media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month november 12, edition 000348, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper's Editorial at one place.
- MAYA STUMPS MULAYAM
- INDIA IS NOT WANTED
- INDIA JUST CAN'T READ PAKISTAN - G PARTHASARATHY
- BUREAUCRACY IS KILLING RTI - SANJOG MAHESHWARI
- HIGH ON SOCIAL CAPITAL - SHAILAJA CHANDRA
- TALES FROM BABUDOM - HIRANMAY KARLEKAR
- CIVILIANS CAUGHT IN CROSSFIRE - NAVI PILLAY
- EARLY WARNING FOR FUTURE WARS OVER GAS - OLEG MITYAEV
- BYPOLLS A SHOT IN ARM FOR MAYA AND MAMATA
- REVIEW PAROLE SYSTEM
- RIGHT THING TO DO
- INTOLERANT POLITICS A THREAT TO URBAN LIVING - BY AMRITHA IBRAHIM
- BIKING IT TO KEEP THE WORLD A COOL PLACE - MAX MARTIN
TIMES OF INDIA
- HAND'S UP
- KEEP POLITICS OUT
- MAKE THE VISIT COUNT -
- BUILD INFRASTRUCTURE TO KEEP PACE
- THIS ROAD LEADS NOWHERE -
- WHAT'S YOUR SMOTHER TONGUE? - BACHI KARKARIA
- CONCEAL AND REVEAL -
- THAT'S THE WAY OUT
- BARELLING ON AT 90
- INDIA'S NEW RAJ - SAMAR HALARNKAR
- THE REDDY CHALLENGE - VARGHESE K. GEORGE
- Probity watch - Opening their own closet - Neelesh Misra in New Delhi
- Danger signal - Line of concern - ATUL MATHUR IN NEW DELHI
- ONE-PARTY STATE?
- MAMATA'S TEST
- TWO LANGUAGES
- MUSHARRAF'S SUCCESSOR - EJAZ HAIDER
- WHAT'S IN AN OATH? - RAJEEV DHAVAN
- A COLD WIND - DHRUVA JAISHANKAR
- HELPING BRAZIL HELP US
- TAKING NAXALITES HEAD-ON
- HOGGING SPACE - C. RAJA MOHAN
- WHOSE ECONOMIC FORUM?
- NOT SO GOOD OR SERVICEABLE
- SPECTRUM OF RAJA'S 'INNOCENCE' - MK VENU
- A CONFERENCE THAT'S WORTH SPREADING - NIKHIL PAHWA
- VALUING INTANGIBLE PROPERTY - ANURADHA SALHOTRA
- REPORT CARD
- BY-ELECTIONS AS POINTERS
- ICC AND KENYA
- STALIN: A REMARKABLE COMEBACK - VLADIMIR RADYUHIN
- THE HAZARDS OF BEING ZARDARI - NIRUPAMA SUBRAMANIAN
- OF RECEDING GLACIERS AND LACK OF BENCHMARK DATA - MEENA MENON
- NEED FOR CREATIVITY IN CLASSROOM
- 'STRONG MAN' TRYING TO AVOID WHIFF OF THE DICTATOR
- CHARLES TRIPP
- CLEAR WINNERS
- NARROW SHAVE
- LEADERSHIP ON THE LINE
- FIGHTING HINDI HEGEMONY - R JAGANNATHAN
- ALL ABOUT FORCE
- SLIDE OF THE LEFT
- LAST MAN STANDING
- ABUSE OF PAROLE
- POWER DYNAMICS IN PAKISTAN - BY G PARTHASARATHY
- D(E)IVISIONS - BY RACHNA NEHRIA
- IMPORTANCE OF MADHU KODA - BY UTTAM SENGUPTA
- INVOLVE LAND-OWNERS IN DEVELOPMENT - BY G.S. GREWAL
- FAILURE OF ADIVASI DREAM HAS FUELLED MAOIST FIRE - BY SOROOR AHMED
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
- RBI CREDIT POLICY
- VILLAIN OR VICTIM?
- WHEN DREAMS TURN SOUR - PATRICIA MUKHIM
- TERROR OF RELIGIOUS FANATICISM - AZIZ-UL HAQUE
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- A SHIFT TO THE CENTRE
- SMES DRIVE INDIA'S GROWTH TO PROSPERITY
- A HANDS-OFF APPROACH IS OFTEN BEST
- 'HALF-YEARLY DISCLOSURE RULE INVESTOR-FRIENDLY' - REENA ZACHARIAH & MV RAMSURYA
- DISTRIBUTORS NOT GAME YET FOR MF FEE DISCLOSURE - NISHANTH VASUDEVAN
- INVESTORS CONTINUE TO SHUN RIGHTS ISSUES - VIJAY GURAV
- WORK ALWAYS OUT OF INSPIRATION - PARAMAHAMSA NITHYANANDA
- THE ORGANISED RETAIL IS STILL A FEW FEET UNDER WATER
- INDIAN RETAIL IS EMERGING WISER FROM THE EXPERIENCE
- DISINVEST FOR BETTER GOVERNANCE - T T RAM MOHAN
- ITC GREEN DRIVE CLEANS TOBACCO STAIN - T K ARUN
- EXIT STRATEGIES WILL MAKE MARKETS CHOPPIER: JIM O'NEILL - ANDY MUKHERJEE
- WE ARE HAPPY AS AN INDEPENDENT COMPANY: TOM LEIGHTON - ABHIMANYU RADHAKRISHNAN & SURBHI GOEL
- CONGRESS ON A ROLL, MAMATA TRIUMPHS
- THE WALL'S GONE, BUT DIVISIONS REMAIN - BY S. NIHAL SINGH
- TRUCKS, TRAINS AND TREES. PICK YOUR BATTLE - BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
- DHONI'S XI OVERRATED? - BY DC DEBATE:
- BRINGING UP MANU - BY ANTARA DEV SEN
- OZ SEEKS AN ASIAN FRIEND - BY ASHOK MALIK
- GROUND ZERO
- GWALIOR GOOF-UP
- 'DINOS WERE HOT-BLOODED KILLERS'
- A PRESIDENT FOR EUROPE - SALMAN HAIDAR
- CAST OF POLITICS
- POOR RECORD
- THE ECONOMIC OUTLOOK - BHASKAR DUTTA
- LIVING UNDER A SHADOW - NEHA SAHAY
- EAT, DRINK AND BE MANY
- SIPPING ON TIME
- FLURYS, OLD INTO NEW
- UNABATED SLIDE
- PUNISH THE ROWDIES
- CLASH OF LOYALTIES - BY SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
- BRAZIL SHOWS HOW TO FIGHT HUNGER - BY ANDREW MACMILLAN, IPS
- STRANGE ARE HER WAYS - BY NAVARATNA LAXMAN
THE JERUSALEM POST
- ROAD WARRIORS
- CANDIDLY SPEAKING: KADIMA MUST FORM A UNITY GOVERNMENT, NOW - ISI LEIBLER
- RATTLING THE CAGE: PICKING FIGHTS AT SEA - LARRY DERFNER
- WASHINGTON WATCH: JERUSALEM FOOTBALL IN THE AIR AGAIN - DOUGLAS BLOOMFIELD
- THE PROBLEM WITH CAPITAL PUNISHMENT - ANDERSON HARKOV
- WHAT'S IN A CASE? - SONER CAGAPTAY
- A VITAL NATIONAL CHALLENGE
- THE MOTHER PARTY - BY ARI SHAVIT
- THE NEW CONVERTS - BY GIDEON LEVY
- THE VISION OF SHAUL - BY ISRAEL HAREL
- ANY BOOK FOR A BUCK - BY ZOHAR SHAVIT
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- GERRYMANDERING, PURE AND CORRUPT
- BREATHING ROOM
- MORE FORECLOSURES TO COME
- HOW THE SCAPEGOATS ESCAPED - BY WILLIAM D. COHAN
- TRADING WOMEN'S RIGHTS FOR POLITICAL POWER - BY KATE MICHELMAN AND FRANCES KISSLING
- AMERICA'S DEFINING CHOICE - BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
- TAKE A DEEP BREATH - BY GAIL COLLINS
- CHARSADDA CARNAGE
- SHODDY JOURNALISM
- CCP WARNING
- CONFIDENCE-BUILDING IN BALOCHISTAN - ADNAN ADIL
- BEYOND THE CLINTON VISIT - TALAT MASOOD
- OUR COLONIAL HANG-UPS - ZAFAR KHALID FAROOQ
- NEEDED RAH-E-NIJAT II? - IKRAM SEHGAL
- LAST STEP TO NOWHERE
- WAZIRISTAN'S IDPS - BASIL NABI MALIK
- CH NISAR'S PRINCIPLED POSITION
- SAUDI ARABIA'S TIMELY SUPPORT
- WHAT TRANSPIRED AT OBAMA-NETANYAHU MEETING
- THE DRONE & OTHER ATTACKS - KHALID SALEEM
- WHO IS BEHIND OUR PERSECUTION? - ALI ASHRAF KHAN
- EMERGING THREATS - TARIQ KHALIL
- YUDH ABHYAS, INDO-US JOINT EXERCISE - AFSHAIN AFZAL
- BAN PRE-PAID..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS
- ECONOMIC CHALLENGES
- SUPPORT FOR RMG
- NEW INDIAN STATE MINISTRIES !
- ACCESS TO JUSTICE THROUGH LEGAL AID - MOHAMMAD SAIDUL ISLAM
- SEIZING THE ENERGY OPPORTUNITY - ANDERS ELDRUP
- INDONESIA: TIME TO STEP ON GAS - DR TERRY LACEY
- FRIENDS IN NEED
- AS EASY AS THAT
- OUTAGE BLUES ROUND THECORNER - KAMAL DEV BHATTARAI
- BUILDING BRIDGES FOR PEACE IN NEPAL: A MAJOR UNDERTAKING - HARI BANSH JHA
- TOPICS: TAKING ALL IN ONE'S STRIDE - PREM KAKKAR
- BLOG SURF: MEASURES - NOTOSMOKE.COM
- A POOR DECISION ON BOOKS BECOMES A TELLING COMMENTARY ON LABOR
- OPERATION OUTSOURCE
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- MINCHIN'S CLIMATE CONSPIRACY
- WHAT'S YOUR CHOICE?
- TIME TO CHANGE COURSE FOR CHRISTMAS ISLAND, PM
- JURY VERDICTS ARE VITAL BUT LEAVE SENTENCING TO JUDGES
- REPORTING FROM IRAQ: FREEDOM AT RISK
- DNA DATABASE: ACID TEST
- IN PRAISE OF THE COVE
THE KOREA HERALD
- PARK'S CHOICE
- MUNICIPAL MERGERS
- WALLS IN CYPRUS, ISRAEL AND N. KOREA - DOMINIQUE MOISI
THE JAPAN TIMES
- DECISION TIME ON DEVOLUTION
- 20 YEARS ON THE IMPERIAL THRONE
- EMISSIONS CAP-AND-TRADE AS POLICY? - BY SHINJI FUKUKAWA
- RE-ENERGIZING AMERICA'S ROLE IN TRADE TALKS - BY MICHAEL RICHARDSON
- APEC REMAINS TOOTHLESS - BY GREGORY CLARK
THE JAKARTA POST
- RI AS A NEW MIDDLE POWER? - ANAK AGUNG BANYU PERWITA BANDUNG
- MONOPOLY REARS ITS UGLY HEAD
- `MODERATE ISLAM' TYPOLOGY MISSING THE POINT - AHMAD NAJIB
- VERISIMILITUDE, BULLSHIT AND MEANING - JENNIE S. BEV
- BILINGUAL AIR TICKETS
- CONSUMPTION BOOM NEEDED
- REASSURANCE IS A TWO-WAY STREET
- BUILDING SOCIALISM TO ENSURE HUMAN RIGHTS
THE MOSCOW TIMES
- A FLU FOR ALL SEASONS - BY BORIS KAGARLITSKY
- PROMISES, PROMISES - BY NIKOLAI ZLOBIN
MAYA STUMPS MULAYAM
IN WEST BENGAL, MAMATA BOWLS LEFT OUT
By-elections do not necessarily constitute a referendum of sorts but their results do reflect the prevailing mood of voters and, to that extent, serve as an indicator of the current popularity of political parties and their leaders. Seen against this background, the results of the recently held by-elections to 31 Assembly seats and one Lok Sabha seat across seven States clearly indicate that the BSP continues to remain the voters' choice in Uttar Pradesh where Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav has yielded considerable ground to Ms Mayawati; the Congress has not suffered any erosion in its support; and, in West Bengal the Left Front is on the verge of losing power whenever the next Assembly election is held. The most spectacular results, of course, are from Uttar Pradesh where the BSP has won nine of the 11 Assembly seats, improving its tally by eight. The Samajwadi Party, which held five of the seats earlier, has drawn a blank this time, including in constituencies considered to be Mr Yadav's strongholds. Ironically, the Congress's candidate for Firozabad Lok Sabha constituency, Mr Raj Babbar, has defeated the SP's nominee and Mr Yadav's daughter-in-law, Dimple, with a huge margin. Firozabad had earlier elected Mr Yadav's son, Akhilesh. The Congress has also regained Lucknow West constituency, which it had last won in 1985, defeating the BJP which now increasingly appears to be a marginal player in Uttar Pradesh politics. But more than the SP's defeat in Firozabad, what must have galled Mr Yadav is the BSP defeating SP candidates in all five constituencies earlier held by the party, including Bhartana and Etawah in his pocket borough. With Ms Maywati demonstrating that the BSP is the dominant political force in Uttar Pradesh and the Congress registering a remarkable surge, the SP is beginning to get squeezed out of the reckoning in future contests. Mr Yadav no longer commands the support he once did, apparently not even among the OBCs. If there's a message for him in the results, there is one for those who have been predicting that the BSP has peaked and can only decline now onward, too.
Barring its amazing win in Firozabad, the Congress really has not improved its position in these by-elections it held nine of the Assembly seats; its tally is 10. The Trinamool Congress, too, has held on to constituencies in West Bengal which had earlier elected its candidates. But Ms Mamata Banerjee has breached yet another 'red fort' by wresting Belgachia East from the CPI(M): This is the first time the Marxists have been defeated in this constituency since 1977. Surprisingly, while the CPI(M) has drawn a blank in this round of by-elections, failing to even retain the two it held, its ally, the Forward Bloc has wrested a seat from the Congress. That, however, is no consolation for either the CPI(M) or the Left Front it leads. The decline of the Left's popularity is now indisputable; the precipitous fall in its electoral fortunes, beginning with the Lok Sabha election, is now irreversible. With the Left Front Government virtually dysfunctional and the Marxists unable to get their act together, it would be perfectly in order for the CPI(M) to opt for an early Assembly poll, if only to save itself from a disgraceful rout in 2011. For, the masses have deserted their self-proclaimed champions.
INDIA IS NOT WANTED
UNCLE SAM SNUBS OUR INVESTIGATORS
In what can be best described as an outright snub to India, American authorities have denied a team comprising Intelligence Bureau and Research & Analysis Wing officers permission to question terror suspects David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana. It will be recalled that the two had been arrested by American authorities for their links with the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and for plotting terrorist attacks. Some of the targets on Headley and Rana's hit-list included the National Defence College in Delhi, Doon School in Dehradun and Woodstock School in Mussoorie. In the backdrop of the alleged enhanced co-operation between India and the US on the security front, it was presumed that the Americans would readily grant the Indian intelligence officers access to Headley and Rana for cross-examining. After all, post-26/11, American intelligence officers were allowed to interrogate Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone terrorist caught alive in the attack on Mumbai. But the Americans, it seems, are not willing to reciprocate. Citing 'procedural norms', they have denied the Indian team its request, which it had been pursuing for over a week. If anything, this denial raises several questions and shatters the myth that India and the US are moving towards mutual security co-operation. For, it appears that the Americans are willing to co-operate as long as it serves their interests, not otherwise.
Which brings into question this entire notion of a US-led global alliance on terrorism. There can be no such global effort if the US continues to allow external political considerations to influence its anti-terror policies. It would be a bit naïve to assume that 'procedural norms' were the reason why the Indian intelligence team was prevented from questioning Headley and Rana. It is no coincidence that a leading Pakistani daily, Pakistan Observer, has reported that the Indian team had gone to the US to "implicate Pakistan" in the Headley-Rana affair. This clearly indicates that Islamabad had reservations about letting the Indian team have a go at the two Pakistanis in American custody. And the fact that it couldn't exemplifies the problem at hand. Unless and until the US stops pampering Pakistan and views it as a part of the problem rather than the solution, all anti-terror efforts will be in vain. Global terrorism can only be crushed if all interested parties wholeheartedly co-operate on everything from exchange of information to enforcement of joint security mechanisms. Anti-terror goals and efforts have to be given primacy over any other consideration. Then only does the world stand a chance. If the US continues to treat the problem like a game of chess and look to further its own strategic interests, things will only go from bad to worse. Then again, can we really expect anything better of the Americans?
INDIA JUST CAN'T READ PAKISTAN
Developments in Afghanistan and Pakistan will figure prominently when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits the Obama White House on November 24. The Obama Administration has handled events related to the recent re-election of Mr Hamid Karzai as President of Afghanistan in a crude and insensitive manner. By publicly humiliating Mr Karzai, Washington has only weakened a leader set to play a crucial role in emerging developments in Afghanistan. Moreover, the prolonged period that the Obama Administration has taken to review its policies on Afghanistan has given an impression of dithering and uncertainty on the most crucial foreign policy challenge that Washington faces today. This has only confused countries like India which have sought to complement Washington's efforts to strengthen Afghanistan internally. These developments are also encouraging the Taliban and Al Qaeda to believe that they will succeed in efforts to promote terrorism globally.
Vice President Joseph Biden reportedly advocates action against Taliban and Al Qaeda hideouts in Pakistan, and even as Mr Obama pondered over what to do next in Afghanistan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton paid a well-planned visit to Pakistan intended to reassure the Pakistanis of American commitment to their welfare, stability and prosperity. The visit came at a time when the Pakistani Army establishment led by Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani had joined forces with the Opposition Muslim League led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to undermine President Asif Ali Zardari by voicing serious reservations and calling for the rejection of the Kerry-Lugar Act, which pledges $ 7.5 billion in assistance to Pakistan. The aid comes at a time when Pakistan's own revenues cannot even meet the cost of the Government's administrative expenditure with Pakistan's economic growth having plummeted to two per cent in 2008-2009.
The longest meeting that Ms Clinton had in Islamabad was not with President Zardari or Prime Minister Yousaf Gilani, but with Gen Kayani together with ISI Chief Lt Gen Shuja Pasha, with whom she spent three hours. After the meeting with the Army brass and irked by orchestrated criticism of US policies while in Lahore, which echoed what she heard in Islamabad, Ms Clinton publicly voiced her misgivings about continuing support by Pakistan's military establishment for the Taliban and Al Qaeda. On October 29 she said: "Al Qaeda has had a safe haven in Pakistan since 2002. I find it difficult to believe that nobody in your Government knows where they are, and couldn't get them, if they really wanted to". Cautioning Pakistan on cross-border terrorism it promotes in neighbouring India and Afghanistan Ms Clinton asserted: "If we are going to have a mature partnership where we work together, there are issues that not just the United States, but others have with your Government and your military security establishment".
Pakistan's military and its political allies do not appear to have been affected by Ms Clinton's public admonition. While the military continues its operations against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan in South Waziristan, primarily because the TTP has challenged the Army's, the ISI continues to back Taliban military commanders led by Sirajuddin Haqqani in neighbouring North Waziristan who have relentlessly staged terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, including on the Indian Embassy in Kabul and on Indian workers throughout Afghanistan. Moreover, the Taliban political leadership led by Mullah Omar, popularly known as the 'Quetta Shura', remains comfortably ensconced in Quetta. While reviewing policies on Afghanistan, the Obama Administration will sooner or later have to decide on whether it can realistically contain the Taliban or its Al Qaeda allies in Afghanistan without exercising the 'Biden Option' of striking at their bases in Pakistan across the Durand Line.
Recent revelations by the FBI of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba links of two Chicago residents of Pakistani origin, who were plotting terrorist strikes against targets in Denmark and India, clearly establish that Pakistan-based terrorist organisations like the LeT now have a worldwide reach and, like the Al Qaeda, a worldwide agenda of terrorism. The terrorist attacks planned against India were intended to be a continuation of the earlier terrorist strikes on Mumbai and elsewhere. The prime accused, Daood Gilani aka David Headley, was in touch with Ilyas Kashmiri, a former Pakistan Army commando of Pakistan's elite Special Services Group. Kashmiri was used by the ISI in the 1980s for training the Afghan mujahideen and in the 1990s for terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir. He escaped after being captured by Indian forces in Poonch in 1994. Interestingly, while Kashmiri was later charged with an attempt to assassinate Gen Pervez Musharraf and for the assassination of a former commander of the SSG, Maj Gen Faisal Alvi in 2008, he was allowed to get away and seek refuge in North Waziristan alongside Afghan Taliban military commander Sirajuddin Haqqani, who Gen Kayani reportedly regards as a 'strategic asset' of the ISI.
The LeT was reportedly planning to attack elite schools in north India, reminiscent of the attack by Chechen terrorists in Beslan, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of school children. Chechen terrorists have long-standing links with the Taliban, Al Qaeda, the LeT and with political parties in Pakistan like the Jamat-e-Islami. Home Minister P Chidambaram and the Indian Army chief have warned that future terrorist attacks will not go unpunished. Interestingly, the establishment's reaction in Pakistan to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's speech in Kashmir was voiced by former Senator and Muslim League politician, Mr Mushahid Hussain, who has long-standing links with the Pakistani Army and the LeT. Mr Hussain asserted that Mr Singh's recent readiness for unconditional dialogue was because of growing fears in India about Maoist violence, insinuating that the offer for talks was because of India's internal compulsions.
India has continuously misread the internal dynamics of Pakistan. Even in late 2007, our High Commission in Islamabad and luminaries in South Block believed that Gen Musharraf remained strong and virtually invincible. Right now there seems to be little appreciation of the fact that it is Gen Kayani and not President Zardari who determines and dictates policy in Islamabad. Anyone who knows Gen Kayani's approach to relations with India, even from the days he commanded the 12th Infantry Division in Murree, knows that he is pathologically anti-Indian and regards the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and the Afghan Taliban as 'strategic assets'. Mr Singh needs to convey these realities to Washington while responding to any calls for a revival of the composite dialogue process.
BUREAUCRACY IS KILLING RTI
Processes, procedures, principles and the people responsible are as much important for a system as its purpose. If any of these is not up to the mark, it will defeat the very purpose for which the system has been put in place. The Right to Information Act is one such system which enables citizens to obtain information in the custody and possession of any public authority provided the same is not otherwise barred by the Act.
It is not that the people were not getting information they required from various Government departments before the enactment of RTI. They certainly were through dubious and illegal means like bribing. However, the Act, no doubt, has helped to some extent in promoting transparency, openness and accountability in the working of the public authorities.
While the new law is invested with some empowering provisions aimed at containing rampant corruption in the corridors of power, the corruption-ridden bureaucracy has left no stone unturned to blunt RTI's effectiveness. First, the bureaucrats persuaded the Cabinet Committee to approve an Amendment to exempt file notings and Cabinet papers from disclosure under the Act. It was only due to the huge public outcry against the proposed Amendment that the malafide move was foiled.
Then came another assault that dealt a severe blow to RTI and has proved to be its undoing. Ostensibly brought about for better internal management of the affairs of the Central Information Commission so as to enable it to function effectively, the dubious Central Information Commission (Management) Regulations, 2007, has actually put RTI beyond the reach of a common man by rendering the process of seeking information under the Act an exorbitantly expensive, unduly complicated, cumbersome and lengthy affair. On top of this, the clever bureaucracy is so skilled in the art of dodging and has so many tricks up its dirty sleeves to smother inconvenient queries that it easily gets away without supplying the information requested.
RTI needs to be structured in such a manner that the role of the bureaucracy is minimal and simply restricted to supplying the requested information and/or the requested documents, and see to it that the information supplied is correct and complete. Beyond that it should have no role or influence in the RTI process. Otherwise, it can seriously damage the credibility of RTI.
HIGH ON SOCIAL CAPITAL
WITH THE LEGATUM REPORT RANKING INDIA FIFTH IN THE WORLD IN TERMS OF 'SOCIAL CAPITAL', IT'S TIME WE CAPITALISED ON OUR AGE-OLD BUT NEW-FOUND STRENGTHS THROUGH WHICH THE WORLD NOW VIEWS US: OUR FREEDOM, OUR DEMOCRACY, OUR CULTURAL VALUES AND THE IMPORTANCE WE PLACE ON FAMILY BONDING
Last month I attended an Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development conference on measuring the Progress of Societies held in Busan, a seaside industrial city in South Korea. Closer to Japan than to Seoul, Busan's skyscrapers, limousines, malls and women appeared newer and glitzier than in the white capitals of Europe.
It then came as a shock to find that knowledge of spoken and written English or any Western language was non-existent in such an apparently westernised country. Be it the airport, the hotel lobby, inside posh shops, restaurants or banks, including at the global conference that I was attending, locals could not communicate except in Korean. Even the hotel concierge in the magnificent lobby of a five-star hotel could not differentiate between 'near' and 'far' 'upstairs' or 'downstairs'. Even the last resort, sign language, proved to be futile. But what was even more remarkable was that it made no difference to Korean self-assurance.
And why should it? Today Korea takes pride in being the fourth largest economy in Asia and the 15th largest in the world. As one of the largest exporters of electronics, automobiles, ships, petrochemicals, and robotics, the country's current obsession is the concept of Green Growth, largely seen as an opportunity to propel new technology and increase employment.
Until the mid-sixties Korea ranked well below India, with nothing to show after being devastated by decades of war, a pitiable agrarian economy. With nationalist determination the country steadfastly pursued family planning, education, and extended opportunities to girls and women to work. Thereby Korea succeeded in pushing up the age of marriage and successfully reducing the fertility rate from six children per woman in the early 1960s to 2.2 children within 20 years. Today virtually the entire adult population, both men and women are literate and Korea's fertility level is among the lowest in the world. On all counts the progress was palpable and truly impressive.
Ironically, the subject of the conference that I was attending was measuring the progress of the societies. The keynote speaker was Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, recently better-known as the Chairman of the Sarkozy's Stiglitz Commission notable for arguing that well-being and quality of life were from a people's perspective more central to progress than GDP, which only measured production.
The argument is in fact an extension of what Harvard Professor Robert Putnam had put forward in his famous book Bowling Alone. Putnam had given weight to connectedness with family, friends, neighbours and co-workers as a more perceptive measure of understanding civic engagement. Indicators like political equality, solidarity, trust, tolerance and a strong associational life he held were superior as measures of social capital and progress. As a member of the Stiglitz Commission, his ideas found place in the Report released on September 14 this year where the limitations of GDP were explained with reasons for developing a new set of metrics to evaluate human welfare.
Initially, all this talk appeared airy fairy to someone like me, immersed for decades in comparing measurements of poverty and human deprivation. It came as a surprise therefore when Legatum, a London-based Policy research institution tabled a glossy publication at the conference, ranking India fifth in the world in terms of 'social capital'. On this index, India ranked below New Zealand, Switzerland, Sweden, and Australia in that order, but above 100 other countries which was surprisingly good news.
And it was not as though India had fared well only on that one indicator. The Legatum report ranked India at a respectable 45th position out of 104 countries that represented 90 per cent of the world's population. India performed reasonably well on 'entrepreneurship and innovation', 'democratic institutions' as well as on 'personal freedom'. Even in terms of 'governance' we retained an 'average' rating, but predictably ranked low on indicators like education, health, safety and security.
I learnt three lessons from my visit to Busan and the OECD conference. First, knowledge of English or an international language is not essential, even necessary, to achieve economic prowess. Second, a country can never grow equitably unless it places sustained emphasis on family planning and gives opportunities to women to work and earn. Third, the most contented nations in the world are not necessarily those that have a high GDP, but those that additionally have strong social networks, that are trustworthy and supportive. Family, friends, social organisations and support systems have a strong bearing on well-being and quality of life and in the eyes of the world India is far ahead of most other countries.
It is time India capitalised on its age-old but new-found strengths through which the world now views us our freedom, our democracy, our cultural values, our social traditions and the importance Indians place on social connectedness and family bonding. Indeed this should become the new mantra for tourism, for image-building and preserving what we already have in abundance. The Legatum Report has shown the way but much needs to be done to earn the respect we seek.
TALES FROM BABUDOM
ENGAGING NARRATIVE OF A BEMUSED BUREAUCRAT
I was a young journalist when I first met Mr KC Sivaramakrishnan in Kolkata, then Calcutta; he was slightly older and a member of the Indian Administrative Service. I say slightly because I find from his eminently readable book that he was 12 years of age at independence when I was seven plus. My first impression was that of a largish, somewhat formidable man who could be a bully on occasions. I never had the chance to find out about the last part. But what I discovered on reading the book, and what I could not gauge at the first meeting or even subsequently, was that he had a delectable sense of humour, and a light touch with his pen which now brings that humour alive throughout his narrative. The Enduring Babu: Memoirs of a Civil Servant (HarAnand) is not a soporific account of the critical, behind-the-scene role of a member of the successor to the heaven-born service at a critical juncture; nor is it a turgid chronicle of events by the proverbial insider. It is a collection of vignettes, strung chronologically, by a man who does not take himself or his governmental perch with forbidding seriousness but who is rather a bemused spectator who never fails to notice the ironical and the comic in every situation.
An extract would bring this out. Describing a meeting with BC Roy, the legendary Chief Minister of West Bengal along with his batchmates in the aftermath of the devastating floods of 1958 in the State, Mr Sivaramakrishnan writes, "SN Ray, ICS was the Chief Secretary. The CM who was looking at some papers, lifted his spectacles and looked us cowering in a corner of the room close to the door. Bidhan Babu, as BC Roy was known in all of Bengal, asked the Chief Secretary, 'Satyen, who are these boys and what are they doing, standing near the door?'
"The Chief Secretary replied that we were a group of young IAS officers allotted to the State of West Bengal and we were spending our time on district training.
"'What training?' asked the CM. 'Does it mean they have no work and are here for sight-seeing?'
"The Chief Secretary, who had worked with Bidhan Babu for a long time and was well versed with his ways, said, 'You are partly right sir, but these boys are here to pay their respects to you and to have your blessings.'
"'What blessings? I want them to work. Can I give them some work or is there a rule which says that IAS trainees cannot do any work?'
"'No sir', said the Chief Secretary, 'you can give them whatever work you want them to do.'
"The CM turned to us and said, 'Why are you standing there? Come and sit down here.'"
The work Roy assigned to them was collecting exact figures for the number of flood-affected people. What happened to the exercise is another story Mr Sivaramakrishnan tells with verve. In fact, there are many amusing stories and anecdotes too many to be listed without some being unfairly left outwhich are enlivened by rather clever sentences. Samples? Referring to forays by senior bureaucrats with marriageable daughters to Metcalf House, Delhi, which then housed the IAS training school, he writes, "I went out as I came, unwed and unscathed." Describing the goings-on in Asansol Club, which bore the name of the town that was a sub-divisional headquarters, he talks of patrons who were "vertical when they came and horizontal when the left".
The book succeeds in achieving the author's stated purpose, entertaining. One however wishes that he was more careful with facts. Thus he writes that the Marquis of Cornwallis became Governor-General of India the year after 1781 when he surrendered with his troops to the Americans waging their war of independence from England. In fact, Lord Cornwallis was Governor-General in two stints, from 1786 to 1793 and, briefly, in 1805 when he died at Ghazipur in Uttar Pradesh on October 5. Also, he writes of a river 'Swarnarekha' flowing through the Jhargram sub-division of West Bengal's Midnapur district. It is actually called Subarnarekha.
Let that be. The book is a good read which, besides entertaining, provides revealing glimpses into ways of India's babudom.
CIVILIANS CAUGHT IN CROSSFIRE
OFTEN WE HEAR THAT ACCOUNTABILITY FOR CRIMES COMMITTED AGAINST CIVILIANS IN CONFLICT ZONES MUST BE SET ASIDE FOR THE SAKE OF PEACE. CONGO OFFERS AN EXAMPLE OF THIS ABSURD CLAIM
On November 11, the United Nations Security Council discussed the pressing, but still elusive issue of protection of civilians in armed conflict. Accountability for crimes committed in the course of hostilities should be at the forefront of that debate. History shows that there can neither be durable peace nor meaningful security without a measure of justice. Accountability is not only necessary to address the claims of victims after the fact, but also as a deterrent for future crimes. Yet, all too often, during conflicts, or in their aftermath, the issue of accountability has been considered a dispensable element of peacemaking and has been relegated to the back-burner.
Perhaps nowhere is this attitude more blatantly evident than in the Democratic Republic of Congo where a long drawn-out conflict has made millions of victims and where sexual violence has been at epidemic levels for many years.
A case in point is the recent admission by Congo Information Minister Lambert Mende that the authorities were aware of the April 2009 massacre of at least 50 civilians perpetrated by the regular army at Shalio in the east of the country. In the same breath, however, the Minister maintained that Congolese authorities were unwilling to arrest the army officer who reportedly ordered the attack, a former Tutsi rebel commander known as Colonel Zimulinda. The rationale the Minister offered for this reprehensible lack of action was that Zimulinda's arrest might destabilise the army's fragile integration of dozens of other former rebel commanders and militias whose brutal actions had been a permanent feature of the conflict.
As a former Judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, I have seen ample evidence that turning a blind eye to egregious human rights abuses is a recipe for disaster. Impunity only emboldens perpetrators to commit further crimes and encourages others to join their ranks. With no recourse to justice, victims are left to fend for themselves.
This approach is the very negation of the fundamental concept of civilian inviolability in times of peace and in times of war. It enables a State to disregard two of its primary responsibilities, namely the duty to protect civilians in all circumstances and to provide justice when violations occur, irrespective of the perpetrators' roles and affiliations.
Instead, the DRC Government seems intent on deflecting the responsibility for massive human rights abuses at the hands of its own officers and soldiers. It also appears to repeat unquestioningly the trite and ill-founded argument that justice can be sacrificed for the sake of peace and that accountability can be waived without consequence.
The DRC has voluntarily signed and ratified numerous human rights treaties, including the Statute of the International Criminal Court which encompasses war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. According to national and international law, legal responsibility is engaged when an individual commits a crime, or aids, abets or otherwise assists in its commission or its attempted commission. This includes providing the means for its commission. Since the massacre in Shalio was carried out by the regular army and the army is deployed by the Government, Government officials may be deemed responsible on several accounts.
At a minimum, the Government has an obligation to investigate allegations. Moreover, the UN Security Council has clearly and unequivocally directed the DRC Government to establish a vetting mechanism to prevent those who have committed human rights violations from joining its administrative apparatus and security forces. The Security Council has also called upon the UN force in the DRC to assist the Government in pursuing this objective.
The DRC long-suffering population is entitled to protection from a professional and disciplined army. The Government must comply with the Security Council's decisions and with its obligations under international law. Above all, it must show that violations of human rights are no longer tolerated and that victims are given the justice that they have been denied for years. With millions already dead since the mid-1990s, and countless women already subjected to some of the most brutal forms of rape and sex slavery, effectively condoning the actions of mass murderers and rapists is not an acceptable course of action. The Security Council has made patently clear that the international community demands full accountability for human rights abuses in the DRC and elsewhere.
The writer is UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
EARLY WARNING FOR FUTURE WARS OVER GAS
RUSSIA IS NOW WORKING ON A MECHANISM TO PREVENT POTENTIAL DISPUTES RELATED TO ENERGY, WRITES OLEG MITYAEV
On the eve of the November 18 summit between Russia and the European Union in Stockholm, the Russian Energy Ministry has sent to the European Commi- ssion a memorandum outlining the creation of an early warning system for energy affairs.
The memorandum calls for joint actions if Russian energy supplies to Europe are suspended, including if the interruption is caused by transit countries. Apart from improving energy dialogue with the EU, this document is designed to prevent Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko from unleashing yet another gas war with Russia.
The Russian Energy Ministry has announced its readiness to work with the EU to finish the memorandum by November 18 and sign it at the summit. The memorandum defines an "emergency situation" as any considerable decline in the amount of energy transported, stored, distributed or consumed, as determined by international law and bilateral agreements between Russian and the EU. Its "early warning mechanism" is a series of measures for anticipating potential energy problems and risks and responding promptly to any threat of an "emergency situation."
The agreement will focus on Russia-EU bilateral energy relations. The position of transit countries may be considered only if both the consumers and the exporters agree to do so.
The memorandum has more to do with diplomacy than the details of maintaining gas transit systems. For example, it describes what should be done if Ukraine stopped paying for gas and started illegally siphoning it off, and Russia shut off gas supplies in response.
However, it is the memorandum's diplomatic nature that may compel Ukraine to pay for gas. The EU has recently become one of the main sources of credit for the Ukrainian economy. EU officials are capable of exerting pressure on the Ukrainian President, which they demonstrated over the past weekend.
This time, a new gas war may be provoked by the Ukrainian presidential elections, which are scheduled for January 17, 2010. Gas contracts with Russia have already become a bargaining chip in the struggle for power between Mr Viktor Yushchenko and Ms Yulia Tymoshenko.
In late October, Ms Tymoshenko even complained over the telephone to her Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin
that Mr Yushchenko had not allowed her to pay for the gas supplied to Ukraine in October.
In response, Mr Yushchenko demanded that his Government revise contracts for the purchase of Russian gas and its transit to Europe. He suggested cutting the amount of gas his country purchased by half and increasing the price of transporting 1,000 cubic meters of gas for 100 km from the current $ 1.70 to $2.60-$2.80. In his opinion, Ukraine's commitments are fixed more rigidly than those of Russia.
Mr Yushchenko is suffering from low approval ratings and may benefit if Moscow shuts off gas supplies. This would help him unite his voters in the struggle against the artificially created enemy, Russia.
In theory, a new gas war could have started this week. November 9 was the deadline for Ukraine to pay for the Russian gas it consumed in October, and Kiev paid for it only at the last moment. Representatives for the Ukrainian president emphasised that their boss was not the cause for any delay in payment for Russian gas.
Apparently, Brussels also played a major role. Over the past weekend, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso asked Mr Yushchenko by phone not to obstruct payment for Russian gas. He reminded the Ukrainian President that his country is not only a purchaser but also a link in supply of Russian gas to Europe, and Europeans should not suffer from thwarted supplies.
Now, even if the European Union does not accept the Russian memo on an early warning system for energy affairs in full, its sheer appearance will play into Russia's hand as it is trying to share with Europe the risks implied by gas transits via Ukraine.
BYPOLLS A SHOT IN ARM FOR MAYA AND MAMATA
UTTAR Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee are the obvious winners in the latest round of bypolls held for 31 Assembly seats and one Lok Sabha constituency across seven states. But it is the Bahujan Samaj Party supremo's triumph that is most noteworthy. By clinching nine out of 11 seats a gain of eight seats since the last polls Ms Mayawati has shown that despite her lacklustre show in the general elections and public criticism over her extravagant projects, she continues to be the biggest player in UP politics today.
Equally portentous is the Congress victory in the Firozabad Lok Sabha poll which shows that the party's performance in the general elections was not a flash in the pan. There is a big question mark before the Samajwadi Party which lost the seat where Dimple Yadav, party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav's daughter- in- law, contested. It also lost in pocketboroughs of Etawah and Bharthana.
Mamata Banerjee's win in West Bengal do confirms the Left Front's decline in the state, though the Trinamool held six of the ten seats that went to polls in the last assembly polls. In fact the Left Front's defeat in Kerala was even more significant.
The Congress wrested all three seats from the Left, including Kannur which was won by a CPI( M) leader who had defected to the Congress recently. The outcome in the two states could portend a larger change when the two states go for assembly elections in 2011.
The bigger picture reveals that in winning 10 seats in all, the Congress retains the momentum that helped it regain power in the 2009 general elections. However, despite Firozabad, it got just one assembly seat in UP this indicates that the party still has a good way to go before it can hope to beard Mayawati in her den.
REVIEW PAROLE SYSTEM
IN what could only be called a farce and total contempt for the justice system in India, Manu Sharma went back to Tihar Jail on Tuesday with the same nonchalance with which he had stepped outside it while going on parole.
While this may bring temporary closure to l'affaire Manu Sharma the episode tells us why there should be greater scrutiny of the parole system as it exists.
For one, Sharma was in violation of parole from Day One, when it became clear that his " ageing" mother was campaigning for her husband, Congressman Venod Sharma, who was contesting the assembly polls from Haryana in October. Second, to give parole to a murder convict to take care of his business interests back home is like paroling a pickpocket and asking him to travel in a crowded train just so he could take care of business.
However, the tragicomic part of the sordid drama is Manu Sharma's letter to his mother in which he claimed that the media had targeted him and that he was returning to jail so as not to bring further anguish to her. So far, even for the record, Mr Sharma has shown no anguish or remorse for taking the life of an innocent person. In fact the victim's family and civil society had the right to be anguished at the blatant display of cronyism by Congress politicians in giving Mr Manu Sharma parole and letting loose a convicted murderer in the city without as much as a warning.
RIGHT THING TO DO
THE government's decision to appoint a three- member finance committee to scrutinise high value spends by the Organising Committee for the 2010 Commonwealth Games is a welcome decision. Given that the Cabinet has cleared an enhanced budget of Rs 1620 crores for the Games, it was imperative that bureaucrats with the right credentials were put in place to ensure that this money was well spent.
The decision implies that the powers of Organising Committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi have been diluted, though this was to be expected considering that his role has been somewhat controversial of late. Hopefully, New Delhi will be able to make up for the lost time and host a good Games with the government in command.
For their part, Mr Kalmadi and his team should focus on the other issues that have been raised by the Commonwealth Games Federation.
INTOLERANT POLITICS A THREAT TO URBAN LIVING
BY AMRITHA IBRAHIM
The mobile urban 'stranger' is attached to acity through special links which are not based on kinship, locality or caste
THE ATTACK on Abu Azmi by MLAs of the Maharashtra Navinirman Sena (MNS) in the State Assembly on Monday has been described as extremely shocking, as a day of shame. However, this is not the first time we have seen violent outbursts by members of an elected house not just at the state level, but also at the Centre. True, physical violence against a member is perhaps unprecedented, but disturbing the peace is gradually becoming an unfortunate ritual in India's democratic institutions.
The apple does not fall far from the tree, the saying goes; Raj Thackeray might have pulled away from the Shiv Sena and his uncle's towering shadow, but pays homage to his uncle's legacy in his own politics. Where the senior Thackeray incited the Marathi pure-blood to muster forces against the 'Madrasi', the new Thackeray avatar stands against the North Indian. Whether it is beating up the Bihari migrant or the Hindispeaking UP-walla, the MNS has gathered representative strength through narrow, divisive politics that make regional and linguistic issues a core electoral matter.
The actions of its elected representatives in the state assembly were the logical extension of these very activities.
Indeed, their recent electoral gains in Maharashtra can be read as a frightening vindication of their tactics. Raj Thackeray himself said in an interview after the results were out that the party's aggression would not change, but only become stronger. If their form of political campaigning among the people is to showcase their political agenda by beating up a few migrants every once in a while, why should we expect them to conduct themselves any differently once elected to the state legislature?
Violence against migrants from UP and Bihar is not limited to Maharashtra; in recent years Assam, Meghalaya, Punjab, and Karnataka have also been home to vicious attacks on those who are seen as ' outsiders'. Many leave their homes in UP and Bihar, devastated by flood and suffering from lack of food or jobs and take up work providing essential services in major cities like Bombay and Delhi.
Over the years, the Uttar Bharatiya has become an economic and political force to be reckoned with in Bombay, something that political parties there have had to take account of, most notably the Shiv Sena which saw the value of the Purvanchali votebank.
Major urban cities have an uneasy relationship with these migrants disdainful of the ' bihari' ( which has become both a regional slur as well as a derogatory term for anyone who looks poor), but at the same time dependent on much of their labour for daily functioning.
Groups like the MNS rely on a strategy of persistent negative portrayals of the migrant to sustain their political agenda. One of the standard fears is that migrant numbers are increasing to levels that threaten the balance of the majority Marathi- speaking population. In a recent interview Raj Thackeray claimed that almost half the city of Mumbai was North Indian, taking away jobs and scarce resources such as water from the Marathispeaking population. While the percentage of Northern migrants is high, a recent UNDP survey found that the greater percentage of migrants to Bombay come from within Maharashtra alone. Migrants from UP are second, followed by those from Gujarat.
But facts and figures rarely make for a political agenda, whereas emotional appeals based on fear and suspicion of the stranger are far more successful.
This ends up being even more productive in times of economic strain, when jobs are hard to come by and inflation makes everyone's pockets a little tighter.
Making the migrant the scapegoat is an easy way to gain political mileage, rather than provide concrete measures to bring economic and social opportunities that would benefit the region as a whole.
The MNS lays claims to a glorious Maratha past in its rallying cry of Marathi Manoos breaking with the Shiv Sena in 2006 because Raj Thackeray thought his uncle Bal Thackeray and cousin Uddhav were straying away from the central goals of Maharashtra for Marathi- speakers. There is a peculiar irony in Bombay being home to violent parochial politics based on closing the door to the outsider particularly since the growth of Bombay can be attributed to migrants that came to the Western shores over a period of many centuries. Greeks, Christians, Jews, Parsis, Siddis and other Muslims, the Marathas, Gujaratis, the Portuguese, and the British the list is endless have been some of the many influences that came to the seven islands that eventually made up the city of Bombay. Many came as traders, some as conquerors, and almost all ended up staying and enriching the region's composite culture.
