewee was available. Both my translator and I really wanted to just punch his lights out. But I kept thinking to myself: "Who does this guy report to? If I get in his face and he comes after me, to whom do I complain?"

That was my first encounter with one of the many private security guards, service suppliers and aid workers — aka civilian contractors — who have since become an integral part of the US war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some were even used at Abu Ghraib to do "enhanced interrogations" — aka torture — of suspected terrorists. Today, there is no operation that is too sensitive to be outsourced.

As we debate how many more troops to dispatch to Afghanistan, it might be a good time to also debate just how far we've already gone in hiring private contractors to do jobs that the US state department, Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency once did on their own. A good place to start is with the Middlebury College professor Allison Stanger's new book on this subject, One Nation Under Contract: The Outsourcing of American Power and the Future of Foreign Policy.

Every year, more and more of the core business of national security — diplomacy, development, defence and even intelligence — "is being shifted into the hands of private contractors — much more than our public realises", Stanger said to me. One big reason why we've been able to fight the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with so few allies is because we've basically hired the help.

"Afghanistan and Iraq", explained Stanger, "are our first contractors' wars, differing from previous interventions in their unprecedented reliance on the private sector for all aspects of their execution. According to the Congressional Research Service, contractors in 2009 accounted for 48 per cent of the department of defence workforce in Iraq and 57 per cent in Afghanistan... Contractors provide security for key personnel and sites, including US embassies; feed, clothe and house US troops; train Army and police units; and even oversee other contractors. Without a multinational contractor force to fill the gap, US would need a draft to execute these twin interventions". Or, we would need real allies.

I am not against outsourcing, improving government efficiency or hiring the best people to perform specialised tasks. But we've fallen into a pattern of outsourcing some of the very core tasks of government — interrogation, security, democracy promotion. As more and more of this government work gets contracted and then subcontracted, the public interest can get lost and abuse and corruption get invited in. The US is also building a contractor-industrial-complex in Washington that has an economic interest in foreign expeditions. Doesn't make it wrong; does make you want to be watchful.

In 2008, notes Stanger, roughly 80 per cent of the US state department's requested budget went out the door in the form of contracts and grants. The Army's primary support contractor in Iraq, KBR, reportedly has some 17,000 direct-hire employees there.

The US military is now proposing a huge nation-building project for Afghanistan to replace its dysfunctional government with a state that can deliver for the Afghan people so they won't side with the Taliban. I might be more open to that project if we had a true global alliance to share the burden of an effort that will take decades.


But we don't. European public do not favour this war, and our allies will only pony up just enough troops to get their official "Frequent US Ally Card" renewed. We'll make up the difference by hiring private contractors.
The government may operate more efficiently with private contractors. And outsourcing can often deliver real innovation, especially in economic development. Still, I'm old-fashioned: When America is acting abroad, I prefer our public services to be provided as much as possible by public servants motivated by, and schooled in, the common good and simple patriotism — not profits or private ambitions.











The idea behind the MP Local Area Development (MPLAD) Scheme is that since our MPs are people's representatives and are supposedly interacting with the masses on a regular basis, they are best placed to know what the people want. Thus, if an MP has funds at his/her disposal, s/he would be able to utilise it without having to go through the exercise that usually delays disbursal of funds and implementing small, local projects.
But the question is, are our MPs actually asking people what they want? The fact is that a majority of them lose touch with people once they get elected. It needs to be found out how the money is being spent and where.
Also, from a constitutional point of view, there are two things that should be taken into account when one talks about the MPLAD scheme. Our Constitutional set-up provides for three lists — the Centre list, the state list and the concurrent list. Subjects like health, education, and law and order fall under the state list. The state is supposed to draft plans and spend on these items. But, through the MPLAD scheme, the Centre's funds, which too is taxpayers' money, are directed for purposes that should have been dealt with by the state.
Also, in our set-up the legislature is separated from the executive. In fact, the legislature — the MPs in Parliament — is supposed to keep a check on the functioning of the executive. But through the MPLAD scheme, the legislature is being asked to get into the realm of the executive. Then the question is: How can the legislature keep a check when its members are themselves becoming the executive?

The MPLAD scheme comes under the purview of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. However, the information furnished through RTI can only help in discovering mistakes and assessing whether people's priorities have been met. It cannot influence the process of decision-making from the beginning.

The only way to ensure that people's problems are being properly addressed is by having a more "direct democracy". Decisions related to the development of an area cannot be taken in a general public meeting. The only way to understand people's needs is to establish and strengthen gram sabhas in the villages and mohalla sabhas in the cities. These ought to be the forum for the people to directly articulate their needs, which could be conveyed by sabha members to the MP, and the rest may follow.

Let people have a much greater role in what kind of development they want in their surroundings. Until vibrant sabhas are put in place, the MPLAD scheme should be scrapped.


Arvind Kejriwal is a Magasaysay Award winner and pioneering RTI activist





The MP Local Area Development (MPLAD) Scheme must not be scrapped. Though there are cases of its misuse by some MPs, I am of the strong view that the scheme should be continued with some checks and balances.

The MPLAD scheme has proved quite useful in improving the lives of those who do not have easy access to funds.

The demand for scrapping the MPLAD scheme is mainly made on the ground that some MPs are using the fund for private works, and get commission in return. This is true. But if some amendments are made that would allow the creation of only public property through these funds, the scheme could benefit a large number of people.

There have been instances in Uttar Pradesh where the state government neglected certain areas from where the state's ruling party lost the election. However, the MPs utilised their MPLAD funds to install hand pumps, improve school buildings and construct roads, among other projects.

In Lucknow, former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee utilised his MPLAD funds to establish a world-class scientific centre which is benefiting a large number of students, apart from raising the academic profile of the city. I have myself helped three city colleges in improving their infrastructure through the scheme.
I also built a government school where mostly Dalit children used to go as it was in a dilapidated state and the government was not doing anything about it. I have also helped refurbish the school where I was a student. It was in a poor condition. I have also utilised the MPLAD funds for upgrading the infrastructure of a Lucknow medical college which was not getting the support of the state government.

I am sure the MPLAD scheme can be made more effective with some checks. I suggest that the scheme not be used for awarding work to private companies, and beneficiaries should be clearly specified. I also suggest that the MPLAD funds be used for colleges, schools, health centres, roads and other public works.
The scheme should not be misused for building private colleges and schools. This has largely been inviting criticism. It is up to the MPs to use MPLAD funds judiciously, for the betterment of their constituencies. But, in the backdrop of criticism, some serious checks do need to be incorporated at the earliest.

Further, there should be a regular audit of the kind of works being undertaken through MPLAD scheme. Instead of scrapping it, steps are needed to improve delivery of public goods under the scheme.


Virendra Bhatia is a Rajya Sabha MP (Samajwadi Party) and former Advocate General, Uttar Pradesh








Tony Blair's star-studded career has not quite ended yet, but his slim chances of fulfilling his latest dream, to head the European Union in the enhanced presidency following the expected approval in days of the Lisbon Treaty by all members, represents a stinging setback. Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown faced humiliation last week when he could not convince even European socialists in Brussels that Mr Blair would make a good candidate.

Mr Blair is doing very well for himself between his symbolic role as the Quartet's envoy to the Middle East (West Asia), his lucrative American speaking circuit, his own consultancy and other business interests and a fat advance for his memoirs. But he wanted the icing on the cake: the brand new presidency of the European Union (EU) to make a splash on the world stage.

Logically, any Briton would be particularly ill suited to be the face of the EU. The United Kingdom has stayed out of two key institutions, the common currency the euro, and the Schengen agreement that allows foreigners a common entry visa to all its members. Besides, Britain insisted upon and received special opt-out clauses on justice and home affairs. In addition, Mr Blair has the distinction of dividing the Union as never before by his enthusiastic support of George Bush's Iraq War during his stints as British Prime Minister.
Whether Mr Blair will make a last-minute appeal to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as British reports suggest, remains to be seen, but both France and Germany, who will influence the choice for the presidency, seem inclined to tilt away from Mr Blair. True, France's President Nicolas Sarkozy supported his candidature last year, but he has changed his mind, and the only European supporter Mr Blair has is Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, not necessarily an asset.

The EU presidency will probably go to a Centre-Right candidate, but British foreign secretary, David Miliband, is hovering in the shadows to aim for the enhanced position of European Union foreign policy chief, which would also serve as the vice-chairman of the European Commission under the re-elected Jose Manuel Barroso.

The Blair tragedy is, however, writ large. Why, when he had ensconced himself as a rich consultant guru with one foot in the political world in his capacity as the Quartet's envoy, should he aspire to be the new face of Europe? According to a British poll, fewer than one in three British voters want him as EU President. And the Financial Times gave him a full-page spread last Friday to unravel his business and philanthropic empire and how on occasion he has mixed business and diplomacy while he perambulates between Arab capitals and Israel in his sinecure as the Quartet's envoy. He has marked 10 days in the month for the last job.

Has hubris then caught up with Tony Blair? His has been a remarkable political career. He made the Labour Party electable and brought it back to power twice since his first historic win. In reinventing his party as New Labour, he stole some of Margaret Thatcher's clothes and made traditional Labour supporters unhappy. But he proved that he had the dynamism, charisma and stamina to lead his party to power and maintain its hold. In the end, he overstayed his welcome in his party and had to bow out after 10 years in the job.

The irony is that Mr Blair wants to be the EU President just when the Conservatives are set to return to power in Britain the next election. The Tories have, indeed, made no secret of their opposition to Mr Blair's new ambition, but their promise of reversing the approval of the Lisbon Treaty meant to streamline the EU by holding a referendum is likely to dissolve into thin air as and when they assume the reins of office. Britain remains a Euro-sceptic nation but Britons know on which side their bread is buttered.
Whether Mr Blair is defeated in his attempt to become President or withdraws from the fray beforehand, his ill-judged attempt to add another star to his name has misfired. The Blair brand name has suffered as a consequence although he can draw some comfort from the fact that he would not have to forego a fortune in lost consultancy fees and lucrative speaking assignments and business ventures.

Given the impending setback, how long will the one-man Blair industry last? At some point, the Quartet, made up of the US, Russia, the UN and the European Union, will want to end the fiction of helping a Palestinian-Israeli peace process that does not exist. Thus far, the Quartet has been a proxy for American policies and has proved to be a spectacular failure.

Second, if Mr Blair loses his peripatetic West Asian job, he will have fewer levers in securing profitable deals and will have limited access to those who count in the region. Americans are partial to big names and pay fancy fees to listen to them. But once Mr Blair is shown the door by the EU and is unpopular at home in Britain, his star appeal for Americans will diminish.

Financially, Mr Blair has built a nest egg and has no financial worries. But a man of his ilk does not live by money alone. He pines for the bright lights, cheering, adoring crowds as he unveils his newest dream or illusion. Those who admire Mr Blair and his brand of politics believe that he will not easily give up. If necessary, he will reinvent himself.

Yet Mr Blair's blunder in aspiring to hold the first enhanced presidency of the EU, which remains to be precisely defined, has broken the spell. Perhaps the greatest attraction of the job for him was that he could define the job to his own measure. If Napoleon could aspire for the European crown, why shouldn't Tony Blair become the modern equivalent of Napoleon by crowning himself the voice of Europe in the 21st century?








I had a four-hour dinner once with Rush Limbaugh (an American radio host and conservative political commentator) at the "21" Club in Manhattan, back in the days when I was still writing profiles as a "reporterette", to use a Limbaugh coinage.

He was charming, in a shy, awkward, lonely-guy way. Not a man of the people. He arrived in a chauffeured town car and ordered $70-an-ounce Beluga, Porterhouse and 1990 Corton-Charlemagne.
But he was not a Neanderthal, though he did have a cold and blew his nose in his napkin. He talked about Chopin's Polonaise No. 6, C.S. Lewis and how much he loved the end of the movie Love Story.

In those days, he called himself a "harmless little fuzzball". He's a lot less harmless now. I went on to columny, as my pal Bill Safire called it, and Rush went on to calumny.

As he and Sarah Palin conduct their auto-da-fé of moderate Republicans — "Moderates by definition have no principles", he told his radio audience on Monday — Limbaugh is more than ever the face of his party, as Rahm Emanuel, US President Barack Obama's Chief of Staff, said.

He's also the mouth.

Limbaugh is right that Democrats tend to dither too much. They're always wondering if they're doing the right thing, indulging in on-the-one-hand, on-the-other paralysis by analysis, seeing, as James Carville put it, "six sides to the Pentagon".

Obama will have to step it up on jobs and fixing the deficit if he wants to block Conservatives from stoking the anger of Americans who only see a recovery on Wall Street, especially given the Republican sweep in top races on Tuesday night.

But the tactics of Limbaugh, Palin, Cheney & Fille are more cynical: They spin certainty, ignoring their side's screw-ups, and they exploit patriotism, labelling all critics as traitors.

In an interview on Fox News Sunday With Chris Wallace, Limbaugh accused the President of trying to destroy the economy — yes, the same economy that W. came within a whisker of ruining.

"I have to think that it may be on purpose", Limbaugh said, "because this is just outrageous, what is happening — a denial of liberty, an attack on freedom".

Asked about Afghanistan, another W. cataclysm that has left Obama agonising, Limbaugh stated, "I also don't think he cares much about it".

Again suggesting that the President is an unpatriotic fop, the radio ranter averred: "He wants to manage this rather than achieve victory".

He told Wallace that "throughout the Iraq war, it was Barack Obama and the Democrat Party which actively sought the defeat of the US military".

Actually, rigorously examining the government's conduct of a war started on false pretences is the best sort of patriotism.

Asked about fellow Conservative George Will's contention that the United States should get out of Afghanistan, Limbaugh said, "I don't have the benefit of knowledge that George Will has, so I trust the experts, and to me they're the people in the US military".

Even a chickenhawk like Rush should remember how well that worked in Vietnam, or in the early years of Iraq.


The founding fathers designated a civilian as commander-in-chief for a reason.

Military brass have told the White House that this is the first time in eight years that they have gotten the attention and resources that they've needed in Afghanistan.

If W. had gone to Dover in the middle of the night to salute the war dead, Limbaugh and Liz Cheney would have been gushing about his patriotism.

But since it's Obama who at last showed up there to see the brutal cost of war, they simply have to dismiss the moving moment as a publicity stunt.

Years ago, when I dubbed Dubya "The Boy Emperor", Limbaugh spewed a stream of personal invective about me that embarrassed even my mother, a Limbaugh fan.

But now Limbaugh calls Obama the "man-child President".

The 48-year-old Obama is skinny and getting skinnier, but there's nothing childish about him.

He more or less raised himself and came to terms with his Oedipal demons on his own, and he radiates a hard-won maturity.

W., on the other hand, was like a kid who knew that Daddy's friends would take care of him; he was always running off to the gym or going biking, leaving the governing to his regents, Cheney and Rummy, or incompetents like Brownie.

At our long-ago dinner, Limbaugh credited his success with being "one-dimensional". "I'm totally concerned with me", he said. And that was way before he got a contract for $400 million, so we can only imagine how one-dimensional he is now. But on Sunday, he ripped the President for having "an out-of-this-world ego", for being "very narcissistic", "immature, inexperienced, in over his head". (Isn't immaturity scoring OxyContin from your maid?)

