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Friday, November 13, 2009

EDITORIAL 13.11.09

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

 

media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

 

Editorial

month november 13, edition 000349, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

http://editorialsamarth.blogspot.com

 

THE PIONEER

  1. MERE WORDS WON'T DO
  2. AN ISLAMIST CAMPAIGN
  3. FANATICS TO THE FORE AGAIN - BALBIR K PUNJ
  4. AMERICA'S KOREAN WAR BY PROXY - RUDRONEEL GHOSH
  5. MONEY TAINTS POLITICS - KALYANI SHANKAR
  6. PAROCHIAL POLITICIANS - ANURADHA DUTT
  7. INDIRA GANDHI'S TRUE LEGACY - SANDEEP B
  8. A WOMAN REDEFINES TREKKING IN LADAKH

MAIL TODAY

  1. WHAT'S IN A NAME YOU MAY WELL SAY
  2. OUT OF REACH
  3. IN PARDONING CRIMINALS YOU BETRAY VICTIMS - BY MANOJ JOSHI
  4. WHAT NEXT IN THIS LAND OF TURMOIL? - BY NAJAM SETHI
  5. A FICTITIOUS DIARY OF IMRAN KHAN - JUGNU MOHSIN

TIMES OF INDIA

  1. ABOVE THE LAW
  2. TIME TO RETHINK
  3. THE LEAGUE OF ONE -
  4. BIRDAY BLUES - JUG SURAIYA 
  5. 'GREEN HUNT WILL RESULT IN GENOCIDE OF ADIVASIS'
  6. ODE TO IMMORTALITY -

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. HEARTLAND MURMURS
  2. ET, COME HOME
  3. NOT A RUN MACHINE - RAJDEEP SARDESAI
  4. MIND HIS LANGUAGE - SUJATA ANANDAN
  5. BOXES WITHIN BOX OFFICE - AMITABHA BAGCHI
  6. A GLOBAL FAMILY - SRI SRI RAVI SHANKAR
  7. FROM AGGARWAL TO BANSAL - KUMKUM CHADHA
  8. Heated issues - A question of timing -  M Rajshekhar in New Delhi
  9. power path - Mamata makeover -  Srinannd Jha in New Delhi

INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. RED HERRING
  2. CAMPUS POLITICS
  3. THE LAST GLOVES
  4. MAPS FOR LOST PARTIES - BIBEK DEBROY
  5. A FRIENDLY SOUTHERN FACE - ASHUTOSH MISRA
  6. PRESSING THE PM - INDER MALHOTRA
  7. THE RIFT DEEPENS - YUBARAJ GHIMIRE
  8. HOW TO BE A WARTIME PRESIDENT - LOS ANGLES
  9. FOX KNOWS MANY THINGS

FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. PC HAS A POINT
  2. THE CONSUMING CLASSES
  3. MIND THE JINX IN MINING - MICHAEL WALTON
  4. SMALL CHANGE CAN HAVE BIG IMPACT - YOGINDER K ALAGH
  5. RECALL THIS - JAYA JUMRANI
  6. REPORT CARD

THE HINDU

  1. A GAME CHANGING SCHEME
  2. PREPARING THE GROUND FOR GST
  3. SECURING INDIA'S SCIENCE FUTURE - N.R. NARAYANA MURTHY
  4. OBAMA FAILS TO RESUSCITATE THE MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS  - IAN BLACK
  5. WHEN UNEMPLOYMENT STRESS TRICKLES DOWN TO CHILDREN  - MICHAEL LUO
  6. IS IRAQ THE NEXT HOLIDAY HOTSPOT?  - TAMSYN KENT

ASIAN AGE

  1. THE MANNER OF MAHA POLITICS
  2. A SONG AND A FATWA - BY JAVED ANAND
  3. A GHOST WHO STALKS - BY SHEKHAR BHATIA
  4. CONNECT - BY ROBIN SHARMA
  5. PAK'S TALIBAN WAR IS A CHESS GAME - BY SRINATH RAGHAVAN

DNA

  1. BACK TO THE WILD
  2. LOOKING INWARD
  3. POISONING MINDS - AROON TIKEKAR
  4. HIDDEN POWER
  5. BEING THERE - N RAGHURAMAN

THE TRIBUNE

  1. PHYAN SKIPS MUMBAI
  2. HEADLEY ALERT
  3. FACULTY CRUNCH
  4. DOWNHILL IN KARNATAKA - BY INDER MALHOTRA
  5. ON THE RUN - BY PRAMOD K CHAUDHARI
  6. INDIA'S IS A PLURAL SOCIETY - BY KULDIP NAYAR
  7. LIES, DAMN LIES AND BERLIN SPEECHES - BY ADRIAN HAMILTON
  8. SCIENTISTS DEVELOP APPLE THAT WON'T ROT - BY CHRIS GREEN

THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

  1. POLL VERDICT
  2. LESSONS TO LEARN
  3. THE VANDE MATARAM BROUHAHA! - SAIKH MD SABAH AL-AHMED
  4. HUMAN RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT IN ASSAM - DR MANAMOHAN DAS