Since the MNS thrives on the creation of types to articulate its narrowminded political agenda, it is fitting to use another kind of ' type' to describe the importance of the stranger as a sociological category.
Georg Simmel was a German sociologist writing at the turn of the 20th century.
At this time, when sociology was an emerging discipline, many theorists were interested in writing about the changing urban environments that they were inhabitants of. Simmel's short essay written in 1908, ' The Stranger' describes the figure of the outsider as an integral part of urban sociality at a time of changing political boundaries and large- scale ruralurban migration in Europe.
The stranger is one who is far from us; he is unknown to us, but close to us at the same time, for he is someone that we can come to know if we interact with him. When he comes to us, the settlers, he is recognisable because he does not belong to the group, but this lack of belonging is an asset for he brings us something that our group does not possess. He brings us an element of newness, a regenerative capacity, without which any social group would stagnate.
For Simmel, the quintessential stranger was the trader the European Jew was his example. When a society is self- sufficient, when the sphere of exchange is narrow, there is no need for a middle- man.
However, the moment that there is a need for things that can only come from outside the group whether material goods, intellectual exchange, or cultural novelty the need for an outsider becomes evident.
Every society needs the stranger, for without him, everyone is known to everyone else, and there can be little possibility of a fresh perspective or creativity.
The stranger is always mobile attached to the people he meets through a peculiarly urban form of interaction, which is not based on traditional ties of kinship, locality, or occupation.
It is this uprootedness that parochial politics tries to exploit to create a feeling of anxiety among those that are local residents and thought to be rooted in contrast to the migrant.
As the histories of cities like Bombay or Delhi show, change, diversity, and the roots of a composite culture are embedded in the movements of migration and resettlement. Outsiders are not the problem; narrow- minded petty politics are the real threat to modern urban living.
The writer is a PhD candidate at Johns Hopkins University, currently in Delhi for doctoral fieldwork
BIKING IT TO KEEP THE WORLD A COOL PLACE
EVEN AS a heated debate continues in Delhi over how far the Himalayan glaciers have receded in a warming globe, in Bangalore a group of citizens are trying out a simple trick.
The idea is to cut carbon emissions that warm up the globe. They just bike it to work.
Car pooling and taking the Volvo ( air- conditioned city bus) are also becoming fashionable.
Very slowly, though. Still they all emit carbon and take up road space. At peak hour when everyone drives his or her car and motorcycle barely anyone is able to move. Then, you suddenly find this 20- something zipping by in a jazzy bicycle with 24 gears, the ubiquitous laptop secured in a backpack.
Actually that is just the tip of the iceberg of what bike activists worldwide call the ' Critical Mass' movement. They not just ride bicycles; they also indulge in a sort of evangelism.
The last Saturday of every month, the bikers go around the city making their way through bumper- to- bumper traffic, checking for safe passages and parking lots at city malls. The movement includes children and senior citizens.
There are 50 to 150 activists at a given event, coming from a pool of about 1,400.
Dasarathi G V, 50, director of a firm that makes computeraided manufacturing tools, says whenever he moves around on his 24- gear Trek 4300 people give him way. " Some thank me for saving the environment," he said. Mayank Rungta, a techie in his late- 20s, who rides a Merida bike, finds the response mixed. Sometimes car and auto drivers get annoyed about the slow speed of the bikers. But then it is all in the game. As some of the avid bikers' t- shirts proclaim: " We are not blocking the traffic. We are the traffic." Sounds like Barack Obama! The Critical Mass movement had its origins in the USA. Their first ride was in September 1992 in San Francisco. The term comes from Ted White's 1992 documentary Return of the Scorcher . It has a scene from China, where cyclists gather at intersections to cross the road, amidst heavy traffic. When there is a critical mass ( sufficient numbers) they all move together, forcing their way through.
In China, a bicycle used to be, and still is, the most popular vehicle in many cities. Just like in India. It is another matter that a Merida or a Trek could cost anything from Rs 9,000 to Rs 22,000. That should not deter you. You can get a basic bike for about Rs 1,000 or one designed by BMW for a few more zeros.
Interestingly, several critical mass activists have tasted biking while studying or working in a western city. In Europe biking is in rage once again with cities like Paris offering rent- a- bike services at railway stations. In the UK you can bike from south to north, cutting through special tracks on city streets and through neighbourhoods and wilderness. Several tech leaders, most notable among them Bob Hoekstra, former CEO of Philips, have promoted biking in Bangalore. Currently city planners and software gurus are trying to make a blueprint for safe tracks. Watch this space.
CLIMATE CHANGE IS THE WHIPPING BOY HERE
THIS REPORTER, on a brief visit to Leh, found local people there talking a lot about climate changes. Elders are blaming climate change for changing cultural mores.
" Young girls do not wear pashmina shawls anymore, but they wear jackets," an elderly lady complained.
Many youth are riding cars and bikes; the rich are building concrete houses instead of stone and wood ones; the fruits are not sweet. There is climate change to blame for everything. It is beginning to sound like the " foreign hand" that our politicians once blamed everything on.
The climate may be changing, but the pace of life in Leh is still very slow. There is a rhythm to it. Just like the Ladakhi folk dances. The movements are slow and graceful. Even strangers whom you meet on the street take out time and talk in full sentences, with sufficient pauses and thought. Maybe it is a natural mechanism to adjust to the strenuous life over there. Every few steps in this highland are equivalent to a lap on the treadmill.
There are steep slopes to climb and as such the oxygen count is so low. You are not supposed to talk fast while on a cardiovascular exercise.
GET TO LEARN IT FROM CHILDREN
THIS is a snatch from an overheard conversation at the busy St Mark's Road in front of Koshy's Restaurant, arguably the most famous adda of local intellectuals: ' Papa just don't keep rolling up and down the window glass,' a school girl tells her father in a parked car.
Unmindful, the man keeps playing with the automatic windowpane.
' Kyon?' he asks distractedly. The girl: ' You are killing the polar bears.' It is atmospheric science.
In short, the more energy you waste, the more you warm up the globe, and the polar bears need a lot of snow and ice. Some school must be teaching it all rather religiously.
Koshy's is a place where ideas get picked up. Had some patron inside heard this, it could have become the seed for an NGO proposal. Its direct appeal and the impressionistic element should make the girl's talk work as part of the climate campaign.
WILL SHE HAVE THE LAST SMILE?
IN BANGALORE the most famous smile after Mona Lisa's belongs to the former minister Shobha Karandlaje. She lost her job this week, a casualty of the power struggle within the ruling BJP. There are two kinds of people here those who like her and those who do not. The chief minister, BS Yeddyurappa, belongs to the former category and the Reddy brothers who challenged him to the latter.
For now the Reddy brothers are happy. Their favourite bureaucrats are back on duty in the northern districts, where they have mining interests. So it is business as usual and mining is on at several fronts.
The CM is also sharpening his knives, as rumours go. There is speculation that the lady will have the last laugh in due course, coming back all the more powerful. Till then the smile remains in the political spectrum like that of a certain Lewis Carroll character.
WHEN ROADS SAY A GOOD DEAL
ROAD signs on the winding highland roads in and around Leh should become a topic of research for students of sociology and literature. There are gems like: ' Darling I like you; but not so fast please.' ' I am curvaceous.' ' Be soft on my curves'. ' If married, divorce speed.' There are even a bit tacky ones like ' Lower your gear, curve is near.' There are also straight ones like: ' Be late. Everyone will wait.' A speculation among international journalists on a recent trip was that a team of Border Roads Organisation comprises an engineer, 20 workers and a poet. Or, highland blues must be having an effect on some lonely engineers.
MATTER OF PROPRIETY AND NOT RIGHTS
APROPOS of the editorial comment (' Murdered once and betrayed', November 10), granting parole to murder convict Manu Sharma is a case of undermining the Indian judicial system and is a fraud committed on society.
It is shocking that once the bail application of Manu Sharma was rejected by the Supreme Court citing that the grounds on which the bail request was moved were flimsy, Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit thought it prudent to grant him parole on the same grounds.
By doing so, the chief minister had chosen to confront the judiciary rather than honouring the legal wisdom that emanated from it. It is a case where cunning and sufficiently thick skinned politicians, thriving upon mere sycophancy have successfully subverted the provisions of the law by misusing their official position.
Leave aside the misuse of the parole granted to Manu Sharma, the grounds on which he was granted parole that too for two months were so flimsy that they ought to have been rejected outright.
Sharma's ageing ( 50- year- old) mother had a husband to look after her. So why should a convicted murderer be given parole to look after her? Also, looking after the family business was no ground at all.
Therefore, Mrs Dikshit has no defence against her arbitrary and partisan act of granting parole to Sharma. Many prisoners, who too have that right, are refused parole. In any case, it is not a matter of right but an issue of propriety.
Such blatant partisan behaviour of authorities creates apathy in minds of the people towards the law and the system of governance. Such politicallymotivated acts would one day drive the country into anarchy.
Shanti Bhushan via email
ZAHEER, SREESANTH WILL PERK UP TESTS
THIS is with reference to the Question of the Day ' Will the return of Zaheer Khan and Sreesanth impact the Test team?' ( November 11). Cricket is essentially a team game in which theoretically every player has a well- defined role. Rarely do we witness the individual brilliance of a player singlehandedly being instrumental in ensuring victory for his team in a Test match.
Sir Don Bradman, Sir Garfield Sobers and perhaps Jim Laker's exceptional feat of taking 19 wickets in a Test, very few players have managed to singlehandedly win a Test. However, seasoned campaigners like Sreesanth and Zaheer are expected to perform better than their best because of the Damocles' sword hanging over their heads because the competition for a Test spot is so intense.
Also, Tests can be dull and mundane affairs, so mercurial players like Sreesanth can be expected to liven up the proceedings.
However, the player has to know where to draw the line as he is already under the scanner of the BCCI and the ICC. Test cricket is a totally different cup of tea and requires a lot of patience and stamina. Having said that, both these players have tremendous talent and could help in turning around India's fortunes in Tests versus Sri Lanka.
L. K. Chawla via email
TIMES OF INDIA
A senior Congress leader has predicted that the main contenders for office when UP goes to polls in 2012 are likely to be the BSP and the Congress. This may sound optimistic if we go by the present strength of the state assembly. However, recent election trends from UP indicate that the optimism is justified.
Going by Tuesday's byelection results, the Congress is gaining in UP at the cost of outfits like the Samajwadi Party (SP). Congress won the Firozabad Lok Sabha seat, an SP bastion which heir apparent Akhilesh Yadav won in May and which was contested by his wife, Dimple, this time. The Congress also won the Lucknow West constituency and finished second in five of the 11 seats that voted last week. The performance matched the party's remarkable resurgence in parliamentary elections when it won 21 seats from the state. The Congress revival in UP owes a lot to the hard work put in by Rahul Gandhi and his advisors. It has tried to project itself as a party of governance that is sensitive to the concerns of socially and economically backward classes and castes. The party has been careful to pitch its social campaigns within the framework of an inclusive political agenda. This strategy is in stark contrast to the SP's attempt to rework its social base along caste lines. It roped in former BJP chief minister Kalyan Singh before the general election to consolidate the other backward classes/castes. The induction of Kalyan Singh, infamous as the CM who presided over the demolition of Babri masjid in 1992, alienated many Muslims who had supported the SP since the 1990s. Also, some of SP's campaigns - anti-English and anti-technology - are out of sync with the aspirations of the youth and middle classes.
A Congress revival in UP has national implications. UP sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha and can significantly influence government formation at the Centre. The decline of the Congress began after it lost its base in UP. The party crossed the 200-mark in the May general election mainly because of its revival in UP. Some Congress leaders, no doubt buoyed by the prospect of a UP revival, have dusted up the 1998 Pachmarhi declaration calling on the party to shun alliances wherever possible. It resonated during the build-up to Maharashtra elections when a section of the leadership demanded an end to the alliance with the Nationalist Congress Party and after assembly polls in Haryana when the Congress insisted that the five-MLA Haryana Janhit Congress merge with it.
In short, UP holds the key to the future of the UPA. A Congress revival there is likely to reduce its dependence on allies and prompt the party to opt for a go-it-alone strategy in states like Maharashtra and Bihar.
TIMES OF INDIA
KEEP POLITICS OUT
State finance ministers have released a discussion paper on the goods and services tax (GST). This is an important step in the run-up to GST's rollout. Given concerns on fiscal autonomy, states must be on board regarding any major change involving indirect taxes. However, GST's fundamental contours and aims shouldn't be compromised. Yet that seems to be the outlook for a tax reform meant to facilitate levy of a uniform tax on goods and services. The single tax idea was tweaked with the adoption of a workable dual system with two tax rates at the central and state levels. Further modifications are now being suggested, more due to political than economic considerations.
States' nod to a uniform tax rate for services is welcome. The same can't be said of all goods-related proposals. Essential goods are to attract a lower rate, general goods a standard rate. There'll be special rates for precious metals and a list of exempted items. Petroleum products and alcohol won't come under GST at all. That makes lack of clarity on taxing gas, electricity and real estate all the more worrying. If some states have their way, purchase tax on foodgrains will remain. Octroi, stamp duty and entertainment tax imposed by local or municipal uthorities are also to stay. States will tax small producers and traders but want higher central GST thresholds on annual turnovers.
Multiplication of tax categories will defeat the purpose of streamlining taxes to facilitate seamless trade in a non-fragmented market. Also, differences are showing up on the very definition of taxable entities. For instance, the Centre would be right in saying that differential tax thresholds stunt the tax base, forcing higher rates while making tax governance tougher. The proposed model of an integrated goods and services tax for inter-state transactions looks good on paper but, in the case of services, imply technical and administrative challenges that'll need sorting out.
As it is, consensus is awaited on actual tax rates and the issue of reimbursement for revenue loss. There's work to be done on creating IT and administrative support for GST. With GST's launch-date already looking a tall order for practical reasons, the last thing India needs is reform hijacked by politics. The GST model isn't elastic to the extent of forfeiting its basic goals of tax rationalisation, promotion of tax compliance and creation of a common market. Rather than prioritise short-term revenue considerations, the political class must push long-term goals for the good of tax collectors, consumers and business. Sadly, the power of the status quo still seems all too evident.
TIMES OF INDIA
MAKE THE VISIT COUNT
With public attention focused on reports of a possible repeat of the 26/11 terrorist strike and Chinaâs melodramatics on the Dalai Lamaâs visit to Tawang, one should not forget that â" given the importance of Washingtonâs relations with Beijing and Islamabad â" the future course of events in our neighbourhood will be significantly influenced by understandings reached during Manmohan Singhâs November 24 state visit to Washington.
The Obama administration is now finding that its relations with our neighbours are going to be more complicated than it earlier imagined. Hectored by Pakistani officials about alleged shortcomings in US policies, despite the unprecedented level of American military and economic assistance to Pakistan, an irate Hillary Clinton recently accused Islamabad of sheltering Osama bin Laden. She also said: âIf we are going to have a mature partnership...there are issues that not just the United States, but others have with your government and your military security establishmentâ â" a blunt indictment of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in Afghanistan and India.
Washington is also finding that, as its economic and military clout grows, China is becoming increasingly assertive and determined to exclude the US from the emerging security and economic architecture of Asia and the Asia-Pacific region. China now calls for US withdrawal from Afghanistan, seeks to undermine the role of the dollar in determining global oil prices and is using its vast foreign exchange reserves and possession of around $800 billion in US Treasury bonds to leverage its global economic ambitions.
More important, China is showing growing aggressiveness to enforce its claims that its territorial waters encompass three million square kilometres out of a total area of 3.5 million square km in the South China Sea. It has disputes on its maritime frontiers with North and South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines , Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. It is becoming increasingly aggressive in enforcing its authority in disputed areas it claims are within its territorial waters. Barack Obamaâs decision to avoid a customary meeting with the Dalai Lama, for fear of offending Beijing, has only strengthened the belief that with the US in retreat, China will be more assertive in its dealings with neighbours, including India.
American strategic analyst Ashley Tellis, who played a key role in shaping the Bush administrationâs policies towards India, has lucidly spelt out how the Obama administration should understand Indiaâs policies. Alluding to Indian concerns about calls for a US-China âcondominiumâ to set the global agenda, he notes that India would like the US to âmanage its relations with China in such a way that precludes both collusion and confrontation , between Washington and Beijingâ . He states that India expects Washington to work to âpreserve a favourable balance of powerâ in Asia, enabling India âto concentrate on economic development, without any distracting security competitionâ.
Cautioning Obama against any intrusive attempt to meddle in Kashmir, Tellis notes that âIndia desires greater American support in confronting the terror emanating from Pakistanâ . While Clinton made it clear in Pakistan that Washington has no intention to meddle in Kashmir, Manmohan Singh would no doubt tell the White House that, following âback channelâ negotiations, India and Pakistan had reached a broad agreement on the framework for a settlement on J&K in 2007. This recognised that borders could not be changed, but that free movement of people, goods, services and investments across the Line of Control would make them âirrelevantâ . It is for Pakistan, seeking to turn the clock back, to honour and abide by understandings reached between 2005 and 2007.
The India-US nuclear deal has cleared the way for nuclear collaboration with France, Russia and the US and opened the door for meeting Indiaâs crucial needs concerning uranium ore. But American restrictions and delays on transfer of hi-tech items remain and need addressing. Signing of the âEnd Use Monitoring Agreementâ and âTechnical Safeguards Agreementâ during Clintonâs visit to India cleared the way for expanding cooperation in defence and space. It would be useful if Singhâs âWashington yatraâ could set the stage for some imaginative India-US ventures in space.
Moreover, while issues like nuclear non-proliferation , climate change and clean energy will come up for discussion, rural India will benefit from Singhâs visit only if high-sounding bilateral agreements on agriculture are seen to lead to greater agricultural productivity and better water management in India. Hopefully, HRD minister Kapil Sibalâs initiatives will also see early progress in cooperation with the US in university education.
Singh is more than familiar with power equations in Washington and the frustration there with Pakistanâs policy of running with the Taliban hare while hunting with the American hound. The Americans have been extremely forthcoming after 26/11 in sharing intelligence and assisting terror-related investigations in India. It is crucial to enhance such cooperation in dealing with terrorist violence that both Indian and US citizens could well face again in the near future. With Pakistanâs state structure virtually imploding, India and the US need to remain in close touch, especially by complementing their efforts to restore peace and stability in Afghanistan.
The writer is a former high commissioner to Pakistan.
TIMES OF INDIA
BUILD INFRASTRUCTURE TO KEEP PACE
If Bajaj and Renault-Nissan have their way, Nano will have stiff competition come 2012. Theirs is unlikely to be the last such project. The Nano has targeted a hitherto untapped market with good feedback so far. If it succeeds, as seems likely, other players in the auto industry will realise the opportunities in the low-cost segment. They will follow suit, ratcheting up the options and competition in the segment and putting more low-cost cars on the road. And that is as it should be.
Of course, the tired old arguments will be trotted out again. Our urban infrastructure cannot handle the current volume of cars on the road, we will be told, and more are being added at a rapid pace at existing price levels. Lower the prices of cars and the explosion of new cars will overwhelm our urban centres entirely. And then there is the pollution angle.
Valid concerns, both, but they must be approached from the other end. Mobility is personal empowerment, whose economic and psychological benefits are incalculable. The onus must be on the state to keep pace with economic growth, not on industry to rein in economic growth so as not to overwhelm the state. That way lies stagnation and a retreat to the moribund economy of previous decades.
There are also ethical issues to be considered when deliberating any move to somehow control the number of cars on the road with the growth of the low-cost segment. Since its inception, India intended to be an egalitarian society. Should we now institute economic discrimination? Should the right to clog the roads be reserved for the rich and the middle-class while the economically disadvantaged are deprived of the benefits of upward mobility and industry paradigm shifts?
The market must be allowed to resolve the issue. The state has shown itself to be particularly inept at urban planning so far. It's now up to both the Centre and state governments to improve road infrastructure, enforce environmental regulation and institute comfortable mass rapid transit that will take some pressure off the roads.
TIMES OF INDIA
THIS ROAD LEADS NOWHERE
As if the Nano wasn't bad enough, Renault-Nissan has decided to collaborate with Bajaj to bring out another ultra-cheap small car. Looking at the state of most Indian cities today, one has to wonder how and where all these vehicles will be accommodated. Roads are running out of space at an alarming rate. Commuting time has gone up exponentially over the last decade or so, resulting in traffic jams, irate commuters and an ever-worsening quality of air. Given all this, it's a terrible idea to make cars that more and more of the populace can afford.
It is indisputable that the mushrooming of cars since liberalisation has come with several downsides. The quality of life of the average city dweller has decreased over the years. Not only does she have to breathe in terribly toxic air, she has to spend more time than ever navigating to get from anywhere to anywhere. With cheaper cars hitting the road, the situation is only going to get worse. The day when stepping out of the house to go even a short distance will require budgeting hours is not far away. The future looks gridlocked by the multiple cheap cars that will be available.
Even improving infrastructure is not going to help matters. There are only so many roads a government can build, after all. Rapidly expanding cities need space for more than just roads; they need to house more and more people, and all these people with cars need space to park, too. Usable mass rapid transit is unlikely to come up in a country like India, where governance is so poor and urban planning notable by its absence.
The only way is to discourage people from buying cars in the first place, by making it expensive to own and run a car. Look at Singapore and London, where car owners have to pay high congestion charges if they enter parts of the city. Parking too ought to be at a premium. Penalising car owners for the congestion and pollution they cause is the way to go to streamline traffic and make our cities better places to live in.
TIMES OF INDIA
WHAT'S YOUR SMOTHER TONGUE?
Should 'swearing-in' be replaced by 'swearing-at'? Someone from each side of the Monday Mumbai Melee may have provided an answer, but it was drowned in the ruckus. Not just drowned, but slapped, shoved and otherwise savaged. The Maharashtra assembly has just joined the ranks of legislatures which suffer from delusions of being a gang-war zone, a World Wrestling Entertainment stadium or a casualty ward.
Like Abu Ben Adhem, not to confused with Abu Bhaiyya Azmi, Bihar's name once 'led all the rest'. But Patna's USP is now everybody's SP or BJP, NCP or every other political 'P'. In virtually every state, legislators have broken chairs, bones and all laws of decorum with equal impunity. Parliament has become endemically unparliamentary.
Of course, it doesn't happen only in India. Two years ago we watched enviously as Taiwanese MPs (including women) outdid our own elected representatives by wrestling one another to the ground. The last recorded legislative brawl in the US was in 1902, and involved two South Carolina senators, but those standing to the north, west and east of them also got hit. In the British parliament, treasury and opposition benches are still separated by a red line, marking a distance of two sword lengths.
Means, we only are not like that only. Sowhy we only are being slammed and spat upon as though we are some MLA defying the writ of the Raj?
By now we have all heard, seen and tut-tutted over what happened on Monday morning when the newly elected Maharashtra MLAs convened to take their oaths, and to hurl them. The Assembly thus became an unlawful assembly punishable under Sec 144 and more.
Three points need to be pondered over, now that the burly hurling's done. One, India may or may not claim patent and paternity on the phrase, 'a riot of languages', but any language should trip off the tongue, not be rammed down your throat. The 'fakhta Marathi' directive could end up doing just that. On the other hand, left to individual choice, more people would use, and appreciate this literary language.
As Vasant Pradhan, who once lost his editor's job for being a crusader for Samyukta Maharashtra, pointed out after Monday's events, "The belligerent-sounding Marathi being spoken by its so-called protectors is a faulty introduction to a language that is so melodious, and has a rich tenor."
It's the same with Bombay vs Mumbai. Left to itself, the old name would die a natural death. But instead, each time it is delivered a body-blow by the zealous vandals of the MNS or the SS, it gets hooked once more to life-support. The more the fuss, the more the perpetuation of 'Them' and 'Us'.
Secondly, if anyone should be complaining, it is Hindi. The Bambaiya version is definitely not 'mangta hai' by the purist. Maharashtrians have turned Hindi's verbs into vegetables, eg 'kya karela hai'. The 'aap' has been altogether dropped, and replaced by that great leveler, the deathly 'tum'.
Mumbai's other dyed-in-the-bhel residents, Gujaratis and more so Parsis, have subjected Hindi to such unspeakable atrocities that Delhiwallahs are often unable even to recognize the mutilated mass of mispronunciation and mangled syntax.
Finally, the scenes played out unrelentingly on television were meant to condemn, but they may have also achieved exactly the opposite. We, the public, may have cringed in disbelief, dismay and disgust. But in the lumpen lanes of their constituencies, each replay pumped up the reputation of the villains, transfiguring them into heroes. And martyrs. That's the nature of this media beast. It could end up glorifying the culprits. In much the same way that the self-anointed champions of the 'Marathi manoos' could instead create a strangling 'Marathi manoose', linguistic or otherwise.
TIMES OF INDIA
CONCEAL AND REVEAL
Newspapers now and then give special exposure to the story of an embarrassing wardrobe malfunction while a fashion model in a skimpy bikini was catwalking briskly on the ramp like a pair of vertically shearing scissors. In consequence, the model might have granted, for a brief moment, special darshan in her monokini to a gaggle of goggling onlookers who didn't bargain for a bonus visual treat. Such a titillating interlude may be traced to faults in load assumption in the cantilever design of the noodle-strapped upper cover or a sudden, thunderous sneeze from a sleazy male in the audience whose lung power could even make plaster fall from the ceiling. The determinant may even be the psychokinetic power of the frenetic chanting of a mystical mantra by a dude who is a bosom friend of the fair sex. Wardrobes made of wood, steel or colourful handkerchief sized fabrics, as a rule, are meant to keep things covered and should not open at their own free will to display concealed assets. But this is a general rule, and like all rules, it too has an exception.
There are wardrobes and wardrobes but in the prospect of remaining tightly shut - after they are shut - wooden wardrobes, unlike steel wardrobes, more often than not dramatically open wide like mouths involuntarily do, lion-like, in the lazy act of yawning. Wooden wardrobes may be inanimate objects but expecting them to remain wooden without feelings would be tantamount to an erroneous know-all attitude of an unimaginative human being. An intricately carved wardrobe, passed down from past generations, in which the family silver, liquid cash, solid gold, jewellery and so forth are locked up, might be itching now and then to proclaim that its importance should not be gauged by its depreciated value, but by the inventory stashed inside unbeknownst to tax sleuths. Little wonder, therefore, those poor wooden things tend to occasionally open up like Ali Baba's cave without an 'open sesame' call, revealing the contents, when inquisitive visitors are shown round the house by its proud owner. Logically, what applies to the wooden wardrobe might also apply to the wardrobe of the catwalking models. No wonder they occasionally open or slip down for a cheeky preview as a visible proof of the bounty they are privileged to conceal.
THAT'S THE WAY OUT
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has put a date to India's exit strategy after the financial meltdown: 2010. Some time in the next year the government should begin slowing down economic expansion alongside a monetary contraction that is posed to get underway. From the looks of it, India is the first major economy to shrug off the global recession. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee is hopeful that the economy will grow 7 per cent in 2010-11 and reach its long-term trend rate of 9 per cent the year after. A more urgent and impelling argument for exit is inflation, where the base effect of last year's record global energy and commodity prices has ebbed and food prices in India are ratcheting up in a drought year. The Reserve Bank of India expects wholesale prices are rising 30 per cent faster than its comfort level of 5 per cent.
The worst may be behind us, but it is a hard climb out of the fiscal hole the world has dug itself into. The public debt in the G20 the 20 countries that produce 90 per cent of the world's output will climb from 62 per cent of gross world product in 2007 to 82 per cent in 2010 because of the largest coordinated bailout in history. It is a steeper climb for India, which went into the slump with an inordinately high debt ratio of 80 per cent and an ambitious social spending programme. Recession-induced discretionary spending is only a fraction of India's overall fiscal expansion in 2009-10. Scaling down this component counter-cyclically does not address the issue of burgeoning subsidies and income transfers.
The timing of the exit is critical. Premature withdrawal of government spending risks nipping the recovery in the bud. On the other hand, if the government continues to pump more money than is needed, rising interest rates will undermine whatever revival has been achieved. But whenever it does, India's rollback will have to be large. To regain its pre-crisis position, India needs to bring down its fiscal deficit from 6.8 per cent to 2.7 per cent, a process that could occupy this government for the rest of its term. A recurrent theme for Manmohan Singh's second term will be the inherent conflict between its welfare politics and fiscal prudence.
BARELLING ON AT 90
There was always a poet inside Mikhail Kalashnikov. After all, he's from a country whose greatest writer was saved from the firing squad seconds before a Tsarist reprieve. But while Fydor Dostoyevsky went on to produce some of the most stunning works of literature, Mr Kalashnikov, who celebrated his 90th birthday on Tuesday and continues to write poetry, became famous for something else: the Avtomat Kalashnikova 1947 or the AK-47. It was while he was recovering from an injury received in 1941 during the Battle of Bryansk against the Germans that Mr Kalashnikov started designing assault rifles for the Red Army from his hospital bed. One of them, the selective fire, gas-operated 7.62 assault rifle, clicked. The rest, as they don't say often enough, is high-speed rat-tat-tat-tat history.
While pacifists have a different take on Mr Kalashnikov and his creations (the AK-47 being the source of many other variants of the lightweight, compact and cheap assault rifles), we tend to see a more aesthetic side to the AK family. From a sheer design perspective, very few objects marry beauty with function as wonderfully as the AK-47 and its (legitimate and illegitimate) children and grandchildren. The violence that it holds and its raison d'etre makes Mr Kalashnikov's greatest creation, arguably, the greatest work of 20th century pop art.
As for the artist, despite some 100 million AK-47s going around in the world, he hasn't profited from his work, but only receives a 'State pension'. Mr Kalashnikov does own a big stake in a German company that trademarks products that carry his name, the latest being a mobile ringtone that replicates the high cough of a AK-47 in full flow. A couple of days after his 90th birthday, we wish Mr Kalashnikov a long and peaceful life.
INDIA'S NEW RAJ
FIRST, A DISCLAIMER
I share origins with the Thackerays: Bal, Raj and Uddhav. From my mother's side, I am a Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhu, commonly known as a CKP, the same as the Thackerays, the clan that runs the parochial Shiv Sena, and its breakaway, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), whose legislators this week slapped a north Indian legislator who dared take his inaugural oath in the national language, Hindi.
Unapologetic for introducing an ironically violent UP-Bihar-style disrepute to their legislature, the MNS insist nothing can stand in the way of their love of the Marathi language and the advancement of the Marathi (mostly Hindu) man.
With the ruling Congress issuing the mildest of censures, India's most industrial state is tacitly accepting the glowering Raj as the true heir to the Sena's dubious legacy. The timid Uddhav is a pretender who will fade away. When Bal, now a frail 83, passes on, the bulk of the Shiv Sena will simply transfer loyalties to the man who would be king.
The chattering classes of Mumbai's high-rises hate and fear the Senas, ascribing to them a lunacy beyond understanding.Complex caste and social equations explain why the Shiv Sena has never once ruled its modern homeland alone. Raj's MNS is threatening to wreck those equations. Only three years old, the MNS garnered a seemingly modest 5.7 per cent of the votes in Maharashtra's October assembly elections. But in the bellwether city of Mumbai, it grabbed 24 per cent of the vote, second only to the Congress.
Political observers believe the violent parochialism of the Senas is a carefully crafted USP in a fast-changing electorate. The chattering classes of Mumbai's high-rises hate and fear the Senas, ascribing to them a lunacy beyond understanding. But scratch many seemingly sensible Maharashtrians, and they will gradually talk of culture, tradition, language and the fear of being swamped by Mumbai's great and growing diversity. Of course, they will insist, the way Raj is going about this is wrong, there must be no violence, but you know, what he says isn't really wrong.
My mother is a proud CKP, brought up in Shivaji Park, the middle-class Marathi heartland of what was then Bombay. Contemptuous of the Senas and what they stand for, she has a deep love and knowledge of Marathi literature reading the classics aloud when we were children and her family, Deshmukhs and Jaywants, knew the Thackerays in the 1950s, a time when Bal was a cartoonist of no mean talent and Bombay was a kinder, gentler city of manners and tolerance.
On my father's side, I am a Maratha from Goa, descended (according to a 1911 gazetteer) from former pirates forced to become farmers. The origins of my father's family lie in the guerrilla army of rude, coarse peasants raised more than 450 years ago by Shivaji Raje Bhosle, or Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the mountain-rat-turned-emperor who relaunched Hindu rule in India and set the Marathas on track to create a confederacy that later conquered Delhi, and by the late 18th century reigned over India, from the Himalayas to the Krishna river on the Deccan Plateau.
From medieval India to previous eras, travellers found the prickliness of the Marathas a common feature, and in their descriptions you will find some explanation to why the Sainiks, the Sena footsoldiers, are what they are.
"The Mahrattas (sic), who inhabit this country have from the remotest antiquity been a strong and self-reliant nation," observed Louis Rousselet, a French author who visited the court of Daulat Rao Scindia in Gwalior, after the Marathas had been subjugated by the British but were still strong. "For the most part husbandsman or shepherd, they were content to remain among their native mountains, and, owing to their excessive pride and intrepidity, succeed in retaining the most complete liberty and independence."
Earlier, in the 7th century, the Chinese traveller Huen Tsang, after observing the Marathas, wrote this: "They prize honour and duty and have a contempt for death their king has warlike tastes and places military glory in the first rank."
Go further back in time, and you will find the CKPs originated from Indo-Aryan tribes that migrated south from Kashmir. Even today in Pune, the base of their greatest literary, administrative and military achievements, you will find CKPs with ancient genetic markers like uncommonly fair skin and green or light-grey eyes. For centuries, they straddled the world of the Brahmin and the Kshatriya, the pen and the sword.
The Marathas were their own worst enemies, losing their hold over India permanently in the early 19th century as families and clans fought each other (yes, much like Raj and Uddhav). The British took advantage of their fractiousness and edged them out.
A Maratha would never rule Delhi again.
Those Maharashtrians who discard faded past glories and either work hard enough or are lucky enough to make it in the New India, transcend the violent politics of grievance that now defines the Senas.
Among the rest, insecurity and paranoia take over, casting their deepest roots among the educated and semi-educated, not among the poorest. So it is with the jihadis, so it is with the extreme right rising in parts of Europe, so it with the Marathi manoos (man).
The modern Marathi manoos is only too conscious of faded glories, is stubborn, has problems with authority (I do too, always have) and tends to attack first and reason later or not at all. As the state's velvet-glove, rubber-fist approach indicates, he won't be stopped.
Raj's raj is just beginning.
THE REDDY CHALLENGE
VARGHESE K. GEORGE
In the last fortnight, the Congress and the BJP faced roughly similar problems in Andhra Pradesh (AP) and Karnataka. But both handled their respective crisis in diametrically different fashions.
Supporters of the late Y.S. Rajashekhara Reddy, former AP chief minister, have been putting pressure on the Congress high command to replace the current CM, K. Rosaiah, with YSR's son Jagan Mohan Reddy. The Reddy brothers in Karnataka, who control the mining industry there, wanted the BJP to replace the CM, B.S. Yeddyurappa, with their candidate.
The two Reddy families are linked by lineage and business interests. But this comparison can only be to the limited extent that both Reddys wanted to gain a larger share of power than they have now, by arm-twisting the leadership of their respective parties. This apart, there are no other similarities.
YSR converted part of his political power into a business empire, managed by his son Jagan Mohan. Business did not dictate his politics, but financed and facilitated it. Jagan was impatient to become the CM after YSR's death. He has the support of a majority of the Congress MLAs and enjoys public support. Still, the Congress high command put its foot down and persuaded him to back out. Rosaiah remains CM only to make one point that nobody can put pressure on the party; Jagan's hold over huge finances turned out to be his disadvantage. That point had to be made.
Contrast this with how the BJP handled its Reddys. In Karnataka, the Reddys are not the leaders of the party, Yeddyurappa is. His ideological commitment and hard work helped the party establish itself in the state and get its first government in a southern state. The Reddy brothers merely converted part of their wealth into political power the inverse of what YSR and his family did in Andhra. Yet, the compromise formula worked out by the BJP leaders is a surrender to the Bellary brothers.
Assuming that all this is morally neutral, the two situations show that the BJP compares badly with the Congress. Despite his popularity, the Congress turned down Jagan Mohan to make a larger point. And despite Yeddyurappa's popularity, the BJP failed to make that point.
The moneyed have a role to play in politics. From Gandhi onwards, the Congress tradition perfected the art of managing them. Money would always play second fiddle, howsoever important it may be. The BJP failed to keep the balance.
The club of the wealthy is far bigger in the Congress than in the BJP. Of the 79 ministers in the Union council, 47 are crorepatis and 38 of them are from the Congress. Of the 206 Congress MPs in Lok Sabha, 145 have declared assets worth more than Rs 1 crore. Only 50 per cent of the BJP MPs are crorepatis 59 of its 116 Lok Sabha members. Yet, the BJP is unable to keep them in their place.
The BJP's capitulation before the Bellary brothers has not merely damaged the party, but has undermined the rules of engagement between politics and money. The low point for the BJP in 2009 is not its electoral defeat in May but its Karnataka comprise.
Probity watch - Opening their own closet
FIVE OFFICIALS, four IAS and an IPS, have declared their assets in Uttar Pradesh. Will it trigger a campaign for uprightness among officers, as the judiciary just witnessed?
Neelesh Misra in New Delhi
email@example.com One of the most powerful bureaucrats in India owns just one car -- a 10-yearold Fiat. Vijay Shankar Pandey, an additional Cabinet secretary in the country's political powerhouse of Uttar Pradesh and one of the most trusted aides of Chief Minister Mayawati, doesn't have any cash on himself either but his author wife Smita does -- Rs 4,000 in all. And there is Rs 1.17 lakh in the bank, and tax saving investments worth Rs 2.5 akh.But many among India's 10,000-odd administrative and police service officers, the backbone of governance, are believed to own much more than 10year-old Fiat cars.
To set an example, Pandey and four other officers -- Sunil Kumar, Renuka Kumar and Raju Sharma of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and Indian Police Service (IPS) officer Jasveer Singh -- wrote on November 6 to Cabinet Secretary K.M.
Chandrasekhar, head of the civil services, giving their wealth details, and also made them public on a blog (www.declareyourassets.blogspot.com).
It is a move that comes alongside some unexpected and unprecedented devel opments related to probity among India's public figures -- cleanup efforts by the judiciary and an investigation into Rs 4,300 crore worth of allegedly illegal wealth of former Jharkhand Chief Minister Madhu Koda. The five officers who declared their assets are part of a low-profile anti-corruption organisation called India Rejuvenation Initiative (IRI). Its members include former Chief Justice of India R.C. Lahoti, former Punjab Director General of Police Julio Rebeiro, former air force chief S. Krishnaswamy, former Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) J.M. Lyngdoh, former Comptroller and Auditor General V.K.
Shunglu and anti-corruption campaigner and journalist Sharat Pradhan.
After the latest initiative, some other IAS officers are said to be preparing to make their wealth public. Will it lead to something bigger and have a cascading effect on enforcing transparency among bureaucrats? Will that place Pandey alongside Karnatak High Court Judge D.V. Shylendra Kumar, whose against-the-current stand on declaring judges' wealth eventually forced the Supreme Court to declare judges' wealth on the Internet?
"If the judges have given in, who are these people (IAS) to stand up? They will have to declare their assets," Lyngdoh told Hindustan Times. "They will try their best to pull the strings -but eventually they will come around."
The landmark decision by Supreme Court judges to declare their assets came after a similar move by three men.
Shylendra Kumar, a Karnataka High Court judge, questioned Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan's right to oppose the declaration of assets on behalf of all judges.
Soon after, Punjab and Haryana High Court judge M.K. Kannan uploaded details of his wealth on the internet.
Madras High Court judge K. Chandru followed soon after.
"Much before the judges' campaign started, we have been writing to the Prime Minister saying that public service conduct rules should be amended and all this should be in the public domain," Shunglu said.
"It's a different matter that no action has been taken by the government," he said. "Public ser vants are much more accountable on a day-to-day basis."
There are uncan ny parallels between the approach that India's judicial leadership initially took and the stand that the top bureaucracy is taking now.
A committee of secretaries of the central government is currently said to be mulling over whether to make the audacious move to take the personal assets of the bureaucracy out of the scope of public scrutiny through the Right to Information. After a recent order of Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) that would make IAS and IPS officers annually declare their movable and immovable properties, the thorny issue was referred to Chandrasekhar.
"I feel that transparency is a must in public administration and all those who are paid by the public exchequer should not have any hesitation in revealing their assets," said Pandey, who sits in an unassuming office that exudes simplicity but wields great power -- on the out-of-bounds fifth floor of the State Secretariat annexe in Lucknow.
Singh, the IPS officer, suggested a law that covered everyone working with public money -- including non-government organisations, and that the government set up an Accountability and Integrity Commission, empowered to scrutinise those declarations of assets.
"Public servants mean both the politicians and the bureaucrats," Singh said.
"The assets of all of them -- right from a class-four (lower ranking) employee to the Prime Minister of the country -- should be declared for public scrutiny." The step has been widely welcomed. But some believe India's bureaucracy is far too hard-boiled.
"Honesty is an exception today rather than the norm," said Magsaysay award winner Sandeep Pandey. "I don't see a movement for uprightness among bureaucrats because of this campaign. Nevertheless, this is a welcome step." BUREAUCRATS' ACTIVISM In 1997, Pandey anchored an unprecedented campaign at the U.P. IAS Association to elect the three "most corrupt" among themselves by a secret ballot. The names were made public: Akhand Pratap Singh, Neera Yadav and the late Brijendra (who went by just one name).
Akhand Pratap Singh and Neera Yadav later became chief secretary but were removed on court orders India Rejuvenation Initiative, of which the four IAS officers and one IPS officer who declared their assets are part, was instrumental in taking legal steps against Singh and Yadav
Danger signal - Line of concern
THE DELHI METRO goes to Noida tomorrow. But the near-stampede on Nov 8 raises a question on its ability to sustain a scaled-up presence THE STAMPEDE CAME FOUR DAYS AFTER ANOTHER TRAIN MANUFACTURED BY BOMBARDIER GOT STUCK IN AN UNDERGROUND SECTION.
ATUL MATHUR IN NEW DELHI
firstname.lastname@example.org Five days before the Delhi Metro was to launch its Noida leg, its first outside city limits, a mechanical failure in one of its swanky new trains led to a near stampede.
With 700 people on board, the train halted half inside an underground tunnel and half on the ramp near the Rajiv Chowk station on November 8. The lights and the air-conditioning failed.
As passengers opened emergency gates to escape, a melee ensued. Four commuters suffered fractures and the Metro's reputation another bruise.
Sunday's mishap in the nation's showcase public transport -- which came within months of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) chief E.
Sreedharan offering to quit after a pillar collapsed -- is being watched closely, especially as the Commonwealth Games are less than a year away.
Besides, DMRC is providing consultancy to similar projects in Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Kochi and Pune. It is also preparing a study for the Jakarta Metro (in Indonesia) and one on the extension of the Kolkata Metro.
"We are aware of the incidents," said K.P. Maheshwari, director, Mumbai Metro One Private Ltd, which is building a 12-km line from Ghatkopar (north east Mumbai) to Versova (West Mumbai). "Accordingly we will make changes in our system."
The near-stampede, attributed to a snag in the traction system, came four days after another train manufactured by Bombardier Transport got stuck in an underground section.
Officials of the Germany-based company, which is manufacturing coaches for Delhi Metro's second phase, dismissed the incidents nonchalantly.
"Such problems in the electrical system happen sometimes when a train is introduced," said Luis Ramos, director, communications, Bombardier Transportation. "It is not related to the safety and security of passengers."
Delhi Metro Rail Corporation spokesperson Anuj Dayal said the incident would not delay the launch of the Noida line. However, the people's confidence in the city's lifeline is shaken.
"I won't travel in the metro now," said R.P. Chopra (58), who was travelling with his wife, son-in-law and an elderly relative during the mishap.
"Technical failures are occurring too frequently for my comfort."
The reactions may appear extreme in a city increasingly shifting to a quicker, greener mode of transport.
According to the Central Road Research Institute, the Delhi Metro keeps 57,953 vehicles off the city's roads every day.
But concerns over safety are mounting. "Their safety manuals are impeccable. But Delhi Metro officials don't practise what they preach," said Pradeep Chaturvedi, former president (safety and quality forum) of the Institution of Engineers."Theyhavetobringbackoperational discipline in their work culture."
Nurturing a culture of safety in a developing country like India takes time, contend DMRC officials. "We hold regular workshops for more than 40,000 construction workers," said Mangu Singh, director (works), DMRC.
"But there is always scope for improvement."
From 30,000 passengers travelling on a 6.5-kilometre stretch in 2003 to a 76-km network on three lines catering to 900,000 passengers every day, the Metro has come a long way.
By 2010, the Metro's 190-km network will draw two million travellers. But the pressure on its resources is growing.
With the Delhi Transport Corporation increasing fares, many more commuters will come to rely on the Metro.
The infrastructure of the public transport system hasn't kept pace with its dizzy growth.
Overcrowding, shoving and train delays have become frequent.
With the opening of the Noida leg, the first connecting a satellite town with the metropolis, and bus fares rising, the Metro's woes may only rise.
"We are ready to face the challenge.
We have placed an order for 424 coaches (37 four car trains and 46 six car trains) which will augment our fleet of trains," Dayal said.