It gives new meaning to pot, kettle and black.


By arrangement with the New York Times








It does good to see some of the seniormost judges in the country declaring their assets to the public. Even without the long struggle by activists and public crusaders for transparency of the judiciary through the Right to Information Act, judges, on the basis of democratic principle, must have felt the need to declare their assets. But by emphasizing that such disclosure is "voluntary" — that is, the judges need not have made it at all — the exercise is given an aura of nobility, almost as if accepting the requirements of transparency is optional for particular groups of public servants. That is not surprising, since the Supreme Court itself has reportedly opposed the exercise of the RTI in the matter of the disclosure of judges' assets. Perhaps strong traces of feudal and religious traditions influence Indians' perception of judges, ideally the impartial wielders of life and death, as above and beyond the reach of democratic requirements with which everyone else must comply. This attitude was reflected with some irony in the bill regarding the declaration of judges' assets brought in the Parliament by the Union law minister, M. Veerappa Moily, in August. The bill made the disclosure mandatory but secret, thus preserving the judges' obscurity and distance from the public while assuring the public of their transparency. Even the government seems to have mixed up special privilege with dignity, and that too in the case of the higher judiciary which must necessarily be seen as the most transparent of all. The Opposition forced the withdrawal of the bill, but the battle in the Delhi High Court over judges' transparency is not entirely over.


That an overwhelming majority of the judges of the Supreme Court have set an example before their peers and before the country has certainly added to the higher judiciary's dignity and stature. Under the current circumstances, the voluntary disclosure carries an important message. But it will not be enough if and when the practice is established. To make transparency meaningful, the disclosure of assets must be mandatory, with an affidavit declaring the veracity of the wealth details. There is no reason for the form of the declaration to be different in the case of a special group. The debate over the declaration of judges' assets has been raging on and off since 1997. It is strange that it should be a subject of controversy at all.







The national song of India has once again stirred up a hornets' nest — without even being sung this time. At its 30th general session at Deoband, the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind set out the refusal to sing Vande Mataram as a definite marker of Muslim identity. It cited religious incompatibility as the basis for its fatwa on the song. The Muslim community, it reasoned, had scriptural sanction to pay obeisance to none other than the Prophet. It is not surprising that the Jamiat, which has put down other requisites as mandatory for the faithful — among which are the boycott of the mass entertainment media and the prohibition of higher education for women — thought it necessary to highlight its stand on the song as crucial to its project of identity-formation. The singing, or the not-singing, of Vande Mataram has been made into a determinant of a specific identity — the diehard patriot — thanks to similar efforts by Hindu fundamentalists to demarcate identities. The Jamiat, in that context, could not have ignored such an important benchmark. Neither could it have left unmentioned the fact that non-compliance with an established State practice should not be construed as being unpatriotic. In saying so, it is stating the obvious. No mature democracy can put up illiberal standards before its citizenry or appear churlish when the exercise of individual choice (of not singing a song) overrides political diktats. But in using religion to establish the case of the Muslim community, the Jamiat is making the same error that it wishes to accuse the Other of committing.


The national song has a unique place in the history of independent India that is being purposely overlooked to further narrow interests. Vande Mataram was instrumental in uniting communities, whether Sikh, Muslim, Parsi, Christian, Arya Samaji or Hindu, in the fight against colonialism. It is this shared memory of the freedom struggle that had prompted the founders of India's Constitution to adopt it as a national song. Even at that crucial juncture, the communally-minded had used the song to divide the people. It is ironical that both the Hindutva brigade and the religious leadership of the Muslim community, over the years, have tried to revive that fractious and bitter memory instead of furthering memories of how a song contributed to the creation of a common history for a country and its people.









Bhaskar Dutta's recent article on this page confirms the new trends in educational planning since Kapil Sibal took charge. Action on the education front is long overdue, but it should not pre-empt ample debate. Such debate has barely got off the ground: Dutta's article is a valuable contribution.


We lament that with sadly few exceptions, our higher education system does not reach international standards. Most of our young talent goes abroad, is enriched by the facilities and ambience there, and commonly stays out. Hence we are mulling a 'brain gain' agenda, reversing the outward flow of talent. The resident academic workforce is almost irrelevant to the exercise.


This is the latest outbreak of a regime of 'bypass surgery' adopted since Independence to cure our academic ills. First, teaching and research institutions were separated in a way that, 60 years on, has clearly impoverished both groups. Next, a few affluent Centrally-funded campuses were set up, notionally as model or 'lead' institutions but more and more isolated by their privilege. Today, all Centrally-funded institutions are being slotted in a favoured class by bureaucratic rhetoric and preferential funding. But even these, it seems, will not meet our aspirations: we are setting up 14 'innovation universities' at a cost that will leave Jawaharlal Nehru University looking like a rural college.


All along the way, we have evaded the challenge of systemic reform, instead setting up a few privileged institutions with little trickle-down effect — indeed reducing the status and facilities of the rest by contrast. When that thin layer of cream has soured, we have ladled a fresh spoonful on top. What I find disquieting about Dutta's perceptive analysis is that it ends with precisely this prescription.


Let us consider some unfashionable counter-arguments. First, our belated concern for quality has obscured the gross but equally imperative issue of quantity. The two factors are not mutually exclusive: in fact, they must be combined in an India-sized country. Only 40 per cent of Indians who complete higher education are estimated to possess the basic skills required by a knowledge economy. In the foreseeable future, global economic and demographic trends will offer a chance for India to dominate the world's knowledge-based service industries. But this calls for a medium-to-high educational system for all our people. Only so can we turn our alarming population rise into an economic asset.


The most crucial move towards this end is a well-endowed, truly universal system of school education. It took us 60 years to accept education as a fundamental right: how many more to extend it to every village and slum child? The nationwide scope of Sibal's initial pronouncements is narrowing more and more to cater to the metropolitan elite.


With higher education, even the malnourished rural undergraduate belongs to an elite of sorts: we would now create a super-elite. Its overlap with a meritocracy will be all too partial, given the appalling disparities in schooling. It may placate the career demands of a privileged and articulate minority, with a ritual trickle-down to disadvantaged groups. The 'brain gain' from such a system will, in the long run, be overwhelmed by a new brain drain. By itself, it will neither sustain our economy nor create a better society.


There is also the question of making best use of the current resource pool. A literally incalculable sum has been sunk over 150 years (the last 60 in particular) in some 300 university-level public institutions. Some scarcely deserve the name, others purvey indifferent routine training. Quite a few (besides the Indian institutes of technology and the Indian institutes of management) have intensive international contacts and exchange: joint research programmes, specialized technical outsourcing, even credit-sharing and joint degrees, or membership of global academic consortiums. They may not number among the 'World's Top 200', but they hold honourable discourse with them. (I say nothing of individual contacts.) Given a modicum of funds, freedom and moral support, many other institutions could be raised to this productive level.


The hodge-podge of the present university system cannot be preserved in perpetuity. But it contains a working order that could be raised to internationally respectable standards across the board in a few years. After all, Indian institutions (again, not IITs alone) are at least good enough to feed the international demands of the 'brain drain'. For all their glaring deficiencies, there is a bedrock strength in the system that we have not quite squandered away.


Most of these institutions are virtually without resources. A postgraduate department may have two, or one, or no full-time teacher; its annual grant may be in four figures, or three, or nil. The miracle is that not all these institutions have imploded from neglect. Some, still more miraculously, have flourished and grown. Most of the last are state-run rather than Central. Of India's nine 'universities with potential for excellence', six are state-run. Perhaps Sibal could spare 10 minutes to check how this scheme is progressing, and what funds have been released to date.


In simple resource terms, it would be folly to write off this huge reserve of manpower and infrastructure, however disarrayed and demoralized. Still more crucially, we cannot meet a fraction of even middle-level manpower needs without intensively developing the total sector. Of course, true development means differentially rewarding achievement and encouraging potential, not pandering to the reductive whims of political parties and teachers' unions. Some institutions (indeed individuals) need to be eliminated or marginalized; others will rise to the top from within the system, but their relation to the rest should not be one of exclusion or opposition.


Emoluments, and even more infrastructure and ambience, must be attuned to this end. Academics have been so deprived in the past that one hesitates to criticize any demand in these happier times; but perhaps we are witnessing too many comparisons with US salaries. The real issue is of infrastructure. Apart from sweeping promises of future largesse for 'innovation universities', what the Indian State considers lavish grants are paltry by international standards. Private Indian capital, with rare exceptions, does not consider these unprofitable matters at all. There is no hope of raising Indian education to international levels without a quantum improvement across the board: any institution deemed fit to exist must offer at least the standard undergraduate facilities of good centres abroad.


Lastly, the matter of mindset. As in other spheres, we have a genius for frustrating our financial input by inept execution. In Bengal, a special disincentive is the sheer physical dereliction of the campus. Elsewhere, it can be grotesquely feudal obeisance to the vice-chancellor or — most seriously — a suicidal focus on practical courses vis-à-vis basic disciplines, not only in enrolment figures (which is understandable) but in academic priority. Almost everywhere, there is hobbling financial control over the smallest expenditure; the demeaning and time-wasting torment of petty bureaucracy; a lack of informational transparency; and, of course, campus politics among students and staff. Those who consider such ills unique to Bengal have not seen conditions elsewhere. Universities in the West would shut down after faculty revolt if faced with such constraints for a week. It is ironic that the ministry of human resource development pledges to protect the new 'innovation universities' from these shackles — but would retain or even increase the load on the rest.


Systemic reform is no easy task, especially if — as must be — it entails politically damaging elimination of the unfit, as assessed by merit or lack thereof. How much simpler to set up a few greenfield institutions, or isolate a manageable handful of existing ones, to satisfy privileged aspirations and have showpieces on display. There is only one drawback: 60 years' experience shows that such exclusive attention neither satisfies private and class aspirations, nor provides a sufficient knowledge base for a growing economy. It commits us to an endless founding of enclave after enclave. They will never add up to an empire.


The author is professor of English, Jadavpur University, Calcutta








While discussing Left extremism in the country, one must keep in mind the differences between the Maoists of the post-liberalization era and the Naxals of the socialist India of the late 1960s and early 1970s. If the latter were confined to West Bengal, and later to Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, their counterparts in the 21st century have dug themselves deep in at least nine states in the heartland of the country having predominantly a tribal population. The present insurgency should also be seen against the background of the marginalization of tribal movements.


If college graduates, journalists, writers, academics, landless peasants and industrial labourers formed the backbone of the Naxals of yesteryear, the Maoists of today have spread deep into the tribal and, to some extent, the Dalit pockets of the mineral-rich plateau region.


While in the past, plots of land were grabbed from feudal landlords, today the Maoists are resisting the acquisition of tribal land, whether by private entrepreneurs or by the government.


The gradual weakening of tribal political movements — for instance, of the one led by the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha — has also helped in the growth of the Maoists. The decline in the stature of Shibu Soren, arguably the tallest adivasi leader till a decade ago, also compelled the new generation to look elsewhere for leadership. When Shibu Soren, along with A.K. Roy and Binod Behari Mahto, formed the JMM in the Jharkhand region of what was then south Bihar in early 1970s, the police in West Bengal were busy crushing the Naxals in the green fields and highlands in the northern parts of that state. The tribal region of Bihar, West Bengal, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh was largely unaffected by the ultra-Left movement then.


Red Indians

While Soren, known as Guruji, struggled against the dikkus (people from outside the tribal region) and moneylenders, today the Maoists are targeting the security forces and government machinery on the ground that the latter are protecting and promoting multi-national companies in the region. The Maoists are openly championing the cause of the people displaced by industrialization. That is why, even today they are able to draw the support of a section of intellectuals who feel that some of the issues raised by the Maoists are genuine, though they may disagree with their modus operandi.

The non-fulfillment of the dream of the Greater Jharkhand spread over the tribal belts of the then Bihar (now Jharkhand), Orissa, West Bengal, and the Chhattisgarh part of the then Madhya Pradesh, also played a key role in letting down the adivasis. The National Democratic Alliance government, in November 2000, played its own card and created a truncated Jharkhand comprising only 18 districts of the then south Bihar, while the demand was for a bigger tribal state. The Bharatiya Janata Party, which espouses the cause of the merchants and industrialists of the region, wanted to weaken the tribal movements and so imposed its own agenda.


It must also be noted that while the Naxals of a previous generation lost the battle within a few years in West Bengal, the Maoists of today are proving to be a much potent force. In 1960s and 1970s, the Naxals largely adopted the hit-and-run tactic. Now the Maoists come in hundreds to stop trains like the Rajdhani, lead an assault on the jail in the heart of Bihar's Jehanabad, or kill 55 cops in one go in Chhattisgarh. These 'Red Indians' virtually run parallel government in many parts of the country, and hold kangaroo courts.

Now the Maoists are consolidating themselves in the forests. The strategy is to allure the security forces to the landmines laid down for them. The forests and hills have become the Maoists' happy hunting grounds.






Indian art, both contemporary and from the past, was the high point of a number of shows that opened in London recently. Malvika Singh was there to witness the excitement


Clear skies, clean air, bright, crisp sunshine: London was at its crackling best while showcasing the past and present creativity, style and beauty of an erstwhile colony, India, today an energetic and confident nation, making statements through both the tangible and the intangible, and proudly connecting with the world on an international stage.


The pieces that fit snugly into each other to imagine the great jigsaw that is London make for a canvas that is as diverse as the nations that were once its colonies. Britain did not discard the many cultures it had absorbed and made its own, in a manner of speaking, when it began to beat a retreat into its 'lonely island' status in a changed world. That was, and remains, its strength at a time when many countries seem impatient while dealing with different identities, traditions and cultural ethos. Indians are comfortable in Britain.


On the evening of September 30, walking in Piccadilly was like being in the vicinity of Kala Ghoda in Mumbai, one of the cultural corners of that city, or in the Mandi House area of New Delhi where the theatres and art galleries sit. Indians from Delhi, Mumbai and London, as well as Londoners who enjoy the exciting art scene in the city, were walking up to the famous Hauser & Wirth gallery to the opening of Subodh Gupta's Aam Aadmi show. It was overwhelming, the number of people at the opening, quite unlike the usual attendance at such events in London. Warmth, camaraderie, appreciation and bonhomie merged seamlessly. The guests spilled onto the sidewalk for a breather and then crossed the road, passed by the entrance to the Royal Academy, where another international sculptor and an Indian, Anish Kapoor, had his exhibition, and walked further onto Bond Street where the other gallery with Subodh's work beckoned the invitees.


Joining this party on the streets of London was the mayor, Boris Johnson, and his wife Marina. He chained his bicycle at a designated point, was enthusiastic about being present at this great opening with his wife, whose mother is Indian, and was shown around the gallery by Subodh.


First came the box of bronze mangoes, looking real and ripe, titled Aam Aadmi — unable to escape and rise out of the crate they are boxed into. It was a quiet, strong political statement. Subodh trained in Patna at the College of Arts & Crafts, and today, 20 years later, is one of India's most creative example of 'Made in India'. He is inspired, eclectic and unpretentious. He is a fine artist who thinks, dreams and imagines with abandon. His putting together of ladles, spoons, kitchen utensils and buckets, all in stainless steel, into stupendous forms has made an extraordinary impact on contemporary art over the last many years.