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. THE GOOD SON
  2. GROWTH IS INTACT
  3. KNOW YOUR KODA!
  4. CLIMATE TALKS: LEARNING FROM PAST - MANOJ PANT
  5. THE MULTIPLE ACT OF CREATION - MUKUL SHARMA
  6. STATE FUNDING IS THE MOST SUITABLE FOR INDIA
  7. CLEAN FUNDING OF PARTIES REQUIRED URGENTLY
  8. STATE FUNDING IS THE MOST SUITABLE FOR INDIA
  9. 'OUR GOAL IS NOT TO BID FOR 3G TO GET BUSINESS' - HARSIMRAN SINGH & PRAMUGDHA MAMGAIN
  10. PREPARING INDIA FOR DISRUPTION - DELSHAD IRANI AND PRASAD SANGAMESHWARAN

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. PAK'S TALIBAN WAR IS A CHESS GAME  - BY SRINATH RAGHAVAN
  2. THE MANNER OF MAHA POLITICS
  3. A DEFINING CHOICE: PAP SMEAR OR BULLETS?  - BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
  4. A SONG AND A FATWA  - BY JAVED ANAND
  5. ABC: ALWAYS BE CONNECTING  - BY ROBIN SHARMA
  6. HEALTHCARE OR ABORTION?  - BY KATE MICHELMAN & FRANCES KISSLING

the statesman

  1. LINGUA FRANCA
  2. WARNING SIGNALS
  3. SORRY CONTRAST
  4. SCIENTISTS INCH CLOSER TO 'THREE PARENT BABIES'
  5. WHY EXISTING NOTIONS OF PROGRESS NEED TO BE QUESTIONED - BY BHARAT DOGRA

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. BACK TO BASICS
  2. FALL GUY
  3. A SHIFT IN POSITION  - SWAPAN DASGUPTA
  4. FILLED WITH MUCK  - BONA FIDE - MALVIKA SINGH

THE JERUSALEM POST

  1. SAMSON'S PILLARS

HAARETZ

  1. http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/images/0.gifAN AG SELECTION RUSE
  2. ARE WE WITH OBAMA, OR WHAT?  - BY YOEL MARCUS
  3. ISRAEL'S RIGHT BETS ON THE WRONG HORSE  - BY CARLO STRENGER
  4. YOSSI SARID / ABBAS MUST UNILATERALLY DECLARE PALESTINIAN STATE - BY YOSSI SARID
  5. AN ISRAELI AMBASSADOR IN RIYADH - BY YEHEZKEL DROR
  6. MAKING AN ENEMY OF ANKARA - BY SHLOMO BROM
  7. MURDERERS CAN'T BE HEROES - BY ROBERT ROZETT
  8. TIME TO LEARN SPANISH - BY YOAV J. TENEMBAUM
  9. MR. OBAMA, YOU'RE TOO COOL - DEAR MR. PRESIDENT:

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. INTEL'S $1.25 BILLION SETTLEMENT
  2. THE 'HIGHLY QUALIFIED TEACHER' DODGE
  3. FAREWELL TO LOU
  4. ETHICS WATCHDOGS SNARL AT THE MESSENGER
  5. MEET JOHN THUNE - BY DAVID BROOKS
  6. FREE TO LOSE - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
  7. EATING BY THE NUMBERS - BY JULIE S. DOWNS, GEORGE LOEWENSTEIN AND JESSICA WISDOM
  8. WHERE CREDIT ISN'T DUE - BY JOHN CARNEY

I.THE NEWS

  1. A BITTER TASTE
  2. SECTARIAN TARGET?
  3. SHOOTING IN CAPITAL
  4. GHOSTS THAT WON'T GO AWAY - AYAZ AMIR
  5. BUILDING HOPE ON STRAWS - DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL
  6. SAY A LITTLE A PRAYER FOR LAHORE - AHMAD RAFAY ALAM
  7. THE TALIBAN AND AL QAEDA - DR MASOODA BANO
  8. IF MR ZARDARI IS HELD INELIGIBLE... - SHAFQAT MAHMOOD
  9. SIDE-EFFECT - HARRIS KHALIQUE

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. PRESIDENT SHOULD GET RID OF EXTRA BURDEN
  2. PERHAPS WISDOM IS DAWNING ON OBAMA
  3. S ARABIA'S LEGITIMATE RIGHT TO DEFEND
  4. INDIA'S NAXALITES: WAGES OF FEUDALISM - M D NALAPAT
  5. HERSH'S DIATRIBE AGAINST PAKISTAN - SULTAN M HALI
  6. PREPARATION FOR HAJJ - ATIF NOOR KHAN
  7. HILLARY WAS UNDETERRED  - SALAHUDDIN HAIDER
  8. SAIF'S HAPPY HEAD..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS

THE INDEPENDENT

  1. PAY HIKE
  2. OUR HERITAGE
  3. NO MAKEOVER FOR THE MLA...!
  4. FS NAZRUL, A BRILLIANT OFFICER WITH TEMPER  - M. SERAJUL ISLAM
  5. MIDDLE EAST STATUS QUO UNSUSTAINABLE - DR TERRY LACEY
  6. WHAT IS LEFT AFTER 1989? - IAN BURUMA