Will that be enough to restore the travellers' faith?
The World Economic Forum's India meeting in New Delhi featured some thoughtful panels, speeches and ideas. But it was difficult to avoid the fear that what we were seeing was a disturbing exercise in crony capitalism. The speakers, the panels, the discussions all conveyed a disturbing impression, that India is a one-party state of some sort. The Opposition was frozen out. (Nor were there prominent voices from the Congress' UPA allies.) An occasion for business and politics to question each other becomes one where business humbly submits an agenda for action to the dominant party in power. What else is that but banana-republic crony capitalism?
The Davos meeting of the WEF, in January every year, is a wonderfully eclectic event where a broad diversity of thought is brought to bear on some timely theme. In the past, India summits have shown a similar approach. But many local summits, in partnership with local bodies, too often descend into exercises in statist pageantry. This is the direction in which the WEF, and the Confederation of Indian Industry, have made the mistake of taking the India summit this year. The WEF needs to wake up to one basic fact: India is not China or Singapore. India's is the most diverse polity in the world. So, WEF, if you try thinking about policy while ignoring that, you're condemning yourself to eventual irrelevance. Talk to just the Union cabinet while ignoring dynamic CMs, and you'll miss the basics of the India story.
Tragically the lessons of the past have not taken hold. Indian industry many of whose leaders were cringingly obsequious at the meeting about the absolute wonderfulness of the government and its plans for the future has allowed itself to be stuck in an old, pre-
reform sense of what is necessary to do business in India. The party in power has to be placated and pleased and praised. But India is maturing. Today the smug commissars of commerce might believe that the Congress will rule for twenty years. But they have been wrong before. After all, when the NDA was in power, and the Congress appeared a hopeless floppy opposition, these same captains of industry crowded on to the stage with Narendra Modi at the same meeting, barely a year and a half after the Gujarat riots. Things have turned since then, haven't they? And in India, they will turn again. Unless India's corporate sector grows as least as mature as India's democracy, it will find itself behind the curve all too often, locked into supplication rather than partnership. Nor, when it comes the time to grow into more mature markets, will the subservient attitude fostered here help them deal with ruling parties that don't expect fawning.
Of the 10 West Bengal assembly seats that were up for by-election, seven have returned the Trinamool Congress, underlining the swift diminishment of the Left's vote share even since the Lok Sabha elections this summer. But for Mamata Banerjee the results have also strengthened her position with respect to her ally, the Congress. With the ouster from power of the Left Front government seen to be possible in the next assembly elections, Banerjee has of late betrayed an anxiety to rework the alliance to reflect their relative electoral strength. This tension was evident recently in the localised understanding between the Congress and the Left in the Siliguri mayoral race. The Congress has lost Goalpokhar, the seat vacated by Deepa Dasmunshi, considered the architect of the Siliguri manoeuvre. And Banerjee has been less than subtle in indicating that the ground situation demands that seat-sharing arrangements tilt more in the TC's favour.
That the Trinamool is on the move is evident. But the party has yet to win confidence as a credible alternative to the ruling Left Front. On the Left's watch, the peculiar overlap of state and party in Bengal has hollowed out institutions of governance in the state and events in Nandigram and now Lalgarh have shown how witless the government has become in affirming the writ of the state. Regaining legitimacy to govern from here will be incredibly difficult for the Left regime.
If that increases the onus on the opposition in the state to draft a roadmap for administrative correction, the TC has been found massively lacking. Banerjee reaped immense electoral dividends by using her unique brand of mobilisation, by keeping up a shrill street-led critique, to whittle away at the Left. But to transition from a party of robust opposition to one that is a credible alternative, she needs to be much further ahead on the curve. Whether she can now mobilise politically on a constructive agenda will determine whether she gets over the tipping point.
That the MNS goons who roughed up Samajwadi Party MLA Abu Azmi in the Maharashtra assembly need to be dealt with sternly is obvious. That they were wrong (it is perfectly legal to take the oath in Hindi) is equally so. But to these two charges add a third: hypocrisy. It turns out that this party of chest-thumping Marathi-only chauvinists do not subscribe to their own rhetoric. Eight of the MNS's 13 MLAs send their children to English-medium schools and colleges. The daughter of chauvinist-in-chief Raj Thackeray studies in an English-language school; and it is more than a little intriguing that when faced with the option of learning Marathi, his son chose a foreign language.
Much of our colonial legacy is complicated. But English is no longer considered an alien tongue and is perceived to be a tool of empowerment. Which is why when some state governments, such as West Bengal's, limited instruction in English in government primary schools, they denied a generation of children a valuable tool, restricting opportunities to the privately educated. Bengal's decision may not have been entirely akin to Thackeray's regional chauvinism, but the no-English policy ultimately came apart under popular criticism.
Some MNS officials justify this double standard by saying that they have no problem with English and they merely want Marathi to be the language at official functions like oath-swearing. This is disingenuous: their linguistic chauvinism is a key ingredient of the MNS's exclusionary politics. The anti-Hindi sentiment is clearly driven less by a fear about Marathi and more by a desire to stoke anxiety about immigrants. The doublespeak of MNS legislators should serve as a caution to other stakeholders in Maharashtra's politics about the consequences that could follow if they do not put up a more robust defence of the freedoms and aspirations of Mumbai's diverse residents.
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has boxed himself in and is now trying to get out. So obvious is this that it's no more news. The big question now is whether he will be able to do a Houdini.
Post-Benazir Bhutto's death, Zardari got into the driver's seat and despite scepticism over his past, there was a general sense within the party as also across the political spectrum that the Pakistan People's Party needed the Bhutto connection. Zardari also pulled in his son and became co-chair of the party to provide just that magic connection.
He also showed himself, initially, to be eager to make amends with other political actors and to effect compromises. He got into agreements with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, the PPP's arch-rival, and also other, more parochial political entities.
The beginning, despite reservations, looked promising. But then he began putting a new definition on politics being the art of the possible. He misjudged the national mood on the judges' restoration; miscalculated the PMLN's resolve to stick to its avowed policies of getting the judges restored, reviewing and amending the 17th amendment and the powers of the president under it; scrapping the national reconciliation ordinance which had given legal cover to the return to Pakistan of Benazir and Zardari himself.
The PMLN wanted a tabula rasa and a new script. Zardari wanted to edit, minimally, former General Musharraf's script and retain most of what would help him become the president. If one is pressed to come up with one major mistake that Zardari has committed, it is this: his decision to elevate himself as president after getting political support of the PMLN to get rid of Musharraf. Every other miscalculation flows from there. Getting to the Presidency meant retaining much of Musharraf's illegally constituted legal edifice. There are at least two theories about what he embarked on a series of miscalculations.
One is that he focused on the PMLN's suboptimal choices and ignored what the party's principle objective was that is, could it be that the PMLN was behaving seemingly irrationally because it was aiming for something more important. Hence the PMLN's decision to even sacrifice its government in the Punjab to make the point about the judges' restoration. Zardari does not appear to have figured out that the PMLN is playing for the long term; prepared to lose out in the short because that is the winner given the popular mood on some of the basic issues of constitutional government.
The other theory is that Zardari did realise he was exposing his flanks but calculated that bringing back the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, would offer a bigger danger to him in view of the CJP's penchant for judicial activism. If this is accepted, then going into agreements with the PMLN was a bigger mistake. He should have taken a different road and openly. Instead, Zardari, while accepting the League's legal-moral stand against the Musharraf legacy, nonetheless, tried to continue with it, thinking that the League would either ultimately play ball or lose stamina.
Neither happened. The League kept pressing its demands and let the tempo build to a crescendo. The situation, given other factors not least internal security pulled in the army chief who had to arbitrate and Zardari had to do what he had avoided doing until that point, restore the CJP.
That was the cornerstone of the League's strategy. From then onwards, it has scored one success after another. Nawaz Sharif has been exonerated in what the Supreme Court has determined to be cases against him based on mala fide; the SC has also placed before parliament ordinances that are deemed Musharraf's legacy. They include the NRO of which Zardari is a beneficiary.
On the NRO too, Zardari first tried to put up resistance, sending it to the parliament's standing committee on law and justice. The committee approved it with amendments for presenting to parliament. The League announced it would oppose it, with much media hype. Earlier, the NRO had been challenged before the SC. The PPP realised that even if it managed to push it through parliament, the SC would strike it down. It decided to retreat.
It is against this backdrop that Zardari is now talking about relinquishing some presidential powers contained in the 17th amendment. The League would keep pressing until it renders Zardari toothless and gets him to remove from the Sixth Schedule the bar against a third prime ministerial term which currently prevents Sharif from bidding for that office.
That will happen; Zardari has no option but to play ball now to try and get out of the box. Meanwhile, the League has tasted blood. Whether it will relent once it has got Zardari to do what it wants is anybody's guess. Most observers think it would go for the final kill by raising the street and forcing early elections. If that happens the gloves would have come off and Zardari in trying to get out of one box would find himself in another.
The writer is consulting editor at The Friday Times, Lahore
WHAT'S IN AN OATH?
The unnecessary controversy over Abu Asim Azmi taking his oath in the Maharashtra assembly has eclipsed the issue of taking action against the goondaism that brutally disrupted proceedings in the House. Should such action go unpunished? And, remain uncorrected? Are such blemishes in India's parliamentary democracy to remain? There can be little doubt that such action constitutes a breach of privilege. The cameras recorded the entire embarrassment of events. They can identify exactly who is responsible for what. No democracy can survive to maturity if this kind of nonsense holds it to ransom. The correct course of action is for the Speaker to issue breach of privilege notices to those who directly participated in this breach, as well as those who conspired to make it happen. This means notices should go to Raj Thackeray to ask him of his complicity in the conspiracy. If he says he was not part of the conspiracy to disrupt the assembly, he would knock himself down a peg or two on this issue. If he admits his involvement, he must be punished along with the others, albeit by token suspension for the legislators and censure for the non-assembly conspirators. At this stage, to punish by imprisonment would make martyrs of such persons. But, issuing process of breach of privilege is a must. Indian legislative democracy has been bruised too often. The fact that indisciplined elements may react with further disruptions is precisely the reason for issuing process promptly and dealing with the disrupters and conspirators wisely.
No institution, meeting or game can survive without the imposition of such discipline. Erring football stars are sent off the field. Cricketers are fined and banned. Court proceedings take place with dignity and free expression, precisely because of the law of contempt does not permit such disruption in the face of the court. It cannot take place at cabinet meetings or any meeting for that matter. There is a time and place for protest. The legislative assembly is not a place for disruptive protest with impunity. Democracy works through governance by institutions. If the institutions collapse or become unworkable, democracy will also slowly collapse.
I now turn to the oath. The Third Schedule of the Constitution prescribes such an oath for all ministers, all legislators, judges of the high courts and Supreme Court, the comptroller and auditor general. The president's oath is separately prescribed (Article 60), as also of the vice-president (article 69) and the governor (Article 159). There was always a Hindi version of the Constitution. But if there is any doubt, the 58th amendment mandates the president to publish an authoritative text of the Constitution and every constitutional amendment of it in Hindi (Article 394A). If someone wants to take their oath in Hindi, they are doing no more than following authoritative text of the Constitution itself!
It should not be necessary to go into the language policy of the Constitution. The Constituent Assembly wrestled with this question with a fear that separatist language demands could prove divisive. Mahatma Gandhi, who wrote evocatively in Hindi, English and Gujarati, put Hindi on the agenda. The Congress adopted a Hindustani (a mixture of Hindi and Urdu) policy in its meeting. When in 1946, R.V. Dhulekar insisted that the assembly's rules be in Hindi, denying non-Hindi speakers the right to remain in the assembly, his intervention was cut short and a committee's compromise of Hindi and English was accepted. With foresight, Ambedkar foresaw Hindustani being "Sanskritised" by Hindu writers and "Arabicised" by Muslim writers. The debate on Hindi and English was fast and furious to a point where tempers got frayed. While, initially, Nehru did not want a provision on language in the Constitution, and discussion on the future language to be used in Parliament and state legislatures was postponed, Munshi and Gopalaswami Ayyangar made proposals. In the debate over 300 amendments were made over Hindi, Hindustani, English and the state languages.
The initial constitutional compromise was to continue English for 15 years to be replaced by Hindi as the official language, with the states being given freedom to develop their own language (Article 343). A National Language Commission would further these goals. Meanwhile, the states were reorganised in 1956 and 1966 on linguistic grounds. There are detailed provisions for both state languages (Articles 345 and 346) and special provisions for minority language within states in the Constitution (Articles 347, 349). Linguistic claims and minorities were to be protected (Article 29, 30 and 350B). The Eighth Schedule of the Constitution now recognises 22 languages which are to be developed and preserved. Hindi was to be developed drawing from Sanskrit and other state languages (Article 351). While parts of the Constitution are also a dustbin for expressing concerns, the language policy was pragmatic with a preference for Hindi and with protection for not just state languages, but those of the minority too. Hindi speakers in Maharashtra cannot be denied a constitutional choice.
The practice of various assemblies in India has concentrated on the content rather than the linguistic form of the oath. The important value attached to the oath is to defend the Constitution and accept the rule of the Constitution as not just the rule of law but also the rule of the heart. It is reported that in Madhya Pradesh and Punjab members have taken their oath in Sanskrit. In Chhattisgarh, MLAs took the oath in their own dialect. In West Bengal, so proud of Bengali, oaths have been taken in various other languages, including Nepali. In Andhra Pradesh, MLAs have taken their oaths in Hindi and Urdu.
Sometimes "oath-taking" in a particular language becomes a symbolic political statement. In Punjab, BJP MLA Lakshmi Kanta Chawla took his oath in Sanskrit an odd favourite from time to time. In 2008 in Jammu and Kashmir, 11 members of the BJP insisted on oath taking in Dogri whilst Abdul Rashid took his oath in Kashmiri.
Most important to our present controversy is the fact that the Maharashtra Ekikaran Sangam members in Karnataka took their oath in Marathi. So, a Marathi speaker can take the oath in Marathi in some other state, but in the latest fracas a linguistic minority speaker was denied the right take his oath in a language of his choice in Maharashtra! What is even
more ironical is that even in the Maharashtra assembly, two BJP members took their oath in Sanskrit (Girish Bapat, Girish Mahajan). Congress members took their oath in Hindi (Amin Patel, Ramesh Singh Thakur) and English (Baba Siddique). It is said the Samajwadi Party MLA, Abu Asim Azmi, drew attention to himself and his choice of language. Suppose he did, so what?
India is a multi-lingual country whose Constitution affords linguistic choice as a constitutional right. To make a plea for a language is permissible. To do so with violence in the state legislature with disruptive and divisive aims and ends is not.
The writer is a senior advocate at the Supreme Court (email@example.com)
A COLD WIND
In private, [Bill Clinton] disclosed, Indian officials spoke of knowing roughly how many nuclear bombs the Pakistanis possessed, from which they calculated that a doomsday nuclear volley would kill 300 to 500 million Indians while annihilating all 120 million Pakistanis," Taylor Branch writes in his recently-released history of Clinton's presidency, The Clinton Tapes. "The Indians would thus claim 'victory' on the strength of several hundred million countrymen they figured would be left over.
Whether a consequence of misunderstanding or credulity, the seriousness with which the former president took such Indian statements is enormously revealing. Clinton may have been aghast at the apparent recklessness of India's leadership, but he found this tempered by and also difficult to reconcile with the immense enthusiasm he had for India and its people. For Clinton, and many members of the Baby Boomer generation in leadership positions in the United States, India held a captivating, exotic appeal. It was a land of intuitively peaceful, tolerant, and hardworking people held back by an incompetent and irresponsible leadership that was obsessed with advancing its parochial interests, building a nuclear arsenal and fighting Pakistan.
Barack Obama may be the first post-Boomer president, but he appears to retain a similar orientation to Clinton in matters pertaining to India, although for his generation India is more closely associated with Satyam than satyagraha. That the outward manifestations of his worldliness and his closeness to Indian-Americans have not yet translated into an overt appreciation of India at the political and strategic levels should therefore come as no surprise. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit in July was meant to draw attention to India's importance in American decision-making, but by involving just a single day of official meetings in Delhi, it only reinforced the belief that the Obama administration intended on bypassing the Indian political establishment in its engagement of India. Today, a year after Obama's election, Indian concerns that he may not implement the civilian nuclear agreement signed in 2008 appear misplaced, but they overshadow transformations in American policy of a more fundamental, philosophical nature.
What exactly explains recent changes to the US approach to India? Idealism alone is too simple an attribute and does not level with what has so far been an essentially pragmatic presidency. It should, however, be noted that the administration has been more comfortable with multilateral approaches to global and regional challenges whether through the G-20, CTBT or APEC than with bilateral engagements. More significantly, India's phenomenal growth over the past two decades, while widely understood and appreciated within Democratic foreign policy circles, is considered but part of a larger phenomenon in Asia and the developing world. The rise of India is placed somewhere in the gulf between those of China and Indonesia: important but not extraordinary, and certainly not unique. The concept of "Indian exceptionalism," so dear to the Indian strategic community, has not yet been fully embraced in Washington.
Another reason, whispered conspiratorially, is that India is being "punished" for the warm relationship it enjoyed with the United States under George W. Bush. This theory was further fuelled by news reports last month quoting anonymous American officials, who were critical of India for celebrating the former president during his visit. At a more practical level, two outstanding strategic concerns, one to India's east influenced by US economic considerations and the other to its west by American security imperatives, offer added friction to the relationship. It should be noted that the Bush administration managed both challenges without jeopardising relations with New Delhi, although admittedly with less than satisfactory results. That domestic economic and regional security situations have deteriorated over the past year from an American perspective suggests that India may become less, not more, of a factor in US strategic calculations.
In this light, Manmohan Singh's visit later this month to Washington appears to be more of symbolic than of substantive worth. High-level travel in both directions in recent weeks has evidently been intended to clear the ground for some major advances, but the Obama administration has already indicated its preference for engaging India on matters of economic and social welfare and development. This should certainly be wholeheartedly embraced, but with the understanding that an adequate appreciation of India's leadership, and by extension the value of warm political and strategic ties, is still necessary for a well-rounded bilateral relationship.
The writer is programme officer for Asia at the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington DC
HELPING BRAZIL HELP US
No matter how many times you hear them, there are some statistics that just bowl you over. The one that always stuns me is this: Imagine if you took all the cars, trucks, planes, trains and ships in the world and added up their exhaust every year. The amount of carbon dioxide, or CO2, all those cars, trucks, planes, trains and ships collectively emit into the atmosphere is actually less than the carbon emissions every year that result from the chopping down and clearing of tropical forests in places like Brazil, Indonesia and the Congo. We are now losing a tropical forest the size of New York State every year, and the carbon that releases into the atmosphere now accounts for roughly 17 per cent of all global emissions contributing to climate change.
It is going to be a long time before we transform the world's transportation fleet so it is emission-free. But right now like tomorrow we could eliminate 17 per cent of all global emissions if we could halt the cutting and burning of tropical forests. But to do that requires putting in place a whole new system of economic development one that makes it more profitable for the poorer, forest-rich nations to preserve and manage their trees rather than to chop them down to make furniture or plant soybeans.
Without a new system for economic development in the timber-rich tropics, you can kiss the rainforests goodbye. The old model of economic growth will devour them. The only Amazon your grandchildren will ever relate to is the one that ends in dot-com and sells books.
To better understand this issue, I'm visiting the Tapajós National Forest in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon on a trip organised by Conservation International and the Brazilian government. Flying in here by prop plane from Manaus, you can understand why the Amazon rainforest is considered one of the lungs of the world. Even from 20,000 feet, all you see in every direction is an unbroken expanse of rainforest treetops that, from the air, looks like a vast and endless carpet of broccoli.
Once on the ground, we drove from Santarém into Tapajós, where we met with the community cooperative that manages the eco-friendly businesses here that support the 8,000 local people living in this protected forest. What you learn when you visit with a tiny Brazilian community that actually lives in, and off, the forest is a simple but crucial truth: To save an ecosystem of nature, you need an ecosystem of markets and governance.
"You need a new model of economic development one that is based on raising people's standards of living by maintaining their natural capital, not just by converting that natural capital to ranching or industrial farming or logging," said José María Silva, vice president for South America of Conservation International.
Right now people protecting the rainforest are paid a pittance compared with those who strip it even though we now know that the rainforest provides everything from keeping CO2 out of the atmosphere to maintaining the flow of freshwater into rivers.
The good news is that Brazil has put in place all the elements of a system to compensate its forest-dwellers for maintaining the forests. Brazil has already set aside 43 per cent of the Amazon rainforest for conservation and for indigenous peoples. Another 19 per cent of the Amazon, though, has already been deforested by farmers and ranchers.
So the big question is what will happen to the other 38 per cent. The more we get the Brazilian system to work, the more of that 38 per cent will be preserved and the less carbon reductions the whole world would have to make. But it takes money.
The residents of the Tapajós reserve are already organised into cooperatives that sell eco-tourism on rainforest trails, furniture and other wood products made from sustainable selective logging and a very attractive line of purses made from "ecological leather," a k a, rainforest rubber. They also get government subsidies.
Sergio Pimentel, 48, explained to me that he used to farm about five acres of land for subsistence, but now is using only about one acre to support his family of six. The rest of the income comes through the co-op's forest businesses. "We were born inside the forest," he added. "So we know the importance of it being preserved, but we need better access to global markets for the products we make here. Can you help us with that?"
There are community co-ops like this all over the protected areas of the Amazon rainforest. But this system needs money money to expand into more markets, money to maintain police monitoring and enforcement and money to improve the productivity of farming on already degraded lands so people won't eat up more rainforest. That is why we need to make sure that whatever energy-climate bill comes out of the US Congress, and whatever framework comes out of the Copenhagen conference next month, they include provisions for financing rainforest conservation systems like those in Brazil. The last 38 per cent of the Amazon is still up for grabs. It is there for us to save. Your grandchildren will thank you.
TAKING NAXALITES HEAD-ON
The editorial in the latest issue of the RSS journal Organiser titled "Maoists are Killers, Terrorists. Gun Them Down" says: "The Naxalites themselves have declared a 'war on the state'. They attack and kill citizens of this country. The state is duty-bound to use all means available to it to carry out this duty. If their logic was extended, then 'Khalistan' would have been a reality today and so would have been an 'independent Kashmir'. Social parasites who thrive on newspaper headlines and chat shows shed crocodile tears on the plight of the deprived. But they are the first to cry foul when any development project is launched, whether it is bauxite mining or a multi-purpose dam. These are the people who want to keep the Vanvasis and the poor as showcase pieces, as in a zoo for periodic recreation trips. It is interesting that all these people who claim to speak up for the poor live in the thick of luxuries, enjoying all modern amenities possible and thriving on the fancy products of the development they scorn. They are the ones who use poverty as a way to get even richer. Vanvasis are not people from another planet. The Naxalites, who maim and kill people in the name of class war, are exploiting these natives".
The editorial adds: "When Salwa Judum was launched in Chhattisgarh, the people in the region welcomed it because it offered an organised opposition to the Naxalites who till then had a clear field for hit and run. But the so-called intellectuals vociferously opposed it, accusing the government of dividing the Vanvasi communities, pitting them one against another. The logic is not clear. If Naxalites mobilise Vanvasis against the state, it is acceptable, but if the state
mobilises people against Naxalites, it becomes human rights violation! The growing threat from Naxalites is real. Not only because they are standing in the way of development and are attempting to mislead the people, but also because they are increasingly getting funds and arms from abroad, not to mention training. It needs no great IQ to guess which nation or nations are doing this. The need now is to send a strong message to the armed killers, hiding behind a failed ideology, that they would not get away with stopping the trains and waylaying and blowing up trucks carrying security personnel. The government needs to let them know that our patience has run out".
In an opinion piece titled "Dangers of Terrorism and a Talibanised Pakistan," Joginder Singh writes: "Over the past two years, more than 2,500 people have been killed in suicide bomb blasts across the entire Pakistan . It was hoped that after Pakistan was carved out of India, in 1947, Pakistan would become a heaven and a model Muslim state for the whole world. More so, after ethnic cleansing of the minorities, both victims and perpetrators are Muslims. The problem is that military rulers have tried to present themselves as Pakistan's last hope. But unfortunately, the civilian leaders have done so, as well. Instead of thinking for themselves and the best interest of their country, every Pakistani leader has deliberately encouraged the United States to develop a stake in the country's political and military affairs. Pakistani policies are more attuned to US interests, than to Pakistani interest. In turn USA supports
Pakistan for every single anti-Indian step it takes. India is the whipping guy for everything going wrong in Pakistan , whether it Balochistan or Afghanistan . Pakistan's rationale both for creating trouble in Kashmir and rest of India is based on the premises, that it is the custodian of Muslim interests, everywhere and more so in India . Having tried four wars and after having been worsted in all of them, it is putting up a brave face, before the world, by fathering motley terrorist groups, to wage a low-intensity war in India, by ensuring their strike at all prominent places.
He adds: "India has more than once expressed its goodwill. US war on Taliban has driven both al-Qaeda and Taliban forces to Pakistan , as well as repeated attacks, on Indian embassy in Afghanistan . It is impossible to predict the precise, unintended consequences of any US or Pakistani action. But the way things are shaping therein shows, that neither US nor Pakistani government has any control on the Taliban activities. A weakened Pakistani government and a recalcitrant army and ISI, pose a danger to the Pakistani nuclear arsenal, a part of which might either fall or be handed over or seized by the terrorist groups therein. The strengthening of such groups either consciously or unconsciously, poses a direct threat to India, as India will be their only target".
Compiled by Suman K. Jha
C. RAJA MOHAN
As China celebrated the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Liberation Army Air Force last week, the prospect of a Sino-US arms race in outer space no longer seems remote. In an interview published in the People's Liberation Army Daily on November 2, a top Air Force commander Gen. Xu Qiliang had declared that the development and deployment of space weapons was inevitable.
"As far as the revolution in military affairs is concerned, the competition between military forces is moving towards outer space. This is a historical inevitability and a development that cannot be turned back," Xu said.
"The PLA Air Force must establish in a timely manner the concepts of space security, space interests and space development. We must build an outer space force that conforms to the needs of our nation's development (and) the demands of the development of the Space Age," Xu argued.
As Gen. Xu's remarks reverberated around the world, especially in the United States, the Chinese Foreign Office quickly sought to underplay them by insisting that China has always opposed the weaponisation of outer space and "will never participate in an arms race in outer space in any form".
The last word on China's peaceful intentions came when President Hu Jintao declared Beijing's commitment to the creation of a "harmonious space". Those who follow the developments in space technology around the world are inclined to agree more with Xu's assessment that outer space is likely to become a contested realm rather than a harmonious one.
A CHINA-US LINK
As China begins to challenge US supremacy in outer space, the one man who had the rare honour of contributing to the space programmes of both countries died last month. Qian Xuesen, the Chinese rocket scientist who passed away at the age of 98 on October 31 was involved in the design of America's first ballistic missiles and later became the founder of the Chinese space programme.
As a fresh graduate from Shanghai, Qian won a fellowship to go to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States in 1935. After earning his Ph.D from MIT in 1939, Qian moved on to become a faculty member of the California Institute of Technology. There he became one of the founders of the prestigious Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
It was then that a strange fate caught up with Qian. Accused as a Chinese Communist spy, denied American citizenship and refused the right to travel to China, Qian was detained for nearly five years. He was allowed to go China in 1955 in an exchange with Beijing of American prisoners of war from Korea.
If Americans were overcome by ideological fear to hold onto a rare genius, Communist China could barely believe its luck. Greeted in China as a hero, Qian led China's rocket research and designed the missiles for its nuclear weapons programme.
Qian's death came paradoxically just before the arrival of US President Barack Obama, who is expected to announce new Sino-US initiatives to promote mutual confidence in outer space.
Although India's economic engagement with Africa has been growing rapidly, it is way behind China's. India's African trade had grown an impressive six fold over the last six years to reach US$ 36 billion last year. China's trade with Africa is growing much faster, ten-fold in the last eight years and has crossed the US$ 100 billion mark in 2008.
At the India-Africa summit last year in Delhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had doubled India's credit lines to US$5.4 billion for the next five years. At a ministerial meeting of the China-Africa forum on Sunday at Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, the Chinese premier Wen Jiabao doubled Chinese low-cost loans to US$ 10 billion over the next three years.
Addressing the ministers, Wen addressed head on the allegation that China has come to Africa to plunder its resources and practice "neo-colonialism". He insisted that China's economic cooperation with Africa is aimed at building local capacity and generating lasting partnerships.
Recent Chinese statements on Africa have underlined a larger military role for Beijing in the continent. At Sharm el Sheikh, Wen declared that his government was prepared to take on a role in "the settlement of issues of peace and security".
The writer is Henry A. Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and International Relations at the Library of Congress, Washington DC
WHOSE ECONOMIC FORUM?
Critics call even the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum at Davos a pompous, pointless exercise. Nonetheless, what's irrefutable is that that particular meeting features a lot of debate, a lot of argument and even divergence, with participants truly reflecting a range of opinions and constituencies. But the rest of the forum's regional meetings, which are variously hosted in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East through the year are more hit-and-miss affairs. Some turn out to be more statist than others, with what's intended to be a productive interaction between corporate business leaders, local government leaders and NGOs basically turning into an exercise in fawning over important ministers. It's one thing for such affairs to come to pass in Dubai or in China, but India prides itself in being different, in being open. Indians pride themselves in being argumentative, if you will. But WEF's India Economic Summit (IES) meeting that wrapped up this week was noticeably different. It was ruling Congress-oriented all the way. Agreed, the latest poll results have just reinforced how the UPA-II is steamrolling over rivals. But it's got allies, hasn't it? Some of them are pretty powerful and holding economic ministries. But they too were missing in action. And there's a national Opposition, and at state levels, it holds important governments. Some of these states are key sites of India's economic change.
Things were different last year. BJP chief ministers from Rajasthan and Karnataka were in attendance. But BJP representation was down to nil this year. Sympathetic responses to this phenomenon contend that the forum was delivering what was needed, aka a sense of what's on the government agenda. First, that's obviously a cop-out. Different governments may use the forum to present their agendas, but their value lies in a discussion about these agendas. Are these economically liberal, fiscally prudent, environmentally friendly and so on? Taking governments at their word on such a range of issues doesn't sound democratic at all, or even useful in any way. Second, UPA-II is a coalition government. Some of its most important portfolios are vested with allied partners. NCP chief Sharad Pawar holds agriculture and NCP's Praful Patel holds civil aviation. DMK's A Raja holds IT & communication. Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee holds railways. And so on. Why, then, should the forum have been attended only by Congress notables? When the forum caused international headlines to scream that India looked likely to lead the G-20 countries in withdrawing stimulus packages, shouldn't that have been something being debated between different political camps? Any high profile, privately organised discussion forum in India that doesn't find representation from the main Opposition and key ruling coalition allies is in some ways antithetical to the idea of India's political economy.
NOT SO GOOD OR SERVICEABLE
The goods & services tax, due to be implemented by April 1, 2010, will not only be a major accomplishment in rationalising and reforming indirect tax structures, but will also promote the goal of creating a genuine single market in federal India. Obviously, any move to GST is bound to be complex given the various interests, particularly Centre-state differences, involved in the process. There is now a danger though that too much compromise may end up jeopardising what the GST seeks to achieve. The discussion paper just released unfortunately gives the impression not just of delay in implementationthat may be the least of the problemsbut also of an attempt to create far too many exceptions to what should be an unexceptionable tax.
There will, of course, be a dual GST, one levied by the Centre and the other by the state. While not ideal, that is an acceptable compromise. Most experts agree that a rate of 7% plus 7% (a total of 14% in total) will be revenue-neutral when the changeover from the current system takes place. The government must resist the temptation to consider a rate, of say 16% or 18%, which is higher than the revenue-neutral rate of 14%. In fact, if compliance is good to begin with, the government should actually consider reducing the rate. More than rates, what complicates tax administration and increases the potential of discretion and lobbying is granting exemptions. Already petroleum and alcohol will be outside the purview of GST. These will continue to operate under the old sales tax/excise tax regime. More exceptions may follow on similar grounds of being special product categories. This has no justification from an efficiency point of view. Exemptions have been the bane of the Indian tax system, and any reform measure should avoid falling into old traps. Even more perversely, octroi, the border tax between states, is likely to be left out of the GST purview. Taxes on the border between states prevent India from exploiting its full potential as a single free market. Other countries and regions do away with such taxes at the earliest, while in India we continue to let them persist within our borders. This is one area that the government needs to think harder about before rolling out GST. Interestingly, one of the main benefits from GST to local industry is that imports will be taxed at the same rate. That will create a level playing field. It's a pity that the government isn't insisting on the same principle on exemptions.
SPECTRUM OF RAJA'S 'INNOCENCE'
There is a touching innocence to the manner in which communications minister A Raja went about tweaking procedures to ensure that companies like Unitech and Swan Telecom got scarce 2G spectrum on a preferential basis, which later attracted foreign investors into these companies at huge valuations. Raja seemed innocent of the fact that our elaborate bureaucratic machinery would strike back at some time or the other.
That is precisely what seems to be happening. This newspaper has carried a series of articles over the past few weeks showing how the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has stumbled onto loads of evidence, which suggests all was not well with the way Raja went about allocating spectrum worth billions of dollars.
The CBI has got hold of file notings by top DoT officials who vehemently disagreed with the minister and even moved out of the ministry. There is a written recommendation by the then law minister HR Bhardwaj saying that auctioning of spectrum was the appropriate policy option.
Raja's self-assumed innocence still enables him to generate some righteous indignation as he maintains he did nothing wrong and merely followed Trai recommendations. He went by the Trai recommendation of not capping the number of new players and not auctioning 2G spectrum. As regards the indefensible act of awarding licences in 2007 at a price discovered in 2001, he maintains that Trai did not ask for revising it. However, Raja's selective memory makes him forget that Trai in 2003 had categorically said that all new licences should be awarded through a multi-stage bidding. Even the August 2007 recommendation said that a realistic price should be determined through a market mechanism.
As regards the sale of equity by Swan Telecom and Unitech at considerably high valuations, Raja has said the deals were done as per the corporate laws and foreign investment policy of the country. It is quite another matter that later he himself chose to bar promoters of new licensee firms from selling their equity for 3 years after such acquisition!
So Raja's conduct of policy has been riddled with contradictions, and one is not sure how long his self-righteous stance of 'I have done no wrong' will hold. The CBI is meticulously piecing together every bit of material relating to Unitech and Swan Telecom. Of course, there have been other stupendous achievements of Raja, which the CBI is not looking at. For instance, the unprecedented act on the midnight of October 18-19, 2007, when the communications ministry gave a dual use licence to Reliance Communications. This allowed RComm to migrate from CDMA technology to GSM. The most stunning aspect of this feat was that the company informed the stock exchanges in the morning but the DoT announced the formal policy of allowing dual use licence later in the afternoon! Raja got a bit late in announcing policy, perhaps.We grant him his innocence there.
Even if one grants Raja the benefit of doubt that he was adopting the first-come-first-serve(FCFS) policy in handing out 2G spectrum in a fair manner, he may have to answer some questions that the CBI would certainly raise. First, while adopting the FCFS approach, he suddenly advanced the cut-off date for accepting applications from October 1, 2007, to September 25, 2007. This effectively helped some firms and removed many others from the contention. Later the Delhi High Court ruled in favour of a telecom firm, which got left out because of the shift in the cut-off date for accepting applications. This came as a setback to Raja.
Later, Raja further tweaked the FCFS policy by shifting the criteria from the date of application to the date of payment. Thus, those who paid up firstsignificantly Swan Telecom and Unitechsuddenly jumped the queue by virtue of having paid for the spectrum ahead of others.
Thus, there is enough evidence to show that Raja tweaked procedures at every stage to favour some firms. Of late, Raja has been saying that the Prime Minister's Office had okayed his policies. This is far from true. The PMO had simply received some communications from Raja informing it of the actions taken by the DoT. There is no record of the PMO having endorsed any of Raja's creative approaches to grating spectrum.
In fact, the PMO had in 2007 wanted the DoT to bring the spectrum allocation policy to the Cabinet. However, Raja then took a firm stand that the spectrum allocation policy fell entirely in his domain and that there was no need for the Cabinet to examine it. If that was so, why is the current policy on the allocation of 3G spectrum being decided by an empowered group of ministers, one may ask.
There is a larger issue at stake here. Should allocation of precious resources such as spectrum, gas or iron ore be left to individual ministries? On a closer scrutiny, one realises that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is nobody's fool, gave a long rope to Raja until the latter tied himself up in all kinds of complicated knots. Now Raja himself may be relieved that the auction of 3G spectrum is being decided by an empowered group of ministers headed by Pranab Mukherjee.
Something similar happened in the case of gas allocation by the Petroleum ministry. After getting entangled in all kinds of controversies, the Petroleum ministry has also virtually conceded that an empowered group of ministers may be best equipped to decide on the allocation of gas and other related matters to industry users.
The lesson one draws from these two episodes is such critical issues are best handled collectively by Groups of Ministers. The outcomes would be cleaner and more transparent.
A CONFERENCE THAT'S WORTH SPREADING
At TED India, sleep was a waste of time, and missing a day was criminal: I realised that within minutes of striking a conversation with marine biologist Charles Anderson and neurophysiologist Aditi Shankardass on the bus en-route to a TED party. On the way, I managed to kick myself a hundred million times (metaphorically speaking, and exaggerating) for missing the pre-conference activities and most of the TED University sessions, because in the process, I lost an opportunity to learn new things, and spend more time with some brilliant people.
A friend of mine once said that conferences in India are 70% about the networking and exchanging business cards, and 30% about the discussions and talks. I'm inclined to think that it's more of a 90:10 ratio. I've found that most digital, media and telecom events, of which I attend almost a hundred a year as a journalist, are the same. People skim over almost the same issues, often say the same things, and sometimes even use the same slides. Most of the offline conversations are about setting up business meetings, and sales executives vastly outnumber those not from their tribe by 3:1. Speaker slots in conferences in India are often for appeasing sponsors, or sometimes even on sale. I've even spoken at conferences where session after session was just one sales pitch after another; there are even conferences where I choose to mostly stand outside, talking to other bored souls.
At TED, among the talks I found most memorable were the most expressive onesHans Rosling's prediction that average income in India and China would catch up with the US and Western Europe on July 27, 2048; Devdutt Pattnaik's juxtaposition between mythology and business, and why businesses work differently in India and the US; wildlife conservation legend Romulus Whitaker on reptiles; environmental activist Anupam Mishra who spoke about ancient water conservation techniques, in broken English and with earthy humour, the typically jugaad inventions that form part of the Honeybee Network; and the cheerful Kiran Sethi who spoke about the 'contagion' of spreading happiness among children.
TED also had its 'wow' moments, when anti-trafficking crusader was offered over $1,00,000 on the spur of the moment by some of the attendees. However, TED India wasn't perfect: the joke going around was that the 'T' in TED is missing, and few talks were about Technology. Also, often, with spirituality, Bollywood and cricket, it became TED about India, with an introduction to India for the attendees, but apparently no clear idea worth spreading. The talk from professor RA Mashelkar that began with an ode to the Tatas initially felt like a promo; Harsha Bhogle's defence of the IPL was juxtaposed with a confident India, and IAS officer Srivatsa Krishna's treatise on India's infrastructure issues just didn't feel like 'TED'; many on Twitter appeared to agree. But then again, what is India without spirituality, emotion and post-conference criticism?
At the same time, TED India was an intellectual orgy, a 4-day testament to a curated conference, where not just the speakers but the audience was selected for what they bring to the collective. On the second night, an impromptu walk around Infosys' massive and baroque Mysore campus, discussing ways of solving India's broadband and Internet related problems was limited to an hour only by an unwelcome rain shower. My most memorable moment was a conversation that I had over an hour-and-half-long breakfast with researcher Pranav Mistry and filmmaker Shekhar Kapur on films and technology, and even on using Mistry's famous Sixth Sense technology for art and cinema. So, imagine an eclectic, curated congregation of designers, researchers, wildlife conservationalists, artists, NGOs, pastry chefs, business leaders, entrepreneurs and architects. Despite the disappointment of some of the talks, all in all, TED India is an unforgettable experience, and the openness of people willing to discuss ideas and think of ways of working together made it easily the best conference I have ever been to.
What I like about TED is that they're also not trying to hold on to their mandate, instead, allowing various cities in the world to share the TED philosophy of open intellectual conversations by hosting independent TEDx events. In India itself, TEDx events have already been planned for Ahmedabad and Chennai; the more the TED events, the greater the number of meaningful discussions; it's a conference worth spreading.
The author is editor of MediaNama.com
VALUING INTANGIBLE PROPERTY
Over the past few years, businesses have given more and more prominence to intellectual property. Today, valuing the IP of a business is relevant in almost every aspect of corporate activity, be it mergers & acquisitions, assignments and licensing, enforcement and even day-to-day activities of maintaining accounts. IP valuation basically refers to putting a price on a patent, trademark or copyright.
However, putting a price on an intangible is rather difficult. Since IP itself is of various forms and the importance of each to a business may be different, the purpose of the valuation must be borne in mind and can indicate the most important variables.
For example, in putting a value on a trademark for the purpose of licensing to an entity to use the trademark on its goods, factors such as the public perception of the trademark should be prioritised and its worth would be most determined by the increase the use of the trademark shall cause in the price and sales of the licensees' products upon use of the trademark.
It is essential to first consider the type of IP, its circumstances, the reliance of the business on the asset, the costs involved in maintaining the asset and the purpose of the valuation. The approaches to valuing an IP can be condensed into three broad methods: market-based, cost-based and income-based methods. Every time an IP is to be valued, a varying combination of these methods is applied.
The market value based approach, most useful for trademarks, values an IP at the price it could be sold. Under this, a trademark's value is the amount remaining after deduction of the book value of assets from total market capitalisation. Another method, the cost-based approach, determines worth by the cost to create or acquire the asset. Based on this approach, the value of an IP is equal to the cost of the inputs expended on making it. A third approach is the income-based method, by which value of the IP is estimated based on the expected income due to the IP during its remaining economic life. This method is frequently used to ascertain rates of royalty payable on an IP, particularly copyrights.
The author is founding partner, IP law firm Lall Lahiri & Salhotra
This paper* examines the rationale for a top-down approach to budget preparation and approval, and discusses some factors that have to be considered when reorienting the budget process along these lines:
The paper argues that the sequence in which budgetary decisions are taken matters, and that a strong top-down approach strengthens fiscal discipline and improves policy prioritisation and coordination. Top-down budgeting also alters the division of roles and responsibilities between the central budget authority and line ministries, and requires that the process of determining the total expenditure level, sectoral allocations and individual appropriations is clarified. Finally, the paper argues that strong top-down elements in the parliamentary budget voting process can be effective in addressing the risk of excessive and unsustainable amendments during budget approval. The organisation of the budget process, and more specifically the order in which decisions about the size and the composition of the budget are taken, has an impact on government's ability to peruse sound fiscal policies. By ensuring that a decision on the total expenditure level is taken before the budget is allocated to main sectors, and that sectoral ceilings are set before the details of the budget are negotiated, it is possible to strengthen aggregate fiscal control and better align the budget with policy priorities.
Gösta Ljungman; Top-Down BudgetingAn Instrument to Strengthen Budget Management; IMF, WP/09/576, November 2009
BY-ELECTIONS AS POINTERS
Step back and the picture becomes clearer. The results of the recent by-elections to 31 Assembly seats spread across seven States confirm some of the key trends that emerged in the 15th Lok Sabha election. The Congress is gaining strength in Uttar Pradesh, the Left is losing its hold in West Bengal and Kerala, and the Bharatiya Janata Party is struggling in most places. But step closer and the details reveal other, smaller trends, different from those seen in the Lok Sabha election. Most notably, in Uttar Pradesh the Bahujan Samaj Party, which fared poorly in the 2009 Lok Sabha election compared to its performance in the 2007 Assembly contest, is recovering lost ground. (An alternative explanation: an Assembly election is not a parliamentary election.) The Congress is eating into the vote share of the Samajwadi Party, which got the largest number of seats, 23 of 80, in the Lok Sabha election. The BSP has gained at the expense of not only the SP but also the Congress. In the Firozabad Lok Sabha constituency, the Congress came out on top. The SP lost all the five Assembly seats it held, besides Firozabad. The BJP surrendered two seats, and the Janata Dal (United) one. The interesting question now is whether U.P., one of India's most politically fragmented States, will see a polarisation between the BSP with Mayawati at the head and the Congress with Rahul Gandhi as the star campaigner.
West Bengal and Kerala saw the Left suffering big reverses in the Lok Sabha election, and the Assembly by-elections have confirmed the trends. The Left parties combined could pick up only one of the 13 seats they contested. Of the 10 seats in West Bengal, the Trinamool Congress won seven, the Congress one, and an Independent one. In Kerala, the Congress bagged all three seats. Maybe the numbers do not tell the whole story. In the eastern State, the Trinamool already held five of the seven Assembly constituencies and the Congress lost one of the two it held. The net loss for the Left was two. In the southern State, all three constituencies were held by the Congress, and are counted as the party's strongholds. But this may also underestimate the erosion of popular support for the Left. With the Communist Party of India(Marxist) failing to win a single seat, the results must be extremely dispiriting for the Left. Sharp swings in the popular mood in a short time span are not unknown in Indian electoral politics, but as of now everything points to a change of regime when the two States go to the polls in 2011. Alternation in office may be accepted as the norm in Kerala but an electoral defeat could be quite traumatic for the Left in West Bengal after a record 32 years in power.