The forms and materials used by Subodh allow ordinary people to connect with the statement he is making. There is nothing esoteric about his work. He uses the tangibles of life that help him speak a language comprehended by all rather than a few, which is what makes Subodh special. I will never forget coming up the Grand Canal in Venice, to the landing jetty of Palazzo Grassi, and being confronted with the great skull made of buckets called A Very Hungry God. A sense of pride overwhelmed me. Indian contemporary art had arrived, and the young man from Bihar had put his stamp on the world. There was a bit of that earlier phase on view as well. A large thaali, a flat dish filled with oil, into which coins of the world were placed, was a wonderful invocation to the exhibition preview.


The crowd on that first day was unprecedented. There was much camaraderie, lots to drink and eat, and an amazing and diverse group of people to meet. It was like what India can be when at its best.


Across the road, showing his work at the Royal Academy was Anish Kapoor, who had left India in the early Seventies and settled in London. The show was quite extraordinary in scale, a trifle gimmicky in parts, and had taken London by storm. The English have 'adopted' Kapoor as one of their own and Indians try desperately to connect with him, which makes him international. The 70-foot-high Tall Tree and the Eye, reflecting life below it on steel spheres above, represented what the artist had done in Chicago and elsewhere. Inside a gallery, and never done before, a cannon blasted a 20-pound shell ever so often that splattered red wax on the wall, spelling out 'what-a-violent-world'. Another room gave one the sense of entering an ancient excavation site with mounds of concrete, dead lingams piled on top of each other. To me, this was a vivid description of the state of the male gender, diluted and limp, in a rapidly changing world. Many political positions here as well. Subodh's perspective was 'Indian' and Anish's was clearly inspired by the larger world outside of the subcontinent to which he belongs. It was an interesting juxtaposing of two great artists on the same street in London at the same time.


From an energetic contemporary India beckoning Londoners on Piccadilly, I experienced the other face of the same coin as I walked through the elaborately crafted Maharaja show at the Victoria and Albert Museum, displaying an opulent, extravagant past in sharp contrast to the message that came from Subodh's show. At the entrance is a life-size replica of an elephant, dressed with meticulous detail, prepared for a royal procession. Stunning. And then, the walk through the many aspects of the life of an Indian king, shown using the bits and pieces and the endless paraphernalia that continue to evoke awe.


Designed with care, the overriding message of this show was fine, elaborate extravagance, albeit a trifle overbearing for the average person. The changing time-frame that the viewer is ushered through made the exhibition different from similar ones in the past. Man Ray's photographs of the Holkar royals and two portraits of Yeshwant Rao Holkar I (one in traditional gear and the other in Western attire) were an interesting bridge from where India moved on from being a sumptuous though fading royal-colonial subcontinent to being a vibrant modern democratic republic.


At Christie's that same week, there was a charity event in honour of Pratham, an Indian NGO that works proactively in the field of education. There was also a viewing of the personal collection of art, furniture, carpets, shawls, dinner services, crystal, and other such objects belonging to Ismail Merchant that were scheduled to go on auction the following week.


A walk through the gallery was like visiting Merchant at his home. It was delightful to imagine him, James Ivory, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Shashi Kapoor, Leela Naidu and other greats sitting on those chairs and sofas, chatting animatedly about films, life and living, drinking wine out of fine glasses from a Nawab of Hyderabad's stores, eating off delicate china, all coming together to tell the story of a past age and time, of Heat and Dust.


That week in London was overflowing with the energy of today and the nostalgia of times gone by. The test of this multifaceted celebration of India was that there was no 'government' person representing us, strutting about officiously, cutting ribbons, but instead, independent India, along with its artists and curators, were reflecting the myriad and complex aspects of its culture and society, highlighting the delicate nuances and creating exciting and historical exhibits for the world to see. They had arrived on the international scene and made a statement by breaking away from the dependence on bureaucratic patronage, by refusing to remain entangled in the knots that strangle creative expression. Many salutations and a standing ovation.








The Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind's endorsement of a fatwa issued by the Darul Uloom seminary at Deoband calling on Muslims not to sing Vande Mataram is unfortunate and stirs a needless controversy. It is likely to ignite a political and partisan debate and in the process undermine ongoing efforts to draw alienated Muslims into the mainstream. Conservative clerics believe that singing Vande Mataram goes against the principles of Islam. They have argued that Islam forbids a Muslim from bowing before anybody but Allah and Vande Mataram speaks of "bowing to Mother India."

How can showing respect to one's mother land be confused with one's religious belief defies any logic. This is not the first time that controversy over singing Vande Mataram has erupted. In 2006, when the song's centenary was being celebrated in the country and schools in some states made it compulsory for students to sing it, it ruffled feathers within the Muslim community. It stirred a heated debate during the freedom struggle too, when some drew attention to its presumed communal content.

Today, while conservative Muslims are opposed to singing Vande Mataram as it is seen to be 'un-Islamic' some resent the way it is imposed on them. Indeed, the Sangh parivar has made singing of Vande Mataram a test of one's patriotism to India. BJP governments in several states have made its singing compulsory in schools. As objectionable as the Sangh parivar's imposition of Vande Mataram on Muslims is the JUH's fatwa, which serves no purpose other than widening the communal divide.

The JUH had earned itself praise last year when together with the Darul Uloom it issued a fatwa against terrorism. The progressive gesture was widely applauded. The UPA government too has been taking small but significant steps to reach out to the Muslim community. Home Minister P Chidambaram's presence at the JUH meet must be seen in this context. It is this ongoing effort to build bridges that has been thrown into jeopardy by the fatwa on signing Vande Mataram. The fatwa will prompt the BJP to go on the offensive, pushing the UPA in turn to go slow on the conciliatory moves. The controversy over singing Vande Mataram had died down. The JUH has breathed new life into it by calling for a fatwa. The fatwa will reopen yet again the issue of Muslim patriotism and make Muslims needlessly vulnerable to charges of being anti-national. Such fatwas do nothing to improve their lives.







The vision statement, unveiled by the law ministry to reform the judicial system and bring down the pile-up of cases in courts is the latest initiative to speed up the delivery of justice. Efforts to address the problem have been made in the past with no great success. India's courts are notorious for slack delivery of justice. Cases have been pending for years and even for decades. India's pride in its rule of law and a judicial system to enforce it has been clouded by endemic judicial delays. The statistics is tell-tale: there are about three crore cases pending in various courts. At the present pace of disposal they will take decades to be cleared, even if no new cases are registered. The fact that Indians are keen litigants adds to the problem. The financial loss, mental tension and inconvenience caused to the people can well be imagined.

The vision statement, introduced at a national consultation in New Delhi, proposes to set up a National Arrears Grid, headed by a Supreme Court judge, to reform the recruitment, training and performance assessment system of judicial officers, study the backlog of cases at all levels and make necessary changes in judicial procedures that cause delays. The immediate goal is to reduce the pendency of cases from 15 years to three years.

There is a severe shortage of judges in all courts. As many as 15,000 judges, including retired judges, are to be appointed on a contract basis. It is also necessary to curtail the vacation of judges, limit the number of adjournments, encourage written briefs instead of lengthy oral arguments, improve the infrastructure in courts and employ the best technology to increase efficiency and to save time. Alternative dispute settlement forums, which reduce the burden on regular courts, are needed. All this has to be achieved in the face of challenges like the vested interests of lawyers who benefit from judicial delays.

It is not easy to recruit judges with the right qualifications, integrity and character essential for the position. Therefore attracting good talent to the bench is the key to the success of the plan. The vision statement, if implemented effectively, can speed up the judicial process. But it must be ensured that quality is not compromised in the process and pressure cooker justice is not delivered to the people.









Minister of State for Environment Jairam Ramesh stirred up quite a hornet's nest. Strange  things have happened. The minister's confidential letter to the prime minister through a leak reached the media. Without pausing for locating the source of the leak, perhaps it will be more useful to concentrate on the reported contents of the letter. Since the fact of the correspondence or its contents have not been controverted either by Ramesh or the prime minister's office, it is fair to assume that it can be regarded as a serious point of view and can be the basis for some analysis and response.

What is Ramesh's contention? The environment minister thinks that Indian negotiating position for the upcoming International Climate Change meet in December in Copenhagen should not prove to be a 'deal-breaker.' Elaborating, he has further explained that India should not insist on 'common but differentiated responsibility' of developed and developing countries, where the former are required to undertake binding emission cuts while the latter would be assisted through funds and technology transfer to adapt to climate change and move towards low-carbon strategies.

In a way, Ramesh's contention to distance the Indian official position away from this approach has much wider ramifications. In fact, India's present position to which Ramesh has suggested a revision is not just the Indian position but reflect the considered view of the UN framework convention on climate change to reduce global emission and restrict atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. It is on this that India till now has not only been sharing the common negotiating position of the emerging economies along with China, but also articulating the concerns of poor and developing countries.

This is important for two reasons. Firstly, developed countries particularly the United States had refused to accept the 'differentiated responsibility' and the underlying principle that those who pollute and thereby damage the ecology more have to take a much greater burden in redeeming the situation now.

And secondly, the developing countries and the emerging economies have to pay for the adaptation of technologies to pave the way for low-carbon development strategies. Clearly, the US and other developed countries are not prepared for this. They are hell-bent upon shifting the onus on to the emerging economies.

This cannot be acceptable to the Indian people because scientific studies have clearly established that while climate changes will affect all of humanity — the worst affects would have to be shouldered by the poor, especially in developing countries. India is likely to be among the major affected regions — with melting of Himalayan glacier, erratic and unseasonal rainfall leading to severe floods and droughts, changes in crop behaviour with adverse impact on production of cereals and of course, threatening the present occupations and livelihood of millions of primary producers.


The record of the developed countries, particularly the US had been most irresponsible in the past. The factors affecting climate change could have been much more effectively addressed had the US accepted the Kyoto Protocol and the accompanying mandatory emission cuts. In the present course of climate change negotiations, the same attitude continues.

How can one be unmindful of the fact that compliance with Kyoto would have led to a reduction of emissions by five per cent compared to 1990 base-line level by now? The facts are stunning. The cumulative emission of the developed countries has gone up by 10 per cent and that of US, which stayed out of the Protocol by a whopping 17 per cent.

The cataclysmic proportion of the climate change challenge has been recently highlighted by Maldives — which is a low-lying island nation and a 'frontline state' facing the threat of global warming in a dramatic manner. This island nation — scientists are forecasting may disappear within hundred years if the current trend of climate change is not reversed. Obviously in this battle for survival — developed countries, led by the US, have a much greater responsibility as is clearly established from the past records.

The claim that India's national action plan must voluntarily embark on a series of measures to conserve energy and reduce emissions can dovetail with the developed countries' demands on emerging economies is an exercise in evasion. This is particularly so, because it fails to recognise that the challenge of climate change is indeed a global phenomenon and not a national one. Ramesh is actually tom-toming mechanically a slogan advanced by the ideologues of the developed countries — "Think globally, act locally."


It is another thing that our national action plan can only be effective if it is premised with an objective to mitigate the existing levels of energy access inequalities. The Indian poor today suffer a double discrimination — having to disproportionately bear the impact of the global climate change and of an iniquitous energy access. They deserve a better deal.

So, the national negotiating position, in any case, should be the prerogative of the parliament and not that of the government. India must ensure that the principle of 'common but differentiated responsibility' of the developed and the developing countries is accepted along with the adoption of a credible and responsible pro-poor national action plan to conserve energy and reduce emissions.

(The writer is a Central Secretariat member of the CPM)









Taiwan's position as a de facto independent state seems to be morphing slowly toward the 'one country, two systems' status of Hong Kong. The process is not irreversible but the sentiments of those of mainland origin in the governing Nationalist Party, along with the self-interest of business groups and a widespread sense of economic vulnerability are all pushing the island toward accommodation with Beijing.

The trend could mean an erosion in the support Taiwan gets, albeit erratically, from the United States and Japan.

The most striking evidence of a desire to please Beijing was the denial of entry to the exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer. This was done in the name of 'national interest,' apparently linked to the finalisation, expected soon, of a memorandum of understanding on cross-strait financial links.

For sure, the memorandum would be a major advance, enabling banks in particular to escape the confines of Taiwan, with its low growth and surplus savings, for the fast-growing mainland. And it would bring more mainland capital to local stocks and property. But the government of President Ma Ying-jeou may have forgotten that Taiwan's national interest as an independent state, albeit one that may one day merge with the mainland, sometimes requires sacrifices. The degree of autonomy that Rebiya Kadeer has been seeking for Uighurs is a fraction of that enjoyed by Taiwan or even Hong Kong.


There is real benefit in increasing cross-straits financial links. Banks have much to gain by being able to service clients in Taiwan with business on the mainland. Cross-straits links may attract service industries to Taiwan that would otherwise go to Hong Kong. Mainland tourism is also an unqualified plus.

But Taiwan seems to be talking itself into believing that it is even more dependent on the mainland than need be the case. The island would be a more attractive place for foreign business if it removed the many restrictions that exist to protect local businesses, or stem simply from bureaucracy and outdated rules. Tax issues also tend to keep business offshore while not preventing a huge outflow of capital. The Ma government has made progress on these issues, but they get scant attention compared to cross-straits ones.

It is easy to blame a lacklustre economy on being unable to take full advantage of the mainland. But in reality, Taiwan is a mature economy with minimal growth in its work force. Like Japan, its problems lie with an inefficient domestic services sector, not with an inventive export-manufacturing one.

Dependence on China is often overstated. While 40 per cent of Taiwan's exports go there, more than half are components for globally traded items like laptops and cellphones made by Taiwanese companies and then re-exported from China. The dependence is self-imposed for profit reasons, which may be shifting as mainland costs rise.

Worrying too for friends of Taiwan's liberal democracy is the vengeance being meted out to the opposition by powerful supporters of the Nationalist Party, or KMT. Former president Chen Shui-bian was found guilty of corruption and his conduct has left the opposition Democratic Progressive Party demoralised and frustrated. But given the pervasiveness of money politics and the past reputation of the Nationalists for corruption, the life sentence for Chen is extreme.

Now, in the name of fighting corruption, there is talk of a witch-hunt against other members of the Chen administration. To some, this smacks of an attempt by pro-unification elements to please Beijing by demonising Chen, who supported independence and who suffered much in the cause of breaking the KMT's authoritarian hold on power.

None of this is likely to help Taiwan's relations with its main supporter, the US. Chen upset a natural ally in George W Bush by needlessly provoking Beijing in an attempt to score political points at home. Now the KMT seems to have gone to the other extreme. Taiwan has long disappointed the US with unwillingness to spend money on arms.

Now it may sense a lack of willingness to pay an economic price for the principles of independence and liberalism it claims to stand for. President Ma remains well-regarded abroad, but his grip on the KMT is uncertain. Taiwan lacks a strategic view of itself and how to balance relations with the Chinese mainland, the United States and the global economy with liberal democracy and de facto independence.









There is something arresting about doctors' hands. Whenever I meet a doctor I am always drawn to look at his/her hands. They look so clean, so well-washed, nails so neatly trimmed. The best doctors wear the minimum of rings and things!