THE HIMALAYAN

  1. TESTING TIME
  2. FLIP OVER
  3. INDIGENOUS MEDICAL KNOWLEDGE FOR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS - R.R. KOIRALA AND B.N. KHANIYA
  4. VOICE AGAINST ABORTION - PRIYANKA KARKY
  5. GLOBAL ENDORSEMENT TO NEPAL AS TOP-DRAW TOURIST ATTRACTION  - RAJAN POKHREL
  6. CREDOS;CREATE A WINNING ATTITUDE — II - ROBERT KNOWLTON

THE AUSTRALIAN

  1. WHEN ONE EQUALS ONE
  2. LESSONS FROM THE TRAVESTY OF TRAVESTON DAM
  3. LET'S RATE THE GOOD NEWS

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. THE SOLUTION IS SURRENDER
  2. TOO MUCH IN THE TIMETABLE
  3. CABINET MADE THE RIGHT CALL ON THE WRITE STUFF
  4. OPPOSITION TURNS THE POLITICAL HEAT BACK ON ITSELF

THE GURDIAN

  1. IN PRAISE OF… ROY BENNETT
  2. RAILWAYS: CHANGING THE DRIVER
  3. FINANCIAL MARKETS: AT LAST – A POPULAR TAX

THE KOREA HERALD

  1. CLEAR-EYED ON N.K.
  2. START RIGHT, AGAIN
  3. THAKSIN 'PERSONALIZE' SHOWDOWN WITH BANGKOK  - HUN SEN

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. TURBULENT CLIMATE TALKS
  2. THE END OF A LONG MANHUNT
  3. HIGHLIGHTING THE RETURN TO A NEGLECTED REGION - BY FRANK CHING
  4. OBAMA'S ASIAN OCCASIONS - BY CHARLES E. MORRISON

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. THE APEC SUMMIT, AGAIN
  2. STREET PARLIAMENT
  3. RELIGIOUS STUDIES IN ISLAMIC INSTITUTES - ASLAM SA'AD AND NIHAYATUL WAFIROH
  4. WHEN WOMEN ARE BANNED FROM WEARING TROUSERS - INDRASWARI
  5. FROM G8 TO G20: KOREA'S ROLE IN THE GLOBAL ORDER - DONG YONG SEUNG

CHINA DAILY

  1. ARE THEY TRUSTWORTHY?
  2. SNOWSTORM CHALLENGES
  3. WHAT MORE CAN CHINA DO TO BOOST TIES
  4. SNOW CHANGES CLIMATE TALK

THE MOSCOW TIMES

  1. SEPARATED BY BRIDGES, DIVORCE AND FATE - BY MICHELE A. BERDY
  2. FORGING A EUROPEAN WORLDVIEW - BY ALEKSANDER KWASNIEWSKI

 

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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

MERE WORDS WON'T DO

RUDD MUST TAKE STEPS TO END RACIST ATTACKS


Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's three-day visit to India is significant in more ways than one. Though the visit comes in the backdrop of rising concerns regarding the racially motivated attacks on Indian students in Australia, there is a wide gamut of policy issues that the Governments of the two countries can look forward to thrashing out. One of the key areas of co-operation is energy. India is looking upon Australia as a significant source of fossil fuels — especially high-grade coal — and uranium. Although there has been some understanding on the former — India has recently signed a deal for more than a million metric tonne of Australian liquefied natural gas over the next 20 years — the issue of nuclear fuel is still a contentious one. Mr Rudd has reiterated Australia's stand of carrying out civilian nuclear commerce with only Non-Proliferation Treaty signatories. And since India falls outside the ambit of the NPT regime, the possibility of Australian uranium fuelling Indian nuclear reactors in the near future is low. It is true that former Australian Prime Minister John Howard had softened his stand on the issue of nuclear trade. It was sincerely hoped that Mr Rudd's regime would take things up from where Mr Howard's Government had left them. But this, it seems, is not to be.


There is no justification for Australia's cussedness on supply of nuclear fuel to India. Over the years India has proved itself to be a responsible nuclear power. Thus, any reservation that Canberra has on this front is totally unfounded. That aside, there is a lot that can be done on the security front. Both India and Australia share common concerns on terrorism and can work together in tackling this global menace. In fact, it would be healthy for New Delhi to broaden its horizon on anti-terror co-operation, and Australia presents a perfect opportunity for this. Piracy is another issue of shared concerns. For, India lies on the western end of the Indian Ocean sea lane and Australia on the eastern. Indian and Australian merchant vessels regularly traverse this region. It is for this reason that the implementation of a joint mechanism to fight piracy on the high seas would be prudent. Greater trade co-operation is another dimension of the India-Australia relationship that can definitely be strengthened. On the international diplomacy front, it would be mutually beneficial to both countries if they were to evolve a strategic partnership to jointly lobby for common goals at various international fora. This would certainly enhance their individual diplomatic clout.