ICC AND KENYA
The International Criminal Court's decision to investigate the 2007 post-poll violence in the Republic of Kenya marks the first instance where a case unrelated to conflicts among armed rebel groups and national governments will be heard at the world court. The case concerns a scramble for political dominance among the country's pre-eminent tribal communities that is at odds with the democratic institutions and the rule of law. More than 1,100 people were report ed to have been killed and thousands internally displaced in bloody ethnic clashes that broke out in the wake of the disputed Kenyan elections of 2007. The bloodbath was the handiwork of senior politicians with the connivance of the police, a judicial commission of enquiry concluded. ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampohas argued that there was a reasonable basis to believe that the incidents amounted to crimes against humanity which fell within the court's jurisdiction under the Statute of Rome. With over 40 per cent of Members of Parliament occupying positions in the government, the current coalition, which is an outcome of the peace deal brokered by the former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, echoes the scramble for power between President Mwai Kibaki's Party of National Unity and Prime Minister Raila Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement of the opposition. The coalition's failure to meet internationally stipulated deadlines to set up a tribunal to investigate the atrocities reflects the obstacles encountered within the establishment to bringing the perpetrators to justice.
The mandate of the ICC extends to ending impunity for war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity when national mechanisms have either been exhausted or proved ineffective in rendering justice. These objectives represent the aspiration of the global community to bring about greater judicial accountability at the national level as well as to infuse hope where internal options have been undermined. However, serious issues of encroachment on national sovereignty and double standards remain. The attempts to resolve Africa's protracted conflicts in the international arena have often met with scepticism, given the danger of potential retribution against witnesses and the victims of crimes. But it is by no means a problem for Africa alone. The United States and India have not reviewed their decision to keep out of the jurisdiction of the Hague court either, notwithstanding their professed commitment to the values of democratic pluralism and human rights. Without their entry, the court will continue to lack political weight and authority.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
STALIN: A REMARKABLE COMEBACK
IN 1989, JOSEPH STALIN CAME A DISTANT 10TH IN THE LIST OF RUSSIA'S GREATEST HISTORICAL FIGURES, BUT LAST YEAR HE WAS VOTED THE THIRD BEST RUSSIAN LEADER OF ALL TIMES.
After 50 years of official oblivion, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin received a birthday present from the Russian authorities for his 130th anniversary marked for next month. A verse lauding Stalin has been reinstated in the newly restored entrance hall to one of Moscow's busiest metro stations. A rotunda in the renovated Kurskaya station again bears a line from the 1944 version of the Soviet anthem: "Stalin reared us on loyalty to the people. He inspired us to labour and heroism."
This marked a high-profile return of Stalin 56 years since his death. Stalin's name and image were erased from streets and buildings across Russia after Communist Party leader Nikita Khrushchev denounced his "personality cult" and massive reprisals in the famous speech at the historic 20th party congress in 1956. Stalin's embalmed body was taken out of the Kremlin mausoleum where it lay beside Vladimir Lenin's, and Stalingrad stripped of its name despite its World War II heroic fame. Numerous monuments to Stalin were pulled down and his name was officially mentioned only when victims of his endless campaigns were remembered. Nobel winning Alexander Solzhenitzyn and other Soviet authors portrayed Stalin as a tyrant, giving detailed accounts of the systematic imprisonment and murder of millions of Russians in the infamous Gulag labour camps.
However, Stalin has staged a remarkable comeback over the past 20 years. Ironically, the process started when the Communist regime he fortified crumbled. In 1989, Stalin came a distant 10th in the list of Russia's greatest historical figures, but last year he was voted the third best Russian leader of all times. Moreover, at some point in the six-month nationwide poll he took the number one slot and could have finished first had not the organisers appealed to people to vote for someone else.
It is a bewildering turnaround. The answer for this paradox is to be found in the deep trauma the Russian national psyche suffered when the Soviet superpower collapsed and Russia was plunged into a profound economic, social and moral crisis. No matter how hard liberal historians argued that the disintegration of the Soviet Union was inevitable, many Russians pinned the blame for the downfall on the inept and corrupt leadership.
According to Sergey Kurginyan, a political scientist, the current support for Stalin represents "a striving to escape the idiocy that the country was forced into" in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
As a blogger by the name Valery wrote, Stalin's achievements were "only three": "Strong economic growth in the USSR; victory in WW2 and freedom for Europe; nuclear weapons NOT ONLY for the U.S. And no big wars for 50 years. And no more Hiroshimas/Nagasakis."
"Was not Stalin the greatest Russian," the blogger asked rhetorically.
By contrast, there is little Russians can take pride in in the two decades of post-communism. Shock therapy reforms under the former President, Boris Yeltsin, ruined the economy and created oligarchs by giving away the country's wealth. Bureaucratic lawlessness and total corruption under his successor Vladimir Putin have only made people more nostalgic for the Soviet past. "Public opinion embraces the view that the Soviet elites, for all their shortcomings, worked for the state, whereas today's elites work only for their own pocket," said pollster Leonty Byzov.
As memories of Stalin's atrocities fade away with the demise of his victims, what stays in people's minds is what Winston Churchill said about him: "Stalin came to Russia with a wooden plough and left it in possession of nuclear weapons."
Stalin's growing popularity is also a reaction to western assertions that he shares the blame with Hitler for starting World War II. Russian delegates to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe stormed out of its annual parliamentary meeting in July after members passed a resolution equating the roles of Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union in unleashing WW2. Russians, who hold sacred the memory of 27 million compatriots killed in the war, see such claims as a crude twisting of history designed to malign both the Soviet Union and Russia as its successor.
Bookstores across Russia today offer numerous political biographies and histories that depict Stalin and his era in a predominantly positive light. Statues of Stalin have begun to reappear in provincial towns, the first private museum devoted to him has opened in Volgograd, former Stalingrad, and the city legislature in Oryol a few years ago voted an appeal to the Kremlin leadership to rehabilitate Stalin, arguing that it had never been proved that he was responsible for the death of millions.
Stalin's resurrection in the Moscow metro, however, provoked a particularly bitter dispute in Russian society. Many historians and human rights activists accused the authorities of trying to whitewash history. They recalled that when Prime Minister Putin was President, the Kremlin commissioned a manual for history teachers that balanced Stalin's atrocities with praise for his achievements. The manual described him as "the most successful Soviet leader ever," and suggested that his repressions were an instrument for achieving "maximum efficiency of the ruling elite in mobilising society to accomplish unattainable tasks." Moscow's chief architect said there was no hidden agenda in restoring the Kurskaya metro station to its original shape as it was built in 1949. Moreover, he did not rule out returning the Stalin statue which adorned the station.
Even the Russian Orthodox Church was split on the issue. An official spokesman for the Patriarchate of Moscow said there should be no public recognition of "those who are guilty of killing large numbers of innocent people." However, other clerics said the criticism was misplaced. "Stalinism should be fought against, not in the metro, but in our heads, through literature, cinema, TV and the school," Archdeacon Andrey Kurayev argued.
Communists, while approving Stalin's reappearance, saw it as part of a campaign by the ruling United Russia party headed by Mr. Putin to lure traditional Communist supporters by exploiting their nostalgia for the Soviet past. Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov said his party was going to celebrate Stalin's 130th birthday in a big way, with rallies and meetings where 50,000 activists would be decorated with a commemorative Stalin medal, especially minted for the occasion.
President Dmitry Medvedev joined the debate in a way that allowed analysts to detect differences and even strains in his power tandem with Mr. Putin. On the day Russia marked the Remembrance Day of the Victims of Political Repression (Oct. 30), Mr. Medvedev went to his video blog to condemn Stalin's political terror that "wiped out entire strata and classes of our society." He said it was impermissible "to sanction, under the guise of restoring historical justice, any justification of those who destroyed our people."
The strong-worded statement signalled a distinct departure from the ambivalence of Mr. Putin, who during his presidency criticised attempts to "impose a feeling of guilt" on Russians for their past. "We did have some terrible chapters in our history but other countries have had even more terrible histories," he said at a meeting with history teachers two years ago.
Political scientist Dmitry Oreshkin said Mr. Medvedev's unequivocal condemnation of Stalin pointed to friction in the Kremlin tandem. "This is a signal that there's a growing gap in values between Putin's elite and Medvedev's elite," the Moscow-based analyst said. "Medvedev has resorted to the oriental tradition of invoking symbols of the past to send a message about the present. It is in the same way that the Chinese invoke Confucius in their political debates."
Analysts said Mr. Putin had encouraged a subtle burnishing of Stalin to promote the idea that Russia needs a strong leader, a centralised government and the monopoly of one party. "Medvedev apparently does not believe in this concept of development, he favours demonopolisation and competition, and this is the message he sent through his denunciation of Stalinism," Dr. Oreshkin said.
Even those who take a more benign view of Stalin do not fancy a return to Stalinism. Rather, the debate is on what should be supreme as Russia pursues modernisation the state or the individual. Mr. Medvedev votes for the individual.
"I believe that no progress of a country, none of its successes or ambitions can be achieved at the price of human losses and grief," the President said in his video blog. "Nothing can take precedence over the value of human life."
But the debate is far from over. Pollsters say Russians have an ambivalent attitude to Stalin. According to the independent Levada Center, nearly 70 per cent agree that Stalin was "a cruel tyrant guilty of destroying millions of innocent lives," and about the same number believe that no matter how many crimes he committed, what counts in the final analysis is that "under Stalin's leadership Russia won the Great Patriotic War."
THE HAZARDS OF BEING ZARDARI
PAKISTAN PRESIDENT ASIF ALI ZARDARI, WHO HAS SUFFERED TWO BIG POLITICAL DEBACLES IN SIX WEEKS, APPEARS TO BE FIGHTING A BATTLE FOR HIS SURVIVAL IN OFFICE.
"There are no rumours in Pakistan, only premature facts," a Pakistani journalist wrote some months ago.
A surfeit of premature facts is now doing the rounds about President Asif Ali Zardari, who has suffered two big political debacles in the short span of six weeks and now appears to be fighting a battle for his survival in office.
The powerful Pakistan Army is an important player in this battle. As there is no constitutional method to remove Mr. Zardari from office except for impeachment, increasingly, his opponents, even the "democratic" ones, apparently oblivious to the irony of it all, are quite happy to support extra-constitutional measures to do this. That is, unless he steps down on his own before or agrees to give up the executive powers of his office, an inheritance from the Musharraf years.
There is now little doubt that the sudden, somewhat orchestrated outcry in Pakistan over the "conditions" in the Kerry-Lugar legislation that enables the Obama Administration to give Pakistan $ 7.5 billion in development aid over five years was a stage-setter for the "Get Zardari" campaign.
The military openly expressed its displeasure at "clauses [in the legislation] impacting on national sovereignty"; the media suggested that U.S. legislators inserted the clauses seeking at the personal intervention of Mr. Zardari and his hand-picked envoy in Washington, Hussain Haqqani; the main opposition Pakistan Muslim League led by Nawaz Sharif accused the government of a sell-out.
Mr. Zardari's corner tightened when the "KLB fiasco" segued to the tussle over the National Reconciliation Ordinance, the controversial law promulgated by Pervez Musharraf, the former military ruler, to erase corruption cases against Benazir Bhutto and her husband to enable her return to Pakistan and participate in the "transition to democracy". Following her killing, by the time Mr. Zardari was ready to contest the presidential election, his path was clear thanks to the NRO.
On July 31 this year, the Supreme Court ruled that the November 3, 2007 emergency imposed by Musharraf was illegal and unconstitutional. The court was widely expected to rule against the NRO too. But instead, it asked the National Assembly to decide by the November-end the fate of 37 ordinances including the NRO, which Gen. Musharraf promulgated in the weeks before and during the six-week emergency.
Despite initial projections that PPP could get parliamentary backing for the NRO with the help of its allies, the government had reckoned without the growing strength and determination of the anti-Zardari lobby.
Nawaz Sharif, under fire for turning the PML(N) into a "friendly opposition", suddenly turned strident in his criticism of the law. Others too spoke out against it. But it was the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, an important coalition partner of the PPP, which truly stuck the knife in, by making plain its opposition to the law. Altaf Hussain, the London-based leader of the party, asked Mr. Zardari to make "the biggest sacrifice" in order to "save the system", widely interpreted as a call for resignation.
Even though the MQM is often accused of being an "agent of India" plotting to break-up Pakistan, it is viewed more widely as pro-military establishment. So Mr. Hussain's missive was seen as a message from a powerful "stakeholder".
Faced with the prospect of a humiliating defeat, the government did not put the NRO to vote. Without parliamentary approval, the ordinance will lapse at the end of November. The possible legal consequences for Mr. Zardari and other beneficiaries of the NRO, such as Interior Minister Rehman Malik, are now a subject of intense media speculation.
Once again all eyes are on the Supreme Court, where two petitions against the NRO are pending since 2007. If the court rules against the ordinance, legal experts say the cases against Mr. Zardari would stand resurrected. He is protected by presidential immunity and cannot be prosecuted while he holds office, but it could open a floodgate of legal challenges to his election.
Those ranged against Mr. Zardari say, rather self-servingly, that his departure, even if it is the result of a command whispered in his ear by the Army chief the method by which Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary was restored back in March would not mean the collapse of democracy, or even this government. He will simply be replaced by another president.
The "minus-one" lobby is egging on Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, who has at times displayed a rebellious streak against the PPP leader, as a possible leader of a revolt within the PPP even though his abilities in this regard are questionable.
The embattled president has begun offering olive branches in all directions. In an attempt to mend fences with Mr. Sharif, he has pledged to repeal by early next year the 17th amendment, brought in by Gen. Musharraf to strengthen his powers as president. Doing this would turn Mr. Zardari into a lame-duck president, with real powers vesting in the Prime Minister.
The presidency is also trying to win over disgruntled elements in the PPP to shore up support and pre-empt moves to build alternate power-centres in the party. Mr. Zardari is currently involved in burying the hatchet with Aitzaz Ahsan, a PPP stalwart who was in the party doghouse for leading the campaign to have chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhary restored.
But the word is that the countdown for Mr. Zardari has begun. While an Army coup is seen as unlikely, there is serious talk that the present set-up could be replaced by a "national government" that will give a bigger role to the conservative PML(N) and the pro-establishment religious parties. For his part, Mr. Zardari is reported to have told journalist buddies that he will quit only in an ambulance.
A lot of the blame for Mr. Zardari's present woes rests at his door. No surveys are needed to determine he is the least popular political leader in Pakistan today. He has been unable to shake off the "Mr 10 per cent" tag, and his accidental presidency is seen as just that. But where others might have tread carefully in such deep waters, Mr. Zardari leapt in with his characteristic over-confidence. His individualistic style of functioning and the concentration of the powers in him of an executive president and the leader of the PPP has led to widespread resentment. Critics accuse him of setting up controversial buddies in key positions and running a crony regime that has failed to understand that "2009 is not 1989".
But, say observers, matters might not have gone so swiftly downhill for him had he not antagonised the Army. If it was a bold political strategy on his part in the interests of democracy, as his supporters say, it has clearly backfired.
From the botched attempt to bring the Inter-Services Intelligence under the civilian government's control, to his insouciant declaration that Pakistan would agree to a "no first use" policy with India for its nuclear weapons, to his statements that the Kashmir issue should be put on the backburner, and that India was not the real enemy, he repeatedly tread on the Army's toes. His attempt to build an independent relationship with Washington was a further provocation for the Army. He was blamed directly for the put-down of the Army in the Kerry-Lugar legislation, its incorporation of Indian concerns about the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed.
The ongoing political intrigue is taking up all the energies of the government, rendering it more inefficient and unable to deliver, both in matters of basic governance and on the big issues facing the country. For the first time that Pakistanis can remember, sugar has virtually disappeared from the markets. But that does not matter much when people are bent under the daily anxiety of not knowing if they or their children will come home back alive, as every day, militancy and terrorism strike violent blows across the country.
Not surprisingly, there is now a sudden chorus of allegations about the "Indian-hand" in South Waziristan, behind the wave of suicide bombings and in the funding of the Taliban. The allegations are coming from ministers who are seen as close to the presidency. Such statements would please the security establishment and may insulate them from the fall-out of a possible change at the top. The anti-India rhetoric has also won approval at the popular level. Pakistanis see this as a correct and fitting response to India's continued arm-twisting of their government over the Mumbai attacks.
While the current situation rules out all hopes of any positive development on the India-Pakistan front, it also serves to confirm that Pakistani democracy is at best an exotic bonsai. Those who claim to be watering it are also steadily cutting away at its roots.
OF RECEDING GLACIERS AND LACK OF BENCHMARK DATA
From Leh, the 40-km drive to Khardungla, the highest motorable pass in the world at 18,380 feet, winds gently through mountains coated with thick snow. To the left of the pass the Ladakhis swear is the Khardung glacier which has retreated, though there is no study to confirm it. In fact, Prof. Syed Iqbal Hasnain, a leading glaciologist and a senior fellow at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) who visited Khardungla along with a group of journalists recently, did not know of its existence. Local wisdom differs. Small glaciers in Ladakh have receded over the years and some them could well be the subject of history.
There is an acute lack of benchmark data on small glaciers, which is why Prof. Hasnain has undertaken this task, not without some difficulty. Trained mountaineers have been requisitioned to help study some smaller glaciers in different Himalayan regions, some of them steep and inaccessible. "In the last 60 years, we don't have any benchmark glacier studies. Gangotri is too large to be a benchmark glacier," he points out.
Inspired by Prof. V. Ramanathan's study on the Atmospheric Brown Clouds and the role of black carbon, Prof. Hasnain is now measuring black carbon on glaciers with the help of aethalometres. At a recent presentation before journalists in Leh, he spoke of the disappearing "Himalayan Ice Climate and Black Carbon Aerosol Impacts on Water resources." Leh was perhaps an apt place for this presentation, where Prof. Hasnain admitted there is very little data on what is the regional rate of glacier melt or the role of black carbon forcing and deposition.
For future climate scenarios, he says you have to develop benchmarks as also data on what is the contribution of snow glacier melt to the water flow in rivers.
Four small glaciers have been selected for this benchmark study, one each in the Zanskar, Kashmir Valley, Himachal Pradesh and Sikkim based on advice from the World Glacier Monitoring station in Zurich to study comparable glaciers which were less than 15 sq km. Already for the Kolahoi glacier in Kashmir, Prof. Hasnain found photographs dating back to 1942 which show a healthy accumulation zone where the snow collects in the glacier. "The measurements have started on black carbon, we know it is present but how much impact is there in the melting process will take a while to assess," he points out.
An aethalometer has been installed at East Rathong glacier at 4,700 metres to measure the black carbon there which is high in the Western Himalayas and this is directly related to the transport sector. The adulteration of diesel with kerosene poses a major threat to fragile environments. Some of the initial results on black carbon depositions were shown to Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh who has asked Prof. Hasnain to submit a project to measure yearly carbon emissions. Black carbon is an important pollutant in global warming and some policy commitment is needed before COP 15 in Copenhagen, he feels.
The impact on small glaciers has been borne out in a new study "Witnessing change: Glaciers in the Indian Himalayas," by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Birla Institute of Technology (BIT) Extension Centre, Jaipur. The initial results from this field study indicate that smaller glaciers like Kafni in the Kumaon region are retreating at a faster rate, and are not only losing more glaciated portion but also their tributary glaciers a trend which has been observed across the Himalayas for many other smaller glaciers.
Larger glaciers like Gangotri which is the second glacier in this study shows a continuous recessionary trend in recent years through this and other studies (Singh, et al., 2006). Dr. Rajesh Kumar, scientific officer of the BIT, extension centre, Jaipur, part of the WWF study notes that despite the fluctuations over the years, there is a sharp retreating trend and the latest figure of retreat for the Gangotri glacier is 17.19 metres per year. Glaciers are more vulnerable to changes in temperatures and Gangotri has already retreated by 20 metres so far. However, the 29.5-km-long glacier still has breathing time.
The study concludes that regional climate variations could threaten the fragile nature of these glaciers which are likely to disappear at a much faster rate or be considerably reduced in length as compared to the larger ice bodies. Emerging trends are not a good omen for glaciers in Uttrakhand and elsewhere and need a detailed study based on more satellite imageries and ground research.
NEED FOR CREATIVITY IN CLASSROOM
THE FORMER PRESIDENT, A.P.J. ABDUL KALAM, WRITES
I was happy to see the article "I only want to enjoy my childhood, ma" by Inumella Sesikala (Open Page, Nov. 8). I liked the article very much, which is a dream of every child. Creativity of children has to come out from the classroom. Some of us had such opportunities. Our children should go to primary school only at the age of six. Till then, we have to promote creativity of the children with great teachers and an innovative classroom environment.
Yesterday, when I was reading the book Spiritual Intelligence, The Ultimate Intelligence by Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall, I came across the poem, "The Student's prayer."
"The young son of a Chilean biologist, Umberto Maturana, became unhappy at school because he felt his teachers were making it impossible for him to learn. They wanted to teach him what they knew, rather than drawing out what he needed to learn. As a result Maturana wrote "The Student's Prayer", of which this translation is an abridged version. It perfectly expresses the spiritually intelligent individual's response to the conforming pressures of parents, teachers, bosses or the crowd.
The Student's Prayer
Don't impose on me what you know,
I want to explore the unknown
And be the source of my own discoveries.
Let the known be my liberation, not my slavery.
The world of your truth can be my limitation;
Your wisdom my negation.
Don't instruct me; let's walk together.
Let my richness begin where yours ends.
Show me so that I can stand
On your shoulders.
Reveal yourself so that I can be
You believe that every human being
Can love and create.
I understand, then, your fear
When I ask you to live according to your wisdom.
You will not know who I am
By listening to yourself.
Don't instruct me; let me be.
Your failure is that I be identical to you."
I thought, there is a connectivity among young hearts even beyond ocean "I only want to enjoy my childhood, ma" and "The Student's Prayer."
'STRONG MAN' TRYING TO AVOID WHIFF OF THE DICTATOR
A Baghdad court has found against the Guardian and awarded the Prime Minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, 100m Iraqi dinars (£52,000) in damages for an article by its correspondent Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, published in April of this year.
It was an extraordinarily interesting and well sourced analysis of Maliki's power as he manoeuvres himself into a position from which he can dominate Iraqi politics. Abdul-Ahad, relying on unparalleled access and a true feel for the situation in Baghdad, captured the often unacknowledged connections that make sense of the shadows behind the public performance of Iraqi politics. It is of inestimable value.
But it underlines two odd features in the court case. The first is that Maliki was not cited as the injured party, and yet has been awarded unprecedented damages by a supposedly independent Iraqi court. The second is that the article's description of his emergence as a "strong man" of Iraqi politics is not simply accurate, but is part of the very image that he himself has been cultivating for the past couple of years. The Iraqi press has had to tread a fine line when reporting Maliki's political ascent.
Throughout 2008 he used the Iraqi armed forces to reconquer the provinces of Iraq, projecting himself as the leader whose only thought was the unity of the country. This was the image he wanted to convey in the January 2009 provincial elections. So to make sure he got a good press, he promised that thousands of journalists would be awarded grants of land for a nominal price, or for free. He was reviving a form of land patronage long used by his predecessors to cement officers, officials and now journalists to their retinue.
Some welcomed it and others were appalled. But for those who persisted in investigating awkward questions, the government had no hesitation in using the courts. More journalists found themselves fighting charges of libel or of endangering national security.
There is a pattern here, in which the wires of the "shadow state" are again being assembled, leading to the hands of one man: intelligence services run from the prime minister's office, staffed mainly by "awlad al-Hindiyya" ["the lads from Hindiyya," Maliki's home region]; the introduction of censorship of imported books and control of the internet; the closure of Mustansiriya University and its reopening under the watchful eye of the Baghdad operations command, controlled by his office.
Measures such as these have ensured Maliki stays ahead of a dangerous game in Iraqi politics, and should be seen partly as preparations for the elections of January 2010. And yet, as this recent case shows, he still wants to avoid "smelling like a dictator," in the term levelled at him by Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish regional government. Perhaps he hopes the award made by the court will miraculously make him come up smelling of roses. © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009
(Charles Tripp is a professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.)
What Amit Bhaduri and Romila Thapar (Edit Page article, Nov. 9) say about negotiating between forest dwellers and corporations wanting their land has a parallel in urban agglomerations.
When the New Bombay (now Navi Mumbai) project was started in 1970, the plan was to acquire 344 sq km of agricultural land on the mainland east of Bombay. One suggestion made by the urban planners at the time was that the land owners should be made shareholders of a kind in the new city development corporation. Their shares would not be transferable (to protect them from exploitation) but could be inherited, thus keeping them in the family for future generations. The corporation was expected to generate a profit from sales of developed land, which would be used to finance physical and social infrastructure, thus making the project self-financing. It was suggested that a predetermined part of the profit could provide a regular income to the original land owners. The proposal was rejected outright by the Land Acquisition department of the new city corporation as fanciful and unnecessary. Forty years later, perhaps our democracy has deepened and our notions of equity altered sufficiently that such a proposal might look less surreal today.
Another puzzling development has been the allocation of 2.5 hectares of forest land to each forest dweller. Surely there are some lands that should be held as a kind of commons, owned by everyone in general and no one in particular. Such a notion should equally apply to lands within urban agglomerations, however large or small, including village settlements. The land within the settlement is a kind of commons, held in trust for the common good. Parcels might be demarcated for individual use, but if the allottee does not use the land for years and years it should revert to the commons for re-allotment. Any change in the value of the land in the interim belongs to the commons and not to the allottee. The notion that land within a settlement, once demarcated, is in the nature of private property, and appreciation is to the credit of the allottee (who has done nothing to promote its value) should be replaced by the notion that land, if not used, is common property and may be deployed for other uses. If it is used then of course the allottee may continue to enjoy its use and benefits. If not, it reverts to the commons. Such an approach would incidentally greatly simplify the redevelopment of slums, where the original paper "owners" of the property are simply out of the picture and the land can be re-assigned for residential accommodation of its current occupants, among others.
Shirish B. Patel, Mumbai
The battlelines were drawn in both Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal a while ago, but Tuesday's by-election results have made this much clear: both Mayawati and Mamata Banerjee are winners.
There was some speculation that the Bahujan Samajwadi Party was losing its cachet but having won 8 of the 11 seats in Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati is on top once again.
In West Bengal, it appears that the rout of the Left Front in the assembly elections of 2011 is a foregone conclusion. The Mamata factor is sweeping through the state, the Trinamool Congress having won seven of the 10 seats and its ally, the Congress, one seat.
The losers are also equally obvious. The Samajwadi Party must be licking its wounds as it has suffered substantially. Not only did it lose its seats but it also lost the prestige battle.
In a worrying turn of events for the party's prospects, Raj Babbar, who recently quit the SP and joined the Congress, defeated Mulayam Singh Yadav's daughter-in-law by over 85000 votes.
Even worse, the Samajwadi Party lost in Etawah, Mulayam's home constituency. It now has two rivals -- the BSP and the Congress to fight -- and both seem to be on the rise, Mayawati especially so.
Of the other two big losers, a major one is the CPM which did not even manage one seat and lost very badly the seat held by former transport minister Subhas Chakravarty, who passed away earlier this year. His widow lost to the Trinamool candidate.
The Left Front's Forward Bloc managed to win just one seat. Mamata Banerjee has shown once again that she has galvanised a groundswell of opinion in her favour, which must make the CPM very nervous indeed. In Kerala too the CPM lost to the Congress.
The BJP barely registered on the voter's consciousness anywhere, with a total of just one in Himachal Pradesh and one in Rajasthan. The Congress, by contrast, opened its account in all the six states that went for by-elections, proving that it is a factor all over the country.
The swing towards the UPA, evident since this year's Lok Sabha elections, suggests that the inclusive nature of theCongress's politics is getting better resonance with the electorate than divisive and exclusionary politics. Its aam aadmi slant and progressive policies seem to be going down well withvoters so far.
The number of recent near-accidents at the Mumbai airport suggests that there is a dangerously casual attitude to safety by the airport's managers and civil aviation authorities. This apparent negligence is putting at risk the lives of passengers, cabin crew and pilots.
In the two back-to-back mishaps on Tuesday, there were signs of grave danger waiting to happen and prevented by fate more than proper procedures. At 4.32 pm, Air India's Goa-Mumbai IC 164 bounced twice before landing. The Airbus 320 had broken two edge lights. Within four minutes, a Kingfisher Bhavnagar-Mumbai IT 4124 with 42 passengers and four crew members skidded and landed on a grassy pitch.
Though some crew members were injured, thankfully there was no loss of life. Last week, a similar incident happened in which two aircrafts were opposite each other on the same taxiway. Primarily, it was a case of the short runway, as the airport is undergoing repairs, which was also quite wet because of Tuesday's showers.
This prevented the brakes from working properly. There was also a lack of coordination between directorate general of civil aviation (DGCA) and the Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL). The DGCA said it had given clear instructions to MIAL to suspend shortened runway operations under wet conditions, which MIAL denied receiving.
As expected, a blame game erupted immediately, each trying to pass the buck. Although a 1700-metre patch of the 3500-metre main runaway has been made available, evidently such an arrangement is far from adequate. Aviation experts feel that it was also luck that a larger plane was not involved as a fuel storage tank lies just 200 metres from the end of this runway and had momentum carried it through, the damage would have been horrific.
An inquiry into the incidents will be held in which the DGCA will question the de-rostered commander and the co-pilot of the Kingfisher flight. The air safety officials will look into the technicalities of the landing such as the aircraft's speed after landing and the condition of the brakes.
But these measures are hardly enough to inspire confidence: more stringent precautions are required. Three incidents in the last 10 days seemingly did not alert both the MIAL and DGCA to dissolve their differences and bring about more clarity in their communications with each other. With bad weather, a possible cyclone and more rains coupled with the condition of the runways, proper safety is even more imperative.
LEADERSHIP ON THE LINE
The second of the five or six promises that the Reddy brothers extracted from BS Yeddyurappa has been met. After VP Baligar, his principal secretary, it was the turn of Shobha Karandlaje, the rural development minister, to resign as part of the deal.
That, as she evocatively asked at her exit press conference, there were no questions either about her efficiency or probity is besides the point. Proximity to the power centre, as she has discovered, can sometimes prove costly.
While the first two points in the deal were pretty easy to fulfil -- they merely needed unilateral action by the chief minister -- the next few items on that list will truly determine how far the truce between Yeddyurappa and the Reddy brothers will hold.
The first in that sequence will be establishing a coordination committee. The composition of that is probably an already settled issue, but you can still expect some jockeying to secure a majority within that core group. Right now, if one goes by the names doing the rounds, it seems the core committee is loaded against the chief minister but may finally be structured to keep a balance between the two factions.
It is after this stage that you can figure who the real winner of this round of squabble is. That is when the core group will have to decide, first, who else has to be shown the door from the ministry, and even more importantly, who is to replace them.
In order to recover some ground after having been battered by the dissidents, the chief minister is bound to try and protect those who were loyal to him during the crisis and fight every inch to achieve that end.
The Reddy brothers have an even bigger task at hand. Herding disgruntled elements in a fight against the leadership is one thing, but sharing the spoils in the form of ministerial berths is tougher. They will have to bring all the skills and the clout they have to turn that disgruntled lot into a loyal flock.
That is easier said than done and if they fail to handle it well, the dissident group itself may face internal tensions. Right now it looks like the ruling party has become a coalition of interest groups with the potential to be riven by all the pulls and pressures of a coalition government; a description the Congress used somewhat prematurely for the current shape of the BJP government.
Even though the last word on the war within the BJP is yet to be pronounced, what is of interest, more than academic interest, in fact, is the phenomenon of the unraveling of the leadership.
Just three weeks ago, Yeddyurappa was like a knight in shining armour. He ran the government and the party the way he wanted, and had the full backing of the party high command in whatever he did. He was almost beyond questioning. On top of that, he also sent out the right emotional signals on handling the devastating floods in northern Karnataka. There was grudging admiration for him even in the opposition parties.
If all that unravelled in a fortnight and if the chief minister looks more and more chastened, there are many obvious reasons that have been extensively discussed.
One very obvious reason that everyone can see for sure, but the leaders themselves do not, is their self-importance and an exaggerated notion of their abilities and strength. As toadies pump them up and praise their intelligence and wisdom, leaders begin to believe that to be true and that they could be another Chanakya in the making. That is when they start asserting their position as if there could be no challenge, the point at which they become somewhat myopic. It is the inability to see the limits of leadership that cause the kind of problems that Yeddyurappa faced.
As all leaders who have been battered do, the chief minister now swears that he will turn a new leaf. If he really does that and demonstrates that he can be accommodating, he may still be able to recover some lost ground. The Reddy brothers, on the other hand, will have much more on their plate.
To start with, they have to convince their supporters that they are trustworthy at all times and can actually find a better bargain for them and somehow keep the group and its morale intact until that is achieved. It takes a lot more than mere material resources to do that. It is easy to rally people around when you are fanning discontent but it is far tougher to turn that into loyalty. Leadership, whether of the loyalists or dissidents, is always fraught with the danger of unintended self-damage.
FIGHTING HINDI HEGEMONY
The rowdy behaviour of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) legislators in the state assembly the other day could not have helped gain converts to the Marathi cause. Rough and ready methods simply do not work, for force can never win hearts and minds.
If Raj Thackeray wants to champion the cause of Marathi he has to make it easy for people to learn the language, not upset the people who currently don't speak it.
Samajwadi leader Abu Azmi decided that he would defy the Raj diktat, but he too is bound to fail in his defiance. Azmi's party supported him, but spoke the language of Hindi hegemonism. His party bosses praised him for upholding the cause of Hindi, the national language, but in this they may have done more damage to the national cause.
Speaking about Hindi as a national language is no different from speaking about Hinduism as India's official cultural expression. Hindi is a great language, but it is not any more national than Marathi or Kannada, or Bengali or Telugu. Ironically, it was left to the MNS to point out the obvious: that Hindi is just another regional language of India.
This is not an attempt to belittle Hindi. In fact, Hindi is best served when it gently mingles with the other national languages, contributing to their growth and, in turn, being enriched by them. No language grows by being exclusive: it grows by importing words and expressions it lacks; it strengthens other languages by giving them what they don't have.
If there is to be a truly national language, it will develop from an admixture of all Indian languages. One can see the beginnings of it in Mumbai's khichdi Hindi -- a Bollywood-enhanced version of which we saw in Sanjay Dutt's Munnabhai.
Even as we wait for a truly national lingo to evolve over the decades, supporters of Hindi are doing the language a great disservice by asserting its hegemony. Hindi is India's largest spoken language, but that does not give it sole status as a national language. That would amount to imposing a linguistic majoritarianism that cannot but harm the country.
It is worth recalling that the entire idea of linguistic states found favour with all Indians barring the Hindi-speaking people precisely because there was a fear that regional languages would lose out. In Tamil Nadu, the Dravidian parties went to the extent of calling for secession on this score. It was Lal Bahadur Shastri's good sense that prevented Hindi chauvinists from carrying the day.
Coming back to Raj Thackeray and the MNS, it is clear that their agenda is not merely the cause of Marathi. Raj is fighting for political space in the post-Balasaheb dispensation. He is trying to grab the Tiger's political legacy, and his first battle is for mindspace among the Marathi manoos.
That battle is far from over, and won't end till either Raj or Uddhav establishes himself as the sole spokesman for the manoos. The MNS's politics will evolve beyond Marathi only if it wins that battle, which is why we are going to see more eruptions of the kind we saw in the assembly.
However, that's another story. The language issue will continue to fester, for the long-term trend is against smaller regional languages. Every Indian language, barring possibly Bengali and Telugu, which have larger bases of population speaking them, will feel the pressure from both English and Hindi as people start following the 80:20 rule.
They will first learn what is beneficial to them. Since English and Hindi will be the main languages of advancement in the world and in India, most people will probably put 80 per cent of the efforts in learning these languages first.
Whatever the politics of the Marathi manoos, the Raj Thackerays of the world will see their children going to English medium schools. The upper classes are slowly losing touch with their mother tongues anyway; in the next generation, the aspiring classes who currently speak Marathi or whatever will follow suit.
Given this socio-economic reality, those who feel strongly about the decline of their native languages have two choices: give up the struggle and let demographics decide how a language shapes up; or they will have to make it easy for people to learn the language, and market it as well.
Just as the Max Mueller Bhavans and Alliance Francaises marketGerman and French language courses, the non-Hindi regional languages will have to be funded and propagated if they are not to lose traction. They must also set up an institutional framework for the importation of new words and ideas from other languages.
The biggest challenge, though, is not about teaching, but translations. If Marathi is to survive, every major work in every major language should be translated into Marathi. If there are no translations, Marathi-speaking people will have no option but to learn English or Hindi or Chinese to read the world's best works. That will leave Marathi nowhere.
ALL ABOUT FORCE
Unregulated force is not only wasted in the void, like that of gunpowder burned in the open air; but, striking in the dark, and its blows meeting only the air, it recoils and bruises itself. It is destruction and ruin. It is the volcano, the earthquake, the cyclone; not growth and progress.
The blind force of the people is a force that must be economised, and also managed. It must be regulated by Intellect. Intellect is to the people and the people's force, what the slender needle of the compass is to the ship -- its soul, always counselling the huge mass of wood and iron, and always pointing to the north.
To attack the citadels built up on all sides against the human race by superstitions, despotisms, and prejudices, the force must have a brain and a law. Then its deeds of daring produce permanent results and there is real progress. Then there are sublime conquests. Thought is a force, and philosophy should be energy, finding its aim and its effects in the amelioration of mankind. The two great motors are truth and love.
When all these forces are combined, and guided by the Intellect, and regulated by the rule of right, and justice, and of combined and systematic movement and effort, the great revolution prepared for by the ages will begin to march. The power of the deity himself is in equilibrium with his wisdom. Hence the only result is harmony.
It is because force is ill regulated, that revolutions prove fail-tires. Therefore it is that so often insurrections, coming from those high mountains that domineer over the moral horizon, justice, wisdom, reason, right, built of the purest snow of the ideal after a long fall from rock to rock, after having reflected the sky in their transparency, and been swollen by a hundred affluents, in the majestic path of triumph, suddenly lose themselves in quagmires.
From Morals and Dogma by Albert Pike
Almost a year has gone by after the 26/11 attacks and still there is no trace of the bullet proof jacket which ex-ATS squad chief Hemant Karkare had worn ('Where is Karkare's bulletproof jacket, asks martyr's wife', DNA, November 11). His wife has been persistent in her quest for the jacket through an RTI application. Now it has come to light that it is missing. There are stories doing the rounds on the quality of the 110 bullet proof vests purchased at an approximate cost of about Rs25 lakh. Primary investigations in the jacket deal, reveals that there were at least 16 violations of the stores purchase manual. The hospital staff and the police officers who transported the bodies to the hospital also have a lot to answer for. This only demonstrates how casual the government's approach has been.
Deepak Agharkar, via email
NO LAW FOR LAWYERS
The edit 'Lawless bunch', (DNA, November 11) has come at a right time. Recent incidents have proved that lawyers are not afraid to march into courts and create a ruckus. The Karnataka High Court incident comes close on the heels of the attack by lawyers in Chennai. The Karnataka High Court is known for its tranquility and scholarly judges and many have graced the highest court of the land as judges and chief justices, ES Venkataramiah, MN Venkatachaliah, KN to name a few. The fate of Justice PD Dinakaran has not yet been decided. But even so, it is Constitutional impropriety to say he should not preside over the high court proceedings.
Ganapathi Bhat, Akola
MISUSE OF RESOURCES
Apropos 'Water theft impossible to curb', (DNA, November 10), we should remember what Napoleon said about the word 'impossible'. I remember the days when all these pipe lines had an accompanying inspection rail, where inspection trolleys used to run daily. Why were these disbanded? Was the duty too much of a trouble for the civic staff? Or was it more of an attempt to hide any misdeeds? This question also applies to all those systems where malpractices of misuse continue.
Suresh Purohit, Mumbai
Apropos your edit, 'Vandalism Raj' (DNA, November 11), the unpardonable scene caused in the assembly by members of MNS and Samajwadi Party's leader Abu Azmi's adamant stand will now lead to further tiffs outside the House. Abu's criticism of Shiv Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray seems to have united the Sena and MNS. Will the chief minister, Ashok Chavan, be able to sort out the tussle?
Achyut Railkar, Mumbai
SLIDE OF THE LEFT
BYPOLL REVERSES A WARNING SIGNAL
Perceptible signs of a slide are discernible in the successive electoral reverses suffered by the Left Front. After the debacle in the general elections, the Left Front this week received a drubbing in both Kerala and West Bengal where byelections were held last week. In Kerala, the ruling Left Democratic Front ( LDF) failed to win any of the three seats while in West Bengal the ruling Left Front had the poor consolation of winning just one of the 10 seats for which elections were held. The rout was hardly a surprise. The writing was on the wall when a desperate appeal was issued by the nonagenarian CPM icon Jyoti Basu, who called upon "Congress supporters" to vote for the Left in the interest of "stability and peace". Evidently, that appeal left the voters unimpressed and the CPM lost even the Belgachia East seat, which had been held by it since 1977 and where the widow of a Basu loyalist, the late Subhas Chakrabarti, was fielded by the party.
CPM general secretary Prakash Karat is largely responsible for the Left Front's sorry plight. His decision to dump the Congress over the Indo-US civil nuclear deal not only isolated the Left but also pushed the Congress into the arms of Ms Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal. By uniting the Opposition, Mr Karat weakened the state government and unwittingly helped forge a more viable alternative to the Left. Poor administration by Mr Buddhadev Bhattacharjee, Left cadres running amok and arrogance of the leaders did the rest. Likewise, in Kerala, Mr Karat allowed the infighting between the state secretary, Mr Pinarayi Vijayan, and the Chief Minister, Mr V S Achuthanandan, to simmer and get completely out of control. His policy of appeasing both satisfied neither and left the party in the lurch.
With the next Assembly election in both the Left-ruled states due in 2011, the two Chief Ministers are bound to run a lame-duck administration during the rest of their tenure. Politically weakened, their credibility dented and authority undermined, the poor Chief Ministers are unlikely to lead a turn-around. The clamour for an early poll will also grow, specially in West Bengal where Ms Mamata Banerjee has been demanding dismissal of the state government on the plea that the Left has lost the mandate to rule.
LAST MAN STANDING
KULDEEP BISHNOI'S PARTY CRUMBLES
The majority that the Congress party had failed to muster at the hustings on its own has finally come its way with the fifth MLA of the Haryana Janhit Congress of Mr Kuldeep Bishnoi, Mr Dharam Singh Chookar from Samalkha, also deserting it to join the Congress. With five legislators of the HJC in the Congress kitty, the latter now has a strength of 45 in the 90-member assembly, which has an effective strength of 89 as one seat is vacant. With the support of BSP member Akram Khan and seven Independents, the Congress now has the support of 53 members in the Vidhan Sabha. That reduces the dependence of Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda on Independents but raises uncomfortable questions about the constitutionality and also the morality of the defections.
Mr Kuldeep Bishnoi must be a disillusioned man, considering that he is now the only MLA of his fledgling party. When the Congress had failed to cross the half-way mark in the elections, it was obvious to everybody that his party would come in for concerted picking. But he carried the parleys about merger and support a bit too far. At one stage, there was even talk that he might be made Deputy Chief Minister but in the end, he had to go empty- handed. The way his brother Chander Mohan got and lost the coveted post and the way he has now lost it despite being so close must have left their father Bhajan Lal, a self-styled Ph D in politics, baffled. However, that is how things function in the land of Aya Rams and Gaya Rams.
How Mr Hooda rewards the new entrants remains to be seen. He had kept four ministerial berths vacant for the expected guests. Now there are five men to be appeased. He already has an army of nine Chief Parliamentary Secretaries. How the extra person is accommodated will be interesting to watch. Even more crucial will be the reaction of his own party men. There are already serious rumblings among old Congressmen over the lion's share given to Independents. Particularly sharp will be the reaction of the known detractors of the Chief Minister.
ABUSE OF PAROLE
MANU'S CASE A VIOLATION OF RULES
The two-month parole granted to Siddharth Vashisth alias Manu Sharma, serving life sentence in New Delhi's Tihar jail for killing model Jessica Lall in 1999, raked up a controversy and has raised serious questions of propriety. Evidently, he got relief thanks to his powerful political connections. He may have surrendered to jail on Tuesday 12 days before his parole was to end, but this does not dilute his offence and the indiscretion of the authorities. Reports about his involvement in a brawl in a Delhi five-star hotel bar on Monday night showed that he was back to his old ways. He seemed to forget that he was convicted for murder after he shot dead Jessica Lall at a bar for refusing to serve him a drink late in the night. In fact, Monday's incident would not have come to the fore had he not quarrelled with the New Delhi Police Commissioner's son in the hotel.
As it appears, the Delhi Government was less than scrupulous in following the jail manual to bail out Manu Sharma. Chief Minister Sheila Dixit may have said that "all rules were followed" in this case but the grounds on which he was granted parole were specious and unconvincing. Surprisingly, no official had bothered to verify whether his mother was "seriously ill". TV channels had nailed down this claim on Tuesday by showing a beaming Shakti Rani Sharma addressing a Press conference for a cricket match in Chandigarh.
Worse, parole for a life convict to help him review his business interests is ludicrous. This is a mockery of justice and is inimical to our constitutional rights and freedoms. There will be no rule of law and the Constitution will be a dud if life convicts are given parole in this manner. In fact, the Supreme Court had rejected Manu Sharma's plea for bail in November 2007. To prevent the brazen abuse of parole, there is an imperative need for making the rules more stringent.