One of my childhood memories is the sight of our family doctor, Dr Vaidyanatha Iyer washing his hands after a visit. After examining the patient, the good doctor would come out of the room to find our servant standing by with a shining bell-metal 'kindi,' a vessel with a long spout, filled with water, soap and a clean towel. He would stand near the steps, soap his hands carefully and holding his hands out under the spout, wash them well. He did this after every visit, irrespective of whether the patient was suffering from something contagious, or not.

Dr K N Pillai, who looked after my parents-in-law, my husband and me and our children was a doctor of the old order. He was a gifted and witty raconteur who would make us laugh with his stories. He would also tell us about the many true stories of coming out successful after wrestling with difficult deliveries.

"There I would be, miles away from hospitals, operation rooms or modern equipment of any kind. All I would have were a couple of kerosene lamps, plenty of boiling water and these, my two hands. There was no question of taking the patient to the nearest hospital as it was miles away. I would send a quick and fervent prayer to the almighty and proceed. There were astonishingly few tragedies. These, my two trusted friends," he would say, holding out his two gnarled hands "would probe, massage and pull... and the wonderful reward would be the lusty cry of the new-born. How I loved that moment. And the sound!"

And always, the doctor would say, "There would be, hovering in the background the small figure of the local midwife, unlettered and totally ignorant of any modern medical knowledge but rich in experience and common sense. What marvellous head nurses they would have made, given a minimum of education. But even so they helped, just being there and bringing gallons boiling water."

I wish I had asked our dear doctor to hold out his hands so that I could have taken a photo of those life-saving hands, by now gnarled and not used in the heady exploits of those early days, but still so gentle in taking the pulse of tiny wrists.








State Attorney Moshe Lador hit the headlines this week with a 20-page treatise lashing out against Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman's proposed reforms, which would functionally split up the attorney-general's and state-attorney's all-embracing legal realm.


Lador's rambling essay - billed as a "letter" - was first dispatched on Tuesday to employees of the State Attorney's Office. Then it was also released to the press. A later recipient was the nominal addressee - Lador's boss, Neeman.


Neeman has long advocated that the attorney-general, who functions as the government's legal adviser, be tasked with civil concerns now under the state attorney's aegis, while the chief prosecutor handle all criminal cases.


Nevertheless, Lador accused Neeman of failing to disclose his intentions: "There has not been a single substantial public debate over this across-the-board split in the State Attorney's Office," he charged, "except maybe for show, since the public (including myself) was left unaware of the very significant reform to which we have suddenly been awakened, just as it is submitted for cabinet approval."


Neeman rejected Lador's contention, asserting that "the topics to which the letter refers were discussed at length in many meetings between the minister and the state attorney."


Certainly, the minister's goals were no secret. In fact his predecessor, Prof. Daniel Friedmann, had already aggressively campaigned for essentially the same objective.


In both cases, regardless of the differences in temperament and style of the two ministers, their agendas sparked great controversy.
But Lador's "letter" should be weighed on different scales.


NEEMAN WAS right to argue that "this is an improper act, in which a public servant publicly criticizes his superiors. It is like a general in the army who criticizes the minister of defense, or a commander in the police force who criticizes the minister of public security. This is not proper conduct, to say the least, for an orderly public administration."


Indeed, the textbook notion of government is that the executive branch, headed by the prime minister, formulates policy and calls the shots. The civil servant's job is the responsible and dutiful implementation of such policies.


This demarcation must be insisted upon. Strict compliance with regulations is indispensable and cavalier attitudes to protocol are insufferable. The alternative is outright anarchy in which any civil servant, in any ministry and on any issue, might assume he possesses a license to sabotage anything not to his liking or interest.


This isn't a theoretical danger. Civil servants often forget what the formal hierarchy decrees, and consider it their right to dictate policy.

Earlier this year, for instance, Amos Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Security Bureau, scathingly attacked then-prime minister Ehud Olmert's decision to link opening Gaza's crossings to the fate of kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit. As a consequence, Gilad was sacked as lead negotiator with the Egyptians and reinstated only following a humble apology.


Similarly, last spring, then-budget director Ram Belinkov castigated Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu because a set of draconian edicts, which the Treasury had drafted ahead of the state budget proposal, was discarded. Had Belinkov not stepped down, he should have been fired.


Neeman may be wary of dismissing Lador, lest he fan the smoldering flames of opposition. Yet for the sake of proper administration, Lador should quit or be sent home.


Let there be no mistake, Lador is fully entitled to his opinions - and, in this case, there may be credible weight to his arguments.


However, a civil servant cannot arrogantly admonish his minister, make that criticism public, and stay in office. If he strongly opposes government policy, he is free first to raise his objections within the relevant hierarchy. And then, if still unsatisfied and unable to continue to serve in good conscience, he is free to leave his position and launch a spirited campaign against whatever riles him.


But, the basics must be unfailingly upheld: civil servants, no matter how senior and skilled, are employed to implement policies democratically approved by the people's representatives. The rules of good governance oblige them to keep their opinions to themselves and not tamper with decision-making.








Another right-wing Orthodox Jewish killer has come out of the woodwork, which means, again, that the right-wing Orthodox Jewish camp's stock is going up while that of its opposite number, the secular left, is going down.


This is the way it works now: An "ideological" settler goes on a bombing, shooting and stabbing spree against Palestinians, gays, a left-wing professor, a Christian missionary, maybe a couple of policemen and who knows who else. Immediately, the Orthodox Jewish right professes shock and starts praising itself to the skies, condemning the media and the country's half-dozen or so leftists for incitement, while intimidating everybody else into nodding their heads.


The people in Shvut Rahel, home of confessed murderer Ya'acov Teitel, suspected accomplice Yosef Shpinoza, former Kach activist Avraham Richland and the late Asher Weisgan (who killed four Palestinian laborers in 2005) are absolutely stunned.


How could it happen - here, of all places? Ya'acov was such a nice, unassuming, quiet guy. He was always helping people. Of course we condemn the murders, what a question! And all these "attempts by the Left to take advantage of the situation for incitement against all of the settlers are ugly and pathetic."


The more you think about it, the more you realize how wonderful Shvut Rahel and the other Jewish communities in the liberated territories are. "The residents of Binyamin in general, and Shvut Rahel in particular, are a high-quality, moral and law-abiding public," said Avi Roeh of the Binyamin Regional Council.


And not just the settlers, but all the right-wing Orthodox who identify with them. "The religious Zionist movement believes in abiding by the law and denouncing all violence," said MK Zevulun Orlev of the Habayit Hayehudi party. Wisely, he urged the public and media "to refrain from cynically taking advantage of the investigation in order to place labels on the entire religious Zionist sector."


IT TOOK a while, but I think that message is finally getting through. It used to be that a lot of Israelis thought there was some sort of connection between right-wing Orthodox Jewish killers and their environment. There was a lot of that sort of talk in the early 1980s after the Jewish Terror Underground was exposed. There was a lot of it after Baruch Goldstein. And after Yigal Amir.


But after the expulsion in Gush Katif proved that the settlers were a persecuted community, and after the second intifada proved that leftists have no moral right to open their mouths, the truth is coming out. The truth is winning by a knockout.


Natan Eden-Zada, the Kahanist who killed four Arabs and wounded about 20 others on a bus in Shfaram during the expulsion, was declared a "wild weed" - and nobody argued. Asher Weisgan, another wild weed - no argument. Ya'acov Teitel, yet another wild weed - no argument.


Here's an Israeli voice of moderation, a voice of experience and authority on these matters - Yisrael Hasson, a Kadima MK and former deputy head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) - talking about the Teitel case: "We must not besmirch an entire populace... sometimes wild weeds grow in a well-tended garden."


Exactly. Wild weeds in a well-tended garden. All of them - Teitel,


Weisgan, Eden-Zada, Goldstein, Amir, the Jewish Terror Underground, the Jewish murderers whom the Shin Bet says are still at large, the masked settlers and "hilltop youth" with their guns and clubs - they're all exceptions that prove the rule. And the rule is that when it comes to values, you can't beat the right-wing Orthodox, least of all the jewels in the crown like Shvut Rahel.


Values, values, values, values, values - do these people talk about anything else, do they offer Israel anything but a model of a society based on values, Jewish values, the most valuable Jewish values? We're finally seeing the light. We're also finally seeing that all the leftists, all the elites who criticize the settlers - you know, Kobi, Moshik, Dafna and one or two of their friends - are the true danger, the genuine threat. They're the real Jewish terrorists.


After the Rabin assassination, there were a couple of national religious types, Rabbi Yehuda Amital and Yoel Bin-Nun, who were actually saying that Yigal Amir wasn't such an exception that proved the rule, that there really was something wrong in the ideological community that helped produce the killer, something that had to be fixed.


There are even people who say that before the Six Day War and the settler movement, the national religious camp was known for its political moderation, that a lot of them were even doves.


Orthodox Jewish peaceniks - in Israel! Can you imagine? Try finding one today.


Today there's nobody with any influence, not among the religious and not
among the secular, who will say that the reason every single Jewish political murder is committed by one and only one kind of wild weed - the right-wing Orthodox kind - is that the garden is lousy with bigotry and extremism.


In the ideological settlements, parts of Jerusalem and elsewhere, Baruch Goldstein, who killed 29 men and boys at prayer, is revered as a martyr. The members of the Jewish Terror Underground, those who killed and maimed innocent Palestinians and plotted to blow up the Dome of the Rock, are seen as heroes, pioneers.


Ya'acov Teitel of Shvut Rahel is not the exception that proves the rule. Instead, he is the latest, but not the last, in a long line of extreme but authentic products of an environment that's spiritually ill, at times even toxic.








A few weeks ago, tens of thousands of people gathered in the streets of Manhattan, as they do each year, to celebrate the legacy of Christopher Columbus, discoverer of the New World. With pomp and ceremony, marchers crowded Fifth Avenue, filling it with an array of vivid costumes, colorful floats and lively music as part of the Columbus Day parade that has been held in New York since 1929.


Politicians and local dignitaries took part, as well as people from across the metropolitan area, in what has become a popular salute to the country's Italian-American heritage.


Now, however, there is compelling new evidence to indicate that they have been celebrating the wrong thing all along. Columbus, it seems, was neither Italian nor Spanish nor Portuguese. He was - believe it or not - a Jew.


That, at least, is the conclusion reached by Estelle Irizarry, a professor at Washington's Georgetown University, who studied Columbus's grammar, language and syntax in more than 100 surviving letters, diaries and documents that he penned.


Inconsistencies in his spelling along with numerous grammatical errors led Irizarry to deduce that Catalan, not Spanish, was the native tongue of the Great Navigator and that he hailed from Aragon in northeastern Spain.


But she also found that his style and punctuation corresponded with that of Ladino, the Judeo-Spanish dialect spoken by Spain's Jews. That, along with other aspects of his writings, led her to resolve that he was a Jew or a Converso (a Jewish convert to Christianity) who sought to hide his identity.


If Irizarry is right, then it might be more correct to refer to the man dubbed the Admiral of the Ocean Sea as Chaim, rather than Christopher, Columbus.


BEFORE YOU laugh this off as just another example of wishful thinking, it is worth noting that the mystery behind Columbus's origins has long been the subject of debate, and historians continue to disagree regarding the most basic facts of his life.


Columbus himself was famously vague about his heritage, telling those who asked, "Vine de nada" - "I came from nothing." As a result, researchers have variously suggested that he was the son of a Genoese wool-weaver, the illegitimate offspring of a Portuguese duke or even a member of a noble Greek family.


But a number of Spanish scholars, such as Jose Erugo, C. Garcia de la Riega, Otero Sanchez and Nicholas Dias Perez, all posited that Columbus was a Marrano, the derogatory term for Jews forcibly converted to Catholicism.


Additional proponents of this theory included the late Nazi-hunter Simon Weisenthal, whose 1973 book Sails of Hope argued that Columbus's 1492 voyage was motivated by a desire to find a new homeland for the Jews in light of their expulsion from Spain.


Say what you will, but the evidence is intriguing. Columbus adopted the Spanish last name Colon, which was common among Jews at the time. Upon his death, he reportedly left a part of his bequest to a converted Jew in Lisbon, and his son Ferdinand asserted in a biography of his father that his forefathers "were of the royal blood of Jerusalem."


Columbus's departure on his voyage to America coincided with the ultimatum given to Spain's Jews to leave the kingdom forever, and Jews and Conversos figured prominently among his financial supporters as well as his crew. As historian Cecil Roth noted in his book The Jewish Contribution to Civilization, "it is incontestable that the great explorer had a penchant for Jewish society and that Jews were intimately associated with his enterprise from the beginning."


These included Luis de Santangel, a descendant of converted Jews who provided the bulk of the funds to back the journey, as well as Don Isaac Abrabanel, the famed rabbi and royal financier.


Interestingly, Roth further notes that when Columbus reached the Americas, "land was first sighted by the Marrano sailor, Rodrigo de Triana; and Luis de Torres, the interpreter, who had been baptized only a few days before the expedition sailed, was the first European to set foot in the New World."


NOW, YOU might be wondering: does any of this matter? Should anyone really care if Columbus was a secret Jew? I think the answer is a definite yes. This is more than just a matter of historical curiosity. It is a point of pride, and yet another compelling example of how Jews throughout history have helped to make the world a better place.


Though Columbus never discovered the passage to Asia that he was seeking, he uncovered a new world and expanded the boundaries of mankind's thinking in addition to its understanding of the globe. And the colonization that came in his wake ultimately paved the way for the birth of America, with all the good that has entailed.


Of course, we may never know for sure whether Columbus was in fact a secret Jew. But there are certainly enough bits of evidence to buttress such a theory, and to justify making the case that he was indeed one of "ours."


So instead of leaving it to the Spaniards, Italians and others to lay claim to this historical celebrity, I think it is time for Israel and world Jewry to do so as well. Tributes and museum exhibitions should be organized and an effort made to highlight Columbus's Jewish background.


For at a time when anti-Semitism in America is on the upswing, and Washington is pressing Israel to make dangerous concessions, it would be nice to remind them of the debt they owe to those they would defame.








Hillary Clinton's rescue mission last weekend to breathe life into the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process was either a failure or a success, depending on who's telling the story.


The secretary of state made a quick stop in Abu Dhabi on Saturday to press Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to drop his demands for a total settlement construction freeze and return to the peace table with Israel. He refused.


She then flew to Jerusalem, where she praised Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's "unprecedented... restraint" in agreeing to a partial moratorium - but no freeze - on settlement building. That was the deal Abbas rejected hours earlier, sending his spokesman out to declare there is "no hope of negotiations on the horizon."


Although Netanyahu had just told Clinton he was "eager to advance" the peace process, he had reason to be pleased. The Obama administration had backed off - far off - its original demand for a freeze, even in east Jerusalem, and the Palestinians were being blame for blocking the relaunching of the peace process.


The other peace process is more important to Netanyahu: repairing frayed relations between himself and the Obama administration without risking his right-wing coalition. Both sides have been working very hard at it, as Clinton's effusive if undeserved praise demonstrated, and it has paid off.


THE PRIME minister's top priority is not the Palestinians but the Iranians and their nuclear ambitions, and that will top his agenda when he meets President Barack Obama at the White House next week.