However, it is clear that bilateral relations between India and Australia are predicated upon how the latter handles the issue of racial attacks on Indian students. It is no secret that the Australian education industry has heavily benefited from Indian students. Every year lakhs of young Indians choose Australia as their preferred destination for higher education on the good faith and hospitality of the Australian public. Hence, it is the duty and obligation of the Australian authorities to ensure the safety and security of the Indian students there. Mere assurances are not good enough. There is nothing to suggest that the incidents of racial attacks are receding, with the most recent one taking place last week. If Mr Rudd's Government is to redeem its image in the eyes of India, it must employ sterner action.

 

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THE PIONEER

AN ISLAMIST CAMPAIGN

'LOVE JIHAD' IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION


Hamstrung by the compulsions of the identical electoral interests of the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front Government and the Congress-led United Democratic Front Opposition, the Kerala Police, understandably, is unable to put its fingers on the Islamist programme called 'Love Jihad' or 'Romeo Jihad' and get a measure of its ominous consequences. The 'Love Jihad' programme intends to take radical Islamism, of which terrorism is an integral part, to new areas by encouraging Islamist youth to seduce young non-Muslim women and then offer to marry them after they embrace Islam. Many young non-Muslim women in Kerala have been ensnared in this manner; what has happened to them subsequently is the stuff which horror movies are made of: Some have been literally sold as sex slaves while others are believed to have become couriers for dubious organisations. Despite the fact that the fear of 'Love Jihad', whose real protagonists could well be sitting pretty in Pakistan or a West Asian country, looms large and non-Muslim families in Kerala as also in neighbouring States are clearly worried, the police, unable to avoid action under court orders, are looking for "actionable evidences" of a tangible organisation. They are unlikely to find it because there is no such organisation with offices and printed stationery; it is a programme — really a campaign — to expand the ambit of Islamism and create new channels to implement Islamism's evil agenda. Therefore, the police, irrespective of however hard they may try, are unlikely to come face to face with those behind 'Love Jihad' or, for that matter, their foot soldiers. It's like chasing a chimera.


Yet, the absence of "actionable evidences", to quote Kerala's top cop, does not mean that 'Love Jihad' is not happening. There is the example of two teenaged girls, both students, who were forced to embrace Islam in a deserted house in Muslim-dominated Chelari village in the Malabar region. The Director-General of Kerala Police admits that three of the 18 reports he had received so far about 'Love Jihad' in action are indicative of some formidable plans, but he can't find any evidence that is admissible in a court of law! He will never find that kind of evidence because in such cases what is needed is not empirical knowledge or case diary entries but a willingness to look beyond the obvious. What is also required is political determination on part of both Government and Opposition to put an end to this menace, if only to protect Kerala's women from the clutches of men who have no regard and even lesser respect for their dignity and rights. It would also help if Muslims, led by community elders, were to join a counter-campaign against 'Love Jihad'. Meanwhile, the court should tell the police to go back and do their homework.

 

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            THE PIONEER

COLUMN

FANATICS TO THE FORE AGAIN

BALBIR K PUNJ


The face of 'change' that was seen at Deoband when the 30th annual session of the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind attracted an impressive gathering of several thousand Islamic clerics and other religious leaders was soon exposed to be nothing more than cosmetic. The meeting had a Hindu religious scholar reciting from the Vedas and the very popular Baba Ramdev preaching and demonstrating the benefits of pranayam. Apart from these welcome gestures, the meeting was a huge disappointment for all those who expected the Jamiat to lead the Muslim community into the 21st century.


The 25 resolutions adopted at the meeting are a throwback to the seventh and eighth centuries. Among other things, they espouse no cinema, no television and no reservation for women in legislatures since these are supposed to be 'un-Islamic'. Cinema being against the tenets of Islam is ridiculous as many of Bollywood's personalities are Muslims. From Shah Rukh Khan to Saif Ali Khan, the Khans are the dominant actors in the film industry. Then there are numerous Muslim writers, lyricists, music composers, directors, etc.


The worst display of ultra-orthodoxy has come in the form of the resolution rejecting women's representation in legislatures. The reason given is that by bringing women into the mainstream various 'social problems' will crop up. The clerics are simply using religion as an excuse to reject gender equality.


While all this shameful display of orthodoxy may be the Jamiat's interpretation of Islam, the important question is what was Union Home Minister P Chidambaram doing at the meeting? His attendance has given the gathering a sort of Government approval. Why did he remain silent when the clerics were challenging and rejecting the fundamentals of Indian democracy? What was he doing quietly listening to the antediluvian rhetoric at the event?


True, Mr Chidambaram did speak on the liberating influence of education and how it empowers our children. He could have clarified that when he said children he meant both boys and girls. He could have referred to the widespread reluctance within the Muslim community to send girls to secular schools after the age of 10. How could a Minister of this Government that has time and again underlined its commitment to giving 33 per cent reservation to women in legislatures lend the prestige of the Union Home Minister's presence to a meeting that condemns this very reservation as unacceptable?


Then there is the resolution rejecting the singing of the National Song, Vande Mataram. The reiteration of an old fatwa that the National Song is 'un-Islamic' has come as a snub to the Congress which made the song the source of inspiration during the freedom struggle. Thousands of Muslim patriots have participated in the singing of this inspiring song, marching shoulder-to-shoulder with others against India's colonial rulers. AR Rahman, a Muslim, has created a popular rendition of Vande Mataram.