POWER DYNAMICS IN PAKISTAN
LET STILL CONSIDERED STRATEGIC ASSET
BY G PARTHASARATHY
Developments in Afghanistan and Pakistan will figure prominently when Dr Manmohan Singh visits the Obama White House on November 24. The Obama Administration has handled events related to the recent re-election of Mr Hamid Karzai as President of Afghanistan in a crude and insensitive manner. By publicly humiliating Mr Karzai, Washington has only weakened a leader set to play a crucial role in the emerging developments in Afghanistan.
Moreover, the prolonged period that the Obama Administration has taken to review its policies on Afghanistan has given an impression of dithering and uncertainty on the most crucial foreign policy challenge that Washington faces today. This has only confused the countries like India which have sought to complement Washington's efforts to strengthen Afghanistan internally. These developments are also encouraging the Taliban and Al-Qaeda to believe that they will succeed in their efforts to promote terrorism globally.
Vice-President Joseph Biden reportedly advocates action against Taliban and Al-Qaeda hideouts in Pakistan, and even as Mr Obama pondered over what to do next in Afghanistan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton paid a well-planned visit to Pakistan, intended to reassure the Pakistanis of the American commitment to their welfare, stability and prosperity. The visit came at a time when the army establishment, led by Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, had joined forces with the opposition Muslim League of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to undermine President Zardari, by voicing serious reservations and calling for the rejection of the Kerry-Lugar Act. The US law has pledged $ 7.5 billion as assistance to Islamabad, at a time when Pakistan's revenues cannot even meet the cost of the government's administrative expenditure, with its economic growth having plummeted to 2 per cent in 2008-2009.
Aware of the power dynamics within Pakistan, the longest meeting that Mrs Clinton had in Islamabad was not with President Zardari, or Prime Minister Gilani, but with General Kiyani, together with ISI chief Lt-Gen Shuja Pasha, with whom she spent three hours. Something in the otherwise calm and composed Hillary Clinton appears to have snapped after the meeting with the Army brass. Irked by the orchestrated criticism of US policies while in Lahore, which echoed what she heard in Islamabad, Mrs Clinton publicly voiced her misgivings about the continuing support by Pakistan's military establishment for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
On October 29 she said: "Al-Qaeda has had a safe haven in Pakistan since 2002. I find it difficult to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are, and couldn't get them, if they really wanted to." Cautioning Pakistan on cross-border terrorism that it promotes in neighbouring India and Afghanistan, Mrs Clinton asserted: "If we are going to have a mature partnership where we work together, there are issues that not just the United States, but others have with your government and your military security establishment."
There is nothing to suggest that the Pakistani military or its political allies have been affected by Mrs Clinton's public admonition. While the military continues its operations against the Tehriq-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in South Waziristan, primarily because the TTP has challenged the Army's writ within Pakistan, the ISI nevertheless continues to back the Taliban military commanders in neighbouring North Waziristan, led by Sirajuddin Haqqani. They have relentlessly staged terrorist attacks within Afghanistan, including on the Indian Embassy in Kabul and on Indian workers throughout Afghanistan.
Moreover, the Taliban political leadership led by Mullah Omar, popularly known as the "Quetta Shura," remains comfortably ensconced in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan's Balochistan province. While reviewing policies on Afghanistan, the Obama Administration will sooner or later have to decide on whether it can realistically contain the Taliban or its Al-Qaeda allies in Afghanistan without exercising the "Biden option" of striking at their bases in Pakistan, across the Durand Line.
Recent revelations by the FBI of Lashkar-e-Toiba links of two Chicago residents of Pakistani origin, who were plotting a terrorist strike on targets in Denmark and India, clearly establish that the Pakistan-based terrorist organisations like the LeT now have a worldwide reach and, like Al-Qaeda, a worldwide agenda of terrorism. The terrorist attacks planned on India were to be a continuation of the earlier terrorist strikes in Mumbai and elsewhere. The prime accused, Daood Gilani aka David Headley, was in touch with Ilyas Kashmiri, a former army commando of Pakistan's elite Special Services Group (SSG).
Kashmiri was used by the ISI in the 1980s for training the Afghan Mujahideen and in the 1990s for jihad in Jammu and Kashmir. He escaped after being captured by Indian forces in Poonch in 1994. Interestingly, while Kashmiri was later charged with an attempt to assassinate President Musharraf and for the assassination of a former Commander of the SSG, Maj-Gen Faisal Alvi, in 2008, he was allowed to get away and seek refuge in North Waziristan alongside the Afghan Taliban military commander, Sirajuddin Haqqani, who General Kayani reportedly considers to be a "strategic asset" of the ISI.
The LeT was reportedly planning to attack elite schools in northern India, reminiscent of the attack by Chechen terrorists in Beslan, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of school children. Chechen terrorists have longstanding links with the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, the LeT and political parties in Pakistan like the Jamaat-e-Islami. Home Minister P Chidambaram and the Army chief have warned that future terrorist attacks will not go unpunished. Interestingly, the establishment's reaction in Pakistan to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's speech in Kashmir was brought out by former Senator and Muslim League leader Mushahid Hussain, who has long-standing links with the Pakistan Army and the LeT. Mushahid Hussain asserted that the Prime Minister's readiness for dialogue while visiting Kashmir was because of the growing fears in India about Maoist violence, insinuating that the offer of dialogue was because of India's internal compulsions.
India has continuously misread the internal dynamics of Pakistan. Even in late 2007 our High Commission in Islamabad and luminaries in South Block believed that General Musharraf remained strong and virtually invincible.Right now there seems to be little appreciation of the fact that it is General Kiyani, and not President Zardari, who determines and dictates the policy in Islamabad. Anyone who knows General Kiyani's approach to relations with India, even from the days he commanded the 12th Infantry Division in Murree, should realise that he is pathologically anti-Indian and regards the LeT and the Afghan Taliban as "strategic assets"'. This is the message Dr Manmohan Singh has to firmly convey to Washington while responding to any call for the revival of the composite dialogue process.
BY RACHNA NEHRIA
It was my first visit to my paternal grandfather's place and I was glad that he was waiting for me at the village bus stop.
I ran to meet him and was about to touch his feet when he swiftly moved away. When I looked up, his face, which was cheerful until then, wore an expression of annoyance.
As tears rolled down my cheeks, he gathered me in his bear hug and said, "By evening, I'll make it up to you."
He picked up my suitcase and declared, "Let's go." He had retired as a PT teacher in the village school some 20 years ago, but he was still fit as a fiddle.
As I huffed and puffed to keep up with him, he told me how my "worthless" father, who was unemployed then, had married a girl from upper Himachal. How could my son cross over the cultural chasm, he asked.
It was after years of persuasion that he had finally agreed to meet a member of my family but the fact that he didn't allow me to touch his feet told me that the embers of my father's misadventure hadn't cooled down completely.
After lunch, my cousins decided to dress me up in the traditional style. The puja for Sankrati was to be performed that evening, they explained.
Grandpa was at his stunning best for the puja. As the village priest was nowhere in sight, grandpa borrowed me from my cousins for the interval.
He began, "Your mother comes from upper Himachal while this is the lower region of the state. People over there give equal value to boys and girls. So, boys and girls touch the feet of elders, but " his voice trailed off as he saw the priest approaching.
A few minutes later, my cousins encircled me and made me sit at the altar.
Grandpa took his seat in front of me. He offered me flowers and rice and, to my utter disbelief, touched my feet at the end of the ceremony.
"A girl for us is a dei (goddess). How could I have allowed my goddess to touch my feet," he said with a smile.
IMPORTANCE OF MADHU KODA
THE SCANDAL HAS LESSONS FOR FINANCIAL SECTOR TOO
BY UTTAM SENGUPTA
The on-going drama involving former Jharkhand chief minister Madhu Koda deserves attention because it highlights much that is wrong with governance and politics. Koda is the first former Chief Minister to be charged with money-laundering, hawala and acquiring assets by illegal means but he can hardly be the only politician who is guilty of such misdemeanour. Why is he then the first one to be hauled up ?
There are other questions which also beg for an answer. What is the law going to do to people, the mine owners and industrialists, who allegedly paid Koda and his cronies in crores to get their work done.
It may appear logical to identify and blacklist such people and undo the damage but the establishment appears to have neither the inclination nor the ability to crack down on the beneficiaries of political corruption. Only stern action against the beneficiaries can act as a deterrent but while the cat is visible, the bell is nowhere to be seen.
Accountants were arrested for turning a blind eye to the fudging of balance sheets by the Rajus of Satyam fame; and surely similar action is called for in the Koda case too. It is also inconceivable that financial irregularities worth Rs 4,000 crore , as is being alleged, could take place at all without the knowledge of agencies like Revenue Intelligence and the Enforcement Directorate.
Clearly some sections in these agencies either colluded with Koda and cronies or turned a blind eye to their brazen financial dealings. Yet, there is no move to identify such elements and make them accountable for their action.
After all, any important transaction in a bank now requires a Permanent Account Number ( PAN). Transactions over Rs. 50,000 are routinely communicated to the Income Tax authorities. Every time a credit card or a debit card is used, the information reaches the authorities. Frequent fliers to foreign destinations are tracked , again, as a matter of routine.
Details regarding payments made in clubs, resorts and on air travel, foreign exchange purchased etc. are also available to agencies like Revenue Intelligence, the Enforcement Directorate and the Reserve Bank of India.
Yet, Koda and his friends were apparently allowed to deal in hundreds of crores of rupees, float companies,
purchase mines and property abroad , open and operate bank accounts for non-existent companies with official agencies maintaining a sphinx-like silence.
It is difficult to believe that bankers, brokers, investment consultants and tax officials were not aware of what was happening. Therefore, their sudden flurry of activities now in tracking down investments made by the former Jharkhand chief minister and his men, is not just amusing but also raises one or two disturbing questions.
One is of course whether politicians are being targeted selectively by the official agencies. Is Koda being singled out for special treatment in order to send a message to other political players, specially on the eve of the assembly elections in the state?
The suspicion is strengthened because the agencies have initiated action so far against only those politicians in Jharkhand who are either independent or who are attached to very small, regional parties. Of course nobody would believe for a moment that politicians belonging to the recognised political parties in the state were lily white.
Also, how could Binod Sinha, a small-time trader and petty contractor from a small town like Chaibasa in Jharkhand, suddenly start flying in and out of the country and purchase mines in Liberia and launch companies in Dubai without the knowledge of the Big Brother ?
If it is so easy for country bumpkins like Sinha to stash away easy money and invest in properties abroad, it is frightening to think how much more is being stashed away and invested by infinitely smarter and better-connected individuals and politicians from the bigger and more prosperous states.
The fact of the matter is that everybody in Jharkhand knew what was happening. Politicians found the mineral-rich state a playground where they could mint money by pushing files or sitting over them; by signing on some papers and by refusing to sign on others; granting mining lease to some while canceling the lease of others.
It is hardly possible that successive chief ministers remained ignorant of what was happening in the mines department. It is difficult to believe the chief ministers, Arjun Munda from the BJP and Shibu Soren from the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, were entirely innocent.
It was common knowledge in Ranchi that Binod Sinha was Koda's pointsman. He was discreet and avoided the glare of the media although he was a permanent fixture in the Chief Minister's official residence.
While the official explanation was that the two had been inseparable friends from their student days, it was equally well known in bureaucratic circles that even official files were being routed through Sinha, who had emerged as one of those power brokers that the Indian political system invariably throws up. Nobody batted an eyelid; nobody protested.
Sinha was the middleman between Koda and industrialists, between Koda and bureaucrats, between Koda and other politicians. And it is just possible that he extended his services to not just Koda but other politicians as well.
It is also possible that agencies chose to overlook the financial deals as long as more powerful people than Koda or Sinha had a finger in the pie.
But the hounds were unleashed either because Sinha became too ambitious and tried to venture out on his own or because he appropriated or tried to appropriate what other powerful people might have claimed to be their own.
Whatever be the motive, the Koda chronicle has important lessons for the economy. A level-playing field, zero tolerance for breaking or bending the law and uniform punishment and penalty are required to inspire confidence in the rule of the law. Selective or a partial political witch-hunt simply will not do.
INVOLVE LAND-OWNERS IN DEVELOPMENT
BY G.S. GREWAL
Sixtytwo years have passed since India became independent; still rural India is as backward and uneducated as ever. Some urban areas have developed by making farmers poorer and helpless. The methods of development are crude and rustic. Under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, wide powers were reserved by foreign rulers for themselves. Every state in the country has an urban development authority. A rural development authority is never heard of. Living conditions in villages are pathetic. Seventy per cent of youth in Punjab's rural areas are unemployed and drug addicted.
As long as development is done through centralised institutions like PUDA, development will remain lop-sided and expensive. Its benefit will never reach the grassroots. The whole process encourages inflation and price rise. Slums are multiplying. PUDA, the developing authority, wants to make as much profit as private contractors.
In the original Punjab Regional and Town Planning and Development Act, 1995, Section 136 provided that any saving made from a project should be spent on the same project after consultation with the people. The said people-oriented section was deleted in a subsequent amendment.
The attitude of the bureaucracy makes the acquisition proceeding extortionist. Hence, resentment among the people. It is calculated that 48 per cent live in slums in Mumbai and more that 33 per cent in Chandigarh.
An average farmer family of five people in India does not own more than two acres. It is one of the wonders of the world the way they survive. By acquisition we deprive them of this small piece of land and push them on the road to slums in cities.
People can be made partners in development. Land should only be acquired for roads, sewerage and open space or schools and colleges etc. The owners should be paid regular rent for the same out of the taxes, fees charged from the users. The places where shops and houses or other things are to be made should be built by people jointly by taking loans etc. This is being done in Maharashtra and Gujarat with much greater success. The system can be modified according to local requirements.
In Punjab when octroi was abolished the government had agreed to compensate the municipalities. Similarly, some sort or procedure can be evolved which distributes benefits to all sections of societies and not only to the builders and planners. The owner of land should also benefit from its development instead of being sacrificed for it same. In the present system everybody earns except the owners of the land which is acquired.
Development Laws should be amended to make them people-oriented.
Greater Mohali Area Development Authority recently made a land pooling scheme. It is just a clever attempt to acquire land without the payment of adequate compensation. People were not consulted before the scheme was launched.
All aspects of the scheme are still not made public and ultimately people are given 1/5th of what they own. In real and pooling people should get much more than what they surrender. Therefore, there are not many takers of
A scheme should be such where land owners crave for it and not resent it. It is a myth that with land pooling development will be slow. It will be faster than the present method where every affected person runs to the High Court to get a stay and then the project is halted for years.
In Punjab many land acquisition works have been at a standstill for the last eight-nine years and yet cases are pending at initial stages in courts. Every method in which people become partner will be faster than the present one in which they first acquire and then develop. That is anti-people and not suitable in the country where there is no surplus vacant land available and personal holdings are small.
Nowadays land is allotted to societies which construct houses on approved lines by pooling resources. The same can be done by the original owners. The role of the developing agency should be to assist the owners instead of exploiting them. Nobody in Punjab has tried this method so far and we are adopting the same procedure which was being used by our masters before Independence.
Under the land pooling scheme farmers will cooperate and there will be very limited litigation. Let us try this at least for some time and it can be improved by experience. At least, there will be no protests and agitations. Instead. there will be cooperation.
In Punjab roads to each village were made on peoples' land, without acquiring it. People come forward to build roads. The labour and earth was supplied by villagers free. Government provided other material, skilled labour and machinery. Whole project was completed in record time and foundation was laid down for the progress of Punjab. With little more effort, imagination and better motivation wonders can be created to take the state amongst the most progressive ones in the country. To fulfil this vision, the administration has to change its way of thinking for the grass root man and his benefit. Hundreds of ideas will strike, some of them can be used to change the process of planning for the benefit of the society as whole and not only from the points of view of the already affluent section. One dedicated, motivated man can change the face of the State that will make all of us proud of.
The writer is a former Advocate General of Punjab
FAILURE OF ADIVASI DREAM HAS FUELLED MAOIST FIRE
BY SOROOR AHMED
An important aspect often ignored while discussing Left extremism in the country is that the Maoists of the post-liberalisation era are much different from the Naxalites active in the 1960s and early 1970s. While the latter were confined to West Bengal, and later on to Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, their counterparts in the 21st century have dug themselves deep in at least nine states.
While young college graduates, journalists, writers, academics, peasants, landless and to some extent industrial labourers were carried away by the revolutionary slogans of the Naxals of yesteryear, the Maoists of today have spread their tentacles to the tribal and to some extent Dalit pockets of the plateau region of the country. While in the past the struggle was focussed more on landlords, landowners and feudal lords, now ire is directed at the capitalist and industrialist class people.
The absence of an alternative tribal political movement has also helped the growth of Maoists in the mineral-rich forests and hill regions of the country. The failure of the political tribal outfits like the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha has also contributed to the expansion of the Maoists. Shibu Soren, along with A.K. Roy and Binod Bihari Mahto, was instrumental in forming the JMM in 1972, the time when the police was crushing Naxals in West Bengal.
While Soren's struggle was directed against the "dikkus" (people from outside the tribal region) and money-lenders, today the Maoists are targeting state machinery and multi-national companies. They are openly championing the cause of the people displaced by industrialisation and construction of big dams.
That is why even today they are able to draw support from many intellectuals who feel that some of the issues raised by them are genuine, though they disagree with the method.
The Maoists are not just opposing big landlords, but are up in arms against the Tatas and special economic zones. Ironically, they took up these issues in the state ruled by the Marxists.
The failure of the dream of the Greater Jharkhand spread over the tribal belts of the then Bihar (now Jharkhand), Orissa, West Bengal and Chhattisgarh, part of the then Madhya Pradesh, also played a key role in letting down the Adivasis.
The then Vajpayee-led NDA 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 much greater state. The largest NDA constituent, the BJP, has its own agenda in the creation of rump Jharkhand.
While the Naxals of a generation ago lost the battle within a few years in West Bengal and took shelter in Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, the land of famous 1948 Telengana uprising, the Maoists of today are growing stronger with the passing of each year.
In the 1960s and 1970s the Naxals largely adopted the hit-and-run tactic, now the Maoists come in hundreds to stop trains like Rajdhani Express, blow up jails in the heart of Jehanabad in Bihar, or loot 2,000 rifles from an armoury in Orissa or kill 55 cops in one go in Chhattisgarh.
These Red Indians Red stands for Communists as well as aboriginal people like in America run parallel government in many parts of the country and hold kangaroo courts give judgements and carry out executions. The Naxals of the past were no match to them.
Now the classic Maoist concept of "Let villages encircle the towns" has been replaced by the new idea of consolidation in forests and alluring the police convey to land-mines laid down for them. The forests and the hills have become a happy hunting ground for them to fight the state machinery.n
The writer is a free-lance journalist based in Patna
THE ASSAM TRIBUME
RBI CREDIT POLICY
Not much unlike its quarterly review of annual monetary policy of July, 2009, the Reserve Bank of India in its second quarterly credit policy announced on October 27 kept almost all its monetary control rates unchanged save a small hike in statutory liquidity ratio by one percentage point from 24 per cent to 25 per cent. This is to aim at tackling inflationary pressure. Although one per cent hike in SLR is supposed to suck out liquidity of nearly Rs 30,000 crore, the impact may not practically be felt since the banking system presently account for even more than 27 per cent in statutory liquidity ratio. Thus, the move of the Central Bank of the country to keep unchanged the repo rate at which banks borrow from RBI in exchange of government bonds at 4.75 per cent, the reverse repo rate at which the RBI accepts deposits from banks at 3.25 per cent and cash reserve ratio (CRR), the portion of cash the banks have to park with RBI at 5 per cent, appears to signal that it does not want to reduce liquidity and hurt the country's growth prospects but does want to check inflationary apprehension. Retail and corporate loan rates are expected to stay at the same level as bankers ruled out any increase in lending rates in the next 3-4 months, due to RBI's key rates remaining unchanged. There is no liquidity problem in the system at the moment and, according to bankers, credit off take is less than expected to reach the target growth of 20 per cent. However, the pressure on interest rate may build up after some time.
The Central Bank of the country in its second quarterly report made it clear that the collateralised borrowing and lending obligation liabilities of banks would be subject to cash reserve ratio (CRR) requirements from November 21 next. Stock market faces loss at the moment to the extent of 2.5 per cent after policy review and property shares fall by 7.3 per cent since the apex bank raised bank provisioning requirement for commercial real estate loans. This could be one way for them to signal rate hikes earlier than in distant future. The RBI which has been under pressure from government for quite some time to maintain its loose monetary policy, kept its growth forecast for the current fiscal at 6 per cent with an upward bias. The Central Bank raised its fiscal year-end projection of wholesale price inflation to 6.5 per cent from earlier 5 per cent, reinforcing market expectations that it would start raising rates early next year. According to the apex bank, the "exit" process can begin with closure of some special liquidity support measures that were initiated to withstand the pressure of global down turn because the economy has started showing some signals of recovery. From this point of view, the RBI's stand on monetary policy as announced in its second quarterly review appears to be encouraging since it is accommodative to the need of fulfilling economic recovery gap.
THE ASSAM TRIBUME
VILLAIN OR VICTIM?
Given the current geo-political context, there are too many complexities in a multicultural and multi-religious society for any simplistic appraisal or judgement. For instance, just because the US has elected a black President, it would be fatuous to claim that racism no longer exists in America. It is also a fact that the so called "war on terrorism" led by America has so changed the profile of a Muslim in the collective American psyche that even third or fourth generation American Muslims are feeling the pinch. No doubt Major Nidal Malik Hasan, by going on an insane killing spree at America's biggest military base that claimed thirteen lives and wounded many more, had committed a heinous act that does not deserve either compassion or mercy. Yet, if we make a dispassionate analysis of the factors that drove him over the edge, it is difficult to judge whether he is a villain or a victim. By all accounts, after the September 11, 2001 attacks he had been subjected to mental torture by the very comrades of an army he had called his own for the greater part of his life. Reportedly, his neighbours too had not been kind to him, throwing garbage at his house and painting derogatory graffiti on his car. As a practising psychiatrist he had been traumatised by stories related to him by patients who had returned from active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He had, in fact, been seeking for many years to be discharged from the military, but had not been allowed to leave. On the contrary, he was posted to Afghanistan, seemingly the last straw that snapped him, his shooting outrage taking place the day before he was to leave. His personal profile portrays him as an educated but over-sensitive, deeply devout introvert who could no longer tolerate the inimical environment around him and slid into insanity. Ironically, he had let out enough pointers that should have alerted the American intelligence agencies, even posting a piece on the internet under his own name comparing Islamic suicide bombers to Japanese Kamikaze pilots and extolling them as heroes who sacrificed their lives for a noble cause. At the Walter Reed Army Medical Centre where he worked his colleagues recall his outspoken opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet neither was he taken in for interrogation nor a probe launched against him. Nidal Hasan had been ticking like a time bomb about to explode, yet astonishingly no one took notice. It cannot, therefore, be denied that the American army intelligence is as much to blame for the slaughter as the Major himself. Unfortunately, this tragedy might irrationally enhance anti-Muslim sentiments in the US. Yet an episode of this nature requires introspection and understanding, rather than mere condemnation.
THE ASSAM TRIBUME
WHEN DREAMS TURN SOUR
Every movement starts with a vision. So too did the Bodo movement. It was born out of a genuine desire among some of the more enlightened and educated Bodos to improve the lot of their lesser privileged sorority. Unfortunately, every movement also requires resources for its sustenance. This is where the problem begins. The National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) started in 1988 with the aim of demanding a sovereign state along the lines of the ULFA. But it soon lost its moorings. It has killed more people than we can count and for reasons that are unclear. Both civilians and security forces have been mowed down mercilessly. Like all militant outfits the NDFB extorts money for its upkeep. Once that happens violence and bloodshed are simply by-products.
In every such movement the role of the nation state has never been dispassionately analysed although that is very much called for. Why for instance did the Bodo Liberation Tiger (BLT) emerge? What are the points of disagreement between the NDFB and BLT? Is it only because of the spoils of office that the two have become antagonistic towards each other? Where are the Bodo people in all of this? Does the NDFB still have the mandate of the Bodo people to carry out its armed struggle? Did the outfit seek the people's consent to adopt the path of violence? And why have the Bodo people now become targets of these factional fights between those ostensibly surrendered but are still armed to the teeth, those in ceasefire mode and those against the ceasefire? Who gains from this confusion?
It is indeed a complex tale that the movement for a separate Bodo state which started in 1986 should now result in a fratricide that has worsened with time. The Bodo accord signed in 1993 which was the culmination of a movement started by the All Bodo Students' Union (ABSU) secured an autonomous homeland for the Bodos through the creation of the Bodoland Autonomous Council (BAC). But evidently the BAC did not have much teeth and those who headed it perhaps lacked the vision and sincerity of them.
The ABSU went back to the warpath and renewed their demand for a separate state but still operated within the paradigm of the Indian Constitution. It was the BLT which had adopted the path of violence even then. Interestingly, in 1999 the BLT unilaterally decided to suspend its operations and also gave up the demand for a separate state. They agreed to a more robust form of the Sixth Schedule which gave the Bodos overriding powers over their land, ensures protection of their cultures, traditions and their identity and a form of self rule in an area demarcated as the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous District (BTAD). The major problem with this short-sighted arrangement is that the Bodo areas are not contiguous and the Bodos are not the only inhabitants in the BTAD. They number only a little more than half the population, the rest being non-tribals many of whom are defined as 'illegal migrants.' They include the Muslims and Adivasis. Interestingly, large segments of the BLT leadership joined the new democratic arrangement the BTC. The NDFB was out of this new power centre. A section of the anti-talks faction of the NDFB continues to stick to their demand for a sovereign Bodoland
The assertion for statehood demands that Bodos show their numerical strength within a particular geographical area. This is the genesis of violence. It led to ethnic killings where the Adivasis were sought to be driven out of their age-old settlements. Several thousands have been displaced in this ethnic clash and they include both Adivasis, Bodos and other settlers. The ethnic clash of October last year in Udalguri and Darrang, evidently engineered by the NDFB where Muslims were special targets was a bloody mess. Perhaps unknown to many, it was a section of Bodo youth who quelled the violence. The role of the state in the October 2008 violence in Udalguri and Darrang has remained enigmatic. Those who witnessed the conflict from close quarters said that a section of state police played a very dubious role. Actually this calls for a more incisive enquiry but in a situation that is so murky and so embedded in violence agent provocateurs always have a filed day.
In the midst of this ongoing turmoil there is now a ray of hope in the pledge made by the ABSU on October 2, this year to usher in a climate of peace and non-violence. This significant move by the ABSU which is more than a students' body but includes at least about 55,000 youth members with units in every nook and corner of Bodoland, appears to have the support of the Bodo people but not of the Bodo politicians particularly the Bodoland Peoples' Front led by Hagrama Mohilary which is sharing power in the Congress-led government in Assam. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Once in power politicians cease to represent the people but develop their own vested interests. This greed for power and money makes politics an obsession. The need to be re-elected so that the same people can perpetuate their wealth creation objectives is so dominant that politicians will stop at nothing to achieve those objectives.
It is no secret that the BLT which ostensibly gave up arms a decade or so ago never actually surrendered all their weapons. They have now resurfaced in a new avatar called the Bodo Royal Tiger Force (BRTF) and have become a mercenary force used by ruling politicians to finish off their rivals, the two factions of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), particularly the ceasefire group and other political opponents. The BRTF has no ideology; only a one-point agenda to kill those they are ordered to. Even today young people are actively wooed to join the new outfit. They are paid salaries and are given arms training. Where the money and the weapons come from is no secret. Just as large chunks of money from the North Cachar Hills District Council is diverted to fuel violence in that area so also development funds meant for the BTAD and administered by Bodoland Territorial Council currently led by Mohilary is investing in violence. A couple of months ago, Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh pointed out that the special funds allocated for the BTC have not shown any visible results. Mohilary protested vehemently literally telling the Prime Minister to shut up. Dr Manmohan Singh has complied. He has probably been advised by Tarun Gogoi not to make such compromising statements since the BPF is part of the Congress regime.
The youth who return from their training become blood-thirsty, unstoppable killing machines. Although some have had a change of heart and revolted against the idea of violence, it is not easy for them to return to the path of peace since that is attended by death threats. That this killer force is also donning the garb of a political party, the Bodoland Peoples' Front (BPF) is enough to tell us that the reign of terror has just begun in Bodoland and that politicians are nurturing their private armies to fight political battles. One cannot think of a more dangerous trend than this. It means that money alone is not enough to win votes. People will also be coerced to vote a particular candidate and party at gun point. More sinister is the fact that the state is complicit in all of this. But why should we wonder? Tarun Gogoi needs the support of Mohilary's BPF and he is not interested in upsetting the apple cart by containing a violence unleashed by his colleagues on their own people.
The ABSU has brought out a booklet titled, "The Killing Enigma in BTAD" listing out the number of internecine killings between January to December 2008. Those killed are mainly able-bodied males aged between 25-40 years, although women have also died in the indiscriminate firing by 'unknown' or 'unidentified' militants. Altogether 75 people have been gunned down during this period and the police are not keen to find the killers since they too are aware of the insidious political games played at the expense of peoples' lives.
Today the Bodo people live in a state of perpetual fear at these targeted killings. In their ruminations the Bodos have begun to realize that they are being killed by their own people. The dreams of a homeland where people would enjoy the fruits of development and live unfettered lives have today turned into ashes. Can the ABSU yet build something out of these shattered dreams?
THE ASSAM TRIBUME
TERROR OF RELIGIOUS FANATICISM
Our world is torn asunder by people who claim that God is on their side, and who secure in the righteousness of their positions, perpetrate acts of violent destruction. Such people are driven by the certainty that they are privy to sacred truths, and are therefore morally obligated to do everything in their power- no matter how many people may suffer to act upon these truths. Coupled with their inflated sense of personal rectitude, moral certainty and ideological purity is a tendency to dehumanize and even demonize those who oppose them. It is an emotion of being filled with excessive and uncritical zeal for a religious cause. This is an extreme form of religious fundamentalism. Such a phenomenon and behavior can be defined as religious 'fanaticism' and the people as 'fanatics'. Sadly, no religion or community has succeeded in making itself an exception.
The crusades of the Christians in the medieval ages with the battle cry ringing out'Deus to volt' meaning 'God wills it' and sanctioned by the Pope to reclaim the Holy Land from the Muslims had devastating effects with millions of casualties. Even on the eve of war in Iraq, George W Bush thought of a 'crusade' which latter he dropped from his vocabulary fearing the Muslim nations and waged an unjust war on the pretext of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction and promising the world to bring about democracy in Iraq. His ally, Tony Blair said that he was prepared 'to meet his Maker' with a clear conscience after the war. While facing the US led allied forces, Saddam also called for a Jihad; however other Muslim nations did not join with him. Osama bin Laden praised those who attacked the World Trade Centre in New York and termed the devastation as a 'punishment from Allah'. The Srilankan Prime Minister Bandaranaike was gunned down by a Buddhistmonk. .A few political leaders who were present at the site of Babri Masjid rejoiced when it collapsed. After burning alive of Australian leprosy mission worker Graham Stains and his two sons in Orrisa, the assailants led by Dara Singh shouted with exultation 'Jai Shri Ram! Jai Bajrang balli!' These are just a few examples of religious fanaticism found in almost all religious communities. Can those who do such acts be regarded as scared and pleasing to God who is believed to be the Creator and Sustainer of all life? What acts are these? Are these acts.of righteousness or sins of murder and blasphemy? To what kind of religions the fanatics belong? To this extent, Karl Marx was right when he said, "religion is the heart of a heartless world".
It has been roughly assessed that over eight hundred millions of people have been killed in the name of religions at different wars and conflicts throughout the history of humanity. Then what is wrong with religions when most of the founders of world religions such as Buddha, Mahavira, Jesus Christ, Mohammad and Nanak were preachers of love, peace and non-violence? It seems that some portions of religious scriptures say about use violence and holy war. However, these need to be interpreted taking into account the historical contexts which may be balanced by comparing with other portions of scriptures that speak about love and communal harmony among people of all faiths. It is important to understand the overall message of the scriptures and relate the same to the present context of religious and cultural pluralism of our society. Otherwise, taking out certain texts out of context in order to suit the purpose of fanatics and uncritically transferring the same to our present context will propound God of one religious Community-against God of other communities. Does God not remain essentially the same even at our variance and amidst our conflicting truth claims? Therefore, any violence in the name of religion will be found irrelevant and even antireligious. Hence the hermeneutical question of scriptures is crucial for maintaining peace and communal amity.
It is important to have a positive and wider outlook for each religion, lest narrow dogmatism with exclusivist view which Swami Vivekananda termed as 'frog in the well' will lead to religious intolerance and fanaticism. No body can fully comprehend the infinite divine with finite human knowledge and understanding. This envisions allowing the religions above our horizon in a spirit of mutual love which alone can bind people of all faiths and ideologies together as a global community.
It is true that the gap between profession and practice in any religion has been almost unbridgeable and that religious fanaticism has caused untold harm to society. Religious leaders must strive to ensure that the teachings of their respective faiths are seen in the daily life of the believers, in which love, peace and communal harmony are the most important tenets. Moreover they must teach their communities to be tolerant and respectful towards people of other faiths and to avoid fanaticism and fundamentalism. It is also important to call for dialogue and collaboration of one community with other communities for common cause of justice, peace and harmony in society. Such interfaith relations and cooperations will help to remove misconceptions and prejudices of one community against other communities and thereby building trust and fraternity among people of all faiths.
(The, writer is Pastor of Guwahati Baptist Church).
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
A SHIFT TO THE CENTRE
The bypoll results declared on Tuesday buttress three significant political trends: a wider revival of the Congress party, steady erosion of the BJP and steep reverses for the Left. Given the CPI(M)'s total rout in West Bengal, the results might be more immediately significant on the last count. The CPI(M) failed to win even a single seat of the 10 contested in the state and also lost all three seats in Kerala.
That would certainly portend gloom for the Left as both the states are set to hold assembly polls in 2011. Recent electoral reverses posit that the failure of the Left, particularly the CPI(M), is deeper than issues of leadership or organisational lapses. In West Bengal, particularly, the problem is that the Left's politics, through a process of institutionalisation, is now the reverse of what it was meant to be a bottom-up socio-political mobilisation. It now resembles a power structure that operates by using coercion and patronage networks.
But it is also debatable whether the Trinamool Congress (TC), which won seven seats in the bypoll, can truly provide the alternative. Mamata Banerjee's outfit has largely been driven by a sort of reactive politics. And the TC has been able to take advantage of discontent over misgovernance, the CPI(M)'s use of political violence and the larger issue of land consolidation. It is a moot point if the TC will be able to deliver what the state badly needs: a balancing of industrial development with participatory land consolidation, and a reversal of the tradition of political violence.
The BJP has continued its losing streak in Uttar Pradesh, while the Congress has certainly more reason to feel satisfied. In fact, with the wresting of the Firozabad Lok Sabha seat from the Samajwadi Party (SP), there is bound to be more talk of a revival of the Congress in Uttar Pradesh a development that could well define the shape of national politics for years to come.
But if the SP is losing its Muslim/Yadav/Lodh plot, the Congress still faces a worthy adversary in the BSP, which has done reasonably well since its stumble in the parliament elections, winning nine of the 11 bypoll seats this time. Clearly, despite signs of a resurgence and Rahul Gandhi's spadework, the Congress has a lot more to do on the organisational front in the state.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
SMES DRIVE INDIA'S GROWTH TO PROSPERITY
The move by capital market regulator Sebi to ease stock listing and trading norms for small and medium enterprises (SME) can be but one step towards removing the panoply of constraints that they face on a daily basis. Finance, or the lack of it, at the right price and on time is, after all, a recurring problem. It makes sense to exempt SMEs from the eligibility criteria for initial public offerings and follow-on offers.
But, in tandem, what is required is to remove routine informational rigidities between SMEs and lenders and potential investors. It's the untoward presence of huge informational asymmetries that intrinsically heighten credit risks and transaction costs for the SME sector. Banks, of course, are required to meet the credit needs of SMEs as a part of their priority sector lending requirements.
Also, the RBI has directed all banks to introduce standardised credit appraisal systems. Yet, SME lending by banks barely adds up to 2% of GDP. Worse, some studies suggest that banks seem to be stepping up lending for microfinance and self-help groups (as a part of their priority sector lending) at the expense of SMEs. Hence, the need for institutional reform to rev up informational systems on SMEs.
What is required is a more responsive policy mechanism to finance SMEs. Sebi's new guidelines for listed SMEs have rightly done away with the standard requirement of disclosing quarterly results; semi-annual figures would do, the intention being to reduce costs and overheads. But concurrently, what is necessary is an array of advisory and business development services focused on SMEs: the idea is to improve credit and business-performance information.
We need a thriving SME sector to boost entrepreneurship and risk-taking pan-India, and spur innovation and growth. Hence, the need for proactive policy support for SME clusters to shore up demand and supply of finance. Actually, there seems scope for innovative financial products to reduce credit risks for SMEs and boost investor comfort. Additionally, there's the need to address the problem of delayed payments and rationalise the tax regime for SMEs. Equity finance for SMEs deserves a leg up.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
A HANDS-OFF APPROACH IS OFTEN BEST
Condolences have become a tricky matter for prime ministers these days. Last week, Dr Manmohan Singh wrote to the family of a person who died after he was denied entry to a hospital in Chandigarh because the PM was attending an event there. His note expressing his 'profound sense of sadness' and 'deep regret' went down well with the bereaved family, one of whom was quoted praising a 'person of this stature' for taking the time to write to 'common people like us'.
Gordon Brown, however, got an entirely different reaction when he wrote yet another letter to the mother of a British soldier who had died in Afghanistan, conveying his condolences. In this era of intense scrutiny, a touchy-feely gambit can backfire on politicians if they are not temperamentally inclined towards it, due to which the public perceives the gesture as noblesse oblige instead.
When his proforma letter predictably drew an incendiary response from the lady, Mr Brown compounded his problems by subsequently telephoning her as a covert recording of the conversation found its way into the tabloid press. Judging from the published transcripts, the lady was clearly not overawed by a 'person of this stature' ringing her up as she berated the PM for her son's ordeal in Afghanistan.
What apparently incensed her most, however, was not his stilted attempt to 'pass on' his condolences, nor his defence of the British troops' state of preparedness, but the fact that his handwritten note also paraded in the media was riddled with spelling mistakes. Besides decidedly bad handwriting, it seems the British PM has a propensity for dropping the letter 'e' from words.
His handwriting could be held responsible for most of the 25 mistakes in the letter, and the mother of another fallen soldier subsequently recounted that Mr Brown's letter to her had similar mistakes. The controversy may never have arisen if Mr Brown had instituted a practice of sending typewritten letters. Dr Singh does. A hands-off approach is sometimes best.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
'HALF-YEARLY DISCLOSURE RULE INVESTOR-FRIENDLY'
REENA ZACHARIAH & MV RAMSURYA
MUMBAI: Market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India's (Sebi) latest decision to mandate disclosure of balance sheets by companies on a half-yearly basis is being viewed as a precursor for listed entities to mandatorily disclose their cash flow statements, a person familiar with the development told ET. Auditors say the move will improve transparency by giving investors a better picture of the financial health of the company.
The two half-yearly balance sheets may not be exhaustive compared to the one provided to the investors at the end of the year. But using the two balance sheets, an investor will be able to work out the cash flow details of the company.
Post the accounting fraud at Satyam Computer Services, the markets regulator has been tightening disclosure norms on a continuous basis so as to prevent or, at least, minimise the recurrence of such incidents. The Rs 7,000-crore fraud at Satyam came to light only after its former chairman B Ramalinga Raju admitted to cooking up the company's accounts over a seven-year period, underscoring the negligence on the part of the internal auditors and external agencies.
For half-yearly disclosures, companies need to provide the bourses with information about the credit rating on various instruments, asset cover available, debt-equity ratio, the previous due date for payments of interest or principal and the next due date.
The information which is to be mandatorily sent within a month from the end of the half-year period will also mention whether the company had made payments on the interest/principal. Financial experts have welcomed the new Sebi rule seeking disclosure on the solvency position of listed entities to the shareholders saying that it will provide valuable information to the market.
"In the past, disclosure of results provided information on the performance of a company but that could have come by taking an aggressive and risky position on the balance sheet," said Dolphy D'Souza, a partner at Ernst & Young. "Now the investor will have a picture of the company's performance and its liquidity and financial position also."
The move is also in line with the practices followed in the US and Europe and is a precursor towards migration to the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). Indian-listed companies, which currently follow Indian GAAP-accounting system have to adopt IFRS by FY011.
"In the US, there is the Form 10-Q which is a quarterly report where companies file unaudited financial statements with the Securities and Exchange Commission. This proposal by Sebi is a move in that direction," said Vaibhav Manek, founding partner of tax and audit firm KNAV and an American Certified Public Accountant.
Under the US Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 10-Q must be filed quarterly and contains information similar to the annual form 10-K, but with lesser details. Information for the final quarter of a firm's fiscal year is included in the 10-K, so only three 10-Q filings are made each year. US companies have to file the form 10-Q within 45 days from the end of the quarter.
Unlike other decisions regarding change in accounting norms, the half-yearly disclosure won't delay the process. According to KH Viswanathan, an executive director, with RSM Astute Group, the move can be complied by companies. "Companies preparing the profit and loss account can also prepare the balance sheet. So, I don't see any additional burden on the companies," Mr Viswanathan added.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
DISTRIBUTORS NOT GAME YET FOR MF FEE DISCLOSURE
MUMBAI: The adage 'old habits die hard' may be apt for many mutual fund distributors, who are struggling to come to terms with the greater transparency that has come along with the new fee regime. Despite market regulator Sebi mandating distributors to reveal their remuneration from mutual funds for selling a scheme to clients, they are reluctant to do so.
Some investors say their distributors, of late, have been aggressively recommending some of the older equity schemes, without assigning any specific reason. This is a bit surprising considering that distributors are more interested in selling bank fixed deposits and unit linked insurance plans (Ulips), which fetch them higher commission compared to mutual funds.
"The distributor was showing special interest in this specific scheme, which was hardly giving any exceptional
returns. When I asked him about the commission he would receive from it, he refused to disclose anything, but said he was ready to give 0.25% rebate on a minimum investment," said EJK Rao, a Mumbai-based retired banker. In July this year, Sebi and the Association of Mutual Funds of India (AMFI) directed mutual fund agents and distributors to disclose all commissions they receive from competing schemes, vis-à-vis the ones they pitch for.
The step is aimed at arming investors to protect themselves from 'mis-selling' by distributors, the reason why the market regulator clamped down on distributors' commission and increased disclosures. Distributors are relying on a grey area in the recently-introduced disclosure norms, where the market regulator has not specified the way distributors should inform investors about the fee they have received from the fund house.
But, most distributors and wealth advisors said they are verbally informing their clients about the commission they receive only on demand. "We have been adhering to the new disclosure norms by verbally communicating to the clients, but the fact is there is no clarity or any template as to how distributors should disclose the fee they get," said Gaurav Mashruwala, a Mumbai-based wealth advisor. "Sebi needs to clearly mention how should distributors reveal the commission they have earned," he added.
Distributors, who have resented the Sebi move to enforce disclosure of commissions, said they will continue keep the communication with clients verbal, till the market regulator comes out with a format. The toughest aspect of the disclosure norms to implement would be providing the comparative commission structure of one scheme compared to that of competitors, distributors and mutual fund officials said.
"In some of the debt or equity diversified fund categories, there are so many competitive schemes. Does the client really need to know how much does the distributor gets for each scheme?" asks a sales head of a private mutual fund.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
INVESTORS CONTINUE TO SHUN RIGHTS ISSUES
MUMBAI: For investors, memories of last year's failure of the mega rights offers of Tata Motors and Hindalco refuse to fade away even in the current bullish market conditions. Apathy towards the rights-issue market continues as quite a few medium-sized offers have met with tepid response from shareholders, prompting the promoters to salvage the issues by chipping in with their own contribution towards the unsubscribed portion.
Attributing reasons for the low subscription levels in some of the recent offers, merchant bankers say the pricing may not have been attractive to shareholders. Another reason could be a delay in getting Sebi approval because of which the discount offered to the shareholders narrowed or evaporated by the time the offer opened for subscription.
In such a situation, shareholders may have chosen to buy shares directly from the open market instead of going through the time-consuming process of applying shares through rights offer and waiting for the allotment to happen, according to the bankers.
According to data collated by Delhi-based primary market research firm Prime Database, rights offers of a few companies such as Fortis Healthcare, Television Eighteen (TV 18), Wire and Wireless India and Tinplate attracted subscription of 35% to 85% of the total size, which was below the Sebi-prescribed minimum subscription limit of 90%.
A look at price movements of the four companies shows that the stocks were quoting at a small premium or even at a discount when the offers were on. "Most shareholders would like to invest in the rights issue only if the offer is at a reasonable discount to the market price. If the price is on a decline during the offer, a negative perception could arise among the shareholders, affecting its prospects," said Prime Database MD Prithvi Haldea.
Promoters usually prefer the rights issue route for raising funds, as it does not dilute their holdings in the company. In poor market conditions, promoters are able to raise their stake in the company cheaply, by buying the unsubscribed portion of the issue.
"Pricing could have been one of the factors for the poor response," said G Shiva Ganesh of Mumbai-based merchant banker Collins Stewart Inga. He also blames the delay on the part of the regulator in clearing rights issues.