Obama has made relaunching Mideast peace talks a major administration goal, and it will take more than Abbas's latest demands to make him walk away from it. Netanyahu will tell the president he is a willing partner for the Palestinians, but most of all he wants to convince Obama to intensify pressure on Iran.


Similarly, Obama wants to make sure Israel doesn't feel no one is taking the Iranian threat seriously so it will have to act unilaterally.


Netanyahu never had much enthusiasm for the Palestinian negotiations because key coalition partners would not support the kind of concessions essential to reaching an agreement on final status issues. But so far he hasn't had to confront that because the Palestinians are deeply and bitterly divided over who should rule Palestine and whether their goal is peace or the elimination of Israel.


Abbas's inflexibility on settlements may have less to do with Israel than with internal Palestinian politics. Facing elections next year, he feels he cannot afford to look weak on such a highly charged issue. After Obama called for a settlement freeze, Abbas climbed out on the same limb and made it a condition for returning to the peace talks. When Obama climbed back, Abbas was unwilling - or unable - to follow lest his political opponents accuse him of going soft on settlements.


The peace process is in deep trouble not just because neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis are ready, but also because the administration launched it the day after taking office without being fully prepared with staffing, policy and support at home and in the region. And it is paying the price.


With the prospects for real progress fading, the Obama administration may be looking for a face-saving way to rescue its peace initiative: indirect talks, probably through US special envoy George Mitchell or some other intermediary. That may not appeal to Netanyahu, who has rejected a similar arrangement with the Syrians, insisting on face-to-face talks.


Clinton took her rescue mission Morocco to try to drum up support for the peace process among Arab foreign ministers meeting in Marrakech, but if the past is any indication she can expect a heavy dose of world class kvetching laden with demands for what the US should make Israel do, but little else.


However, Ynet reports Arab leaders are privately telling Abbas: Quit dithering and resume negotiations, because by holding out you strengthen Netanyahu's hand and weaken Obama's ability to press Israel for concessions.


Abbas can't afford to refuse to talk indefinitely or to keep raising new demands or even walk away; he has to go to the voters next year and be able to show that his path - negotiations - produces more benefits for Palestinians than Hamas's - violence. What's more, he can't afford to lose the US and international aid that keeps his government afloat.


Obama's national security adviser, Gen. James Jones, last week told the J Street lobby's conference that if the president could solve only one international problem, his recommendation would be Israeli-Palestinian peace, which he called the "epicenter" of US foreign policy.


The president made it a top priority on the day after he took office, and a big share of his stature is at stake in his commitment to relaunching the peace process. He won't want to go to Oslo (an ironic location in this case) on December 10 to accept his Nobel Peace Prize with nothing to show but failure on what was to be a defining issue for his administration.








The spike in violence in Israel - particularly the recent, high-profile murder of children - has once again ignited the national debate over capital punishment. This paper has taken a stand ("What child killers deserve," Editorial, November 4) against the execution of child-killers, suggesting instead that we "lock them up and throw away the key." I can concede the virtue of this position vis-a-vis civilian murderers, as there is a high probability that these criminals will rot in prisons for decades, a fate that may arguably be worse than death.


But when it comes to terrorists, I strongly advocate that we adopt the opposite response.


Desperate times call for drastic measures. The savage attacks which periodically target our civilian population bring home a terrible reality many of us already knew: The Palestinian terror machine has no red lines. Every gathering of Jews - anytime, anywhere - is a legitimate target for these sadistic haters; on a plane, at a Pessah Seder, in a school library, a kindergarten or a hospital. There is no "Geneva Convention" to restrain them, no moral boundaries in which to confine their crimes.


Like Amalek of old - the archetypal Jew-hater par excellence - these contemporary Hamans prey upon the innocent as their primary targets.


They enter hospitals with explosive-belts under their clothes; they lay in wait to shoot at passing cars; they blow up school buses as they load or unload their young passengers. And when they have perpetrated their "courageous" deeds, an ecstatic Palestine dances in the streets and hands out candies, displaying overwhelming, enthusiastic support for the outrage. Even the "moderate" Palestinians like Mahmoud Abbas mutter only the most tepid and half-hearted of condemnations, never declaring that the crime was wrong; saying only that "it hurts Palestinian interests."


IN SUCH an environment, we must take drastic action. One of the things we can and should do is activate the death penalty - used just once in our history, when the architect of the Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann, was executed by hanging on June 1, 1962 - against any terrorist who survives an attack, or against those who directly assist him in carrying out his crime.


Endorsing capital punishment is not very popular these days. The European Union bars member states from using the death penalty, and human rights activists scream bloody murder at the prospect of innocent people being wrongfully executed. Some religious leaders decry the unfairness of anyone taking a life other than the God who gave it (though they are strangely silent about euthanasia).


Jewish sources, too, tend to lean against capital punishment. The Talmud calls a Jewish court that executes one person in 70 years a "bloody court." And Maimonides writes: "It is better to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent one to death." Yet the Talmud, not to mention the Torah, cites numerous occasions when criminals were indeed executed, ruling specifically that capital punishment can be instituted "when the times demand it."


And in the United States - which suspended executions in 1973 but resumed them in 1977 - a recent Gallup poll found that 60 percent of the population not only supports the death penalty, but believes the sentence is not being carried out often enough.


There are three compelling reasons why terrorists should be executed and, as in the Eichmann case, their remains cremated and unceremoniously dumped at sea in an unknown location. First and foremost is justice. Simply put, these monsters who specifically target civilians have no right to live. They have forfeited the most basic human privilege by virtue of their crimes; any punishment save death is too good for them and is an obscene insult to the grieving victims of terror.


Secondly, killing a terrorist insures that he or she will not be committing any more murders. We have seen all too often how murderers are set free in this country after a relatively short time, only to kill many more innocents. As long as we have morally-misguided men in our government who, incredibly, go around calling for mass-murderers such as Marwan Barghouti to be freed in the name of "peace," we can never be sure that these criminals will stay behind bars. Unless we execute them.


FINALLY, THERE is certainly an element of deterrence created by capital punishment. In America, a clear correlation has been shown between the number of executions and the concurrent decrease in homicides. The most striking example of this is in Texas, which executes more murderers than any other state. According to the Justice for All organization, the Texas murder rate fell by 60 percent after the state began to aggressively enforce capital punishment. And while Middle East terrorists often proclaim their willingness - even zeal - to be martyred, their accomplices in terror, and even they themselves may certainly be influenced by the knowledge that their lives will be forfeited for their crimes.


Critics may say that executing terrorists will only inflame the situation, and endanger Israeli lives even more. But anyone who has an inkling of what Hamas is all about knows the absurdity of that argument.


Judaism, more than any other religion, cherishes the sanctity of life and will go to great lengths to protect it. But that is precisely the point: Anything less than the death penalty for terrorism is an insult to the victim, to society and to life itself.


The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra'anana.








Every year a small village in late medieval Japan faces the terror of being invaded by roving bandits who steal crops and even kill the farmers and their families. In a last ditch effort to save themselves from the invaders, the villagers hire samurai - members of the feudal warrior class - to defend them. The samurai successfully defeat the bandits' attack in a series of battles, some dying in the defense. The villagers are finally able to live in peace. The samurai bury their dead and depart the scene of their triumph. Life in the village goes on.


This is the deceptively simple story told in grand yet subtle fashion by master filmmaker Akira Kurosawa in his classic 1954 work The Seven Samurai. I first discovered this film and its director more than 25 years ago at the Metro Theater on Manhattan's Upper West Side. At the time I was a sophomore at Columbia University, studying comparative religion and history.


While I devoted much of my time to learning the details and trends of Jewish history, a class titled "Japanese Religious Traditions" intrigued me. The marquis of the Metro announced an upcoming festival celebrating 50 years of Japanese film. I was hooked. Since my sister worked for the company that owned the theater, I secured free passes to see as many films as I wanted in three weeks. Most of the movies I imbibed were by Kurosawa. To experience the fruits of his genius was a revelatory experience.


Such films as Rashomon, Yojimbo and Throne of Blood did not disappoint me. In his work, Kurosawa presents himself as a master storyteller with a sharp eye for detail, a keen sense of humor and pathos, a deep understanding of the acting craft and, in his later films, a brilliant ability to exploit color. What impressed me most, however, was Kurosawa's use of medieval and early modern Japanese history as the setting for many of his films.


The Seven Samurai takes place in the 16th century, during the civil wars that racked feudal Japan. Kagemusha, one of Kurosawa's later films, is a wonderful tale set in the early modern Japan of the Tokugawa shoguns. Both Yojimbo and Sanjuro depict the life of the decline of the samurai class in the 18th century. Kurosawa based a number of these period films on actual events in Japanese history.


SEEING THESE films in a short span of time both exhilarated and overwhelmed me. As a student of Jewish history, I must admit that I felt cheated - and I still feel that way today. While American-Jewish filmmakers do present films that focus on the Holocaust - Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List comes to mind immediately - one wonders why directors and screenwriters are not exploiting the great events and figures of ancient, medieval and early modern Jewish history. We have seen many films focusing on the Shoah, the State of Israel, and contemporary Jewish life in America. I have yet to see a film biography of Judah Maccabee, Moses Maimonides, or Gracia Nasi.


Historians have written thousands of studies of the Jewish past that are available for everyone to read. Is there not one story of ancient or medieval Jewish life that deserves a film adaptation? Have we not had enough telling of stories of Jewish history's disasters? Is there not one director or screenwriter that can chronicle the triumphs of Jewish history?


The great Jewish historian Salo Baron warned against historians treating the Jewish past as a series of pogroms, persecutions, exiles and mass murder. He argued that this "lachrymose" perception of Jewish history is a distortion of the reality of the past. Where are the filmmakers, both Jewish and non-Jewish, who can begin to tell us the story of our people that is both meaningful and inspiring?


As a student of Jewish history and a lover of classic films, I have always imagined that the historical experiences of the Sephardi Jews could be a gold mine of material for any director or screenwriter. The "Golden Age" of Jews in medieval Muslim Spain alone provides many great stories to tell. The epic life of Samuel Hanagid, the prime minister of Granada - the story of a Jew who led Muslim armies out to battle for 20 years - could be a wonderful vehicle for a filmmaker who wants to tell a tale from the past packed with action, drama and humor, as well as be relevant to the conflict between Jews and Arabs in our own times.


The cinematic treatment of the life of Judah Halevi, the great Hebrew poet of Andalusia who yearned to return to the Land of Israel but tragically was never able to realize his dream, would be a showcase for wonderful Hebrew poetry, both liturgical and secular. Gracia Nasi's dramatic and exciting life would be the perfect basis for a film that could explore the role of a powerful woman in an early modern world dominated by powerful men. Her story could also be an inspiring testament to the power of Jews who embraced Jewish belief in the face of persecution and the Inquisition.


These are only three examples from the rich history and heritage of the Jews of Spain and Portugal. There are hundreds of stories that need to be told. They could inspire a new generation of Jews - both in the Diaspora and Israel - who are ignorant of their past, their culture and their tradition.


There is more to the history of our people than suffering and disaster. We would not be here today as a people if Jews were not proud of their past and of their heritage. It is time for a renaissance in the world of Jewish culture. Let us work together to creatively present the Jewish past in a meaningful and profound way that will also entertain.


Filmmakers should continue telling the stories of the Holocaust and of contemporary Israel and Jewish life in America. But let us all learn from Akira Kurosawa. Although he is no longer alive to make new films that resurrect the past, he still serves as a model and an inspiration to Jewish filmmakers, writers and artists. We cannot live as an amnesiac people. The past has played a great part in making us who we are. We must explore that past without denigrating it or idealizing it. Kurosawa has taught me that lesson.


The writer is on the faculty of Nova Southeastern University's LifelongLearning Institute in Davie, Florida.








In his personal life, Yaakov Neeman is a pleasant man, always ready with courtesies such as "my learned colleague." But whenever his former client Benjamin Netanyahu recruits him to serve as justice minister, he becomes an aggressive rival to both the attorney general and the state prosecutor. This happened in Netanyahu's first government, when Neeman suspected then-attorney general Michael Ben-Yair and state prosecutor Edna Arbel of personal motivations in his investigation and subsequent indictment (though in effect, the probe was opened on orders from the Supreme Court). And it is happening again in Neeman's rush to clash with Attorney General Menachem Mazuz and State Prosecutor Moshe Lador.

Mazuz will complete his term in about three months. But the normal process of appointing his successor got tangled up in Neeman's bid to split the attorney general's job - and, effectively, the entire prosecution - in two. This is what prompted Lador's letter on Tuesday, which was unprecedented in both form and content.

The attempt by Neeman and his supporters to divert the debate over the letter to questions of etiquette and procedure will not work. This is especially true because the decision-making process that resulted in Neeman's proposal appears to have involved a deliberate avoidance of consultation - in defiance, among other things, of the Winograd Committee's conclusions about the Second Lebanon War.


At stake is an essential component of the legal system, without which Israeli democracy cannot survive. Neeman tries to pretend that the issue is the division of authority between bureaucrats and elected officials. But the state prosecutor, like the Bank of Israel governor, the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, the police commissioner and the heads of the security services, is no petty clerk; he is a senior civil servant vested by law with considerable powers. Neeman's criticism is even stranger coming from a man who was never elected to the Knesset, but was appointed to the cabinet at the behest of a party chairman suspected of criminal activity, as if he were one of Avigdor Lieberman's clerks.

The man who is supposed to be the head of the justice system is instead waging all-out war on it from the inside. Neeman's victory in this war would be a loss for the State of Israel. By sending his letter, Lador was fulfilling his duty to the Israeli public - and all the more so as appointing a general prosecutor and splitting the prosecution in two is intended to push Lador to resign, perhaps even before he makes a decision on Lieberman's case.

Thus it is not the state prosecutor who should resign, but the justice minister - who, instead of strengthening the justice system, is working to destroy it.








Ariel Sharon was not an ideologue, but he left a legacy behind him: the division of the Land of Israel. Sharon did not believe in peace. He realized how deep the dispute really is, he did not trust the Arabs, and he remembered 1948. But as time went by, Sharon also lost faith in the occupation. Very belatedly, he realized that the status quo endangers the very existence of the Jewish state. Thus, he began looking for a third way when he was in his in his 70s. A way that would grant the Palestinians a state and grant Israel defensible borders without necessarily bringing the conflict to an end.

Sharon's strategic goal was a long-term interim agreement. The strategic alternative was a long-term interim situation without an agreement. Either way, Sharon believed that Israel must act quickly and with determination: that it must establish borders that would enable Israelis and Palestinians to live side by side - without peace, but also without occupation.

Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni inherited Sharon's party and his marketing staff, but destroyed Sharon's legacy. In complete violation of everything Sharon believed in, they sought a permanent agreement. And, again in complete contrast to Sharon's defining trait, they did nothing to alter the reality on the ground. Instead of a third way, Olmert and Livni adopted the path of Meretz. Between one war and the next, they spoke about peace and promised peace and wrapped themselves in the festive garb of peace. The leaders of Kadima made cynical use of Kadima's toolbox and its political position in order to advance a program that was not Kadima's. A path that led to a dead end.