Asked on a TV channel whether that makes the Oscar-winning Rahman less of a Muslim, the moving spirit of the Jamiat, Maulana Mahmood Madani, ducked the question. But can Mr Chidambaram answer as to how could a Congressman and a Union Minister remain silent about the anti-National Song rhetoric? And as for the clerics' objection that the song deifies the motherland, eminent scholars have refuted this charge. It only personifies the nation as Mother India.


The Union Home Minister has spoken at Deoband about the majority community's duty to protect the minority community. No one can take exception to this call. But why did he fail to point out that this rule has not been followed where Muslims are in majority, as in the Kashmir Valley from where all Hindu Pandits have been driven out? The selective application of this principle of duty of the majority community to protect the minority community is the fundamental shortcoming of our 'secularists' and their organisations.


It is this selective application of 'secularism' that is a greater threat to our national unity. This has emboldened sectarian leaders to push their communal agenda at the expense of nationalism. The Deoband meeting, for instance, has called upon the Muslim youth to emphasise their separate Muslim identity. And of all the people Mr Chidambaram should be aware as the Union Home Minister how 'separate identities' often turn into separatism.

The Jamiat clerics have no doubt condemned terrorism and drawn a line to separate the religious fervour of jihad from terrorism. However, the fervour with which the Jamiat meeting has called for local committees to enforce 'social reform and religious practices' does not go so far as to ask them to isolate the preachers of virulent jihadi doctrine and to identify those who recruit youth to turn them into terrorists.


The Union Home Minister was eloquent in condemning the demolition of Babri Masjid. But he shied away from calling a spade a spade when the clerics surrounding him were busy demolishing all symbols of national identity while re-emphasising their separate identity not only in terms of dress and language but even the manner in which Muslims should greet others. Mr Chidambaram's silence is in line with the attitude of our 'secularists' whose otherwise loud rhetoric goes mute in the face of Islamic orthodoxy.


punjbk@gmial.com

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

AMERICA'S KOREAN WAR BY PROXY

RUDRONEEL GHOSH


The two Koreas were back in the headlines this week as their navies clashed with each other along their disputed maritime boundary. According to the South Korean Navy, a North Korean patrol boat had strayed into the South's territorial waters, forcing warning shots from the South's warships. To this the North's patrol boat retaliated with direct hostile fire. The South's warships replied in kind, setting ablaze the enemy vessel and causing it to flee.


There is practically no way of corroborating the chain of events as North Korea claims exactly the opposite. The problem of North and South Korean ships crossing into each other's territorial waters is routine, given that each of the Koreas has its own perception of the maritime boundary — a legacy of the 1950s Korean War. In fact, this exemplifies the deep mistrust that the two Koreas have for each other till this day.


The paths adopted by North and South Korea since 1953 could not have been more different. North Korea has emerged as a Stalinist, authoritarian, garrison state, presided over by a megalomaniac dictator and his coterie. South Korea, on the other hand, has come up as a thriving capitalist democracy with one of the strongest Asian economies. As the North voluntarily adopted a policy of self-imposed isolation driven by the ideology of Juche or self-reliance, the South has embraced globalisation.


While South Korea has been painted as one of Asia's success stories, North Korea has come to be viewed as a sight for sore eyes — a war mongering, poverty-stricken, extremely suspicious state. But is North Korea to be blamed all the time? It is unbelievable but true that North Korea and South Korea and its ally the US are still officially at war! The 1953 Armistice signed between the two sides was only a temporary measure to validate the cessation of hostilities. It was decided that a permanent peace treaty to formally end the Korean War would be worked out later. Although the two sides did meet, they could never work out any such agreement.


This, combined with the huge presence of US military troops in South Korea and Japan, as well as the presence of the US Pacific Fleet within first-strike distance, is reason enough for North Korea to be suspicious and defensive. The truth is the US-dominated global community is as much responsible for isolating North Korea, as North Korea is itself. It is nobody's case that North Korea is an ideal state. But Pyongyang's posturing is not wholly unreasonable either.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

MONEY TAINTS POLITICS

THE CLOUT WHICH THOSE WITH MONEY POWER AND MUSCLE POWER HAVE COME TO ENJOY IN VIRTUALLY EVERY POLITICAL PARTY IS DOING OUR DEMOCRACY NO GOOD. UNLESS ALL POLITICAL PARTIES TAKE A STAND ON THIS ISSUE, GOVERNANCE IS BOUND TO SUFFER. NO PURPOSE IS SERVED BY FINGER-POINTING

KALYANI SHANKAR


Why is money power increasingly becoming important in politics? The developments in the past few weeks have shown how the money power is dictating terms even in national parties like the Congress and the BJP. This is true for Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Jharkhand.