"The price may initially look attractive but any delay in receiving Sebi approval could make the rights issue an unattractive proposition," added Mr Ganesh. Collins Stewart Inga was the lead manager to the Rs 40-crore JMC Projects rights issue which was subscribed 1.1 times.
Fortis Healthcare's Rs 997-crore offer received 71.7% subscription, prompting the company's promoters to pick up the remaining 28%. Post-issue, the combined stake of the promoters and other group companies rose to 76.5% from 68.5% as on September 30, 2009.
Promoters of the four rights issuers, barring TV 18 have put in their own money amounting to nearly Rs 500 crore to ensure their respectively offers are fully subscribed. The Rs 504-crore TV 18 offer received 85% subscription but managed to get it subscribed fully with the help of allotment of additional shares to renouncees among the existing shareholders. Tata group's Tinplate Company's Rs 194-crore equity issue and Rs 180-crore FCD offer attracted subscription of 77% and 35% respectively, according to Prime Database.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
WORK ALWAYS OUT OF INSPIRATION
If we observe ourselves closely, we will realise that goals always create worry in us. When we move toward a goal, we move only with the worry about the results. Lord Krishna says beautifully in the Bhagvad Gita, 'The person who does not expect gain or loss from anything works happily with no need even for motivation.'
When we worry, our work gets affected. So, when we are worried about results, the very worry affects the results. Work should always be done out of inspiration, never out of worry. The motivation for any work should be inspiration, not worry. Inspiration is an overflowing energy that expands our capacity to do things. Worry, on the other hand, shrinks our capacity and limits what we are really capable of doing because it takes away our energy.
Another major cause for worry occurs when we constantly try to satisfy someone else's opinion about ourselves. We are conditioned by society to worry about others' opinion all the time. But the irony is that while we are worried about others' opinion about ourselves, they are worried about our opinion regarding them!
When we are worried about other people's opinion, we unconsciously weaken our efforts in whatever we are doing. We divert a major part of our energy toward suffering and worry. We should do things totally and to the best of our ability and not bother about appreciation from others. We should be clear from the beginning that we and not others are our only stronghold. So there is no worry about others.
The world today is highly competitive and everything is measured by productivity. But we do not realise that worry is a waste of time. It is the most non-productive activity. Everyone feels compelled to achieve. Everyone wants to be first and constantly worry about being the last. We should worry only if we do not utilise our ability to the full extent. If we have given our best, there is nothing to feel bad about being the last. It is not a sign of failure; it is a sign of success at a different level.
When we work out of inspiration, we are not bothered about the results. We are bothered only about doing the task to the fullest. Any task done with the energy of inspiration always gives good results. Even if it doesn't give the expected result, we won't feel bad about it because we have received fulfilment simply by doing it. The 'doing' itself will fulfil us.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THE ORGANISED RETAIL IS STILL A FEW FEET UNDER WATER
No, the organised retail is still a few feet under water. The Indian retail story over the last decade was driven by media hype and a quest for valuations where mindless expansion was done even before retailers stabilised their core business models. Last year, most of the retailers found themselves saddled with unviable stores, unsold inventories, poor processes, semi-trained staff and overpaid rentals.
The recession turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It provided an opportunity to clean up the mess and most retailers, trimmed stores, staff, cost and shed a lot of inventory (often booking extra profits due to inflation). So, today the balance sheets of most retailers are looking better and healthier. But, does it mean that retail has put the past behind and now all is the rosy? The answer, unfortunately, is no. Profitability and scalability are.
Out of over 200 formats tried by retailers, only 5-6 have shown profitability. The rest are still to figure out why customers don't come in droves. They are running their business on five myths. First myth: Gather products, stack them on shelves, put price tags and hope customers will come. Second myth: It is not necessary to have staff who know what customers want and that they need to interrupt their tasks to find out.
Third myth: Customers work on cold logic. Fourth myth: Pricing is the core focus of everything (discount or premium). And the fifth myth: Internal efficiencies override consumer convenience. The result is that Indian retail continues to struggle. The day it evolves its own solutions to handle above myths, it will learn to swim both with and against the tide.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
INDIAN RETAIL IS EMERGING WISER FROM THE EXPERIENCE
2008-09 was a year of across-the-board losses for retailers. Shoppers Stop, Reliance Retail and Aditya Birla were some of the big names to post losses, while chains such as Straps, Etam, Subhiksha and Pyramid headed the list of high-profile casualties forced to fold. But now the blues are being shrugged off, and Indian retail is emerging wiser from the experience. When the crunch from the GFC hit India in the second half of last financial year, it surprised as industry too caught up with the good times.
Too many retailers were expanding fast, chasing too many stores and pushing too many products, formats and promotions than what the market was ready for. Too much of focus was on what competitors were doing rather than on viable and sensible market strategies.
Really, at that time, our industry was in a bubble and the result of the downturn was to prick the bubble. It was tough, but it forced businesses to trim fat.
Those that survived have moderated the pace of their store openings. Prudent stock management, focus on proven formats and products, leaner teams, optimising costs are now the mantras for revival. This new self discipline has also helped companies deal with other problems. In reaction to the recent doubling and tripling of power costs, Shoppers Stop has been able to cut power usage by 14%.
A number of external factors have also helped to boost industry's optimism. At the height of the boom, rental prices skyrocketed. And when the services tax on rent was introduced, rentals accounted for a whopping 35 % of all costs for most retailers. Fortunately, with the downturn, rental prices have normalised and landlords are now open to revenue-sharing agreements in combination with lower minimum rents.
Likewise, key consumption indicators are up again; stock markets have revived & the global economy is slowly recovering.
This combination of improved externals, along with Indian retail's renewed focus on profitable growth, has not only shrugged off the blues, but has also been a blessing in disguise. At Shoppers Stop, we think we now have a business model that can weather future downturns.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
DISINVEST FOR BETTER GOVERNANCE
T T RAM MOHAN
The government is set to give a fresh boost to disinvestment. It plans to sell 10% equity in unlisted, profit-making PSUs. It will also sell equity in listed PSUs where the public holding today is less than 10%. These are welcome moves and should have happened much earlier.
Of the 242 PSUs, only 46 are listed at the moment. The proposed move will add another 42 to the list. Selling
additional equity in listed PSUs where the public holding is less than 10% is estimated to fetch the government Rs 28,000 crore. Listing another 42 PSUs will fetch the government Rs 32,000 crore. In all, the government hopes to rake in Rs 60,000 crore.
The proceeds from the divestment will be used for capital expenditure in social sector programmes. To that extent, budgetary allocations for the social sector can be reduced. This will naturally help rein in the fiscal deficit.
But too much should not be made of the fiscal benefits of disinvestment. First, the planned disinvestment won't happen overnight. Secondly, the fiscal benefits of disinvestment are somewhat illusory.
When the government sells its equity in a PSU, it is only realising upfront the value of dividends it would realise over the life of the PSU. Any gain to the fisc in the short-term is offset by a loss of the stream of dividends over a longer period.
So, disinvestment must be seen primarily as an instrument for improving performance of PSUs. Many believe this can never happen because politicians and bureaucrats will keep interfering with commercial objectives. They think the only way to get lasting performance improvement is to privatise, that is, for government to give up control over PSUs.
This is a serious misconception and it has caused much harm. When the NDA was in power, Arun Shourie went all out to privatise some PSUs through strategic sales. His attempts got mired in scandal and there was a severe political backlash. As a result, the first UPA government could not even proceed with disinvestment. The Left and the unions began to oppose disinvestment because they saw it as a prelude to privatisation.
It is simply not true that performance of PSUs improves only through privatisation and not through disinvestment. The great initiatives in privatisation around the world, including the one under Thatcher in the UK, have mostly involved disinvestment (or partial privatisation, as it is called elsewhere). Two-thirds of all privatisation has taken place through disinvestment and these resulted in substantial improvements in these firms' performance.
How can disinvestment and listing on stock exchanges make a difference when the government continues to call the shots? Well, it helps in several ways. Government firms become subject to greater market discipline as the stock price is watched daily. The existence of retail and institutional shareholders acts as a check on political interference that would adversely impact the stock price.
Management becomes more focused on commercial performance when subject to continuous monitoring by analysts and comparison with peers. This explains the trend towards convergence in performance between PSUs and private firms in the post-reforms period, as several studies have shown.
Government ownership is widely seen as an obstacle to good governance. Managers lack incentives, decision-making is slow. But in at least two respects, PSUs have advantages over private firms. One, given the elaborate checks and balances in the public sector, there is less scope for manipulation of accounts. The Satyam type of disaster is less likely in PSUs.
Secondly, the mechanism of independent director can be more effective in PSUs. In the private sector,'independent' directors owe their jobs to the management and often collect fat fees. As a result, they rarely live up to the expectations. In PSUs, independent directors are appointed by the ministries and do not owe their positions to the management.
The PSUs have a chance to build on these advantages and set the standard when it comes to governance. They can become a laboratory for experimenting with ways to improve governance. Here are some things they might do to gain a governance edge over the private sector:
- Include representatives of workers, institutional shareholders and minority shareholders on boards.
- Improve on the present compensation levels for independent directors without erring on the side of excess.
- Create a system for evaluating board performance.
- Devise a mechanism whereby independent directors who perform can graduate from the lesser PSUs to the more prestigious ones.
Thanks to the financial crisis, there is grudging appreciation of the merits of government ownership in the country's banking sector. The UPA government is committed to retaining control in industrial PSUs as well. By raising the standard of governance in PSUs, the UPA government has a great opportunity to prove to the world that the Nehruvian vision of a mixed economy is still relevant in conditions such as ours.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
ITC GREEN DRIVE CLEANS TOBACCO STAIN
T K ARUN
There comes a time in the life of a sustained public relations exercise when perception requires nourishment from reality and action on the ground doesn't just get real but overtakes the hype. So it is with ITC's green initiative and desire to give back to society, resulting in their passionate commitment to triple bottomline reporting: economic, environmental and social.
The bulk of ITC's revenues comes from cigarettes, as anti-social a product as is allowed to be sold over the counter in this country. So the company does need compensatory PR. But that's not all. ITC remains an Indian-managed company, thanks to the refusal of government-controlled financial institutions to sell the strategic stakes they hold to its imperial parent, BAT, one of the world's largest tobacco companies. There is no great public purpose that is served by retaining the control of a tobacco company in India. So, ITC must create a convincing justification.
And so it has, diversifying into high-visibility projects such as e-choupal. And India is better off for it. Today, ITC's green initiatives go beyond PR to a showpiece corporate achievement that other companies will do well to emulate and Indian negotiators on climate change can elocute on, over post-conference cocktails anywhere in the world.
In the words of its chairman, YC Deveshwar, ITC is "the only company in the world, of its size and diversity, to be carbon positive, water positive and solid waste recycling positive." ITC also has these claims vetted by Ernst & Young.
This is no mean achievement. ITC would appear to have worked diligently over the years in all its divisions spanning tobacco, paper, clothing, hotels, processed foods, personal care products, agribusiness, agarbattis
(incense sticks) and information technology, to achieve these results.
There is anecdotal confirmation of ITC's attempt to promote the welfare of rural communities. A voluntary organisation that promotes farmer companies cited ITC as the buyer for the superior coffee beans produced by a pulping unit it has set up in Kerala.
Farmer companies are perhaps the way forward for farmers, given both the capture of cooperatives by politicians and the bureaucracy, and the ongoing organisation of the retail industry, leaving unorganised farmers at the wrong end of an extremely unequal power distribution when it comes to negotiating prices and buying arrangements. Other agro-processing companies would do well to follow ITC's example and patronise farmer companies as and when they come up.
ITC's Sustainability Report 2009 cites the following initiatives on climate change and global warming. As much as 30.6% of the energy used by the company comes from renewable sources. Its farm forestry project has already created a green cover over 90,000 hectares and this area is slated to cross 100,000 hectares over the next few years. Greenery, of course, absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere that's how plants make food. Farm forestry is not expensive altruism either. ITC's paper and paper products division gets ready made raw material from this carbon sequestration initiative, which also creates valuable rural jobs.
Leadership and Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is an initiative by the US Green Building Council, to promote building design, construction and operation to minimise energy consumption. ITC has a huge office in Gurgaon that is LEED certified at the highest level of energy efficiency. ITC hotels all use energy-efficient compact fluorescent lamps (although, not yet the even more energy efficient LEDs, or light emitting diodes) and the ITC Sonar in Kolkata is the world's first carbon-positive five-star hotel.
Its green initiative extends to rainwater harvesting, recycling of waste and effluents. One may quibble whether ITC factors in the carbon dioxide and monoxide released from the millions of cigarettes it sells every year, when it claims it takes away more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases into it.
But there is no gainsaying that it has institutionalised energy efficiency and environmental sensitivity as profitable corporate strategy. That is a significant contribution to modernising India, which other companies can usefully appreciate as an example to follow.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
EXIT STRATEGIES WILL MAKE MARKETS CHOPPIER: JIM O'NEILL
If there were a prize for the economist who came up with the most ingenious label to describe the strength of the global recovery, it would probably go to Jim O'Neill. The London-based global head of economic research at Goldman Sachs says the revival resembles the "thunderbolt'' image that sprinter Usain Bolt uses as his victory sign. Excerpts from an exclusive interview to ET Now.
O'Neill, who coined the term 'BRIC' economies and is one of the world's most closely followed currency forecasters, expects the US dollar to strengthen. He also believes that the rally in gold may have gone too far.
Just how much of the recovery in the global economy and asset markets is because of super-easy liquidity and how do you think markets will react when liquidity conditions tighten and when countries end their stimulus packages?
Obviously, policy has been very friendly to help things recover; and when they start to implement exit strategies in the West, it will probably make the markets choppier. But I think it's a lot more complicated than many people often think. Much of the impetus for world growth is coming out of the big emerging world, led by China. Chinese growth is really strong, and China has already exited some of its own emergency strategies.
They tightened up on bank lending in August and have persisted with it probably up to October. But Chinese growth is based on very strong domestic fundamentals, and much of their emergency policies were put in place to insure themselves from the risk of problems elsewhere. I could say the same about India, Brazil, and moving down the scale of importance perhaps, Indonesia and perhaps one or two others.
Within the developed world, Australia and Norway have already raised interest rates, Australia has done it twice. And these are very typical of small open economies that are benefiting from the whole commodity-price strength and the strength of these other economies.
So, the area where exit from stimulus is a question of real sensitivity is primarily G7, especially the Anglo-Saxon economies the US and the UK, where you have had incredibly strong markets but, until recently, pretty weak economic growth.
The US congress recently extended the first-time homebuyers' tax credit to April next year. Do you expect US fiscal policy to remain expansionary in 2010? Do you see another stimulus package coming?
I think that is open to some uncertainty. There are a couple of key things to watch. Politically, the ongoing health of Obama's leadership position is key: Some democratic mayors and other key allies having lost their seats. Republicans, nearly one year on from the elections, have made their big comeback and so what the administration wants to do through the Congress is probably not as easy as they thought it would be. Secondly, linked to that, is obviously what is happening with the economy.
It's pretty clear to me that at the forefronts of the Obama administration policies is the intention to get unemployment reversed and if we get into spring and unemployment is still going up, I think there is a chance of another fiscal stimulus in the US. One of the reasons why it was very difficult to have co-ordinated discussions or talk about a co-ordinated fiscal exit strategy at the past G20 meeting is that the US and maybe, one or two others was eager to ensure there was enough flexibility so that if the economy remained weaker than they hoped, they might actually come out with another stimulus.
That is still possible, although, given the strength we have got in current cyclical indicators, it wouldn't be my best guess. I think the economy might be actually finally starting to pick up more than they currently think.
How do you read some of the latest economic data, especially the US jobless numbers?
I think we continue to have more and more evidence from many parts of the world that we are recovering more strongly from this mess than the consensus thinks. We have our own proprietary global leading indicator I have been jokingly describing it now for the past three months as my Usain Bolt chart. If you look at the annualised momentum of the 3-month moving average year-on-year, it's more than a V.
It looks like a written version of how Usain Bolt celebrates when he wins the 100-metre race. And it's suggesting to me that the momentum behind the recovery is really strong. Weekly jobless claims are one of the components of our index and that and many other signals such as the South Korean export data that we use continue to show improving signs. And the real interesting development as we come into November is that there are increasingly fewer places showing disappointing data. Surprise indices whether in Europe or Asia and also now in the US and here in the UK they have all been showing generally good performances in the past few weeks.
What's your short-term view on the US dollar? Is the weakness overdone?
The whole idea that the dollar is in its final years of existence and that something else is going to take over the key role of the dollar, I just simply don't share that. There is no real alternative to the dollar. There will be, whenever the Chinese decide to fully allow the convertibility of the renminbi, but that could be another decade, certainly another five years.
So, when people talk about that part of this issue, it's all very excitable and emotional and interesting but I don't think it is grounded in any evidence. And the fact that the dollar goes up every time we have bad news is highly revealing. And the second part of it, I would say is that this sort of correlation between people wanting to take more risk and the dollar going down is not necessarily a permanent relationship. At some stage of better economic news, particularly coming out of the United States, the dollar will start to rise rather than go down. And my best guess is that in 12 months from today, the dollar is going to be stronger.
At this time next year, I think we're going to be looking at the euro at $1.35 or maybe, even $1.30, and the dollar-yen somewhere between 105-110 yen to dollar. I think the dollar could weaken a bit further in the near future because of this strong correlation (between risk-taking and weak dollar) but it's not a stable correlation and it's certainly one that doesn't have a legitimate history over the longer term.
How do you read the Indian central bank's decision to buy gold from the IMF? Are they expressing a view here on paper currencies? Will other central banks do the same?
It's certainly got the commodity markets and the gold markets in particular remarkably excited. I know some old gold hands telling me this is the most powerful symbolic news in a generation. A central bank like India's being prepared to publicly buy the market price when it's above $1,000 is psychologically a huge statement. And maybe, it's indicative of the emergence of the BRIC countries as being big sources of wealth as well as the fact that many of them have got these enormous amounts of currency reserves and they don't know what to do with them. And so, obviously this is why the gold price has been so strong in the past week.
Against that, gold has travelled a long way and I'm always very cautious about trying to endorse a trend which has travelled a long way when it's not the most liquid and developed market in the world. And as I've mentioned to a few people, there are anecdotes suggesting that this thing might be getting very over-excitable and overbought. I noticed there was an advertisement from Harrods' in a London newspaper three weeks ago about how they're going to start selling gold in their shops. Similar stories about other commodities and currencies in the past have normally been a big warning sign that we're close to the end of the move.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
WE ARE HAPPY AS AN INDEPENDENT COMPANY: TOM LEIGHTON
ABHIMANYU RADHAKRISHNAN & SURBHI GOEL
If you've watched streaming video on a website or downloaded something from the iTunes store, you've used Akamai's content delivery network without probably even having heard of this NASDAQ-listed company with nearly a billion dollars in revenue. MIT Professor Tom Leighton, who along with his graduate student founded Akamai in 1998, serves as chief scientist of the company. He spoke to ET during his first visit to India.
There was a lot of excitement around the Akamai stock recently, thanks to a rumour that Google might be interested in buying the company. Is that a possibility?
There are always rumours. There have been rumours since the very first time we went public that somebody's trying to buy Akamai. But we are very happy and very successful as an independent company and plan to keep growing the company.
What has growth been like for you in India? Will you be investing more in both the sales force and R&D?
There is no announcement but we are growing in India and will continue to do so. Just over the last five years we have grown by a factor of eight in terms of employees. And I expect the growth to continue in India across all sectors of the company right from development, marketing and sales, operation and support.
There is some talk in technical forums that the internet was not built for this volume of traffic or usage such as video uploads, and the web may reach a breaking point soon. Would you agree?
It is true that you try to do video at quality and at scale the infrastructure at the internet is not there to support it. And the money is not flowing in to make that infrastructure work. That's why there's Akamai and we started the company a long time ago. Because if you place your server at the edges of internet and deliver the movie across the last mile, there is bandwidth at the last mile to handle the high quality video and you are not using the central infrastructure to try and deliver it and then it is possible for the internet to handle high quality.
As an academic, particularly one in a non-applied field like mathematics, how different is the corporate world and did you ever imagine your theories would result in a profitable internet company?
They are completely different worlds. Forming a company, especially during crazy days back then, and going through the IPO and then the bubble bursting, is a very different experience from being an academic. Both are great experiences. I love being a professor. The other co-founder David Lewin loved being a student. But we also enjoyed starting a company. They are different lives. I spent my life before Akamai proving theorems. About computer systems, there were theorems that very few people would read about from the paper and know the impact on practice and this was a rare opportunity to make a difference with mathematics.
CONGRESS ON A ROLL, MAMATA TRIUMPHS
The results of last Saturday's byelections to 31 Assembly seats in seven states and the lone Lok Sabha seat of Firozabad in Uttar Pradesh confirms the broad mood of the electorate that became evident in the general election in May. The voter chose to privilege the Congress over the BJP nationally, delivered a blow to the Left, especially the CPI(M), and shattered the élan of the Samajwadi Party, UP's regional and casteist outfit that has made a strenuous effort since the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992 to hog the limelight nationally by projecting itself as a "secular" party. If the CPI(M) was suffering from a want of people's affection, it is natural to expect that the gainers would be the Congress in Kerala and the Trinamul Congress, West Bengal's combative anti-Marxist regional formation. The political space that Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party occupies is more complex to understand. In UP, where it is the ruling party, the Mayawati-led formation had suffered as had the SP and BJP in the Lok Sabha poll on account of the spectacular rise of the Congress. But it had not been humiliated. However, the party failed to make any impact whatsoever in the Assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana, although it was expected to (confirming its below par showing in the Lok Sabha poll in Delhi, where the party had a following). This led to the view that the BSP continued to suffer from the hangover of the Lok Sabha experience. Is that assessment in need of revision, considering that the BSP has done as spectacularly in UP this time around as the Trinamul Congress has done in West Bengal? It may be tempting to yield to such an analysis in the light of the results, but this would be at odds with the political climate in which the election was held. It needs to be noted that the BSP won most of the seats at the cost of the SP, whose decline is the real story of the recent byelections in UP. Thus, BSP wins may be taken to be victories by default, and not a basic measure of the party's current popularity. There are also questions raised on strongarm tactics being used by UP's ruling party. On the basis of the byelection results, the politics of the future appears clear enough. First, the Congress-Trinamul Congress association is unlikely to be brought under pressure by the leadership of the two parties, whatever the local irritants from time to time. Like the SP, the CPI(M) is a falling star and linking up with it even at the local level is likely to cost the Congress. The other pointer to the future is the forthcoming confrontation in UP between the Congress and the BSP, with SP's backward caste and family-based political agenda having been consigned to the margins by the electorate. The Congress has gained much in popular perception in recent months on account of its development-oriented non-caste, non-communal programme. But it is early to say that it has stolen a march over the dalit-based party. That is a hypothesis in need of proof or refutation. The recent rise of the Congress has occasioned discussion on whether the country is once again headed for single-party domination as was the case in the era up to Indira Gandhi. On present evidence, this appears too sweeping a generalisation. There is a plurality of political impulses in virtually every state of the country. These are constantly being given expression in diverse ways, regardless of a party's strength in Parliament or a state Assembly. There can be no better bulwark against one-party rule.
THE WALL'S GONE, BUT DIVISIONS REMAIN
BY S. NIHAL SINGH
The 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall leading to the reunification of two Germanys gave the main actors in the drama the opportunity to reminisce about a climactic event which changed Europe's, and the world's, post-World War II future. No one had expected the denouement to happen as quickly as it did, and the West German Chancellor, Mr Helmut Kohl and his long-serving foreign minister, Mr Hans-Dietrich Genscher, were caught partaking of an official dinner in Warsaw on that fateful night.
But 20 years on, there is the beginning of recognition in the Western camp that if the United States in particular had not been so triumphalist in its mood in declaring that it had won the Cold War, Europe and the world would be a far happier place today. More than President George Bush senior, it was President Bill Clinton and his administration that laid the bricks of a new division of the European continent by prolonging the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) and expanding it, thereby keeping the diminished successor state to the Soviet Union on the other side.
It was the almost lone voice of the wise father of modern American diplomacy, Mr George Kennan, who warned his countrymen and the world about the consequences of what they were about to do. But Russia lay supine and disoriented after the fall of the Communist state and in Mr Boris Yeltsin the United States found a perfect match to help demolish the Russian Federation, hemming it with its former satellites, newly baptised as the military allies of Washington.
Remember those were the days best symbolised by an American author trumpeting the end of history. There was only one way for the world to live, by the rules of American capitalism and free enterprise, and Americans were implying that if Russia behaved like a good boy who knows his place in class as a diligent pupil of American capitalism, forgetting its past status, it could find a place in the new order of things.
It is only now being recognised by the West that it was Mr Mikhail Gorbachev who really set the scene for the Berlin Wall to fall. He might be an unpopular man at home for bringing down the edifice of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, but he realised that the only way to revive Soviet Communism he then thought it could be revived was through glasnost (openness) and perestroika (reconstruction). It was his decision not to lend support to ossified rulers of the satellite states by refusing to send Soviet troops to help suppress their people.
The fall of the Berlin Wall anniversary has, of course, come at an awkward moment in the progress of American capitalism. The world is just seeking to dig itself out of the US-induced economic meltdown, the most serious since the Great Depression of the 30's.
Besides, America is fighting two wars and is grappling with a US-pampered Israel refusing to vacate its occupation, and the crises relating to Iranian and North Korean nuclear ambitions. Demands that the US should move away from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict until the two parties ask it to mediate is as ludicrous as it is tragic because Israel exists on account of Washington's military, economic, political and moral support. President Barack Obama is only the latest American President to discover that he has had to eat his words in seeking to enforce a settlement freeze. He blinked, not Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu.
Indeed, if President Obama does not score some successes in the field of foreign policy, the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to him would become a greater embarrassment with each passing day. The truth is that the new President changed the rhetoric of US foreign policy, rather than its substance, and his efforts to engage, rather than stigmatise, the Iranian and North Korean regimes have yet to yield results. In fact, his policy of reaching out to the Muslim world has embittered the Palestinians more because he could not make his first initiative in stopping new illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land stick.
It is, of course, impossible to retrace the steps to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Nato is now an expanding organisation, with the accession of Ukraine and Georgia put off, but not rejected. Russia will always remain the other, but given the depredations of the economic crisis, the West is no longer in a position to demand that Russia become an adept pupil of US-style capitalism.
The redeeming feature thus far has been President Obama's decision to do away with the anti-missile installations on Russia's doorstep, which amounted to a gratuitous provocation.
Chancellor Kohl's decision to go for a shotgun wedding with East Germany was not the best method for reunification, but perhaps that was the only way to get it in the foreseeable future, and then the momentum of the mass movement of imprisoned east Europeans bursting out of walls and wire fences was too great to stop. West Germany had, in fact, to mount a Herculean effort in money and material to pull the eastern part out of its old ways. It is only now that the east is beginning to catch up with the western part and is reminding its western part that the latter has to learn things from the east as well.
Mr Kohl's promise to Mr Gorbachev, buttressed by Mr James Baker of the US, not to move Nato eastward to Moscow's disadvantage was blithely ignored as President Clinton went on a Nato expansion spree. It was left to a former Russian Prime Minister, Mr Yevgeny Primakov, to recollect ruefully that promises, until signed and sealed, become worthless commodities.
What of the future? President Obama has changed the accent of his country's foreign policy in giving primacy to diplomacy, rather than force, and a multilateral approach in the pursuit of national interests. He is seeking a new basis of relations with Russia without giving up the basic American policy of prevailing in the world till as far into the future as possible. Perhaps President Obama realises more clearly than his predecessor that while America remains the indispensable power, it cannot resolve major problems on its own or with ad hoc coalitions of the willing.
TRUCKS, TRAINS AND TREES. PICK YOUR BATTLE
BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
TapajÓs National Forest, Brazil
No matter how many times you hear them, there are some statistics that just bowl you over. The one that always stuns me is this: Imagine if you took all the cars, trucks, planes, trains and ships in the world and added up their exhaust every year. The amount of carbon dioxide, or CO2, all those cars, trucks, planes, trains and ships collectively emit into the atmosphere is actually less than the carbon emissions every year that result from the chopping down and clearing of tropical forests in places like Brazil, Indonesia and the Congo. We are now losing a tropical forest the size of New York State every year, and the carbon that releases into the atmosphere now accounts for roughly 17 per cent of all global emissions contributing to climate change.
It is going to be a long time before we transform the world's transportation fleet so it is emission-free. But right now like tomorrow we could eliminate 17 per cent of all global emissions if we could halt the cutting and burning of tropical forests. But to do that requires putting in place a whole new system of economic development one that makes it more profitable for the poorer, forest-rich nations to preserve and manage their trees rather than to chop them down to make furniture or plant soybeans.
Without a new system for economic development in the timber-rich tropics, you can kiss the rainforests goodbye. The old model of economic growth will devour them. The only Amazon your grandchildren will ever relate to is the one that ends in dot-com and sells books.
To better understand this issue, I'm visiting the Tapajós National Forest in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon on a trip organised by Conservation International and the Brazilian government. Flying in here by prop plane from Manaus, you can understand why the Amazon rainforest is considered one of the lungs of the world. Even from 20,000 feet, all you see in every direction is an unbroken expanse of rainforest treetops that, from the air, looks like a vast and endless carpet of broccoli.
Once on the ground, we drove from Santarém into Tapajós, where we met with the community cooperative that manages the eco-friendly businesses here that support the 8,000 local people living in this protected forest. What you learn when you visit a tiny Brazilian community that actually lives in, and off, the forest is a simple but crucial truth: To save an ecosystem of nature, you need an ecosystem of markets and governance.
"You need a new model of economic development one that is based on raising people's standards of living by maintaining their natural capital, not just by converting that natural capital to ranching or industrial farming or logging", said José María Silva, vice-president for South America of Conservation International.
Right now people protecting the rainforest are paid a pittance compared with those who strip it even though we now know that the rainforest provides everything from keeping CO2 out of the atmosphere to maintaining the flow of freshwater into rivers.
The good news is that Brazil has put in place all the elements of a system to compensate its forest-dwellers for maintaining the forests. Brazil has already set aside 43 per cent of the Amazon rainforest for conservation and for indigenous peoples. Another 19 per cent of the Amazon, though, has already been deforested by farmers and ranchers.
So the big question is what will happen to the other 38 per cent. The more we get the Brazilian system to work, the more of that 38 per cent will be preserved and the less carbon reductions the whole world would have to make. But it takes money.
The residents of the Tapajós reserve are already organised into cooperatives that sell eco-tourism on rainforest trails, furniture and other wood products made from sustainable selective logging and a very attractive line of purses made from "ecological leather", aka, rainforest rubber. They also get government subsidies.
Sergio Pimentel, 48, explained to me that he used to farm about five acres of land for subsistence, but now is using only about one acre to support his family of six. The rest of the income comes through the co-op's forest businesses. "We were born inside the forest", he added. "So we know the importance of it being preserved, but we need better access to global markets for the products we make here. Can you help us with that?"
There are community co-ops like this all over the protected areas of the Amazon rainforest. But this system needs money money to expand into more markets, money to maintain police monitoring and enforcement and money to improve the productivity of farming on already degraded lands so people won't eat up more rainforest. That is why we need to make sure that whatever energy-climate bill comes out of the US Congress, and whatever framework comes out of the Copenhagen conference next month, they include provisions for financing rainforest conservation systems like those in Brazil. The last 38 per cent of the Amazon is still up for grabs. It is there for us to save. Your grandchildren will thank you.
DHONI'S XI OVERRATED?
BY DC DEBATE: GIVEN ITS STATE, THE INDIAN CRICKET TEAM CAN'T TOP THE ICC RANKINGS
DHONI'S MEN CAN'T BRING BACK 90S
BY NAVJOT SINGH SIDHU
For a team that had a role to play in eroding Australia's domination of world cricket in recent times, the series loss at home against the same opposition is an eye-opener. True, it started with India's less-than-impressive performance in England at the World Twenty20 Championships mid-year, and then spilled over to the Champions Trophy more recently. But we all thought that with the qualities that Mahendra Singh Dhoni's men possess, India would fight back soon enough.
Well, they've slipped even further. As far as I can see, the biggest contributing factor has been poor decision-making on the field of play in tight situations. Dhoni's decision to bat first at Guwahati when everyone knows the ball swings there in the mornings, Sachin Tendulkar's needless shot-selection in Hyderabad, or Ravindra Jadeja dashing for a run which wasn't there, are examples.
When Tendulkar was dismissed, having played an incredible 175-run innings in the fifth one-dayer in Hyderabad against Australia on November 5, he left the last three wickets with only 19 to get off 17 balls. How hard was that? It is these crunch situations that India fails to handle properly, and that's not the trademark of a top-ranked team.
That begs the question are Dhoni's men overrated? Well, maybe not. There's plenty of talent on display, but the way they're playing off late there's no chance they'll ever come close to replicating the Aussie era of domination that spanned the late 1990s and the early 2000s.
Winning is a habit for Ricky Ponting's men and that is why they fight harder when they're under pressure. Look at them field and run between the wickets like tigers. If you catch a glimpse of them during team practice, you'll find they work just as hard during practice sessions. Honest toil is part of the process and they take the pains to get the basics right, not leave them to 'chance' like the Indians do.
I draw from experience when I say that India have almost always relied on skill to win their games. When things are going their way, their inherent ability is good enough to hide the tiny mistakes the team is prone to commit. When the going's tough, these small leaks sink their ship.
Too many extras conceded by bowlers, batsmen running themselves out, fielders dropping sharp catches these problems continue to plague India. In recent times, it's happening way too consistently. Don't just blame the out-of-form players, it's the collective thought process that is at fault. And unless the seniors take it upon themselves to instill some urgency in their performance, India will, at best, remain challengers to the top team, not the other way round.
Navjot Singh Sidhu is a MP and former Indian opening batsman
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TEAM INDIA ONLY NEEDS FINE-TUNING
BY SOURAV GANGULY
The way India have performed after our early exit from the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean, I'm sure they can be accorded some leeway. Every team goes through a bad patch, and it's important not to raise questions over their competence on the basis of just on one or two series.
The Australians had a torrid time during the Ashes series earlier this year, and then came back to beat a seemingly invincible England 6-1 in the one-day international series that followed. No one could have seen that coming. Maybe India too are just one series away from producing what they are known for.
Take the case of the ongoing one-dayers. The scoreline doesn't reflect how close Indians were to winning to a few more games. We were unlucky to miss out in the fifth game at Hyderabad on November 5. Had we won, it would have been a tribute to one of the best innings I've ever seen from Sachin Tendulkar.
It's extremely hard to digest a loss like that especially after coming so close, but let's give credit where it's due. Aussie left-arm pacer Doug Bollinger was exceptional. He bowled like a pro on the flat Indian pitches and will be one of the pace spearheads for Australia in the years to come. Any team would have found it tough to face him.
Remember, it's the same Indian team that beat Australia Down Under last year in the one-day international tri-series, with both Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden still opening and in incredible touch.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni has marshalled his troops for quite a while and a great deal of credit goes to him in India becoming the No.1 team, albeit for a brief while. Their performances over the course of the last two years are no fluke.
Zaheer Khan's return from shoulder injury is great news and he'll certainly lift other bowlers including the out-of-form Ishant Sharma's level of play. With the veteran Tendulkar in the form of his life and Gambhir going through a purple patch, what the side need now is simply fine-tuning, not whole-scale changes ahead of the 2011 World Cup in the subcontinent.
I would especially like Dhoni to bat up the order. The skipper paces his innings very well and is well-equipped to face any kind of attack. It's his decision ultimately and he knows best, but according to me good players should always get more overs to bat. Especially when you're chasing big totals, you need your best batsmen to play more overs.
That will add much-needed consistency to the side, which as far as I can tell is just what Dhoni's men need to go right back up there. We have all India's fortunes are on a steady upswing and a few bumps along the way aren't going to ruin the ride.
Sourav Ganguly is a former Indian cricketcaptain
BRINGING UP MANU
BY ANTARA DEV SEN
"Ma, I assure you I have done no wrong. Maybe it is my fate", whimpered Manu Sharma, the convicted killer of Jessica Lall, in the letter to his mother this week. "I want to assure you that I will always stand by the values you have taught me". Most mothers would pale at the thought of being credited with teaching those curious values that have been on such extended public display.
The values the simpering son alludes to in his filmi letter before going "voluntarily" back to jail after a month-and-a-half of gallivanting on parole include murder, lying, cheating, impertinence, deceit, trickery and remaining shamelessly unrepentant. It involves using his long-dead grandmother as a fake excuse to get out of jail and go partying, not keeping to his terms of parole, refusing to admit his mistakes and playing the wounded victim when his crimes catch up with him.
But can we really blame it all on his mother? Or was it us, the society that harbours criminals and allows them to go free, who vote politicians with dubious connections back to power, who taught Manu Sharma those values? Or was it the criminal justice system that takes so long to deliver justice? Or should our political system that mollycoddles criminals for the love of money and power take credit for imparting these values to this murderer?
Our unfortunate country is studded with criminals in positions of power. So Manu Sharma, son of wealthy Congress minister Venod Sharma, escaped the law for years till a public outcry and the Delhi High Court convicted him of Jessica Lall's murder, sentencing him to life imprisonment. Earlier, witnesses said they had seen Manu shoot Jessica when she refused to serve him another drink since the bar was closed.
"The idea was to shoot in challenge," admitted Manu at the time. "It was embarrassing to hear that even if I paid a thousand bucks I would not get a sip of drink." But money does make the world go round and eyewitnesses turned hostile, a bullet from a second gun mysteriously appeared and Manu and his accomplices laughed their way out of what had appeared to be an open and shut case of murder in front of a crowd of witnesses. The rich entrepreneur's son, running a string of sugar mills, hotels, restaurants and discotheques,
was free and happy at his cool hangouts till the High Court delivered its judgment in December 2006.
Now he was out on parole for two months, till he messed it up by being caught in a drunken brawl while clubbing in Delhi, when he was supposed to be looking after his "aged mother" and attending to business in Chandigarh. "The Lt. Governor was pleased to suspend the sentence of the convict for performing religious rituals for his departed grandmother, to maintain social ties, attend to aged mother and also to attend to neglected business interests," said the parole order.
Why the Lt. Governor was so pleased is not clear, considering that according to reports Manu's grandmother had "departed" in April 2008, and the importance of rituals performed a year-and-a-half after death is unclear. Besides, his "aged mother" is reportedly in her early fifties (rather young by political standards) and was very actively campaigning for her husband Mr Venod Sharma, the Congress candidate for Ambala city, in last month's Haryana Assembly elections. Apparently, Manu was also a key campaigner for his father happily, his parole was granted exactly when the campaign was to start.
And if the poor dear had not got carried away with his love of drink and dancing, and had not stupidly got involved in a nightclub brawl with the Delhi Police commissioner's son, he could have happily continued life on parole. He had already got an extension to "attend to his business," which could have been perhaps extended further since we value business, especially when attended to by people with political clout. (No, the business of people who have been killed or families destroyed by the murder of their breadwinners is not our business.)
Now, I have nothing against parole. It is, of course, essential to be human even to convicted murderers. But there is something curious about those who get parole and those who don't. One would assume that only the rich and well-connected have pressing matters to attend to, while ordinary criminals, even if they were charged with far lesser crimes, had no such right.
But following Manu Sharma's peccadilloes this week, the high court pulled up the Delhi government for not following court directions on parole pleas of other convicts. Earlier, in response to a plea by 28 prisoners in Tihar Jail who had pointed out that only five or 10 per cent get parole in Tihar as opposed to 90 per cent elsewhere the High Court had directed the state government to take a decision on parole pleas in 10 days and come up with new guidelines for parole. Now the court has summoned Delhi's home secretary for an explanation.
But Manu Sharma is not the only one out on parole purportedly to conduct religious rituals. On November 1-2, Vikas Yadav, convicted killer of Nitish Katara and accomplice of Manu Sharma in the Jessica Lall case, was out on parole. This infamous son of infamous politician and former Rajya Sabha member D.P. Yadav was attending his sister's wedding in Delhi.
Ironically, Vikas Yadav was serving a life-term for murdering the young man this very sister, Bharati Yadav, had wanted to marry. Now Bharati was getting married to someone her family approved of and Vikas was on parole guarded by plainclothes police to avoid social embarrassment to perform wedding rituals as an elder brother. It was all very touching. But I wonder what ritual there was left to perform for this caring brother who had already performed his family role, having kidnapped (from a similar Delhi wedding) and beaten to death Bharati's boyfriend Nitish, the MBA son of an IAS officer, a man very different from the Yadav clan. And if Vikas Yadav had been jailed in time for destruction of evidence in Jessica Lall's murder, which he was convicted of later, then Nitish Katara would be alive today.
No, I am not sure we can allow Manu Sharma's mother to take full credit for the values Manu flourishes. Most of the credit goes to us to our sleepy legal system, corrupt administration, lazy civil society and of course to our amazingly shameless political leaders.
* Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine. She canbe contacted firstname.lastname@example.org 
OZ SEEKS AN ASIAN FRIEND
BY ASHOK MALIK
Indian foreign policy wonks have traditionally looked at Australia through the prism of the United States. Yet, as Prime Minister Kevin Rudd arrives in New Delhi, it may be Canberra that offers a window to Washington, DC. As Indians worry about the proximity of America and China, President Barack Obama's tilt towards Beijing and a world run by Group of Two, it would be useful to map Australia's recent relationship with China.
Mr Rudd came to power in 2007. Like Mr Obama, he was seen as a liberal who didn't obviously see democratic India as a counterweight to China's controlled polity. Mr Rudd's knowledge of Mandarin also elevated him to some sort of China expert. Given his country's dependence on the Chinese market for commodity exports, it was widely perceived he would move Australia into the Middle Kingdom's orbit.
Two years on, Australia-China ties have suffered multiple blows. Mr Rudd comes to India looking for a breakthrough with the other Asian giant, almost to make up for the setback with the Chinese. What happened? A series of unrelated events combined to leave an impact greater than the sum of their parts.
First, Mr Rudd visited China in April 2008 for a four-day visit that sections of his hosts anticipated would be a pilgrimage. On the first day, he delivered a speech in Mandarin at Peking University where he referred to the human rights situation in Tibet. The Chinese were livid.
Second, in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics, Tibetan protesters came out on the streets in many countries. In Australia, there was an organised counter-mobilisation of the Chinese community both Chinese citizens working and studying in Australia and Australian citizens of Chinese origin. In one infamous case, 10,000 people turned up in Canberra for an anti-Tibet demonstration.
The gathering was noticed. It was unusually large for tiny Canberra, a sleepy city of 3,00,000 people. Many of the Chinese demonstrators had come in from Sydney and Melbourne. Somebody had paid for their travel and mobilised them for this propaganda show. It was later found officials of the Chinese embassy had played a role. This led to concern about foreign diplomats influencing and interfering in a domestic debate.
Third, repeated attempts by state-owned Chinese companies to acquire Australian natural-resource businesses have been thwarted. Earlier this year, a Chinese company tried to buy a copper mine in south Australia but was blocked because the location was close to a defence facility. When a Chinese state-owned company sought to make a substantial investment in Rio Tinto, the Australian iron ore and commodities giant, Canberra delayed permission till such time as an alternative offer came along.
In retaliation, Beijing arrested Rio Tinto executives, including an Australian citizen of Chinese origin who is still in prison. He was accused of spying, a charge later diluted to corruption and bribery.
Fourth, Australia's Defence White Paper, released in May this year, made clear allusions to the Chinese maritime threat, and the need for Australia to ramp up its Navy. Just weeks later, Australia's defence minister resigned following a spate of personal scandals. About the most high-profile of these involved his friendship with an Australian-Chinese businesswoman with supposed People's Liberation Army links.
In isolation, not one of these incidents was big. Yet, seen together, and having occurred in such a narrow time-frame, they ended up conveying the impression of a Cold War. Today, Mr Rudd's confidants argue both the Chinese and his critics misunderstood his knowledge of China for approval of the Chinese system. A nuanced version would suggest that the more outsiders get to know China the more difficult they find it to reconcile themselves to its political economy.
Despite Mr Rudd's efforts, deep-seated scepticism and suspicion about China within Australia's defence establishment and strategic community, its media and civil society could not be held back. As Rory Medcalf, former Australian diplomat and programme director for international security at the Sydney-based Lowy Institute, Australia's leading foreign policy think tank, points out: "Opinion polling by the Lowy Institute shows that Australian public attitudes have steadily cooled towards China over the past two years".
The China encounter of Mr Rudd's Australia can as easily be replicated in Obama's America. There are limits to which Western societies and political leaderships can go in accommodating China. Disquiet about its treatment of internal dissent and the strategic aims of its business investments where these are seen as driven by an expansionist foreign policy rather than plain commerce will not go away in a hurry.
What does this mean for New Delhi? The benefits are obvious but not inevitable. Just because Australia (or any other country) experiences turbulence with China does not mean it will automatically embrace India. However, equally, it does not mean China's economic prowess will inexorably draw Western nations into its sphere of influence and cause them to ignore India, much less gang-up against it.
Opportunities will also present themselves. Having singed his fingers with China, Mr Rudd comes to India eager for a good, meaningful summit. India can exploit this moment and it would be a shame to limit the visit to raising the violence against Indian students in Australia. Important as that issue is, it cannot be the entirety of the India-Australia equation.