Next week, Shaul Mofaz will try to revive the Kadima way. At a time when Benjamin Netanyahu was going nowhere fast, Ehud Barak was twisting and turning and Livni was leading people astray, Mofaz was hard at work. With the help of a small group of experts and the cooperation of many research institutes, the former defense minister analyzed the strategic situation thoroughly and sought a way out. He looked for a new organizing principle that could jump-start a rational diplomatic process that was not divorced from reality. The result is an original and creative diplomatic program that he intends to present in a few days. A plan that will challenge Netanyahu, Barak, Livni and the entire political establishment.

Mofaz's basic assumptions are those of Sharon: On one hand, at this point in time, there is little chance of reaching a final-status agreement. On the other hand, Israel must urgently effect a change that will produce a two-state solution. The way to do this is via an interim solution - an agreement that will create a Palestinian state in two years in about 60 percent of the territory of the West Bank.

Mofaz is aware that the Palestinians are leery about establishing a Palestinian state with temporary borders. For this reason, he recommends that alongside implementation of the interim agreement, intensive negotiations be held on a final-status agreement. In his assessment, the establishment of a Palestinian state will intensify pressure on both sides to make the concessions needed to achieve a historic compromise. But even if the effort to make peace fails again, a two-state situation will have taken root.

Once 99 percent of the Palestinians are citizens of a free Palestine, the Israeli-Palestinian situation will look different. Once the evacuation-compensation law is implemented, Israel will gradually converge within its own borders. Even if the conflict does not come to an end immediately, it will be stabilized. Just as in Sharon's vision, Israelis and Palestinians will live side by side in relative calm until peace arrives.

All his life, Shaul Mofaz has been looked down on and derided by the Israeli media. In September 2008, two television channels arrogantly robbed him of Kadima's leadership. But Mofaz is a man who rises above his image. The plan he has prepared is not flawless and is not free of risks. But it is the most serious and practical plan any Israeli leader has prepared in years. It is backed by Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres, and has a chance of interesting the Americans and the moderate Arabs. The plan may also restore Kadima to its lost path.

Therefore, it is worth listening to the former chief of staff, and it would be appropriate to extend him credit with which to launch his initiative. It would not be surprising if this move by Mofaz once again rearranges the shape of Israeli politics.








Every few weeks you have to sow fear, every few months you need to make threats, and once every year or two you have to have another little war. Blind cooperation between the defense establishment and the media holds the promise of another round of fighting. In that way, it's possible to escape some of the blame from the Goldstone report and wallow in the conditions we love best: being the victim, feeling threatened and uniting in the face of the great external danger allegedly in the offing.

The Israel Defense Forces will be above it all and cleanse itself of a series of suspicions and failures. This can also translate into huge budgets, glorified importance and influence for both the generals and the military commentators. It also creates good television ratings and sells sensationalist newspapers and advanced weapon systems. What's better than that for us?

The most recent cry of alarm: NASA in Palestine, Israel's Rafael Advanced Defense Systems in Gaza. Hamas launches an Iranian rocket - it must be Iranian - 60 kilometers. The head of Military Intelligence reported on it, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke immediately about missile systems, and the media immediately broke into its favorite war dance. "Three million citizens within range," "Confrontation in December," "Are you within range?" "Outskirts of Tel Aviv in danger," "Doomsday weapons" - frightening headlines accompanied by no less scary maps. "This is a new dimension confronting the IDF. It's not a simple matter. It's really a different story altogether. We should remember that there will be many casualties on the home front," roared the national baritone - the military commentator on television.


So again we are dealing with the grotesque - a strip of land under siege wallowing in its distress and ruins, with a pitiful paramilitary organization whose weapons arsenal would be an embarrassment to an IDF basic training camp. And it already proved its inadequacy in the last war. But the militants are portrayed to us as a superpower. That's how they create the scenario for the next war. That's how they empower not just the enemy, but first and foremost the IDF, which can beat the enemy.

The warmongering military commentators say war will come early, maybe even next month. The furious predictions of the commentators will again be a self-fulfilling prophesy. As with the horrible earlier incarnations, we can soon expect a series of "incidents" that are "heating up the front" - bombing a tunnel or shelling a weapons lab. A few helpless peasants who dare approach the security fence, rusty plows in hand, will be killed after being depicted as terrorists laying explosives, and the Palestinians will fire hollow Qassams in response, sowing fear in the Negev and creating pressure on the government to "do something."

"The top brass are not asking if there will be another military confrontation with Hamas, but when," according to the cliche about the next war. But of course the only important question is not asked: "Why?" rather than whether or when. This is the question that reverberates.

It would be funny if it were not so depressing. Even satire would not be as ridiculous as this constantly recurring reality. No lessons are learned. A thousand commissions of inquiry will not spare us this march of folly. Gaza is locked up and quiet, relatively speaking. True, it will not remain calm if the siege is not lifted and its residents are not allowed to enjoy humane living conditions. Those who want another criminal and unnecessary war in December are invited to join the celebration of insanity that is overcoming us, orchestrated by the barons of war - the generals and commentators.

Those who want to try to stop this vicious cycle are welcome to think of an alternative: the immediate lifting of the siege, the rehabilitation of Gaza, the release of Gilad Shalit at the stated price, an effort to bring Hamas into the peace process and an attempt to reach a long-term agreement with it. It's possible. It has never been tried, but there's a catch. What will the generals and commentators do if, God forbid, the calm in the south continues?








Not even the Iranian threat, the spread of poverty in Israel or the growing violence are as frightening to Shas leaders as what they consider the real danger threatening the existence of the State of Israel - the Gentiles. Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who has not let up in his struggle against the migrant workers and their Israeli-born children (in recent days, he surpassed himself by speaking of the threat of terrifying illnesses that the foreign workers might bring with them), has now found reinforcement for his approach. After the police solved the murder of the Oshrenko family, Yitzhak Peretz, a former head of the Shas party and former interior minister who is currently chief rabbi of Ra'anana, took the opportunity to launch a racist attack on immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Since he doubts their Judaism, he considers them potential criminals.

This is the moment to note that in the previous century, some of the leading figures in the American mafia were Jews, and some of them, like Bugsy Siegel, were infamous for their extraordinary cruelty even when compared to other mafiosi. Over the past few years, reports have appeared in the crime pages of both American and European papers about Israelis whose Judaism is certainly not in question. The export of these Jewish criminals is offset by the import of criminals whose Judaism even Rabbi Peretz could not find fault with.

Israel has in the past brought several nefarious criminals here under the aegis of the Law of Return. True, it was forced to deport Meyer Lansky, one of the cruelest American mafiosi, after he had spent six pleasant years here. But Joseph "the Butcher" Stacher, Lansky's right-hand man, who got rid of dozens if not hundreds of people with his own two hands, settled down well in Israel. He went into partnership with Rabbi Menahem Porush to establish the strictly-Orthodox Central Hotel in Jerusalem, and he was buried in the Holon cemetery after dying a completely natural death.


The Judaism of some of the oligarchs who came here was checked closely, but no one insisted that Arcadi Gaydamak provide a certificate of good conduct as a condition for immigration. Shmuel Flatto-Sharon, a dear Jew (in more ways than one) and even a Holocaust survivor who speaks Yiddish, was also welcomed here with open arms and even elected to the Knesset, despite charges that had been brought against him in Europe. The Kahanist movement also brought to Israel young Americans with a criminal background who went to live in the settlements.

We likewise have a plethora of locally produced criminals. Many murders are carried out at the behest of heads of criminal families, all of them Jewish. Even the despicable murderers of children, such as Eli Pimstein and Ronny Ron, were born here. And there are murderers, not necessarily of Russian origin, who become even more Jewish when their trial is due to begin. Others return to religion after they have been incarcerated. Even several leaders of the Shas movement itself have sat, or are sitting, in jail.

Were I to start generalizing in the spirit of the Shas leadership, I would be obliged to declare that Shas is a movement of criminals. But clearly this would be a false generalization. On the other hand, Shas members ought to be especially cautious before stigmatizing an entire community as potential criminals.

Quite a few bad people can be found in our midst, most of them Jewish. But there has been no report of a migrant worker or refugee who became a murderer. And it is certainly unacceptable to view their children as potential criminals or disseminators of disease.

Instead of making residence in this country conditional on the state of a man's foreskin or a woman's familiarity with the religious precepts that apply to baking challah, the authorities should perform the same checks performed in all enlightened countries - those aimed at determining whether someone seeking to immigrate here has a criminal background.

And in a properly run state, needless to say, it would also be possible to put both Peretz and Yishai on trial, on charges of inciting to racism.








The state prosecutor has put Benjamin Netanyahu to a leadership test. Will Netanyahu decide at the next cabinet meeting that the attorney general's post will be split into two, or will he give in to the campaign conducted against him by the parallel government - that is, the legal establishment?

Since the Likud's rise to power in 1977, the legal establishment has taken upon itself governmental powers that no other legal system has anywhere in the world. If Netanyahu puts the legal establishment in its place, he would restore to the elected government some of the authority that the white knights of the law grabbed for themselves. If he hesitates, the non-elected authority (with the help of the media, which is always mobilized in its favor) will dictate to the legal government what it may or may not do, claiming that whoever disobeys is infringing on the rule of law.

The prime minister - as is his wont in matters to which the media objects - may avoid making a decision, impeding the important process of splitting the job of attorney general into the separate positions of general prosecutor and legal adviser to the government. Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, who is spearheading the move, has always stood by Netanyahu, even when it was not in the public's best interest. But a failure to secure the prime minister's support would weaken his standing both in the Justice Ministry and in the public eye, making it difficult for Neeman to function in his position. He would certainly be deeply hurt on a personal level

as well.

A look at those opposed to the split, especially the leaders of the campaign against Neeman, shows that most just barely made it into the Knesset. They are conducting an aggressive campaign as a means of maintaining the hegemony they have lost, by means of the judiciary, where they wield considerable influence.

In the past, when the split was discussed on a theoretical level, it won the support of quite a few leading jurists - academics as well as practicing lawyers. They even expressed surprise that Israel is the only democracy in which the general prosecutor is also the government's legal adviser, and intervenes in its political decisions, sometimes by fiat. These days, for some reason, those one-time supporters have fallen silent.

Until recently, the Supreme Court justices came from a pool of people with nearly identical political, ideological and even social orientation. It was headed by controlling chief justices with clear political agendas, such as Aharon Barak. The Supreme Court created a judicial-governmental entity that was unique in the extent of its intervention in the state's political affairs. And the attorneys general, who come from the same ideological-professional-political world as the court, serves as a supreme supervisor over the government's actions who operates on behalf of this entity, even if his duties were never defined as such.

Former justice minister Daniel Freidmann tried to restore to the elected government authorities that which had been taken by the judiciary, especially the Supreme Court. The left responded - as it has in Yaakov Neeman's case - by drawing the lethal, effective weapon in which both the Israeli and international left has specialized since time immemorial: personal mudslinging.

They didn't dare to slander Friedmann, but the doubt regarding the motives of this soft-spoken Israel Prize laureate permeated public awareness and obstructed a considerable part of the important reforms he came up with.

Dismissing the state prosecutor over his attack of Neeman's proposal - and as of press time, the government hasn't even done that - is not what will restore the government's authority and prestige. Only if it dares to decide that the attorney general's duties must be split will the Likud government prove that it is on its way to gaining real power, albeit more than a generation late.

If this happens the whole issue will fade away and be forgotten, and the rule of law will benefit. And Israel's judiciary will take one more step toward becoming a reasonable, sensible structure, as it is in the most enlightened of countries.






Tuesday's vote — particularly the election of Republican governors in New Jersey and Virginia — has produced heated predictions about the revived power of Republican social conservatism and the declining fortunes of Barack Obama and his 2008 coalition.


If there were broad messages in the grab bag of contests, they were for both parties: Voters remain fearful about the economy. Independent voters are a force to be reckoned with. And everyone wants results.


In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg narrowly won a third term. It is impossible to link that to President Obama — who nominally endorsed the Democrat, William Thompson Jr., but left little doubt that his affection lay with the mayor. Mr. Bloomberg won on competence. Voters who said they cared most about experience and knowledge of the city's problems voted heavily for him.


The closeness of the race contained another message for Mr. Bloomberg: Tone down the arrogance. Voters who said they most valued a leader who understood them went overwhelmingly for Mr. Thompson. If the mayor wants to create a legacy of leadership to match his legacy of competence, he needs to be less imperious and listen more closely to his constituents.


Competence was also the issue in New Jersey. Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat, failed to deliver on the promise of his financial expertise and could not get even party loyalists to vote for him in sufficient numbers. Independents who were still more fed up with Mr. Corzine voted for the Republican, Christopher Christie, who won with just under 49 percent of the vote.


That election was not about Mr. Obama, although he is probably regretting the three visits he made there. It certainly was not a referendum on Republican orthodoxy, since Mr. Christie did not run as a social conservative. And while Mr. Christie did run a traditional anti-tax campaign, most voters polled on the eve of the election said they did not know much about his views.


In Virginia, Republican Robert McDonnell also avoided trademark social conservative issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. His two main pledges were to create jobs and fix the public transportation system. He handily beat R. Creigh Deeds, even in the state's more Democratic and liberal precincts.


One race, a special election for the House of Representatives in upstate New York, did turn on an ideological divide — but it was within the Republican Party. The party's leadership drove its candidate, Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, out of the race because she crossed the line on issues like abortion. The anointed conservative, Douglas Hoffman, then lost to the Democrat, Bill Owens.


So what does this all mean for next year's election? Above all, it means that voters want their leaders to focus on sound policy making, not party orthodoxy. And the No. 1 issue in every poll is the economy.


That means that Mr. Obama and Democrats in Congress should not draw the wrong conclusion and get timid about vital tasks like health care reform or more stimulus spending to ensure that any recovery also creates more jobs. At some point, they are going to have to bite the bullet and raise taxes to pay for all of this.


Mr. Christie and Mr. McDonnell, who promised to do more for their citizens, will also have to deliver. And we suspect that they are going to find it very hard do that and cut taxes. The voters are not in a forgiving mood.







As a former beat cop, Ron Huberman, the new chief of public schools in Chicago, learned long ago that violence among young urban people could not be solved simply by hauling ever larger numbers of children off to jail.


With the prompting and support of his boss, Mayor Richard M. Daley, Mr. Huberman is trying a new approach to the violence that has killed and maimed hundreds of young people and turned Chicago's poorest neighborhoods into precincts of terror and despair.


The ambitious plan will offer mentoring, counseling and jobs to high-risk students. To determine who they are, Mr. Huberman analyzed the cases of more than 500 young people who were killed or wounded in gun violence over the last two years. The analysis suggests that nearly 10,000 of the city's 113,000 high school students are at risk of becoming victims of gun violence and need help.


Their lives follow a clear pattern. They are absent from school more than 40 percent of the time, on average. They have fallen behind and are more likely to be enrolled in special education. And they generally attend 38 of the city's nearly 140 public high schools.


None of the shooting incidents studied occurred inside the schools, and most happened well after school hours. But the chaotic schools attended by high-risk students tend to differ from better-run schools in measurable ways. They have fewer counselors and social workers. They have higher rates of suspension and expulsion. They more often involve the police in minor skirmishes, like shoving matches, that then go unresolved.