The sudden death of YS Rajasekhara Reddy in a helicopter crash triggered a political crisis in Andhra Pradesh with his son Jaganmohan Reddy, a political novice and first-time MP, aspiring to take his father's place as the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh. Even before Reddy's body was buried, the political drama began to unfold with Mr Jaganmohan Reddy's supporters demanding that he should be made the Chief Minister. Some of them went to the extent of not cooperating with Chief Minister K Rosaiah who took over the stewardship of the State after the helicopter crash. The high command tried to rein in Mr Reddy but had to go through embarrassing moments when his supporters went berserk, burning effigies of Congress leaders. Ultimately, it took some weeks before the party high command could send a signal to the Jagan supporters that Mr Rosaiah will remain in the saddle. Congress president Sonia Gandhi told Mr Reddy last week in no uncertain terms that he had to cooperate.

How did Mr Reddy get such courage to take on the party high command? It is the money power which speaks as most of the MLAs supporting him were financed and handpicked by his father and owed their allegiance to him rather than the party. The Congress should learn a lesson from the Andhra Pradesh experience.


What is happening in Karnataka also shows the extent to which money power speaks in politics. The Reddy brothers, both Ministers in the State Cabinet are holding the Yeddyurappa Government and the BJP to ransom by their sheer power of money. Interestingly, Mr Jaganmohan Reddy is said to have business links with the Reddy brothers and the Congress was said to be trying to destabilise the first BJP Government in the south.

These two mining magnates from Bellary have become a force to reckon with in Karnataka politics and beyond. In the present crisis, they got away with many of their demands, including dropping of some Ministers from the Cabinet, getting rid of some officials and withdrawal of orders affecting them. A harassed BS Yeddyurappa had to yield reluctantly and literally sobbed before television cameras. Such is money power in Karnataka.


When Jharkhand was created, the people of the State were hopeful of the long-awaited development of the area to take place. However, the Madhu Koda story shows that he has used his position to plunder the wealth of the mineral-rich State. Mr Koda was the Minister of Mines and Co-operatives from February 2005 to September 2006 in the BJP Government and set a record of first Independent legislator to become a Chief Minister. He was supported by the Congress and the RJD and remained Chief Minister until August 23, 2008.


The latest revelations of the magnitude of the hawala scam involving Mr Koda has left the country shocked. Official estimates and documents seized from him reveal illegal transactions worth Rs 2,000 crore. How could an elected representative and a school dropout who went on to become the Chief Minister of the mineral-rich State amass so much wealth in so short a time? Mr Koda and his associates are alleged to have invested in mines, steel, and power in many countries, including Thailand, Indonesia, the UAE and Singapore.

It is not as if the political parties and their leaders are not aware of the growing use of money power in politics. When then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi talked about power-brokers in the Congress during the party's centenary celebrations in Mumbai in 1985, everyone applauded him for being so bold to take note of it. However, Rajiv Gandhi could not get rid of the power-brokers. Now, Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi is talking about it. A few months ago, while addressing a meeting he said, "The youth want to join politics but don't know the way. Once they enter politics, they don't find it clean. They are confused about politics and it looks as if there is a wall between them and politics. We have to break this wall." However, the question is: Can he break this wall?


While all political parties express concern about the growing clout of money and muscle power in politics, they do not hesitate to give tickets to those who wield this clout. There was a time when politicians used the muscle power of goondas for their purpose. Soon the musclemen decided to enter politics and win elections. Earlier, politicians used industrialists and the landed gentry for funding their elections. Soon the latter realised that why should they finance someone else when they could get elected. The recent statistics show that with growing need for fighting elections more and more people with money as well as muscle power are getting patronage from political parties to fight elections.


All political parties should realise the danger of money power and muscle power in politics. If they do not check both, then there will be a day when they will regret it. The cleansing process has to begin at the stage when tickets are distributed before an election. If those with either money or muscle power are kept out of the race, then they can't influence politics later.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

PAROCHIAL POLITICIANS

LANGUAGE IS A WEAPON IN THE HANDS OF CHAUVINISTS

ANURADHA DUTT


Maharashtra Navnirman Sena's growing hooliganism over perceived threats to Marathi identity underlines the dangers of narrow parochial politics. Mercifully, there has been no violent backlash so far against Marathi-speaking people in other States, especially in the Hindi belt. But the manhandling of Samajwadi Party leader Abu Asim Azmi by four MNS MLAs because the former took the swearing-in oath in the Maharashtra Assembly in Hindi — a perfectly legitimate action — indicates that the issue of linguistic chauvinism is a convenient tool for whipping up passions. When caste and communal differences fail to stir the electorate, rabble rousers, who lack a coherent vision of India's future as a union of States, fall back on the old divisive ploy of fragmenting the polity on the basis of ethnicity and language.


At the outset, Parliament showed foresight in permitting oath-taking by elected representatives in any of the 22 languages, mentioned in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution. Apart from the commonly spoken languages, Sanskrit, Bodo, Nepali, Maithili and Santhali are specified for the purpose. It is a measure of the parochialism holding sway over Maharashtra politics that BJP MLA Girish Mahajan was prevented by the protem speaker from taking the oath in Sanskrit though, on three earlier occasion, he had done so. The irony is that Marathi is one among the Indo-European group of languages derived from Sanskrit. Another legislator, who wanted to take oath both in Hindi and Marathi, was told he could take oath only once, having done so in Hindi. A Congress MLA took oath in English.