The problem is there is no one game-changing phenomenon that can redefine Indo-Australian relations, the equivalent of George W. Bush's nuclear deal. However, bilateral trade is growing. Australia is an emerging military partner for India, in terms of a naval partnership that can straddle the Indian Ocean and, potentially, joint training by Special Forces.
Canberra can help New Delhi's quest for energy security, extending from coal and natural gas to the big one uranium. Uranium exports are a hot button in Australian domestic politics. To sell yellowcake to India, Mr Rudd will have to fight strong opposition within his own Labour Party and will probably postpone a decision till after the general election of 2010.
Whatever the eventual outcome, the upshot is an Australian leader who began his term reaching out to China needs to pull a rabbit out of the hat to, instead, make the India relationship his legacy. That should be a calming lesson for Indian strategic affairs pundits.
Ashok Malik can becontacted at email@example.com 
TIME TO REFLECT ON CONTINUANCE
THE Communist Party of India (Marxist) seems to be rushing headlong to disaster. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's stark foreboding that a political change is coming over West Bengal stands confirmed, if confirmation were needed. The setback in the string of by-elections has been no less severe than the Lok Sabha debacle. The loop of defeats since last year's panchayat elections has been lengthened. The dramatic extension of the Trinamul victories reinforces the trend as the party has now established its ascendancy from the south to more crucially, north Bengal. Palpably again and in a span of six months, the ruling party has been shaken to its foundations. Theoretically, seven of the ten seats were under the Trinamul belt since 2006. For the CPI-M, there can be no hedging the reality that it has not been able to shore up its standing in these seven constituencies, let alone enhance its acceptability. Trinamul has not only been able to hold its fort, but has remarkably bolstered the barricades with the pre-eminent victory in the CPI-M bastion of Belgachia East. Indeed, the outcome must rankle as the severest setback for the ruling party, and voters have reacted to the ghoulish show of Subhas Chakraborty's mortal remains in August with disdain, even contempt. The Left flag flutters only in Goalpokhar, a seat that has been wrested by the Forward Bloc from the hitherto dominant Congress. The upset defeat of the latter, personified in this region by Deepa Das Munshi, is no less critical than the Trinamul inroad into north Bengal. Arguably, the Congress has received its just deserts in the wake of the recent chicanery behind the formation of the Siliguri municipal board. The GJMM victory in Kalchini ~ where the RSP candidate has been trounced ~ is as notable as it is unexpected. Aside from the material implications, it is a moral triumph not least because it will almost certainly lend an impetus to the demands for statehood. The Left's game of prevarication has cut no ice in this segment of the Hills.
The issue the CPI-M must now reflect upon is whether it is prudent to cling to power and go through the motions of governance till 2011. The party gains nothing, the state even less from a government unable to function. Having drawn a blank in the by-elections, holding on to authority will be an exercise in self-deception. That said, a triumphant Mamata Banerjee now owes it to the electorate to spell out her agenda which must transcend the singular demand for the dismissal of the CPI-M. She may well succeed in her immediate objective. But the voter needs more. She may have scripted the dirge of the Communist Party of India (Marxist); she must now define the goalposts.
REAL REFORMS STILL A DISTANT DREAM
THE decision by a member of the Indian Administrative Service to declare his assets and to encourage three of his colleagues to follow suit would appear to be revolutionary, especially in a state headed by a Dalit chief minister who has been hogging the headlines for the wrong reasons by having her statues installed all over with funds from the public exchequer. This may have been partly in response to a similar gesture by 21 sitting judges, including the chief justice, of the Supreme Court and may be cited as an inspiring attempt to bring about transparency and accountability in public life. The point to note is that in the case of the IAS officers, the action is purely voluntary unlike candidates in a state or general election for whom declaration of assets is a statutory requirement. The bureaucrat has long been a campaigner for ruthless steps to eliminate corruption in public life and had wanted public servants, including politicians, to set an example by disclosing their moveable and immovable assets. It would be instructive to know how effective his campaign has been in his own state and how many of his colleagues ~ more important, politicians ~ will now be encouraged to follow his example. The case of Madhu Kota is the latest in a series of scandals involving former chief ministers. The question of scrutiny also arises. The posting of declarations on the website, as proposed by the IAS officer, can hardly be considered a guarantee that the claims are accurate. Even if there is no concealment ~ about which there may be persistent suspicions ~ the figures would seldom reflect the market rates. Those making the declaration have in most cases enjoyed the privileges of allotments at government rates as in the case of plots at Salt Lake in Kolkata which were available at what would now be considered a throwaway price. While honest bureaucrats and politicians would perhaps find themselves in a hopeless minority in serving their conscience, it may be virtually impossible to draw like-minded colleagues to places where temptations are often hard to resist. This is not to mention the overwhelming number of public servants with criminal records who get voted to unassailable positions aided and abetted by their respective parties. Gestures like the one made by a well-meaning IAS officer have a feel-good effect. Real reforms are still a distant dream.
IS THE MILITARY GETTING CASUAL?
EXAGGERATED it might be to describe the incident at Gwalior airport on Tuesday as a "close shave", "near miss" or any of the other standard terms, but that does not conceal the fact that something went seriously wrong somewhere. For an aircraft with a governor and chief minister on board to have to abort a landing, even if on instructions from air-traffic control, because two IAF jeeps were on the runway cannot be written off as a minor slip. It stirs up memories of an IAF helicopter that was part of a Presidential flight making a premature touch-down at Mumbai even as a civilian aircraft was gathering speed after being cleared to take off. The latest incident ~ just an hour before the President was due at the airport ~ has caused enough annoyance for the state government to ask the defence secretary to order a probe: that coming after openly disputing the air force's explanation, actually ridiculing the air chief's line that the jeeps were chasing a dog off the landing strip, and his trying to project the station commander in favourable light for having personally undertaken that "mission". Flag-cars on canine-clearance duties does rate a bit of a chuckle (remember how his predecessor's take on the Mumbai affair was rejected by the DGCA inquiry), surely there are other systems in place to cater to such contingencies. The safety angle apart, the goof-up took much sheen off the presentation of the President's Standard (Colours) to two reputed IAF units, No. 47 Squadron (Black Archers) and the Jamnagar-based Tactics and Combat Development Establishment (TACDE). Time was when "military efficiency" conjured up images of super-slickness, even minor details of every situation having been anticipated and prepared for, and how ceremonial occasions ~ like the presentation of Colours ~ were exploited to display the forces' prowess to the nation at large. That, unfortunately, is no longer the case, to list other goof-ups would be painfully embarrassing, but there can be no denying that in public perception the defence services have lost their aura of invincibility and no longer inspire the confidence of yore. That quite a few "generals" are now facing corruption charges makes the situation rather murky. But what appalls is that the palpable downslide generates not even a ripple of concern in the highest echelons of the army, navy or air force.
'DINOS WERE HOT-BLOODED KILLERS'
LONDON, 11 NOV: Contrary to popular belief, dinosaurs were "hot-blooded" killers just like their modern descendants birds, says a new study. Researchers have found that far from the "terrible lizard" as their Greek name implies, dinosaurs were actually warm-blooded creatures with athletic high metabolisms that could survive in all kinds of cold and harsh conditions.
In fact, the researchers have based their findings on the estimated amount of energy dinosaurs must have expended moving about, The Daily Telegraph reported.
Recent research has shown that the energy cost of walking and running is associated with leg length. Hip height ~ the distance from the hip joint to the ground ~ can predict the observed cost of locomotion with 98 per cent accuracy for a wide range of land animals.
The researchers applied this principle to an analysis of fossilised dinosaur leg bones. They also calculated the actual volume of leg muscle dinosaurs would have had to activate in order to move. After studying 14 different species, the researchers concluded that simply walking and running required too much energy for larger bipedal dinosaurs to have been cold-blooded.
Lead researcher Dr Herman Pontzer of the University of Washington wrote in the Public Library of Science ONE journal: "These results strongly suggest endothermy for larger bipedal dinosaurs, because other explanations require physiological adaptations or locomotor limitations unseen in living terrestrial vertebrates." ~ PTI
A PRESIDENT FOR EUROPE
THE latest summit between India and the European Union (EU) has just been concluded in New Delhi. The topmost dignitaries, the EU President and the President of the European Commission, came here to meet India's Prime Minister and other leaders. As ever, there was a useful discussion, several important initiatives were taken, joint effort on global issues was strengthened and the friendly ties between the two parties were reaffirmed. And as has been too often the case, the public remained largely indifferent. Though these summits are undoubtedly events of consequence, they have failed to ignite much excitement outside the small circle responsible for staging them.
Therein lies the rub. The EU is a potent international entity, the largest global trading bloc and an important participant in international events, yet it lacks an image commensurate with its significance. It is not easy to see what it stands for, and it tends to come across as the creature of the grey men in Brussels, that formidable army of European bureaucrats. Not that Europe lacks prominent and respected leaders on the world stage: far from it. But they tend to be identified with their own countries rather than with the collective body that is the EU. As a result, Europe looms less large than it should by rights, taking into account its economic weight and its grand political and intellectual traditions.
BUT things seem set to change. Nearly two years ago, after prolonged negotiations, the EU agreed in Lisbon on further integration measures which would strengthen the collective voice of the organization. Putting these into effect has been a painful process and is not quite complete, though the necessary follow-up steps have now finally been taken by all the 27 members. Outspoken skeptics about integration, like the President of the Czech Republic, have had to go along with the Lisbon Treaty, despite their jibbing at the feared loss of national identity that it entails. Eventually, the demand to make the EU more effective internationally and thus serve its members better has proved impossible to resist.
The centrepiece of the reformed arrangements is the appointment of a new President for Europe with greatly enhanced prestige and authority. Until now, the Presidency has been assumed on a rotational basis by each of the member-states, for a period as short as six months. The incumbent has been pre-eminently leader of his or her own country and only incidentally and temporarily head of the EU. Now finally, after the last holdout, the Czech Republic, has come on board, the way is clear for a full-time President who will not have to keep a constant eye on his or her domestic base. Moreover, instead of the brief six months until now allotted to the President, the new incumbent will have a run of two-and-a-half years ~ still only around half of what most elected leaders can expect but a significant enhancement. Along with this will be further measures towards political and diplomatic integration, including a more integrated foreign policy. How this will affect major EU countries with well established diplomatic missions across the world remains to be seen but the role of the EU Mission, currently something of a poor relation among the European throng, will no doubt become more significant.
What has immediately grabbed attention, almost before the ink was dry on the final document, is the race for the new Presidency. Former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, made a strong initial showing, with the UK government backing him. His is the best known of the names that have been mentioned but some major countries are not inclined to support him. Many other names have been floated but as yet none seems likely to command a consensus, so, as the campaign proceeds, quite a bit of excitement may be anticipated. But behind all the fun of the campaign and the focus on personalities lie weightier issues which have a bearing on the nature of the EU itself. This is an organization of big and small countries where the smaller ones have always tended to be overshadowed by the big, those which were the European Great Powers of earlier days and still retain wide global interests. How to maintain a balance between them, to unite so many within the EU on democratic principles without losing effectiveness by handing undue advantage to the weak, has been an enduring issue. Echoes of this are to be heard in the current discussion on a suitable choice as President. The more numerous small countries may prefer one of their own kind, for obvious reasons. So the choice is not a simple matter of personalities and has many other implications.
A SINGLE VOICE
ON foreign affairs, there is no doubt that a single, consistent voice from Europe would command greater respect than the chorus that often tends to be heard today. There are important differences of emphasis in the approach of major European countries to key matters like human rights, democracy and terrorism: enough to create a certain amount of confusion. It is evident, too, that the US lead on Afghanistan has elicited a varied response from within the EU, as have Iran and the Middle East. One can add nuclear issues and climate change to the list. The fact that the EU is no monolith can be helpful in some circumstances but it also makes for less effective diplomatic participation in many important areas of international activity. It is to be expected that the stronger centralization that will be brought about with the new-style Presidency will plug some of the holes. The EU may become better able to exert its full weight and to function as a valuable counterbalance to present and emerging super powers.
While Europe has been going through its prolonged internal process of subsuming national identity ~ at least in part if not wholly ~ within the larger collective, the rest of the world has not been idle. Asia has made great strides, to the point that it has become commonplace to refer to the 21st century as Asia's century. Collectively, the Asian economies have become the most dynamic in the world and bid fair to maintain their position. India and China have suffered less and have recovered more quickly from the economic crisis than have other major economies of the world. With this have come ideas of restructuring global institutions so as to reflect this changed reality. Within Asia, there is talk of an Asian Union, an AU to match the EU, not out of rivalry but in answer to an inexorable logic. Such developments may still be far ahead, if they take place at all, but with the changing global reality, the new President of Europe will be dealing with a more complicated world, one to be measured by a different yardstick.
CAST OF POLITICS
Election results from Uttar Pradesh, often considered the true mirror of Indian politics, show that the Samajwadi Party is on borrowed time. It failed to secure a single seat in the by-elections that were held in the state. The principal gainer was the Bahujan Samaj Party led by Mayavati, which increased its tally. What seems apparent from the voting figures is that Ms Mayavati not only held on to her own support base among the Dalits, she also made significant inroads into the vote bank of the other backward classes, the mainstay of the SP and its leader Mulayam Singh Yadav. There are enough grounds to believe that Mr Yadav may have lost the support of even his own caste. There is an obvious shift from the caste-based politics that has prevailed in UP for some time: the Dalit and the OBC votes seem to be clustering around the BSP. If this trend holds it would be safe to conclude that the entire backward caste vote irrespective of the divisions between the OBCs and the Dalits has recognized the BSP as the best vehicle for furthering their collective interests.
The rout of the SP has other, perhaps more significant, ramifications. The Congress has also gained in comparison to the SP, and this would indicate that the latter is also losing its support among the Muslims. In Firozabad, the Congress candidate, Raj Babbar, a former Samajwadi leader, defeated Mr Yadav's daughter-in-law, Dimple Yadav by a decisive margin. Mr Yadav thus lost even in his home turf. It might be too early to speak of a full-fledged Congress recovery in UP but the signs that such a process has already started is more than clear from the election results. The credit for this remarkable turnaround must go to Rahul Gandhi who refused to be lured by short term successes and is concentrating on building up his party's organization and bases in UP. The dividends of this investment are manifest and will increase in the future. The Congress needs to keep its head and not be swayed by offers of alliance from SP to form an anti-BSP front. The BSP remains the main rival of the Congress in UP if the latter is to stage a recovery. But this goal will not be achieved by making short term compromises with unprincipled political entities. With the defeat of SP and the virtual disappearance of the Bharatiya Janata Party, UP is preparing for a battle royal between the Congress and the BSP. This may well determine the future face of the Indian polity and the nation.
It takes quite a bit to fall below Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Pakistan in public health management. But India has managed to put in that extra bit, and has been told off by the World Health Organization for neglecting unlike these countries, but like 40-odd others to tackle measles. Around 160,000 children die of it every year in India, and the solution to this seems to be simple: a second dose of the measles vaccine that would immunize almost all children. Just one dose immunizes far less children. Measles can kill or seriously harm children (and adults), but tackling it is not terribly complicated. Because of polio and the other routine immunization programmes, which too are far from perfectly run, the infrastructure already exists in the country for delivering the recommended second dose of the vaccine to all children. The WHO has been urging this since 2004, but nothing concrete seems to have been done yet. Apart from this apathy regarding the measles vaccine, there is also very poor awareness regarding the treatment and after-effects of the disease. Hardly anybody knows that measles could cause pneumonia or that a dose of vitamin A can go a long way towards pulling sick children out of a crisis.
As with polio, malaria and diarrhoea, India's public health management record remains shameful. Trendy and lucrative prevention and awareness programmes, like those for HIV/AIDS, get a great deal of civil and political attention, but less visible and unfashionable threats, even when they put children at mortal risk, generally get ignored or treated with the utmost lack of will. This is a question of the failure of governance, of inefficient and corrupt public administrative structures. But it is also a question of attitude that unites the bureaucracy as well as civil society. The importance given to public 'issues' is still largely dependent on urban privilege in India. The ignorant and the poor dying of measles in the villages or in slums or on the streets get hardly any attention, and among the ignored and the unnoticed poor sick children are perhaps the most easily not seen. Hence, measles, arsenic poisoning or diarrhoea, the last two because of lack of proper drinking water, remain non-issues, whereas municipalities will regularly involve schools in their tree-planting programmes with ostentatious zeal.
THE ECONOMIC OUTLOOK
DALAL STREET SHOULD NOT HOPE FOR TOO MUCH IN THE SHORT RUN
Stock markets all over the world have been fluctuating a great deal during the course of the last month or so. There was much recent euphoria that the global economy was slowly but surely climbing out of the worldwide recession. But this optimism seems to have been replaced by a significantly more cautious assessment about the future. Many analysts feel that the process of recovery in the major economies will be much slower than was anticipated a month ago. Perhaps, this pessimism has been at least partly fuelled by American unemployment figures, which continue to remain very high, despite the massive stimulus packages provided by the American government.
However, the economic outlook is brighter on the other side of the Atlantic. The euro zone region certainly seems to have emerged from the downturn. There are reports that output in October rose at its fastest in two years. Perhaps a more 'authentic' estimate comes from the European Commission, which now expects aggregate GDP in the euro zones to rise by 0.20 per cent next year. This negligible rate of growth needs to be viewed from the proper perspective the earlier estimate was that there would be an absolute drop in output in 2010. However, even the commission sounds a note of warning, pointing out that several national economies in the region may slow down once the effects of the stimulus packages taper off. So, we are not out of the woods as yet.
The movements in the Sensex have been quite similar to the trends witnessed in the major stock exchanges around the world. The Sensex plummeted during the first few days in November, reaching 15,000. The steep fall in the Sensex reflected investors' fears that the Indian economy would fail to grow at a fast rate if the world economy continued to slump. That these apprehensions were not unreasonable were confirmed by the recently released trade figures for the Indian economy. The woes of the export industries continue unabated. Indian exports declined by 30 per cent in dollar terms during the period, April-September, this year. The only silver lining is that the rate of decline has been gradually slowing down, and there are hopes that exports will revive during the course of the next few months. Nevertheless, there is little doubt that those Indian companies, which depend heavily on export markets, will not declare high dividends next year.
As I write this, the Sensex has resumed its upwards march, and has climbed back to just over 16,000. While this is quite a distance from where it was not so long ago, the reversal of the downward trend is certainly welcome. The immediate cause of the improvement in the Indian stock market was the announcement by the government that it would resume the disinvestment exercise in a limited manner. In particular, the first stage will involve the disinvestment of those public-sector enterprises which have been earning profits for the last three years. The government wants to list them on the stock exchange. According to Sebi norms, at least 10 per cent of their shares must then be publicly owned.
The government has also announced that the proceeds from the sale of shares in these public-sector enterprises will be earmarked for social-sector spending and investment in infrastructure. This announcement is, at least, partly for political reasons. Opponents of disinvestment and there are many of them will find it more difficult to resist this step if the ostensible purpose of the disinvestment exercise is to increase expenditure in sectors that are uncontroversial.
But, of course, this is at least partly disingenuous. The government has been silent on whether the increase in, say, social-sector spending will be beyond the level that was planned before the current round of disinvestment. If there is no net increase in spending in these priority sectors, then it is deceitful to state that the proceeds from the disinvestment exercise will be earmarked for expenditure in specific sectors.
Having said that, there is little reason to oppose the latest attempt at disinvestment. The sale of just 10 per cent of the shares ensures that (for better or for worse) effective operational control of these enterprises remains in the hands of the government. The positive aspect is that the proceeds will swell the coffers of the cash-starved government, which has had to spend heavily in financing the stimulus package. It will also ensure that the government has no need to increase taxes in the near future. Indeed, the finance minister has already hinted that tax rates may be slightly lower once the new tax codes are introduced.
Of course, these positive effects of the disinvestment exercise will not be felt for some time to come. Moreover, the effects will be too small to have any significant impact either on the growth rate of the overall economy or on the profits of individual companies. So, why was there such a dramatic improvement in the health of the Indian stock market?
Perhaps, Dalal Street brokers hope that the disinvestment exercise will be the precursor of a new round of economic reforms. During the last year or so, even the die-hard proponent of the market mechanism shied away from promoting market-friendly reforms the global recession gave capitalism a bad name. However, the relative prosperity and stability of the Indian economy may have revived hopes that the government will introduce some reforms.
Coincidentally, the prime minister has, during the course of a recent speech at the India Economic Summit, also announced that the government will pursue economic reforms in order to promote a higher growth rate. Manmohan Singh mentioned that reforms, particularly in the financial sector, were a necessary step in order to increase the growth rate. He also stated that the government would soon take steps to attract larger inflows of foreign direct investment since the domestic savings rate is not high enough to finance the required volume of investment in infrastructure.
These words must be music to the ears of Dalal Street brokers. But, they are well-advised not to hope for too much in the short run. At least some of the reforms for instance, in insurance will require new legislation. It is doubtful whether the prime minister will be able to muster enough support for the more radical reforms even the Congress is quite divided on this issue. Perhaps, the best that the pro-reformers can hope for are small or ad hoc reforms. Even this looked so unlikely not so long ago.
The author is professor of economics, University of Warwick
LIVING UNDER A SHADOW
CHINA DIARY -NEHA SAHAY
They made headlines around the world, but the place most affected Urumqi learnt of the executions of nine persons for the July riots between the local Uighurs and the majority Han residents of the city by text messages on their mobiles. The messages were sent by the region's information office.
Interestingly, the only mention of the executions in China's official newspaper, the China Daily, was a small news item on Page Three titled "Execution news flies via text messages." Neither the names of those executed nor the time or date of their execution was mentioned, either in the messages or in the news item.
The secrecy is indicative of the clampdown on information and communication in this Muslim-dominated province after the July riots. Since the disturbances, the distance between the Hans and the Uighurs seems to have grown, thanks largely to the mysterious syringe attacks that took place in September. Again, residents were informed of these by text messages sent by the authorities which spread a wave of panic.
People began swamping the hospitals, reporting even mosquito bites as needle attacks. The Hans came out on the streets, demanding more protection and the dismissal of the regional communist party chief who has had a free hand over the region for 15 years, and is, in fact, seen as a hardliner. Five people died in the skirmishes between the police and the Hans, and between the Hans and the Uighurs on that day. Finally, four persons were sentenced for the syringe attacks; two of them were drug addicts who had used a syringe to threaten a cab driver.
In Xinjiang, troops are everywhere, check-posts have increased, bags are checked in malls and city buses have marshals on them. More intolerable than that is the ban on the internet. Residents must travel to a city outside their province to access the internet. Most of those who do so are foreigners and businessmen, probably of Han origin. For the majority of Uighurs who travel outside their region, internet access is often denied simply because they are Uighurs.
A university student, an Uighur, was told this in so many words by an internet café in another provincial capital: "Sorry, your ethnic group can't use the internet.'' He was also denied a room in the city's hotels. When he called to check about room availability, he was told rooms were available. But when he turned up, he was told that no one from Xinjiang would be taken in on orders from the public security bureau. Ironically, the student also works as a photographer for the State-run CCTV. After three hours of being refused a room in various hotels, he insisted that the police come and inspect his documents. After much suspicion that his papers were fake, the police cleared him and he was able to get a room.
Forcing himself to stay calm, the student rationalized his experience by blaming the provincial government. He knew Mandarin, but what if an ordinary Uighur from Xinjiang had to undergo this experience, he wondered. In fact, Uighurs are suspect wherever they travel and that's official policy. A notice on a hotel wall in a university district in Beijing asked hotel-owners to be doubly careful while checking the ID papers of all Uighur and Tibetan visitors and report them immediately to the local police station. The notice also gave phone numbers of local officials. Incidentally, in April this year, a Tibetan student had blogged about being turned away from hotels in Beijing.
The photographer's story didn't end with venting his anger on his blog, which was immediately picked up across the world. Hours later, he took the post off and replaced it with one that spoke of his displeasure that his original post had been used by people overseas. "We are all a big family of the motherland," he asserted.
EAT, DRINK AND BE MANY
The Bengali craze for chow mein, freedom fighters drinking Dab Sherbet, and a charming tea-room destroyed by glitz Calcutta's myriad cultures of food
Twenty-one-year-old Robert is an apprentice at a Chinese restaurant in Tangra. It is run by his parents and was started about 35 years ago by his grandfather, who came to Calcutta with his family from the Guangdong province of China about half a century ago. He can rattle off the ingredients used in the food they make in their restaurant. But when I asked what goes into the preparation of the meals they eat at home, he pointed at his mother, saying only she would know that. The off-hand manner in which she described their fare of boiled rice, vegetables, pork or chicken with a sprinkling of salt betrayed bewilderment. Her amused smile at my question suggested how inconsequential she felt these details were. (She hardly speaks any language other than Hakka, and Robert was translating her answers to me.) The food she prepares for her customers is remarkably different from what she prepares for her family, in spite of the former being a version of the latter. A sizable section of the Hakka community in Calcutta earns its livelihood from restaurants mainly in Tangra. Most of these eateries are small, family-run units, started after the government of West Bengal came down heavily on the illegal tanneries in the area.
A people, it is believed, moves with its food. Culinary habits, much like religious practices, are adhered to as much as possible, even in times of calamities or while migrating. There is an attempt to resist the change, but deviation from set practices of making and consuming food is inevitable. Food, perhaps, is one of the first elements of the culture of a people to bear the brunt of change. Even though a lot of the old practices and nuances are lost, some others are retained, and fusing with the newly adopted lifestyles, create recipes that bear the traces of movement and of the original character of the people.
It is no surprise, therefore, that the history of the Hakka community in Calcutta is reflected in their engagement with their food. Hakka is a Cantonese word for guest. A series of migrations pushed the Hakka people further and further away from their places of origin first within China itself and then to other countries of the world. In this light, the transformation of the Hakka cuisine, especially the Hakka chow mein, through its confluence with other cultures and peoples, becomes part of the story of this ever-wandering community.
The Hakka noodles have rapidly gained the status of a fast food. Represented by roadside counters in cities across the world, its presence in Calcutta is felt in the number of carts and shacks selling chow mein that dot the pavements. A heap of packaged noodles (the most common variety in Calcutta goes by the name of 'Best Quality') is boiled at the beginning of the day. One can see one's plate of chow mein being instantly prepared, as the pre-boiled vegetables (and meat or chicken) go into the pre-heated tawa to be fried in plenty of oil. The vendor will often ask you your preference of sauces, and accordingly add the requested quantities of chilli sauce, soya sauce, vinegar, tomato ketchup, and perhaps even kasundi (a sauce made of mustard paste to which green mango is added for the tang). The makeshift nature of most of the roadside stalls could be said to resemble the wandering, 'guest'-like life of the Hakka Chinese except that most of these stalls are run by Bengalis.
The craze for noodles in Calcutta is somewhat strange. What makes so many people in offices, at parties or gatherings, and on the roads, order chow mein whenever a quick bite is sought? It could be because the flavours in this dish are different from those in a Bengali or Indian meal. The taste of this variety of noodles is far removed from the flavours of the authentic Hakka cuisine where vegetables are not fully cooked, a very strong scent of meat is retained, and spices are used sparingly. The noodles are kept soft, and never deep fried and crispy. The flavours are indeed very subtle as Hakka cuisine tries to blend the sweet, sour, hot and bitter flavours. Therefore, the sharp smell and taste due to the heavy use of soya sauce, vinegar, ajino moto, pepper and chilli sauce all at the same time, is a Bengali legacy to the Hakka chow mein in India. The original form of the Hakka food being too bland for the Indian, more specifically the Bengali, taste buds, a more spicy variety of this dish was fashioned.
What is striking about the production and consumption of Hakka noodles in Calcutta is how closely it resembles the character of the people who introduced it in India. Hakka is a self-appropriated label. The Hakkas are historically considered to be a subgroup of the Hans from the north-central provinces of China. But most of the Hakkas in Calcutta are identified thus not because of their origins, but because of their own perception of themselves as the guest community among the host population. This sense of difference, in spite of being around for four generations, is perhaps the reason why they have not tried to impose their cuisine on the host population, modifying it instead to suit the local palate.
SIPPING ON TIME
Paramount Sherbet on Bankim Chatterjee Street looks as if it has always been there. Tucked away between rows of dingy shops selling everything from books to dim-toast, Paramount can easily go unnoticed by a passer-by. Then it materializes suddenly, almost out of a gap in the Mullickbari arcade. Step into the shop, and you enter a place that seems to have existed forever.
The high ceilings segmented into neat rectangles by the intersecting kari-bargas, the garlanded idols of Lakshmi and Ganesh in the kulungis, and the yellowing photographs of Bengali icons are enough to transport you to another world. Globalization obviously hasn't touched this place. The mounted heads of antlered stags staring down from the walls add to the charm. The present owner of Paramount, Parthapratim Majumdar, informs me that these had been purchased from the nizam of Hyderabad at an auction 80 years ago. His family has owned the shop for 91 years. His grandfather, Niharranjan Majumdar, who started Paramount, was a freedom fighter. In pre-Independence days, the shop acted as a cover for a hideout at the back. Intrigues had been hatched there, and stratagems discussed by the likes of Subhash Bose. Sitting at one of the marble-topped tables of Paramount today, it does not require much imagination to visualize the grimy green curtains dividing the shop proper from the backyard parting to reveal the revolutionaries at a tryst.
Paramount had hosted not only political leaders but also such well-known personalities as Nazrul Islam, Satyendran-ath Bose and Satyajit Roy. Parthapratim reminisces that one of the main attractions of Paramount today, Dab Sherbet, was fashioned by Niharranjan on the basis of a suggestion by Prafulla Roy, who had asked him to prepare a drink that would not only quench the students' thirst but would also be a mouthful. So Dab Sherbet, which is iced coconut water with scoops of the kernel, came into being. The other varieties of sherbet on offer have such tantalizing names as Grape Crush, Malai Sherbet and Cocoa Malai. With most of them priced at a modest Rs 20, Paramount is never short of customers mostly students from the nearby Calcutta University and Presidency College for whom the shop is a favourite watering hole. As I drank my Dab Sherbet, I could not help noticing a young couple who sipped from a single standard-sized glass. Being inherently selfish, I wondered how they pulled off that feat without quarrelling over the share. But then, the girl was perhaps on a diet.
The owners of Paramount have no plans to modify the shop. There were clamours of protests from old-timers when glass cabinets were installed behind the main counter to display the articles on Paramount that have appeared in various newspapers over the years (this is all that the shop does by way of publicity). So they had to close shop for a few days and renovate surreptitiously.
One of the distinguishing features of Paramount has been the constant pounding that serves as a bizarre background music. I remember being baffled by it on my first visit to Paramount. Then I discovered that it was the sound of huge ice slabs being crushed for the sherbets. I felt strangely happy to hear the sound when I visited Paramount this time, after ten years. In this life of flux, at least some things do not change.
FLURYS, OLD INTO NEW
The new Flurys, with its fake-French allure, mind-numbing music and dirty toilets, makes me angry. Flurys used to be a character, but is now just a restaurant. All cities need to have public places that let you be yourself, alone or with people of your choice. Comfort, familiarity and silence, a few trusted things to eat and drink, myopic waiters who know when to disappear and reappear, a general feeling of timelessness, and the right sort of gloom in the midst of bustle: that is all one asks of these places. Flurys had them all. Then came the tarting up, and I remember my shock when told that I couldn't just sit with a cold coffee after six and had to order food.
For a while, the old furniture, crockery, waiters and menu shifted across the street to T3. You began to see the Flurys veterans there, looking bereft, slightly lost but still alive, and felt reassured that all had not been tarted out of existence. But, just when watching life through those lovely windows in the middle of the day started becoming a habit, a strange, rotting stench took over the place, the toilet became hellish, and then T3 was shut down. That was the end of the Flurys sort of time. One is now left with nothing but the chain cafés, World Music and the young in one another's arms. Even if T3 reopens, I'm sure it will be yet another new thing, with some sort of pre-fabricated designer ambience and waiters with hair-gel trying to pass cluelessness off as vanity.
But isn't this the story of most of Park Street, and of that tedious old cliché called Purono Kolkata? It started with Sky Room, of course, and every now and then you hear of it reopening, and wonder what it would reopen as. But think of what has happened to Moulin Rouge, Blue Fox, the Coffee House on Chittaranjan Avenue, or even the Great Eastern Hotel. All of them could have been wonderful challenges to intelligent new money: how to take on a place that has its own character and clientele and turn it into a commercial success without destroying this character and shooing the old clientele away with blasts of bad taste.
What is required is a kind of eye, instinct and memory, and the ability to work with old staff and train new ones, and then marry all that to a solid business sense and, of course, some money. So why do the new institutes of management, architecture, hospitality or design, together with all the clever scions of old money who go abroad to be educated and then come back to India to become its movers and shakers, never manage to pull these things off in Calcutta?
With Flurys, for instance, it was just a question of taking a sharp long look, thinking hard and then carefully reinforcing what was already so charmingly there renovating the tangible, while leaving the intangible tastefully and respectfully untouched. It is like restoring an Old Master. But what's happening to Old Masters in Bengal is another sad story or is it part of the same story?
''SORRY PLIGHT OF BJP, SP AND THE LEFT CONTINUES.''
The focus of the results of byelections which were held in seven states last week is on the losers rather than on the winners. They have confirmed the decline of the Left in its strongholds of West Bengal and Kerala and of the Samajwadi Party in UP. The BJP also has nothing to cheer about in UP, Rajasthan or Himachal Pradesh which are important states for the party. The gainers are the Congress, the Trinamool Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party. The trend is a continuation of the political shift that was in evidence in the Lok Sabha elections except in UP where the BSP could stop the perceived advance of the Congress.
It is no consolation for the Left Front that the seats it lost were earlier held by its rivals in two states. The TMC retained all its seven seats in West Bengal and Kerala's Congress-led UDF won the three seats the party had held. The Left Front had pulled out all stops to wrest some of the seats and undo the damage done by the rout in parliament elections. But the successive defeats show that West Bengal is slipping out of Left control, just as Kerala, going by indications, already has. The CPM and its allies will have to do a lot of rethinking and repositioning in the two states where it has to face Assembly elections in the next two years.
In UP the Samajwadi Party has lost its position as a challenger to the BSP, yielding it to the Congress. The BSP has bounced back from the drubbing it received in the Lok Sabha poll, by wresting five seats from the SP and two from the Congress. Many SP strongholds have crumbled, with the Congress also gaining in the process. It has won the prestigious Ferozabad Lok Sabha seat and Lucknow (West), indicating that its inroads into the state are real. The BSP exerted itself to fight off an adverse environment and anti-incumbency sentiment in the state and succeeded. The results show that the fight between the BSP and the Congress will be decisive in UP politics in the coming months, with the SP and the BJP fighting for their place on the sidelines.
Byelections generally do not have national significance. But the sorry plight of the Left , the SP and the BJP has been accentuated by the results now and that is why the spotlight is on the losers.
PUNISH THE ROWDIES
''MNS IS A FRANKENSTEIN WORSE THAN SHIV SENA.''
India's parliamentary democracy has survived many shocks but the kind of physical and political threat to it as seen in the Maharashtra Assembly when Maharashtra Navnirman Sena members assaulted Samajwadi Party legislator Abu Azmi for taking his oath of office in Hindi would take it dangerously near the tipping point. MNS chief Raj Thackeray had issued a warning in public that anybody who took the oath in a language other than Marathi would face the music. This was of a piece with the virulent chauvinism that the MNS and its parent party, the Shiv Sena, had professed and practised in the state. The MNS has been driven by its compulsion to beat the Shiv Sena in the creed of hatred that has been injected into the state's politics for long.
It had threatened and unleashed violence on non-Marathis on the streets and now the hooligan cult has been taken to the floor of the Assembly. The four MNS members who assaulted Abu Kazmi have been suspended for four years but they should be disqualified so that the message goes loud and clear that their kind have no place in a democracy. Raj Thackeray should also be punished for his instigation of narrow parochialism and violence. The mixture of violence and aggressive intolerance in the state is the recipe for fascism and poisons the constitutional system. The MNS is still unapologetic about its championship of militant chauvinism. The full might of the constitutional machinery should be invoked to drive home the message that the rights of people guaranteed by the Constitution are safe.
The challenge should be met politically also. The MNS, which divided the Shiv Sena's support base in the state, has benefited from the soft treatment it has got from the Congress-NCP combine. But the MNS is sure to turn into a Frankenstein worse than the Shiv Sena if it is not stopped in its tracks. The Congress and the NCP, which wrangled over the number of ministerial berths and portfolios and inordinately delayed government formation, should consider the fight against the attitudes and policies represented by the MNS as its main and immediate task. The state, and especially Mumbai, are anchored in the country's most cosmopolitan traditions and they should be protected for preservation of the idea that the country stands for.
CLASH OF LOYALTIES
HAVING TREATED AMERICAN SOLDIERS REPATRIATED FROM THE WAR THEATRE, MAJOR HASAN WAS FAMILIAR WITH THE TRAUMA OF THE CONFLICT.
BY SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
The wonder is not that an Arab-American army officer ran amuck but that it didn't happen earlier. This is certainly not to justify Major Nidal Malik Hasan's murderous spree in the world's biggest military camp, but to suggest that many Muslims who are apparently completely assimilated in western life have profound reservations about the military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It was to assuage their fears (and those of the moderate Islamic ummah) that President Barack Obama made visiting Egypt a high priority and delivered a thought-provoking address at Cairo's Al Azhar university. But many Arabs saw it as a ceremonial gesture in contrast with US refusal to back the demand for a freeze on Israel's illegal settlements in the conquered West Bank or Washington's pressure on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas not to endorse the United Nations' finding that Israel was guilty of war crimes in the Gaza Strip.
Such actions have to be considered in their totality in judging the impact on men like the 39-year-old Major Hasan or the British-Pakistani boys born and bred in Yorkshire responsible for the mayhem in London in which they also blew themselves up.
European and American opinion-makers have been busy in the wake of the Fort Hood massacre upholding the 'loyalty' of Muslims who have taken up various professions in the West, including joining western armed forces. That's the wrong way of looking at the challenge. Of course, French, British and American Muslims are as loyal as anyone else to the countries they live in. But secular loyalty is separate from religious commitment. Any administration with some understanding of human psychology avoids pitting one against the other.
The US has something to learn in this regard from Chinese-majority Singapore with its Malay Muslim minority and delicate relations with Malaysia next door. Initially, Malay Singaporeans were exempt from military service which was compulsory for everyone else. When Malays protested that this was a form of discrimination, they were admitted to the armed forces but generally not into sensitive services that might expose them to unnecessary temptation.
Lee Kuan Yew cannot have missed the message of a little-noticed First World War memorial in the heart of Singapore recalling the mutiny by British Indian troops when they were ordered to embark for Europe to fight Turkey. The mutineers were captured and executed: they were all Muslims.
The authorities failed in their task by not paying adequate attention to recent warning signs. Aden's British-trained police ambushed and killed seven British soldiers long before the young Yorkshire jihadis. The American authorities claim to have foiled a terror plot by six foreign-born men who were planning to blow up Fort Dix in New Jersey.
The FBI accuses Najibullah Zazi, an airport van driver, of planning bomb attacks using hydrogen peroxide. In another case, Hosam (Sam) Smadi, a 19-year-old Jordanian-American, tried to blow up a Dallas skyscraper.
Like the Indian soldiers in Singapore or the Aden policemen, these trusted protégés of the western powers turned against their mentors. Not all such instances are made public. One that could not be suppressed involved an Afghan national police officer, referred to only as 'Gulbuddin,' who shot dead five British officers at Nad-e-Ali in Helmand province. Some of these men may be al-Qaeda or Taliban plants. Others are converts to Islamic fundamentalism. Some question the justice of the two wars, as do a number of British soldiers who have become conscientious objectors or gone AWOL (Absent without official leave).
Major Hasan, whose Palestinian parents migrated to the US before he was born, may have had two other motivations. As a trained psychiatrist who treated American soldiers repatriated from the war theatre, he became familiar with the trauma of the conflict in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Secondly, his cousin, Nader Hasan, confirms that the major suffered "some harassment from his military colleagues" because of his 'West Asian ethnicity.'
In other words, they taunted (or discriminated against) him for being Arab. It must have seemed the height of western Christian injustice to a man who had been born and brought up in the US and insisted on joining the American army despite parental opposition because he felt he ought to do something for his country.
Wearing salwar, kameez and a cap when off duty, regularly attending the mosque and distributing copies of the Quran need not have amounted to repudiating his country. After all, Major Hasan knew no other. Besides, American multiculturalism should offer space to minority manifestations.
The Christian ethic might be dominant but the supreme court did rule against the cross that had been erected at Pearl Harbour to commemorate the beginning of the Second World War. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban might dub all westerners Crusaders, but the late President Ronald Reagan failed to make Bible-teaching compulsory in schools. The US remains a secular country.
The parting of the ways came when Major Hasan became convinced that the country he regarded as his own had unfairly opened hostilities against his world of the spirit. It is a clash of loyalties that no Muslim should have to suffer.
BRAZIL SHOWS HOW TO FIGHT HUNGER
ZERO HUNGER RECOGNISES THAT THE IMMEDIATE CAUSE OF HUNGER IS NOT JUST LACK OF FOOD.
BY ANDREW MACMILLAN, IPS
It is scandalous that in a world of ample food supplies, over one billion people face constant hunger and the number is still rising. What makes matters worse is that we know how to end hunger, and yet few governments are doing so.
Brazil's 'Zero Hunger' programme shows that it is possible to make very rapid progress towards eliminating hunger and malnutrition.
While the world committed itself to halving hunger by 2015, Brazil set out to eradicate it as quickly as possible. The halving target condemns millions to a lifetime of utter misery, ill-health, and social exclusion. Going for eradication creates a sense of urgency and triggers immediate action.
From his first day in office in January 2003, President Lula made hunger eradication his top priority. The full impact of Zero Hunger will only be felt when today's children grow up. But there are already many signs that it is moving in the right direction. Brazil tops the list in ActionAid International's recent scorecard of countries fighting hunger. It is not only improving nutrition on a vast scale but also stimulating economic growth where it is most needed, in the poorest corners of the country. And it is enabling millions of Brazilians to begin to play their full part in the life of their nation.
In just six years, infant mortality fell by 73 per cent and the number of people in extreme poverty dropped by 48 per cent.
Brazil's success shows what can be done by combining strong political commitment to an unambiguous goal; institutional reforms that lead central, state, and local governments to work together within a common strategy; and the full engagement of civil society.
Zero Hunger balances immediate measures to relieve suffering with fundamental reforms to address the underlying reasons for people being hungry in the first place. Lasting solutions are based on the formal recognition of the human right to food. They involve managing the economy more equitably, improving income distribution, broadening employment opportunities, raising minimum wages, and enabling more people to have access to land.
Zero Hunger, however, also recognises that, as in many other countries, the immediate cause of hunger is not lack of food. It is the fact that, even when economic growth is strong, many families simply cannot buy it. This recognition led to launching a monthly cash transfer programme that enables almost 12 million of the country's poorest families to buy the food they need for a healthy life. By linking these grants to children's school attendance and regular health checks, it ensures that the young are better fed, educated and healthy. An expanded school meals programme reinforces these effects.
Brazil is showing how the twin-track approach to hunger reduction, recommended by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), can be put into practice. It calls pairing immediate measures to improve access to food with an expansion in food output, especially by small-scale farmers. The increased demand for food stimulated by cash transfers is expanding markets for the output of Brazil's family farmers, including the million who have benefited from land reform and are themselves vulnerable to food insecurity.
This support for small-scale farming is reinforced by targeted credit programmes and by state-run food procurement for emergency and institutional feeding programmes.
Zero Hunger demonstrates the vital role that direct action against hunger can play in reducing poverty and increasing the resilience of the poor to shocks. This has been very evident during the current economic crisis. Zero Hunger has enabled almost all Brazilians to enjoy a guaranteed income and access to essential food. It has also helped to sustain domestic consumption levels, which is one of the reasons why Brazil was able to overcome the crisis more quickly than many other countries.
The World Summit on Food Security, convened by FAO in Rome from November 16-18, will provide an opportunity for all governments to follow Brazil's example and commit themselves to eradicating hunger for once and forever. In the last two Food Summits, in 1996 and 2002, heads of state made bold promises, but most have failed miserably to deliver on their commitments. Hopefully this time, when the presidents, queens, kings and prime ministers go home, they will, like Lula, launch their own Zero Hunger programmes and help other countries to do likewise.
But history suggests that unless their people demand urgent action on hunger, many leaders will forget their pledges. There is thus a need for a global campaign built on growing popular understanding of the scandal of hunger and malnutrition to galvanise leaders to declare their commitment publicly and agree to be held accountable. If they do, the world will be a better and safer place for all.
STRANGE ARE HER WAYS
IT IS INDISPUTABLE THAT THERE IS AN ELEMENT OF LUCK IN EVERY SPHERE OF LIFE.
BY NAVARATNA LAXMAN
She is so enticing, vivacious and desirable that she is sought after by everyone the world over despite her being ever elusive and capricious! She favours only the exclusive ones of her choice and has the power to save lives, make a rag picker a millionaire overnight and vice-versa entirely at her will and pleasure.
During the recent heavy rains that caused havoc in Karwar, a boy who was playing carrom with his relatives in his house was drawn out by a loud noise outside. The next moment the house was submerged in mounds of earth due to huge landslide, burying the other inmates alive.
This is only one of the myriad instances where Lady Luck has played her mysterious role in deciding the course of events. We hear day in and out of instances of people whose lives are miraculously saved when their missed flights or trains crashed, killing all on board. It is indisputable that there is an element of luck in every sphere of our life, the nature and pattern of which is as formless as floating clouds.