Mr. Huberman wants to remake the high-risk schools by beefing up the social work and counseling staff, by better training security guards and overhauling a disciplinary process that seems designed to throw out as many children as possible as quickly as possible. Most crucial, he hopes to improve involvement by guardians and parents.


Chicago has a significant gang turf problem. To deal with that, the city plans to do a better job of creating safe-passage lanes so that students will be able to come and go from school without being harmed. At-risk students will be offered paying jobs and paired with local advocates who will engage the young person's family and be available around the clock. The point is to provide these young people with the constructive adult relationship that so many of them seem to lack.


The plan, which will be started with federal stimulus money, will cost $60 million for the first two years. But it will more than pay for itself if it reduces the number of shootings and deaths and puts more young people on the road to productive lives instead of the road to prison. It deserves full and enthusiastic support from the city, community groups and from the business community, which could play an essential role by providing the young participants with jobs.







The swine flu vaccine has encountered a remarkably mixed reception. Some people are railing against their doctors about the vaccine's scarcity while others are waiting hours in line for their shots. But a surprisingly large number of people — even some health care workers — are holding back because they fear the vaccine or don't view the virus as all that great a threat.


Our advice is that the most vulnerable people — the young and pregnant women — and those in critical jobs, like health workers, should take the vaccine.


From all available evidence, it seems just as safe as the flu vaccines that tens of millions of Americans routinely take every year. It has been produced by the same manufacturers using the same techniques they always use. It has not been "rushed" into production (the fearmongers' term). The only "rushing" involved loading the vaccine into vials while simultaneously finishing clinical trials to determine the correct dosage.


The trials have shown that the vaccine is extremely well matched against the current swine flu strains. The trials have also detected no safety problems so far. Almost 14,000 adults, children and pregnant women have received the vaccine without serious adverse effects. Pain and swelling at the injection site were the most common complaints.


Of course, safety problems could always emerge as tens of millions of people get vaccinated. Federal health officials have wisely initiated an expanded system of monitoring to detect any serious adverse effects among recipients and quickly determine whether they are caused by the vaccine.


So far, the swine flu virus looks no more virulent than a normal seasonal flu. That is bad enough. It has killed roughly 4,000 Americans and sent roughly 40,000 to the hospital. The virus is active in 48 states, and even if it begins to taper off soon, another wave might hit us early next year. Those most at risk would be wise to get vaccinated when they can find a supply.








The rising sun over the Koolau Mountains cast a glow upon the ballistic missiles planted on the lawn of a submarine museum at the edge of Pearl Harbor, throwing long shadows across the water. They pointed at the bone-white memorial to the U.S.S. Arizona and, just beyond it, at the still-floating battleship Missouri, about to leave her pier.


It's not every year that you get to see a World War II battleship on the move. Particularly in the heart of Pearl Harbor, along what used to be Battleship Row, ground zero for the carnage of Dec. 7, 1941. The sight drew me and about 50 other people to the water's edge just after dawn on Oct. 14.


The Missouri, mothballed for years, was towed to Hawaii from Washington in 1998 to be a bookend to the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, symbols of Japan's surprise attack and abject defeat. The Arizona was blown up and lies at the harbor bottom, a tomb for her crew. The Missouri sailed triumphant into Tokyo Bay in 1945; surrender papers were signed on her deck.


Rusting and leaky, the Missouri was being towed to dry dock for three months of repairs. As per the aphorism, turning her took a little while. Shortly after 7 a.m., she came into full broadside view, then swung around. From head-on, 16-inch guns bristling, she looked like every fat-bellied battle wagon in every newsreel you ever saw. In the foreground, she was dwarfed by the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan.


The Pearl Harbor shipyard resurrected the Pacific fleet in the months after Dec. 7 and is doing the same for the Missouri. But whatever conflicts lie ahead for the Pacific Command, the Missouri will not be involved. Among other repairs, a local paper reported, she is getting a new tent on her fantail, "for parties and other revenue-generating events."


It would never be good to get misty-eyed about World War II, whose horrors will cast shadows to eternity. But it is possible to appreciate and even honor its relics, like the sea-changed Arizona, and makeshift monuments, like Mighty Mo. Once it was the deadliest instrument of all-out war, now it is tamed and a gathering place for tourists, sailors and schoolchildren.


Her main duty now is to preserve the great moment that took place on her deck, so different from today, when a global war with a beginning and a middle finally came to an end.








The moment of truth for health care is at hand, and the distortion that perhaps gets the most traction is this:


We have the greatest health care system in the world. Sure, it has flaws, but it saves lives in ways that other countries can only dream of. Abroad, people sit on waiting lists for months, so why should we squander billions of dollars to mess with a system that is the envy of the world? As Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama puts it, President Obama's plans amount to "the first step in destroying the best health care system the world has ever known."


That self-aggrandizing delusion may be the single greatest myth in the health care debate. In fact, America's health care system is worse than Slov—er, oops, more on that later.


The United States ranks 31st in life expectancy (tied with Kuwait and Chile), according to the latest World Health Organization figures . We rank 37th in infant mortality (partly because of many premature births) and 34th in maternal mortality. A child in the United States is two-and-a-half times as likely to die by age 5 as in Singapore or Sweden, and an American woman is 11 times as likely to die in childbirth as a woman in Ireland.


Canadians live longer than Americans do after kidney transplants and after dialysis, and that may be typical of cross-border differences. One review examined 10 studies of how the American and Canadian systems dealt with various medical issues. The United States did better in two, Canada did better in five and in three they were similar or it was difficult to determine.


Yet another study, cited in a recent report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Urban Institute, looked at how well 19 developed countries succeeded in avoiding "preventable deaths," such as those where a disease could be cured or forestalled. What Senator Shelby called "the best health care system" ranked in last place.


The figures are even worse for members of minority groups. An African-American in New Orleans has a shorter life expectancy than the average person in Vietnam or Honduras.


I regularly receive heartbreaking e-mails from readers simultaneously combating the predations of disease and insurers. One correspondent, Linda, told me how she had been diagnosed earlier this year with abdominal and bladder cancer — leading to battles with her insurance company.


"I will never forget standing outside the chemo treatment room knowing that the medication needed to save my life was only a few feet away, but that because I had private insurance it wasn't available to me," Linda wrote. "I read a comment from someone saying that they didn't want a faceless government bureaucrat deciding if they would or would not get treatment. Well, a faceless bureaucrat from my private insurance made the decision that I wouldn't get treatment and that I wasn't worth saving."


It's true that Americans have shorter waits to see medical specialists than in most countries, although waits in Germany are shorter than in the United States. But citizens of other countries get longer hospital stays and more medication than Americans do because our insurance companies evict people from hospitals as soon as they can stagger out of bed.


For example, in the United States, 90 percent of hernia surgery is performed on an outpatient basis. In Britain, only 40 percent is, according to a report by the McKinsey Global Institute.


Likewise, Americans take 10 percent fewer drugs than citizens in other countries — but pay 118 percent more per pill that they do take, McKinsey said.


Opponents of reform assert that the wretched statistics in the United States are simply a consequence of unhealthy lifestyles and a diverse population with pockets of poverty. It's true that America suffers more from obesity than other countries. But McKinsey found that over all, the disease burden in Europe is higher than in the United States, probably because Americans smoke less and because the American population is younger.


Moreover, there is one American health statistic that is strikingly above average: life expectancy for Americans who have already reached the age of 65. At that point, they can expect to live longer than the average in industrialized countries. That's because Americans above age 65 actually have universal health care coverage: Medicare. Suddenly, a diverse population with pockets of poverty is no longer such a drawback.


That brings me to an apology.


In several columns, I've noted indignantly that we have worse health statistics than Slovenia. For example, I noted that an American child is twice as likely to die in its first year as a Slovenian child. The tone — worse than Slovenia! — gravely offended Slovenians. They resent having their fine universal health coverage compared with the notoriously dysfunctional American system.


As far as I can tell, every Slovenian has written to me. Twice. So, to all you Slovenians, I apologize profusely for the invidious comparison of our health systems. Yet I still don't see anything wrong with us Americans aspiring for health care every bit as good as yours.










In Ohio, citizens marched to the polls on Tuesday and voted to allow gambling casinos in the state. This was a obviously a message to President Obama that independent voters are not happy with the way the health care bill is going.


Really, I don't see how else you can interpret it. Ohioans were looking forward to the lower insurance costs that would come with a robust public option, and if the president can't deliver, they're planning to pay their future medical bills with their winnings at the roulette wheel.


Also, people here in Cincinnati rejected a proposal that would have made it harder for the city to expand mass transit. Obviously a repudiation of the entire cash-for-clunkers initiative.


Meanwhile, both Atlanta and Houston voted on mayoral races, and in each city there is now going to be a runoff between a woman and a black guy. You think this is a coincidence? The meaning could not be clearer if the ballots had had a "maybe we should have gone for Hillary" line.


There seems to be a semiconsensus across the land that the myriad decisions voters made around the country this week all added up to a terrible blow to the White House. If that's the way we're going to go, I don't think it's fair to dump all the blame on gubernatorial contests in New Jersey and Virginia.


Although there is no way to deny that New Jersey and Virginia were terrible, horrible, disastrous, cataclysmic blows to Obama's prestige. No wonder the White House said he was not watching the results come in. How could the man have gotten any sleep after he realized that his lukewarm support of an inept candidate whose most notable claim to fame was experience in hog castration was not enough to ensure a Democratic victory in Virginia?


New Jersey was even worse. The defeat of Gov. Jon Corzine made it clear that the young and minority voters who turned out for Obama will not necessarily show up at the polls in order to re-elect an uncharismatic former Wall Street big shot who failed to deliver on his most important campaign promises while serving as the public face of a state party that specializes in getting indicted.


They would not rally around Corzine even when the president asked them! Really, what good are coattails if they can't drag an unlovable guy from a deeply corrupt party into a second term?


Also, we have heard a lot about the fact that Corzine's campaign made sport of his rather chunky opponent, Chris Christie. It was not until Wednesday morning that it became obvious that Christie's victory was actually an outcry by average, pudgy Americans against a president who has to continuously battle against a tendency to lose weight.


We have a dramatic saga story line brewing here, and I do not want to mess it up by pointing out that Obama's party won the only two elections that actually had anything to do with the president's agenda. Those were the special Congressional races in California and upstate New York. But obviously they reflect only a very narrow voter sentiment, since one involved a district that was safe for the Democrats and the other a district that had not been represented by the party since 1872.


On the other hand, Mayor Michael Bloomberg's victory clearly fits into the pattern of voter outrage against an unsuccessful White House. Initially, New York City residents found it hard to figure out how to send their message of inchoate rage against all that Barack Obama stands for, since Bloomberg is neither a Republican nor a Democrat, but rather a member of the well-known splinter group, Extremely Rich White Persons. Also, Obama had backed his opponent, Bill Thompson, with an endorsement that could not have been more oblique and half-hearted if he had sent it via Candygram.


In the end, everyone got together and decided to re-elect Bloomberg by a margin that was much narrower than expected. I know this is the first time that you are hearing this, but I voted on my way out of town on Tuesday, and I can assure you that everyone in New York intended to convey their unhappiness with the administration's foreign policy by electing Bloomberg by a margin of five percentage points — exactly the average number of letters in "Iran" and "Israel."


The voters were directed by a crack team of political operatives disguised as elementary school bake-sale ladies, who spelled out their orders with chocolate chip cookies. The national news media missed this entirely, but insiders could tell that the cookie people were working under cover, since the school system banned genuine pastry sales as part of Bloomberg's healthier-than-thou initiative.


It all worked out great, and I hope Obama has gotten the message. Really, he had better shape up and completely transform the way Washington works before the next election. Otherwise, another governor's head could roll.










DID Republicans win so many of the elections on Tuesday because of their conservative base or because they went beyond it? The answer to both questions is yes.


In some places in 2009 it was enough to not be a Democrat, just as it was sufficient for Barack Obama to be an alternative to President George W. Bush in 2008. In Greensboro, N.C., an unknown 70-year-old conservative who has never held elective office beat the incumbent mayor, the first such defeat there since 1973. Message to Republicans: When only 20 percent of Americans self-identify as Republicans, it is not our brand voters are buying. It's the other guy's brand they are rejecting.


Republicans won, fundamentally, because President Obama and the Democratic leadership in Washington have rebranded themselves as the party of economic irresponsibility. In New Jersey, where the Republican, Chris Christie, won the governorship, 57 percent of voters said the economy and taxes were the top issues. In Virginia 60 percent said the same — and Bob McDonnell, the Republican governor-elect, won economic voters by 15 percentage points. As my friend James Carville might now say, "It's the economy, again, stupid."


While the conservative base was energized yesterday — conservative turnout was up 7 percent in Virginia and 5 percent in New Jersey from 2008 — something else took Republican candidates across the finish line: They remembered that their principles were good for more than saying no. Republicans won't find a more conservative candidate than Bob McDonnell if they draw lots from National Review's subscription list. He didn't abandon or "moderate" his principles to win the middle. Instead, he complemented them with an optimistic, populist vision of economic success.


Mr. McDonnell offered suburban voters, working women and independents a better way to increase jobs and expand the economy, from the bottom up. It was a stark contrast to what Americans are seeing in Washington, where elitist Democratic politicians, in bed with the Wall Street establishment, are taking Americans' tax dollars away to invest in arrogant, top-down public-sector schemes. This helped Mr. McDonnell forge a powerful coalition involving not just independents but also young voters; he won the under-30 vote by 10 percent. Thanks for the opportunity, President Obama. On Tuesday, Nov. 4, in Virginia a New Republican Party was born. See you in 2010.


Alex Castellanos is a Republican political strategist.








TO hear Republicans tell it, Tuesday's elections, in which their candidates captured the governorships of Virginia and New Jersey, were a repudiation of President Obama and indicated a voter shift toward their party. They should calm themselves down. The results don't show this and, in fact, suggest some rather daunting challenges for the Republicans.


Start with the predictive value of the Virginia and New Jersey victories: there is none. Sometimes the party that wins both those governorships gains seats in the next Congressional election; sometimes that party loses seats. Far more consequential is the historical pattern that the new president's party tends to lose seats in the first midterm election. Once that is taken into account, as the political scientist Alan Abramowitz of Emory University has shown, victories in Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial races tell you nothing about who will gain seats in 2010 or how large that gain will be.


But perhaps voters were repudiating the president and his policies? In New Jersey, this analysis makes no sense. While an approval rating isn't the same thing as the percentage of votes received, both figures are good measures of a politician's overall standing. So it's significant that Mr. Obama's approval rating among 2009 voters (57 percent) was identical to the percent of the vote he received there in 2008. In Virginia, while the president's 2009 approval rating was 5 points less than his 2008 voting result, the 2009 electorate was also far more conservative than last year's. Besides being far older and whiter than in 2008, the voters in Virginia on Tuesday said they had supported John McCain last November by 8 points, meaning they were not favorably inclined toward President Obama to begin with. In fact, given that only 43 percent of these voters said they supported Mr. Obama last November, his 48 percent approval rating among them does not indicate a shift away from him but rather toward him.