The State Assembly has thus turned into a veritable Tower of Babel, with some lawmakers more concerned with the politics of language than with tackling problems of terrorism, insurgency and poverty. This is an unforgivable travesty of the democratic process and betrayal of duties. In the words of the English poet John Donne, "For God's sake hold your tongue …", with the time for bigotry long past in an increasingly shrinking world. Moreover, there really is no threat to Marathi, given the following Wikipedia data:


"There are 90 million fluent speakers worldwide. Marathi is the fourth most spoken language in India and the 15th most spoken language in the world".


While the MNS and other language chauvinists battle imaginary dragons, like a latter-day political Don Quixote, the DMK seems on the verge of reviving the anti-Hindi campaign of the last century, which pitted 'native Dravidians' against 'Aryan others'. EV Ramasami had quit the Indian National Congress in 1925 to launch the self-respect movement for restoring Dravidian pride. His campaign swelled into a political trade against the north's apparent ambition to dominate the south of the country by imposing its culture and language Hindi. Since they worshipped the same gods, he systematically began to denigrate the Hindu pantheon and myths through his writings and speeches. His anger focussed on Ram, the Aryan depredator. The latter subjugated Dravidians by eliminating their hero, Ravan, and crowned a stooge, Ravan's brother, Vibheeshan, as king of Lanka. The saga took on a racist hue. Ramasami even instigated his supporters to set fire to the pictures of Ram on Madras's Marina beach before the police arrested them.


Two parties — the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and later, the breakaway All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam — claimed Ramasami's political legacy. Power alternated between them in Tamil Nadu since 1967, when the DMK worsted the Congress in Assembly elections. Each tried to project itself as protector of Tamil and Dravidian identity. This did not prevent either from allying with the BJP for political gains when the occasion arose. However, they refrained from supporting the Ramjanmabhumi temple campaign.

However, the language campaign this time seems also against the use of English. DMK leader and Chemicals and Fertilisers Minister MK Alagiri has put Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar in a quandary by putting up a request that he be allowed to use Tamil in Parliament as he is proficient neither in English nor Hindi. Under the Constitution, Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha business is to be carried out only in these two languages. Allowing him to have his way would encourage others to speak in regional languages, thereby confounding the confusion that very often reigns in Parliament. Observers suspect his request to be a ploy to stymie AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa, as the two parties battle over the mantle of Tamil leadership. Interestingly, Mr Alagiri faced no problem when he took his oath as a Central Minister in fluent English.


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THE PIONEER

OPED

INDIRA GANDHI'S TRUE LEGACY

SHE DISMANTLED INDIA'S SOCIO-POLITICAL STRUCTURE WITHOUT AN ALTERNATIVE IN PLACE. WORSE, SHE MADE A MOCKERY OF THE ASPIRATIONS OF INDIA'S IMPOVERISHED MASSES BY WILFULLY MISLEADING THEM

SANDEEP B


It is 25 years after Mrs Indira Gandhi was assassinated. Expectedly, media was flush with articles on the legacy of Mrs Gandhi, arguably one of the most important political figures in post-independence history. Most articles were along anticipated lines; some offered a fresh perspective but did not delve deep enough.


Any talk about Mrs Gandhi's negative legacy inevitably hinges around these themes: Her unholy political moves, regressive economic policies, broken promises, the post-1971 war agreement succumbing to Pakistan, the Emergency and Operation Bluestar. These themes are tragic in quality and epic in proportion in some cases — manifestations of a far more fundamental wound she inflicted on the very soul of the nation.

The electoral mandates she received were from a people who were subconsciously united by the broad ideals of dharma. These were the simple rural masses who were still reconciling themselves to the idea of an alien democratic system of governance. They voted because they were told that this was the new law (kanoon), broadly speaking, from now on. Essentially, their mindset was still in the raja-praja mode. They believed that the duty of the king was to protect his subjects and ensure their well-being.


Mrs Gandhi abolished privy purses on the pretext of "equal rights for all citizens" and to ostensibly free India from the vestiges of its feudal past. A cursory reading of the history of Indian provinces ruled by kings in the late-1800s to almost until 1947 tells a different story. Baroda, Mysore, Travancore and Kochi were among the best governed princely states, each competing with the other to deliver quality governance. They also provided inspiration to other princely states. Independent India, both before and after Mrs Gandhi abolished privy purses on the grounds of ensuring a better life for the people, needs to show a comparable record in governance or economic attainments. Instead, we have a sorry record of undoing the attainments of the recent past.


The simple masses were led to believe that she was the avatar of Durga as much as they believed that people in high places were worth emulating. The Indian ideal was to lead by example. The king or the guru or the reformer was definitely not perfect but he strove to remain as close to the ideal as possible. This practice is again rooted in Indian philosophy, which was not idle intellectual speculation about the mysteries of the universe but had every bit of application in practical life.


In fact, this is one of the reasons Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who practiced what he preached — chiefly, truth, austerity, and non-violence — had millions of followers. Mrs Gandhi perversely capitalised this naïveté to disastrous consequences. When she first closed her eyes to corruption and then institutionalised it, people followed suit. Because the nature of politics and people coagulates around how the reward system is set up; the inevitable downfall was unstoppable.