The possible occurrence of events cannot be predicted accurately even by the scientifically based 'Theory of Probability,' due to a complexity of factors involved. But we have to sometime or other depend on her in many of our endeavours involving grave consequences.
Recently, at the meticulously arranged wedding of the daughter of a well-placed and highly influential person, the event had to be called off at the last moment because the bridegroom's mother died owing to massive heart attack in the mantap itself.
That ended the big show and also broke up the alliance itself as it was construed that the bride brought 'ill-luck' to the family with her first step! Had she brought a fat contract with her she would have been hailed a harbinger of good tidings for the family.
While these are aspects on which we have no control, what can be said of the 'heroes' who deliberately risk their life depending on the Lady Luck? I refer to the dreaded sport 'Russian Roulette' played in some parts Europe where a revolver with six chambers, in which five are loaded with dummy cartridges and one with a live one, is used. The players sit in a circle and each one takes the revolver, spins its chamber cylinder, places the weapon against his head and squeezes the trigger. Lucky ones survive to win big money. No wonder many lives are lost in this senseless sport. Strange, indeed, are the ways of Lady Luck!
THE JERUSALEM POST
Our transportation ministers are serial proposers of new draconian measures to combat Israel's biggest killer - road accidents. On the whole, nothing comes of these ballyhooed innovations. They are forgotten soon after the initial PR hype dies down.
True to form, current Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz announced Tuesday that he is considering upping the legal driving age from 17 to 19 or even 20. His rationale is that young drivers are involved in more accidents. If they don't shape up, they'll just not be allowed behind the wheel.
On the face of it, Katz makes sense. However, is his scheme feasible? Probably not - especially not in this country, where 18-year-olds are conscripted and judged mature enough to put their lives in harm's way to protect the rest of us.
In uniform, they are expected to drive a wide variety of military vehicles, steer warships and pilot fighter jets. Katz's idea would, absurdly, prevent them from using the family car on furloughs.
Moreover, 20-year-olds aren't necessarily more levelheaded than drivers just a couple of years their junior. Indiscretion cannot strictly be ascribed to teens. Imprudence is characteristic of a broader age category, but it is entirely impractical to push back the license-eligibility age to a point far later in adulthood, where the risks are more significantly reduced.
Yes, younger drivers are more reckless. Imposing discipline on them is vital, but tactics other than keeping them off the road altogether should be contemplated.
THE POLICE, for a start, need to enforce the law rigorously.
More highway patrol cars are needed on the roads. (Doing away with import duties for police vehicles, in order to increase their presence on busy thoroughfares, might help.)
On weekends especially, traffic arteries around nightlife centers should swarm with cops. Delinquent drivers must be removed from the roads and their cars confiscated. The law allows for this. License suspension is ineffective against the hardened sociopath-behind-the-wheel. It's quite difficult, however, to hit the accelerator without a car.
For a category of offenses considered particularly dangerous - such as drunk driving or driving under the influence of drugs - the prescribed antidote should be to deprive the driver in question of his vehicle.
The state prosecution, moreover, must cease operating in slow motion and judges have to ditch their lenient inclinations. Wrist-slapping sends the wrong message. There must be zero tolerance for any infraction.
Katz is right in proposing that no alcoholic intake whatever be allowed for drivers, even if it doesn't exceed legal limits. Likewise, no cellphone use of any sort should be tolerated in cars because of the distraction to drivers.
New drivers should be accompanied by experienced adults for longer than the current three months - minimally for six months. Again, the penalties for noncompliance must be harsh.
More surveillance cameras are indispensable. Their importance cannot be overestimated. Speed detectors can save lives. It's estimated that a 1 percent increase of average speed leads to a 4% rise in deaths, while a 1% decrease in speed leads to a 4% reduction in fatalities.
NARROW ESCAPES and barely averted fender-benders are nothing unusual for most of us. Israelis aren't more prone to vehicular misadventure because of the weather, road infrastructure or any other external condition. We have only ourselves to blame for the mayhem on our highways.
The fault, above all else, resides with the Israeli driver's basic behavioral predispositions. Devil-may-care negligence, lack of elementary etiquette, perception of the road as one's private pathway, pushiness and ignorance of basic traffic-coexistence rules can all claim lives.
Israel's driving culture can be changed if an effort is made to eradicate specific violations like aggressive tailgating, blinding oncoming drivers with high beams at night, flashing lights, passing on the right, relating to stop signs as mere recommendations, failing to yield the right-of-way and much more. Generalized preaching must be replaced by reteaching the basics.
Education and re-education are long-term investments, vital for raising road-users' ethical awareness. More immediately, such ethics ought to be underscored by throwing the book at those who thumb their noses at our safety.
THE JERUSALEM POST
CANDIDLY SPEAKING: KADIMA MUST FORM A UNITY GOVERNMENT, NOW
Ill winds are blowing. Tensions with the Obama administration are escalating. The odious Goldstone Report has provided a massive boost to the global campaign to delegitimize and brand us all as war criminals. Its full impact has yet to emerge. Many believe that the time has now come to suspend our traditional political squabbles and create a unity government.
Until now, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has succeeded even beyond the wildest expectations of his supporters. Notwithstanding his reliance on the support of small, one-dimensional parties, he achieved a broad consensus and enjoys unprecedented support from the people.
Against all odds, Netanyahu navigated a diplomatic tightrope, delicately averting a total confrontation while resisting the unreasonable American demands to impose a total construction freeze on all settlements and Jerusalem. The harsh tactics employed by the Obama administration and its repudiation of the understandings reached with the Bush administration concerning the retention of the major settlement blocks, encouraged Israelis to unite in support of their prime minister.
But storm clouds are gathering and there are no grounds for complacency. The Obama administration failed disastrously in its efforts to engage or appease rogue states. Yet, those who initiated this policy still retain the reins of power and will no doubt regroup and try again. The Nobel Peace Prize awarded to President Barack Obama will only intensify pressure on him to achieve results in the Middle East. Hitherto such efforts amounted to offering Israel as the sacrificial lamb to appease Muslim extremists.
In line with the administration's determination not to antagonize the Muslim bloc, the US failed to vigorously condemn the Goldstone Report, remaining silent during the debate at the UN General Assembly. There is not even a hint that it is reconsidering its membership in the morally compromised UN Human Rights Council. Nor does it employ its clout to make the UN aware that there are limits to US patience with an organization which systematically tramples over human rights violations and concentrates most of its efforts on demonizing and delegitimizing Israel.
Nor do the vibes from the administration following the contrived tantrums by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas bode well. Hillary Clinton's praise for Israel's "unprecedented concessions" in relation to the settlements was reversed the next day following Palestinian accusations that she had sold out to the Zionists. Obama's stalling to confirm a meeting with Netanyahu in Washington until the last moment was an additional affront which, despite reassurances to the contrary, exemplifies the deteriorating relationship.
HOWEVER, THE die in this matter is not cast and two factors are likely to influence Obama. The first is the extent to which he can intensify one-sided pressure on Israel without alienating the 80 percent of American Jews who voted for him. The other is whether he will continue to hearken to advisers who encourage him to believe that he can succeed in persuading Israelis to bring about a change of government.
Currently, Netanyahu enjoys a unique national consensus based on acceptance of a two-state policy incorporating a demilitarized Palestinian state with future concessions being dependant on reciprocity.
But the pressures will surely escalate and Netanyahu will soon be obliged to make difficult decisions in relation to the Iranian threat which shows no signs of abating. The convergence of all these factors has existential implications and has led to increasing calls for the creation of a national unity government.
The obstacle remains Kadima. Its leader Tzipi Livni was obsessed with becoming prime minister and mistakenly convinced herself that the Netanyahu government would crumble in a matter of months.
Now with Netanyahu's endorsement of a two-state policy, setting aside the eccentric policy reversal by former hard-liner Shaul Mofaz, who proposes entering negotiations with Hamas, there are no ideological barriers to a rapprochement between Likud and Kadima. The majority of Kadima's founders were not ideologues but primarily former Likud members or those who joined Ariel Sharon because they regarded the new party as a stepping stone toward personal political advancement.
Livni was a senior member of the Olmert government which launched Operation Cast Lead. Yet at this time of national crisis, instead of acting as a responsible opposition leader, she simply rails against the government, conveying personal venom and frustration.
Ironically, many Israelis would argue that Livni's description of Netanyahu as "a small time politician," only concerned "with speeches and photo ops," more accurately depicts how she is perceived since the elections. She relates to Netanyahu's commitment to a two-state policy as the "height of hypocrisy." She castigated him for his UN address which most Israelis and Jews alike supported. At one stage, she even criticized him for conceding too much to Obama's demands for a settlement freeze. Instead of offering to support the government in resisting the global demonization of the Jewish state in the wake of the Goldstone Report, she accused Netanyahu of being responsible for Abbas's turnabout in supporting a UN censure of Israel for war crimes.
The extent of Livni's bitterness and lack of judgment were exemplified by her recent Knesset speech when she ranted at Netanyahu: "You have managed to beat the president of the United States, Israel's greatest friend... you have managed to humiliate the only partner for a peace settlement Israel has... We have beaten America, humiliated the Palestinians, isolated ourselves. Raise your head from the small politics and see what has happened. See that Israel is excommunicated. Today Turkey, yesterday Britain, before that Europe."
Livni seems unaware that most of the issues she accuses Netanyahu of botching had their genesis in the former Kadima government.
In these critical days, more so than at any time since 1967, increasing numbers of Israelis believe that the time has come for politicians to suspend their differences and unite to face the real dangers threatening the Jewish state. A national unity government would not merely be a great boost to national morale, but would also enormously strengthen our relationship with the US as well as our general standing in the international arena. The question remains: Can Kadima led by Livni overcome petty partisan political considerations and act in the best interests of the state?
THE JERUSALEM POST
RATTLING THE CAGE: PICKING FIGHTS AT SEA
I can't say I was distraught last week by the navy's capture of the ship loaded with arms that were evidently sent by Iran, headed for Syria and destined to end up with Hizbullah. If Hizbullah lost out on 3,000 rockets and has to make do with only the 40,000 it's got, I'm not going to cry. Nobody got hurt in the raid; all in all, this was not an immoral act that Israel committed.
But it was, I think, a reckless one, the kind that Israel has been carrying out repeatedly in recent years, and even getting away with - so far. We allegedly destroyed an embryonic Syrian nuclear reactor and the Syrians didn't hit back. It is widely assumed that Israel was behind the assassination of Hizbullah military chief Imad Mugniyeh in Damascus - again, no payback. There have been hints published in themedia about all sorts of acts of sabotage we've pulled against Iran, and no retribution has come. Now we've intercepted the Francop arms ship, life remains quiet and everyone around here is applauding.
Call me an old worrywart, but I'm afraid we're learning a very wrong and dangerous lesson from these incidents - that we can attack our enemies with impunity. That we can manufacture, import and export all the arms we want, while forcibly denying our enemies the same freedom - and they won't hit back because they're afraid of our power.
There's a bit of a contradiction here. On the one hand, we've launched these operations against Hizbullah and Syria (and possibly Iran) because we're convinced they're so crazed with hatred for Israel that they'll wage war on us at the first opportunity, no matter how much death and destruction they'll suffer. They're jihadists; they're happy to die for the honor of killing Jews, we believe.
Yet at the same time, we believe that if we hit Hizbullah, Syria or Iran first - if we intercept their arms, if we bomb their reactor, if we sabotage their military operations - they won't do anything because they're afraid of what we'll do to them in return.
In other words, we believe that these jihadists love life - theirs and their countrymen's - too much to risk hitting us back.
It would be suicide, right? They'd have to be crazy, wouldn't they? So rest easy, Mr. and Mrs. Israel, we're going to go on using our big weapons to destroy their little ones, and we're going to keep on getting away with it because, you see, Hizbullah, Syria and Iran value their peace and quiet too much to challenge us.
This is Israel's policy, and it's pure recklessness. We're tempting fate. We're playing Russian roulette.
I WOULD have agreed with the Francop raid if we were in a hot war with Hizbullah, Syria or Iran. I would have agreed if we'd done something like this during the Second Lebanon War, which was started by Hizbullah and in which Israel fought in self-defense (even though I think Israel fought much longer than necessary).
But we're not in a hot war now with Hizbullah, Syria or Iran, we're in a cold war with them. Yes, they send arms to Hamas, but all sorts of countries send arms to Israel and we send arms to about half the warring parties in the world; if every country were to start raiding ships that carried arms to their enemies, the seas would become awfully rough.
Neither Hizbullah, Syria nor Iran are raiding our arms ships, bombing our nuclear reactors, shooting at us or sabotaging our installations - not because they like our country, but because we're too much strong for them to want to pick a fight with us.
Instead, we're picking fights with them.
All the justifications Israel has come up with for the Francop raid are phony. They were violating UN Resolution 1701! (As if we're not in violation of all sorts of UN resolutions, including 1701 with our spy planes flying over Lebanon. And as if we have anything but contempt for UN resolutions.)
Hizbullah isn't a sovereign state, it's a terrorist organization! (As if Hizbullah isn't Lebanon's unofficial army in the south, and as if Israel would have left the ship alone if only Lebanon would outfit Hizbullah with Lebanese army uniforms.)
Those rockets were meant to kill civilians in Israeli cities, just having them is a war crime! (And what are Israel's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons for? Surgical military attacks? And were Israel's conventional weapons never used on civilian targets - say in Lebanon or Gaza?)
We've got this idea that the only reason Hizbullah, Syria and Iran want weapons at all is to destroy us, so this gives us the right to destroy their weapons (while they, of course, have no right to destroy ours, because we only keep weapons for self-defense, and anyone who suggests otherwise just wants to destroy us.)
Actually, I think the main reason Hizbullah, Syria and Iran want weapons is because every country and every nationalist movement in the world wants weapons. Even good nations like Israel and the US want weapons; it's human nature. For our enemies to build armies doesn't necessarily mean they plan to destroy us - all it necessarily means is that they're not pacifists, no more than we are.
BEYOND THIS, I think another reason Hizbullah, Syria and Iran want weapons is to deter their enemies - e.g. Israel - from attacking them. Yes, we had it right the first time - they are afraid of us. And if you look at the results of all our armed confrontations with them - the ones they started, along with the ones we did - they're right to be afraid.
It's true - our enemies would run us out of this country if they could. But they can't and they know it because we've proved it to them over and over and over. That's the reason they're not attacking us - because we've deterred them militarily from doing so.
But we cannot deter Hizbullah, Syria and Iran from simply having weapons, from simply having an army, from simply having the power that comes with sovereignty - especially when Israel has so much more of all this than they'll ever dream of.
It's one thing to tell our enemies that we won't attack them if they don't attack us, and that if they do, we'll attack back. That's an equitable arrangement and we can expect them to live by it because our power is such that it's not worth their while to violate it.
But telling our enemies that we can have unlimited arms while they can't is an inequitable arrangement, and when we enforce it, we humiliate them. We rub their noses in their weakness.
And there are just so many times they're going to take it.
I try not to be a saint, especially when it comes to the unappealing likes of Hizbullah, Syria and Iran. If I thought the Francop raid was the end of this business, I'd say, well, we got away with it, good for us.
But I don't think it's the end. Whatever payback our enemies may be planning, I think the "success" of this latest operation has given Israel's leaders the taste for more. I think we've moved one step closer to launching a "preemptive" war against Hizbullah or, even worse, against Iran.
If we pull a stunt like that, if we grow reckless and arrogant to that degree, 3,000 rockets more or less aren't going to make that much of a difference.
In retrospect, we should have just let that ship go on its way. With our awesome military power, we can live with a cold war indefinitely.
It's the hot wars we should try to steer around.
THE JERUSALEM POST
WASHINGTON WATCH: JERUSALEM FOOTBALL IN THE AIR AGAIN
It's autumn, the leaves are falling and up on Capitol Hill politicians are tossing around one of their favorite footballs - Jerusalem.
In the perennial game of "who loves Israel more," it is the Republicans' turn to demand the president move the American embassy to the Israeli capital. Actually, this is one of the few bipartisan traditions left in this deeply divided capital. The party out of the White House tries to embarrass the one inside with legislation to move the embassy, knowing all along that it's not going to be done.
Republicans tried it in 1980 to embarrass president Jimmy Carter, who already was in trouble with Jewish voters that year. Four years later Ronald Reagan was president and Democrats led by Sen. Patrick Moynihan of New York and Rep. Tom Lantos of California raised the Jerusalem flag.
In 1995 it was the Republicans' turn again, led by presidential candidate Sen. Bob Dole, who previously had a dismal record on Israel but suddenly decided to become its champion. He had the enthusiastic backing of AIPAC and some leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, who leaped at the opportunity to undermine and embarrass Bill Clinton and Yitzhak Rabin, whose peace policies they opposed.
That effort led to a law mandating the move, but with a loophole: The president has the authority to waive it in the national interest. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) last week introduced legislation to eliminate that presidential power. Oddly, he never tried that during eight years of the Bush administration, even though candidate George W. Bush vowed to move the embassy and then issued 16 consecutive waivers, but now that a Democrat is in charge who will likely sign another waiver next month, Brownback has a new sense of urgency.
He announced his plans at a six-hour Jerusalem Conference in a Senate office building last week sponsored by a hard-line group that billed the meeting as "under the sponsorship of members of the House and Senate," although no sponsor names were published on its Web site. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency was too busy to cover the meeting, and its coverage consisted of two paragraphs tacked on top of a press release from the Orthodox Union endorsing Brownback's bill.
It is hard to take Brownback's measure very seriously, with its partisan motives and diplomatic implications.
A LOOK at the legislation's very partisan sponsor list says it is going nowhere: six of the most conservative Republicans - including one enmeshed in a call girl scandal, the party's chief fund-raiser and campaign chairman and two lame ducks - plus Independent Joseph Lieberman, who seems to take delight in giving Barack Obama grief.
I'm sure all share a sincere desire to see the American embassy in Jerusalem, where it belongs and should have been moved during those years when there was no peace process to endanger, but I can't help wondering why none of these sponsors introduced bills to remove the waiver authority when there was a Republican president.
Brownback issued at least two press releases in 1999, the year the embassy law took effect, attacking Clinton for "refusing to acknowledge Jerusalem as Israel's capital," but a search of his Web site reveals no similar statements criticizing Bush by name during his administration.
Their timing is questionable. It came just as Obama was about to meet with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to try to repair frayed relations and try to relaunch the peace process with the Palestinians.
Tensions in Jerusalem are high enough without Brownback & Co. trying to exploit them for partisan gain. The city is on edge since riots last month sparked by radical Palestinians spreading rumors that radical Jews were threatening the Aksa Mosque.
This Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act of 2009 is little more than the latest round in an old partisan game. Brownback and other sponsors know no president, Republican or Democrat, will move the embassy until there is an Arab-Israeli peace agreement, and that no Israeli government ever pressed seriously for the move. However, opportunistic politicians also know that they can demagogue the issue endlessly, and since it is going nowhere, they can claim credit - and campaign contributions - for their noble intentions and blame Barack Obama for their failure.
Brownback, whose brief run for the 2008 presidential nomination ended in 2007, may be flirting with another try in three years. He is not running for a third term next year (in Bob Dole's old seat) and may instead run for governor of Kansas, which could be a platform for another White House try. Then Brownback, whose view of the two-state solution is "Jordan as the second state in that equation," can tell Jewish voters he is to the right of Netanyahu because of his Jerusalem ploy. And maybe Joe Lieberman will endorse him, and they can toss the Jerusalem football around together.
THE JERUSALEM POST
THE PROBLEM WITH CAPITAL PUNISHMENT
It has been said that one can evaluate the standard of civilization of any country by observing how it treats its convicted criminals. While I am not sure that statement is always accurate, the prevalence of the use of the death penalty in countries with horrendous human rights records, such as Iran, China, Saudi Arabia and Sudan, lends much credence to this statement.
Recently Stewart Weiss called for Israel to reinstate the death penalty in The Jerusalem Post (November 5). Israel does not need the death penalty. It will not obtain justice for the victims of murder and terrorism nor will it act as deterrent. Indeed, given the prevalence of suicide bombers who want to die for their misguided causes, it actually might encourage terrorism. The death penalty would only result in Israel being included among the uncivilized nations of the world.
THE HUE and cry for vengeance in the last few weeks has come as a result of the horrific murder of the Oshrenko family and the arrest of a suspect. Coincidentally, public television in the United States just released a documentary on the infamous Leo Frank case. Simultaneously almost every week a convicted criminal is executed in the US. What is less known among the general public is that the US has come close to executing scores of innocent prisoners and probably has executed some who were indeed innocent.
As a former criminal defense attorney in the US, who represented numerous defendants accused of capital crimes, I have a personal perspective on the death penalty in practice, although admittedly, and luckily, none of my clients ended up on death row.
I remember when I was as a young attorney the case of Bryon Halsey from Plainfield, New Jersey. Halsey would babysit for his girlfriend's two young children, a girl and a boy. One day Halsey left them alone to go to a nearby store. The two children were discovered brutally murdered. The deaths were horrendous, involving all sorts of horrors I cannot share in a family newspaper.
Halsey was arrested. He confessed to the murders and was tried for capital murder. Witnesses placed him at the scene. He was convicted. The entire criminal bar was convinced he was guilty and that he would be the first man in New Jersey to be executed since the death penalty was reinstated in the early 1980s. Somehow, the jury spared him and gave him a life sentence.
More than 20 years later the police were finally prevailed upon to perform DNA tests on semen found on the victims' clothes. To the astonishment of everyone but a few lawyers, the semen did not match Halsey. Instead it matched a convicted sex offender in prison for crimes committed a year after the so called Halsey murders, who happened to be a neighbor who testified against Halsey. Halsey was released.
Leo Frank was convicted of murdering a young girl who worked in his pencil factory in Atlanta, Georgia in 1913. Despite strong evidence implicating a janitor who actually admitted to the crime, and despite Frank's protestations of innocence, he was convicted and sentenced to die. The Georgia governor commuted his sentence to life in prison because he believed Frank was innocent. A frenzied mob, led by the notorious Ku Klux Klan, broke into the local jail, kidnapped Frank and lynched him. A few years later Frank was exonerated. Many years later a dying man came forward and cleared his conscience by stating the janitor had confessed to him that he killed the girl.
The only thing Frank's execution accomplished was the loss of an innocent life and an increase in the popularity of the Klan in the South, which to that point had a history of racism but not anti-Semitism. Frank is often called America's Dreyfus. This is a misplaced analogy if there ever was one. Dreyfus suffered severe injustice, however he was not executed by the legal system or a mob and, curiously, actually resumed his military career after his exoneration.
RECENTLY, A man named Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in Texas. Last minute appeals were turned aside despite reports by noted scientific experts that indicated the scientific evidence used to convict Willingham was fraudulent and the fatal fire he was convicted of starting was accidental. Thus, Texas probably executed an innocent man. No wonder Texas is known as the death state among those opposed to capital punishment.
As these cases illustrate vengeance and justice are not equivalent. When it comes to implementing the death penalty justice requires certainty. When it comes to human affairs certainty is nearly impossible. Indeed, the conservative American columnist George Will once referred to capital punishment as yet another poorly run government program. As I successfully argued too many jurors in urging them to spare my clients: If you impose life imprisonment, you will not fail to punish the accused, you will merely fail to kill him.
The writer is a certified criminal trial attorney in New Jersey. He represented many clients facing the death penalty before capital punishment was abolished by NJ in 2007.
THE JERUSALEM POST
WHAT'S IN A CASE?
When US President Barack Obama visited Turkey in April, hopes were high that the US-Turkish relationship was finally getting the boost it needed. Ties between Washington and Ankara, wounded during the previous US administration, needed a presidential hug, and Obama certainly obliged.
By visiting Turkey on his first trip to Europe, which included stops in France, Germany and at a NATO summit, Obama signaled that he was ready to assign a major role to Turkey as a Western ally. Washington and Ankara were on the verge of once again becoming close friends, with the chance to cooperate on many pressing issues.
Alas, six months later, Turkey's relationship with Washington has gone awry. The US is now unsure it can rely on Turkey to face challenges like those in Iran. From Washington's standpoint, Turkey appears preoccupied with the Ergenekon court case, the name given to an alleged organization accused of planning a coup against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.
While such allegations are an important matter, it's hard to know whether the Ergenekon case has merit, or if it has been invented to help the government suppress domestic opposition, as well as diminish criticism and create sympathy overseas. The case appears and disappears depending on the AKP's fortunes. Lately, the AKP has come under fire from the West for defending Iran's nukes, for instance suggesting that news of Iran's nuclear weapons program is "gossip." The party also faces criticism at home for mishandling the Kurdish issue.
In light of these criticisms, the Ergenekon case, which had gone missing for months, has made a serendipitous comeback, in the form of allegations from an unidentified military officer published in pro-government papers accusing the Turkish military's top brass of involvement in a coup plot against the AKP government.
WHATEVER THE merits of the latest allegations, the Ergenekon case has grown so amorphous that it consumes all of Turkey's energy, leaving nothing for Obama's overtures. The case, which began as an effort to cauterize Turkey's underworld, has grown to encompass the arrest of liberal opponents of the AKP government, a development that is very confusing to Washington.
The US is not sure where Ergenekon is leading or how big it will get: The case has been going on since 2007 and, as a result, hundreds have been detained in over a dozen waves of arrests.
Legally, the case is becoming increasingly unfitting of a country in accession talks with the European Union. Some people arrested in relation to Ergenekon have waited 18 months in jail before being taken to a court or seeing an indictment.
Nor is it certain that all people targeted by Ergenekon are part of a conspiracy. In one of the recent rounds of arrests, the CEO of Dogan Yayin, a conglomerate whose media outlets have published corruption allegations against the AKP, was taken into custody. She was released after spending days in a cold jail cell without any charges pressed against her. Later on, it became clear that, although she was arrested in connection with the Ergenekon case, she was questioned solely on the business interests of Dogan Yayin. Soon after, the government slapped Dogan Yayin with a record $ 3.2 billion tax fine.
The case also seems to be targeting intellectual opponents of the government. In April, the police interrogated Turkan Saylan, a renowned physician and secular political activist. Saylan, an ailing septuagenarian undergoing chemotherapy, was interrogated for allegedly plotting a coup against the government - she passed away days after her interrogation.
These arrests, alongside fears of illegal wiretaps to build evidence for Ergenekon, have left Turkish liberals paralyzed, and the country has dangerously shut off frank political conversations. As a sage once said, "Countries become police states not when the police listens to all citizens, but when all citizens fear that the police listens to them."
Debate over foreign policy has also disappeared from media and government rhetoric in the face of the growing obsession with Ergenekon. This is not good news for President Obama and his administration, who are surely watching Ergenekon with shock and wondering when it will end.
Not a day goes by that new people are not taken into custody as the case grows even more absurd. On July 21, police arrested members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, an Islamist group, alleging that the group's head ran his organization from Israel and with Israel's blessing.
The case has grown so confusing that even seasoned US diplomats can no longer make sense of it. Given how Ergenekon has been bundling good and bad apples together, the State Department has described the case as "murky." Indeed, Ergenekon looks like a chimerical creature: a big jellyfish with tentacles linking alleged coup plotters, critics of the government and free-thinking intellectuals together.
This is decreasing Washington's appetite to view Turkey as a major foreign policy partner. Since Obama's spring visit, US interest in working with Turkey has dropped significantly due to concerns that Turkey's domestic politics is hampering its ability to deliver on major foreign policy issues. Sadly, Ankara is missing a golden chance to become a star on the world stage.
If it is to capitalize on that opportunity, Turkey must clean up its political system. This would require refocusing the Ergenekon case solely on criminal activity, thus ending the massive, open-ended crackdown on dissent it has become and making it a case all parties could understand and support.
The writer is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and author of Islam, Secularism and Nationalism in Modern Turkey: Who is a Turk? (2006).
A VITAL NATIONAL CHALLENGE
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz sounded the alarm this week on the most important of Israel's social problems: the meager participation of ultra-Orthodox men and Arab women in the workforce. People who stay home or study Torah instead of being gainfully employed and who maintain themselves and their families using welfare payments instead of earning a living are a millstone around the Israeli economy's neck. They prevent it from reaching its true growth potential, and the problem will only get worse. Around half our first graders today are from the Arab or ultra-Orthodox communities, and the proportion of these communities in the population is expected to rise further.
Steinitz portrayed the ultra-Orthodox and Arab women as if they were voluntarily poor, not going to work for cultural or traditional reasons. This is only partly true, and painting the picture this way lets the government avoid the problem. A more accurate depiction came in the recently published Ono Report, which described the enormous difficulties faced by Arab, ultra-Orthodox and Ethiopian-immigrant university graduates hoping to join the workforce. Most companies avoid employing them, or if they do, prevent them from advancing their careers. Discrimination is most evident in advertising, television and finance.
The worrying conclusion is that even those who have made the effort to shake off the bonds of tradition and have acquired higher education are not wanted in the labor market, and that those who do find jobs are stuck at the bottom of the ladder. They are cut off from social networks that are often based on army service, from which Arabs and the ultra-Orthodox are exempt. The Ono Report revealed that employers are often prejudiced: Arabs are considered nationalist, ultra-Orthodox separatist and Ethiopian Jews undeveloped.
No national task is more vital than integrating these communities fully into the workforce to boost economic growth, reduce poverty and ease social tensions. The state need not combat tradition and religion, but it must offer incentives for change. Education and vocational training must be encouraged, through subsidies if necessary; legislation should be considered to introduce affirmative action in employment; government allowances for children and yeshiva students should be cut; national-service as well as military tracks should be available; quotas should be set for appropriate representation in public bodies and state-supported institutions; and the public must be educated in tolerance, openness and getting to know the other.
Suppressing the problem and blaming the poor for their condition will only put off the solution, intensify the distress and hasten Israel's social fragmentation.
THE MOTHER PARTY
BY ARI SHAVIT
My mother voted Labor. Why? First, our people always voted Labor, in one form or another - Mapai or the Progressive Party, the Alignment or Independent Liberals, Labor or Meretz. Second, because my mother wanted Labor to be the country's primary party, pursuing peace and security, carefully and exercising sound judgment. Third, because she wanted a social-democratic party like Labor that would strive toward social justice, and fourth, she wanted a party that would protect the rule of law.
My mother voted Labor in the 2009 election because she didn't want a niche party like Meretz, or a corporate one like Kadima, but an authentic Zionist party situated left of center. She was convinced Ehud Barak was the least bad option and believed despite everything, the party was continuing in the path of David Ben-Gurion.
My mother is an intelligent, energetic and opinionated woman. Had she wanted to vote Kadima, she would have voted Kadima, and had she wanted Meretz, she would have voted Meretz. But my mother preferred to opt for an underwhelming, unexciting party, as long as it showed responsibility. She preferred a party with history, tradition and internal democracy, a party not governed by wealth and spin but by elected institutions.
The voting slip my mother dropped in the ballot bore the words "Labor, led by Barak." That slip sent not only Barak, but also Yuli Tamir, Amir Peretz, Ophir Pines-Paz and Eitan Cabel to the Knesset - both the defense minister and those now being called the "party rebels." But now, Barak is pulling the slip from one side and the rebels from the other, and all are openly betraying the mandate they received. With this, they are liable to break up a historic party with a historic mission with their blame-trading and caprice, petty quarrels and ulterior motives.
It was Barak who began this dance of death. He was correct in choosing to align with Benjamin Netanyahu, both for governmental reasons and his own political agenda, to ensure Labor's place in the coalition. Still, Barak was supposed to understand that when he joined up with the prime minister, he had to sharpen Labor's social-democratic identity. Barak was supposed to realize that now especially, he has to embrace Labor's members and rehabilitate the party. As usual, Barak did the opposite. He blurred his own ideological identity, acting toward colleagues with alternating aloofness and coercion.
But worse than Barak are the party rebels. This week the truth came out - that some intend to desert to Kadima. Not to renew the movement of Berl Katznelson, but to gather in the warm embrace of Haim Ramon, not to return to the values of Aryeh "Lova" Eliav, but to adopt those of media adviser Eyal Arad. To trade Benjamin Ben-Eliezer for Kadima's Eli Aflalo, Shalom Simhon for Kadima's Roni Bar-On and Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini with Tzachi Hanegbi. It is not only acting against the will of the majority and undermining the foundations of democracy, but making a clearly opportunistic move - stealing my mother's voting slip and transferring it from a Barak-led Labor to another party.
My mother is not alone. Just nine months ago, 334,900 men and women cast their ballots for Labor. They did so not because they hadn't heard of Kadima and Meretz, but because like my mother, they wanted a broad, sane social-democratic Zionist party. Most of these voters are the best and most decent among us, the salt of the earth. The older among them built this country, and the young among them are keeping it alive through hard work, productivity, meeting their obligations and demonstrating exemplary citizenship. Neither Barak nor the party rebels has the right to betray these young people, nor do they have the right to misuse their trust. This dance of death threatening to kill the Labor party must be brought to an immediate stop. Through dialogue, responsibility and creativity, Israel's mother party can still be saved.
THE NEW CONVERTS
BY GIDEON LEVY
It's cyclical and always happens in the same way. Once every few months another right-wing politician sees the light. Suddenly he believes that time is working against us, that the Greater Israel dream has vanished, that "painful concessions" must be made, that the Palestinians deserve a state and that the occupation must come to an end.
After the latter-day convert develops his plan, decorates it with maps and tables and readies it for presentation, he gives a "historic" speech in Herzliya or at Bar-Ilan University, or calls a big press conference, gets prime-time coverage, a supportive magazine interview and a host of articles about his "turnabout." The Arabs are increasing, the Jews are weakening - something must be done.
Well done, Arik; well done, Ehud; well done, Tzipi; well done, Dan; well done, Bibi. And the latest one - well done, Shaul. Former chief of staff and defense minister Shaul Mofaz, father of the doctrine of the targeted assassination, has joined the converts' community. The man who suggested deporting Yasser Arafat has presented a "far-reaching" peace plan, including "Israel will respect any elected Palestinian leadership and negotiate with it." As Mofaz cashes in on his plan, the next in line are already at the door. Likud ministers Gideon Sa'ar and Moshe Ya'alon are on his heels. In a year or two they will be joined by MK Tzipi Hotovely. Like them, it's not her, it's the situation that will have changed.
If it weren't so sad, it would be hilarious. No Israeli politician has gone in the opposite direction, except for Yuval Steinitz, who was a left-winger before he entered politics. The politicians' direction is always one-way - from right to left, like the Hebrew language. Shulamit Aloni never thought of moving to Ofra, Uri Avnery never changed his prophecies, which came true, Yossi Sarid never flip-flopped, and Yossi Beilin never "sobered up."
The new converts have no intention of thanking those who made the breakthrough - the people from the now defunct far-left organization Matzpen, or courageous figures like Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz. People like Leibowitz said exactly what the converts are saying now, but 42 years ago, despite the denunciation, threats and incitement they were subjected to.
Nor are the new converts thinking of apologizing to the public for their historic mistake. In Israeli society, people don't pay for fatal mistakes. Nor can they explain what really happened in the lost time that elapsed. Why did Shimon Peres need to wait a whole decade to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization? Why did he refuse, 10 years before Oslo, to shake the hand of senior PLO official Isam Sartawi, who tried to meet Peres at a conference in Lisbon moments before he was murdered? Why did Ariel Sharon have to settle tens of thousands of settlers in the territories, including the Gaza Strip, until he found that this was a dangerous and futile thing to do? And why was he never held accountable for his awful mistake? All the new converts are to blame for the dismal situation we are in, some directly and personally.
On the face of it, this is good news. Along with opinion polls showing that most Israelis support a two-state solution, it appears that those who seek peace and justice are in a clear majority. Everyone is sitting cozily in the "painful concessions" lounge. But this of course is a delusion. As soon as the spotlights are turned off and the columnists finish their praises, the converts resume their routine without lifting a finger to advance what they preached.
Ehud Olmert strove for a so-called shelf agreement, built settlements and launched two unnecessary wars. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made lofty statements about a Palestinian state and didn't agree even to a temporary settlement freeze. Mofaz suggests talking to Hamas, but it doesn't occur to him to try to do it here and now. Let's see him try to meet the elected prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh. And public opinion? It says yes to two states and votes for Likud and Avigdor Lieberman. In this great masquerade, Israel has raised denial and pretense to an art. The terrible price will be paid soon.
THE VISION OF SHAUL
BY ISRAEL HAREL
According to Shaul Mofaz, only an Israeli peace plan will prevent terrorism (and we have given the Palestinians a permanent exemption from needing to present plans of their own). After all, everyone knows that the outbreak of the longest and cruelest period of terror ever to hit Israel (lasting about 10 years) stemmed from the absence of the Oslo initiative (and the subsequent Oslo agreement). Similarly, the terror of rockets on the western Negev stemmed from the absence of the disengagement plan (and its subsequent implementation).
Since today, due to the absence of a plan, relative quiet prevails in the south, it is necessary to again take the initiative. Only another plan will extricate the people of Israel from the unfamiliar, abnormal tranquillity they have had to contend with since the army's Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.
Mofaz's diplomatic plan is a stew of rehashed ideas, most of which are either irrelevant or will never be implemented, that various people have tossed into the political debate in recent years. The reason the diplomatic "meditations" of the chairman of the organization of truthful politicians even deserves consideration stems from the positive, sometimes even enthusiastic, response with which the initiative has been received.
Only in Israel could a former chief of staff who failed both ethically and operationally in a long war on terror, and then became a hapless defense minister (who predicted that the disengagement would bring an end to the Qassam rockets, and then contended with such impressive success with the thousands of missiles of "peace and quiet" that were fired at Negev residents), be taken seriously by the public rather than being seen as a political adventurer. Only in Israel could a politician who cheated his party and his voters (saying that Likud was his home and then defecting to Kadima) almost win the leadership of another major party and then vie for the prime minister's crown ("as prime minister, I will have the right to implement the plan").
The torchbearers of Mofaz's prophetic vision (who, in their prior incarnations, embraced the visions of eminent seers like Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak and others) tell the public that well-known experts reinforced his sense of urgency (we need the courage to change before disaster strikes) about coming out with a "peace plan." The position papers from which his plan derives were prepared by think tanks. It would be interesting to know who those think tanks are - because think tanks worthy of the name would make their case with facts and figures and show the prime ministerial aspirant that suicide bombers and Qassam rockets exploded in our midst in the wake of "peace plans," not because of their absence.
There is almost no important detail in Mofaz's innovative plan that has not been discussed in the past with the Palestinians and rejected out of hand. Genuine research would have revealed that. Such research would also have discovered that in response to every one of the "plans" conceived in Israel with the goal of avoiding "diplomatic stalemate" (plans whose guiding principle always involved concessions on Israel's part), the Palestinians only hardened their stance. Instead of seeing these plans as a demonstration of Israel's sincere desire for peace, they viewed them, and with justification, as a product of weakness.
More than once, the Palestinians have reacted to these plans with outbursts of lethal terror. And why should they respond to them in any other way, when they know that rejecting these plans, and certainly if coupled with violence, will lay the groundwork for the next concession-filled plan, including the absurd idea (which Mofaz includes in his plan) of giving the Palestinians territory within the Green Line?
Judging by the reception Mofaz's plan has won, those who didn't want him as chairman of the Kadima party could get him in the future as prime minister. Then Israel, not America, would be known as the land of unlimited opportunity, at least for politicians without backbone. But given the stringent demands the public makes of its leaders - integrity, vision, adherence to goals, leadership skills and strategic understanding - actually, why not Mofaz?
ANY BOOK FOR A BUCK
BY ZOHAR SHAVIT
A few days ago, I went into one of the big bookstore chains to buy a book. Right away, salespeople were all over me, urging me to buy more books that I really didn't want so that I could get the one I did want for only one shekel. Only one shekel? I asked. Right, one shekel, if I buy another book - whether a worthwhile one or a worthless one, at full price or at a reduced price. There were so many sales going on that I couldn't figure out what I would have to pay.
What I did understand was that the cutthroat competition raging in the book business today is liable to confuse readers, because it introduces foreign elements that belong to other markets, which are based on clear-cut economic principles, and where the laws of supply and demand and of the free market and unfettered competition prevail.
The assumption that market forces can indeed control an economy properly has been severely tested this year. But in the culture market in general and the book market in particular, that assumption was never correct. "Free" competition has never strengthened culture, only dragged it down - just look at the fatal blow dealt to television in this country after the launch of the commercial channels and the medium's exposure to so-called free competition.
Of course, business considerations and finance do play an important role in the book market. However, unlike in other most other branches of business, when it comes to books, what matters most is the cultural value of the products. Culture is different, in that the significance of its output lies not in its profitability, but rather in values whose creation may well entail financial loss. The state and society have an interest in maintaining this "market," and this market requires their protection - in the form, for example, of legislation along the lines of the French law that protects book prices from falling too low.
The bill proposed by MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) would ensure that the price of a book would remain steady for two years after publication, in order to protect businesses that are unable to play the market game, but whose importance to the book industry is vital: for example, investment-intensive publishing enterprises, or independent bookstores, as well as the smaller publishers that often supply the book market with its added value, and in so doing take risks with the publication of every book.
Also deserving of protection are the authors, whose royalties are based on the price of each book sold and who are therefore harmed by price-slashing, and other employees of the publishing industry like translators and editors, whose earnings are already rock bottom, and who will be the first to suffer if competition forces publishers to cut expenses.
The book trade has always been built on a delicate balance between highbrow and lowbrow, and on enabling the different and the "alternative" to exist. If adequate protection is not forthcoming, the book business will not die altogether, but it will lose its important balances and become shallow and superficial.
Ronit Kan of the government's Antitrust Authority has been quoted as saying that competition in the book business has been beneficial and has led to "more titles and lower prices." Ostensibly, this is a welcome process, a "democratization of literature," something that places it within reach of every home. But this view springs from a lack of understanding of the nature of the publishing industry and its unique characteristics.
The Knesset should overlook narrow political considerations, reject the lobbying of commercial interests and vote Horowitz's bill into law. If it doesn't, Israeli bookshops will become "everything for a dollar" stores, perish the thought.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
GERRYMANDERING, PURE AND CORRUPT
Of all the tricks that New York's legislators use to hang on to office, the one that works best for the politicians, that is is redistricting. Mapmaking in Albany is a dark art form designed to make absolutely certain that incumbents in the majority party are safe from electoral competition (a k a democracy).
In the years the Republicans controlled the Senate, former Senator Guy Velella, a Bronx Republican, had his own war room to choose voters block by block. The result is an inkblot that would confuse even Hermann Rorschach. In the last redistricting in 2002, Mr. Velella even managed to excise the house of a former challenger, Lorraine Coyle Koppell, from the district. Mr. Velella lost his seat after 18 years only when he was convicted of bribery in 2004 and was forced to resign.
This process has worked so well for so many politicians that the New York Public Interest Research Group reports that in 2008 more than half of the state's 212 legislators were re-elected with more than 80 percent of their districts' votes. In 57 districts, the incumbents ran unopposed. New faces appear rarely, usually when a lawmaker retires, dies or, increasingly, gets convicted of abusing the public trust.
This isn't the way it is supposed to work.
Every 10 years, legislatures across the country draw new Congressional districts and their own districts a clear conflict of interest. Under federal and state law, each district is supposed to have about the same number of people and be reasonably compact, but the laws are porous and many of the details are left to the states. Politicians and their experts are masters at finding loopholes especially in New York, where gerrymandering is still rampant.
There is little chance of changing Albany's corrupt culture without real political competition and the possibility of a full legislative housecleaning. The only way to do that is to wring much of the party politics and self-interest out of the redistricting process. New York lawmakers need to establish an independent mapmaking system that gives voters a real choice on Election Day.
Here are some of the worst examples of gerrymandering from the last redistricting in 2002:
ASSEMBLY DISTRICT 131 For decades, Democrats have controlled the Assembly, and the mapmaking for their own house. That is why the district for Democrat Susan John in the Rochester area looks a little like a teapot. The bulk of her district is in the suburbs, prime Republican territory, but to keep Ms. John in office, the mapmakers added what looks like a curl of steam that runs through the most Democratic areas of Rochester. Without it, Ms. John's seat could easily turn Republican.
ASSEMBLY DISTRICT 8 Assemblyman Philip Boyle, a Republican of Suffolk County, often calls himself the poster child for redistricting reform. In 2002, his good Republican home was carefully drawn into a Democratic district. As a result, Mr. Boyle decided not to run again until a few years later when a Republican assemblyman in the district next door resigned. Of course, Mr. Boyle had to sell his home and move. He has learned his lesson. "I rent now," he says. "I'm concerned that they're going to change the lines again."
SENATE DISTRICT 45 Each district needs about the same population, give or take 10 percent (about 300,000 for a Senate district and 124,000 for an Assembly district). But partisan mapmakers have always found ways to fiddle with the numbers. The upstate district for Senator Elizabeth Little, a Republican, is a perfect example. Mrs. Little's district has 299,600 people, but about 13,000 of those are prisoners from 12 prisons in her district. These prisoners do not vote, and they should be counted where they live, which is probably not in her district. But the prisoner scam is one way to keep upstate districts intact and Republican, as the area steadily loses population.
The next redistricting is in 2012. Long before that before next year's elections New York's lawmakers should create a nonpartisan, independent redistricting commission to draw lines fairly for Congressional seats and legislative seats. Assemblyman Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat, has been trying for years to get Albany to adopt a system similar to the one that has been in place in Iowa since 1980.