If any repudiation is going on, perhaps it is of the conservative wing of the Republican Party. Democrats captured New York's 23rd Congressional District for the first time since 1872, as Bill Owens defeated Doug Hoffman, the hard-line conservative who forced a moderate Republican out of the race. Mr. Hoffman's narrow defeat is now likely to embolden conservatives — who far outnumber moderates in the party — to challenge Republican incumbents they find ideologically impure.


That will be a problem for those in the party seeking to emulate the electoral strategies of Bob McDonnell in Virginia and Chris Christie in New Jersey. Those men sought to cover up the conservatism of their views in many areas. That was relatively easy to do in governors' races in an off-year election. It will be harder for candidates to do in national elections in 2010 and especially 2012.


So the good news for Republicans is that they now have two more governorships. The bad news is that they're still Republicans — with all the baggage that entails.


Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, is the editor, most recently, of "Red, Blue and Purple America: The Future of Election Demographics."








Despite the late night meeting between the top leadership of the PPP at the presidency, which led to the NRO being withdrawn from parliament, it is becoming obvious that the prime minister and the president are working at odds with each other. The agreement by the president that the ordinance be relegated to history apparently lacks sincerity. He and his henchmen are reported to be working behind the scenes to muster enough support in the National Assembly to push the legislation through and to pressurize the PM to do the same. Mr Gilani meanwhile, in a speech to the assembly, has said his government seeks a reduction in presidential powers. The divide then is clear. The president obviously fears the consequences of an NRO-free environment, which would make it possible for corruption cases against him to be revived. The courts would then need to decide if the presidential immunity which protects him should stay intact – permitting a shield to stand to guard Mr Zardari against a potentially fatal sword. But it is apparent even now that as the president continues his efforts to parry the blade, he is suffering more and more wounds with each day that passes.

Largely as a result of grave errors in judgment and leadership style, the presidency is increasingly isolated. The PM is well aware of this – and his latest speech to the National Assembly represents an effort to avoid being seen as a part of the presidential camp. By doing so, Mr Gilani perhaps hopes to keep himself afloat, even without the president. But in his heart of hearts he must realize that the NRO fiasco has gravely weakened his party. The efforts now on by the presidency to salvage the NRO could cause further damage. The PPP is visibly split and no longer able to present a unified face. The recognition that going against popular will can lead to a great many problems has yet to come. There is now a deepening cloud that hovers over the presidency. Whether Mr Zardari can pull himself out from under it, regain the support of allies and find a stretch of fair weather again is now increasingly questionable. As a result of the actions of our leaders our country once more faces instability and crisis which will do it, and its people, no good at all. Worse still, the leaders fail to realize this – caught up in the megalomania that power apparently brings – even as their distance from people continues to increase, grow into a yawning chasm.






Twenty-twenty hindsight is a wonderful thing. It is imbued with rather more certainty than foresight for one thing, even if memory can produce differential images of that which is being looked at in the mirror of history. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has offered us a view to the rear that is both illuminating and profoundly sad. In an interview with Fox News she admitted that it was the US that was negligent in 2001 and 2002 by allowing Al Qaeda to escape from Afghanistan to Pakistan. She was further asked if the US was therefore responsible for Al Qaeda's presence in FATA – to which she replied that if a better job had been done 'back then' we might not have been in the predicament we are in now. Indeed not. The catastrophic decisions and policies of the Bush era are going to poison the world for generations to come, and undoing or repairing the damage to the relationship between America and most if not all of the Muslim world is a work to span multiple presidencies – both here and in the US.

The yet-to-be decided or revealed new American military strategy in Afghanistan is going to 'bleed' into Pakistan. If there is a troop 'surge' there is going to be a balancing surge of Taliban and Al Qaeda figures and fighters coming over the border – and coming up against our own armed forces. The Americans have recently supplied us with a range of materiel – including helicopters – the better to fight the war we fight on behalf of the rest of the world, but we should not delude ourselves that the fight in Waziristan is going to be anything like the fight in Swat – it is going to be longer, harder and deadlier. An indication of that has been provided by a Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan spokesman who on Tuesday said, "We are prepared for a long war". Looking back, America got it badly wrong in Afghanistan almost a decade ago. Looking forward one of our principal foes tells us we are in for a long war. Militarily the Taliban and Al Qaeda have never been decisively beaten; and no matter their losses the mindset that drives their ideology persists. The battle to change that has not even begun.







It is something of a miracle that more people did not die in the head-on collision between a goods train and the Allama Iqbal Express, which took place on the outskirts of Karachi. Nineteen deaths are of course 19 too many. But the toll could have been still higher had the trains being moving faster and had run into each other with greater impact. We are told by railways officials that the accident occurred because the driver of the Allama Iqbal Express, coming in to Karachi, ignored a signal to stop. The driver has now fled. But what we do need is a full inquiry to ascertain what happened and why.

In the past there have been reports of overworked drivers stalked constantly by exhaustion. There may be no truth in this, but an examination of complaints is required. One of the problems is that once the furore that follows every incident dies down, promises made at the time are forgotten and no meaningful effort to remedy flaws takes place. This means that weeks or months or, if we are fortunate, years down the road another disaster lies in wait along the tracks that wind their way across the country. Behind these incidents lie years of neglect and poor management practices. A lack of accountability aggravates the issues. Even after much bigger disasters ministers show no inclination to resign or accept responsibility. Such failures explain to a large extent why we continue to struggle to get systems in place and to enforce controls that could help save lives and prevent suffering.







Hillary Clinton's visit with a difference was probably the most significant event in Pakistan-American relations since the advent of President Barack Hussein Obama. She came, she saw, but while she did not quite conquer the "hearts and minds" of Pakistanis, Hillary at least earned their grudging admiration. She showed more guts than the bunkered-up Pakistan rulers, who refuse to leave the comfort and safety of their "5-star prisons" in Islamabad.

Unlike the aloof and abrasive Holbrooke, Hillary reached out to the "real" Pakistan. She got a peep into the emerging Pakistani society -- dynamic, vibrant, outspoken and self-confident. She seemed taken aback, used as visiting high-level Americans are to a sanitised Islamabad, where the officially-certified truth of the fawning ruling elite links sycophancy and servility to their self-perpetuation.

A profile of this "new" Pakistan is instructive, with three key ingredients. First, while the "old" Pakistan was politically a "one-window operation" -- monolithic and centrally-guided -- today's multiple power centres go beyond the military-security Establishment or the traditional political elite, and these now include the fiercely-independent media, an assertive civil society, confident young men and women with faith in their country's future, and a free judiciary that for the first time is truly an autonomous player.

Second, in contrast to the "old" Pakistan where the political elite was united in its belief that the road to Islamabad lies through Washington, the "new" Pakistan has little time for 'business-as-usual' political shenanigans, an absence of fear of power and authority, and no "Holy Cows."

Third, there is a broad popular consensus woven around a rejection of the mediaeval mindset and terrorism of the extremists, the corruption and capitulation of the ruling elite, and the hubris and diktat emanating from Washington.

While Pakistan's fourth flirtation with the United States goes through its predictable course of romance-disillusionment-distance, there is some good news and bad news regarding Washington's Afghanistan policy. First, the good news. Unlike Lyndon Johnson and George W Bush, Barack Hussein Obama is not allowing his generals to lead him to "Vietnamistan," as critics are calling the escalation in Afghanistan. As seven meetings of his "war council" demonstrate, Obama has bid goodbye to the non-starter that was his "Af-Pak" strategy. The smart politician that he is, Obama would not want his presidency to sink in the mountains of the Hindukush, hence the "review and reflect" mould.

But the bad news is that the Obama administration remains clueless on Pakistan and Afghanistan. They know what they don't want to do -- not escalate to such an extent that the US will end up facing another quagmire. But they still don't know what they should be doing or how to go about it.

After "Afpak" is dead and hopefully buried, here's what Pakistan should tell Washington on how to go about a doable strategy:

-- Trust Pakistan as an ally, and treat Pakistanis with the respect and dignity they deserve. After all, they have the highest stakes and suffered the most as the "eye of the storm" since the 30-year unrelenting war in Afghanistan (attempts at encouraging a civil-military divide amongst "good" and "bad" Pakistanis won't work);

-- Don't make Afghan policy hostage to a failed and flawed ruler in Kabul, who neither has credibility nor any legitimacy. Cobble together a government of national unity in Afghanistan, and do it quickly. Karzai today is just another Babrak Karmal;

-- Stop treating terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan as only a "Pakhtun problem." The Pakhtuns, on either side of the Durand Line, are suffering the most. They have faced death, destruction and displacement with fortitude. The Pakhtuns are the most hardworking of the ethnic groups living in Pakistan, with a deeply democratic and egalitarian ethos. During a conference at NATO headquarters in July 2007, Khalid Pashtoon, an Afghan MP from Kandahar, told the gathering that notwithstanding tall clams of expansion of the Afghan National Army (ANA), representation of Pakhtuns from the troubled southeastern Afghanistan in the ANA was still less than 1 percent;

-- Remember, the road to stability in Kabul now lies through Pakistan, so its security and strengthening should be paramount, not the other way around. Pakistan, with a functioning, modern, state infrastructure, is doable with greater intelligence coordination and fashioning of a fresh, comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy, which the country still lacks. American-style "nation-building" in Afghanistan is not doable.

"Af-Pak" lies buried for a combination of reasons. It was cobbled together in a hurry based on certain assumptions, notably a distrust of Pakistan military-security establishment's intentions regarding extremism, and confidence in the Kabul administration's ability to serve as an anchor of US political strategy in Afghanistan. Both have been disproved by subsequent developments.

Much has happened in the region since then. Pakistanis have demonstrated unprecedented resolve, unity and determination to protect the vision of their Founding Fathers regarding their country, as the successful military operations in Swat-Malakand and South Waziristan demonstrate. The US now has no political prop to its military strategy, especially after the disastrous election fiasco in Afghanistan.

There has been the first official interaction between the Indian government and the ISI, and a softening of the Indian stance on Kashmir, with a renewed willingness to "talk to all, without preconditions." This change of heart in New Delhi is partly premised on a fear of the resurgent Maoists (who now influence 20 of India's 29 states) and on the fiery polemics between China and India, the first such strident exchange in 30 years.

For the future, three core areas of distrust and conflict remain in Pakistani-American relations. And unless these are resolved by the Obama administration, neither the bilateral relationship nor any US strategy in Afghanistan will succeed.

First, the two sides view their enemies differently -- the US does not view our enemies within as their foes nor do we view their adversaries in Afghanistan as our threats. Hence, a mutual lack of cooperation in tackling each other's enemies, whose most recent manifestation was the US/NATO forces in Afghanistan timing the closure of check posts on their side with the Pakistan strike in Waziristan.

Second, India and its role in Afghanistan are viewed differently in Islamabad and Washington, with the latter brushing aside Pakistani concerns and taking no interest or measures to stop the growing proxy war between the two rivals in Afghanistan.

Third, the US views the Pakistan military and security services essentially in an adversarial light, to be contained, controlled and "cut down to size." Washington conveniently overlooks the fact that the main threat to the democratic dispensation is not from any budding Bonapartists waiting in the wings, but from the same reasons – "bad governance and increasing corruption" -- that Obama mentioned in his stern phone call to Karzai on Nov 2. These issues, vital for Pakistan's stability and democracy, were in the original Biden-Lugar bill, but are strangely missing from the final legislation, for reasons best known to Washington.

Irrespective of what Obama decides for Afghanistan, the Pakistani state is already in the process of reinventing itself, a process that has been hurt by US ignorance and arrogance regarding its much-maligned ally. The challenge for Obama is to fashion a Pakistan policy that matches the new realities in the region, rather than reflecting an old, outmoded mindset.


The writer is a senator and senior political analyst. Email: mushahid.







Dear readers, forgive me. I must apologise. I have tried to ignore it. I've attempted to abstain from ever mentioning it. I even thought of calling in sick in order not to write this column today. I know you are tired to the back teeth reading about it. Yes, I must talk briefly about the now infamous Kerry-Lugar Bill (KLB).

Now before your turn to the sports pages, please bear with me. You see, Kerry-Lugar Bill and the recently dropped National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) all boil down to one thing. The answer of which can be found in the recent production of Mama Mia in Karachi: Money, money, money.

The defunct NRO and the KLB are intrinsically linked. One bill was about sheltering our own tax evaders and the greedy corruption of our political elite (you know who you are), whilst the latter is an aid assistance bill by a foreign power, paid for by foreign taxpayers. Hilary Clinton was right on the money, excuse the pun, last week when she took a swipe at our tax evasion.

"The percentage of taxes on GDP is among the lowest in the world…We (the US) tax everything that moves and doesn't move, and that's not what we see in Pakistan," said Ms Clinton. She then went on to offer a dire warning for the future. "You do have 180 million people. Your population is projected to be about 300 million. And I don't know what you're going to do with that kind of challenge." The answer, of course, is that we need to tax more and tax better if we are to provide the children of our country with better schools, hospitals and infrastructure.

Let's look at the statistics for a second. We have 2.2 million registered taxpayers out of a population of 180 million. Of those, only 1.2 million people actually pay tax, out of which 80 per cent are the salaried class. In total, we collect about 11 per cent of our GDP in tax (as compared to 28 per cent in the US and the UK an astonishing 46 per cent, according to HM treasury). Our feudal elite and their farms (you know who you are), which account for about 20 per cent of GDP, are exempt from any income tax at all. According to a recent report in Jang, tax evasion in Pakistan is estimated at Rs500-600 billion per annum. That is the equivalent of almost half of the total tax collection of about Rs1,200 billion during the current fiscal year.

It seems that old adage, that all that's guaranteed in life are death and taxes, doesn't apply to Pakistan. Well, except the death part. With this kind of fiscal black hole, all we can realistically do is accept foreign assistance, whether it is from the IMF or the US. How many of the protestors over the Kerry-Lugar Bill pay tax? Can Nawaz Sharif, the army generals and all members of the MMA honestly tell us that they pay the rightful amount of tax? Either pay tax, or expect to remain slaves of western powers. It's that simple. But we don't like paying tax, do we? Especially our political masters who are addicted to the dollar, euro and yen. Sixty-two years on, our colonial mindset is still alive and well. A recent exchange between our president and a Newsweek reporter attest to this. The reporter asked Mr Zardari if he agreed that things were better, and he launched into a plea that Pakistan needed a $50 billion Marshall Plan. This coming from a man who, according to Aitzaz Ahsan in The New York Times last year, had expenses that "are not from sources of income that be lawfully explained and accounted for."

So for all the protestors of the KLB, perhaps it would be better to direct your anger a little closer to home -- to those people who don't pay tax. Perhaps you might find that you are one of them. And to those who say "why should we pay tax we don't see anything for our money. The politicians just steal it anyway." Well, two wrongs don't make a right. What differentiates you from our corrupt leaders? You are both effectively stealing money from the country's purse. You are no better that our dear politicians. And to our dear political and military masters, may I humbly make a request. Before you go tapping on the window of the gora sahib's car, with begging bowl in hand, could we have full financial disclosure of your taxes?

With rising inflation and growing budget deficit, it is churlish of us to reject the KLB assistance of $1.5 billion a year. And if we care so much about Pakistan's 'sovereignty', and we are so proud and patriotic towards this country we profess to love, there is a simple solution to our financial woes. We must pay our taxes.

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