The rationale behind the law of karma, a simple belief in dharma and similar ideals is probably debatable but it ensured and sustained a high degree of cohesion in Indian society for thousands of years. What do our contemporary thinkers offer in comparison, now that these ideals have all but been destroyed on the basis of mostly ignorance if not outright hatred?


This is exactly what has been ignored by our commentators on Mrs Gandhi's unhealthy legacy, and on corruption in public life in a wider sense. These commentaries focus on sciolistics rather than prying open uncomfortable fundamentals. Worse, some commentators have even offered justifications on the basis of 'realism' and similar, lazy intellectualism. Mrs Gandhi's role in the much-celebrated victory over Pakistan in 1971 is rather overrated. As Prime Minister, she merely discharged her duty to the nation by responding to Pakistan's pre-emptive military strike in kind.


The only enduring legacy of Mrs Gandhi is the subversion of every known nuance of decency in public life by striking a fatal blow at the ethical — the dharmic foundations India was built upon. Mrs Gandhi betrayed the simple trust millions had placed in her, and had willingly put their destinies in her hands. More importantly, her betrayal is unforgivable because she knew what she was doing and did it repeatedly.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

A WOMAN REDEFINES TREKKING IN LADAKH

THINLAS CHOROL FACED MANY OBSTACLES BUT DIDN'T GIVE UP HOPE. SHE TELLS HER STORY OF COURAGE


I was born in a small village with around 60 houses called Takmachik about 120 km from Leh, Ladakh. In my village, all the 60 families are divided into groups to take turns at grazing the goats and sheep on the mountains. We also would make trips to collect grass and store it so that during the long harsh winters, the animals have adequate fodder. Sometimes my father used to go up everyday for three or four weeks to collect grass.


As a child during my holidays, I used to go up on the mountain with my father and our herds. I was afraid that something may happen to him if he was alone. My mother had died when I was a baby and I had only my father, whom I cared about deeply. I did not really cut any grass, I just went because of my father and because I loved the peaceful mountains.


This was the bliss of my childhood which I still miss in the village which I still love. But then life changed and I went out into the world to get myself an education and explore possibilities for my life ahead. After Class 10, I had to leave my village for further my studies. I was selected for the Student Educational Cultural Movement of Ladakh hostel in Phey.


In SECMOL I met many volunteers and I went trekking with some of them. One of the women asked me to come with her as a guide. Previously, she had a bad experience with a male guide, who had tried to coerce her into having sex with him. Distraught, she had quit trekking. And now was understandably weary of taking a male guide along. She knew that I have trekked before and though I said I did not the route, remained keen to hire me as a guide. I had been born in the mountains and spent my childhood amidst them, therefore, it was natural for me to slip into that mode and become for the first time, a trekking guide!


It was an altogether different experience from my childhood wanderings. I found I was attracting a lot of attention with local people coming up to me and speaking to me in English saying they had never seen a Ladakhi female guide ever before. In fact, so remote was the possibility of encountering one, many of them thought that I was Japanese!


The trek turned out to be wonderful and the woman enjoyed it immensely. She suggested that I think about becoming a guide as a profession. It was the first time, I had got advice of this kind and suddenly the world opened up before me. What was a part of my growing up experience could become my career. She pursued this and together we went to meet with an organisation which conducts such programs. Although it did not work out, the experience of this foreign women believing in me left a huge impact on my life.


I decided to pursue it on my own steam and approached two travel companies. At one of them, the person in-charge asked me if I did monastery tours. He was taken aback on hearing me say categorically, that I wanted to work as a trekking guide. I was rejected. At the second company, it was worse. I was clearly told that local society would not accept a woman going up on the mountains with a group of tourists. With these were bitter experiences, my dreams seemed on the verge of being shattered.


But help was near. I shared my angst with my English teacher, Becky who was from America and found a much needed supporter in her. Later, Becky, who also my fees for mountaineering courses, introduced me to a travel agency, which later hired me. It was I knew a turning point for me and I had to prove myself to all those who believed in me.

Generally in Ladakh, students work as a guide without any formal training. Men are hired by companies even if they do not have this training, any familiarity with trekking routs or work experience. In spite of my training though, in the beginning it was very difficult for me to get hired by the travel companies.


But I persisted in my efforts. And my lucky break came in 2004 again through SECMOL. They opened a travel company called Around Ladakh with Students. Most of the guides were women; all of them were doing cultural guide and monastery tours, except me. I was for the first time a full-fledged trekking guide!

 

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MAIL TODAY

 COMMENT

WHAT'S IN A NAME YOU MAY WELL SAY

 

THERE is a certain mindlessness in the bureaucratic approach to fighting terror.Take the latest Reserve Bank of India directive to banks and financial institutions to scan all existing accounts to ensure that these are not held by or linked to any entity or individual figuring on the United Nations list of terrorists or terror- related organisations. These institutions are further enjoined not to permit such entities and individuals to open accounts.

 

The four- part UN list relating to the individuals and entities associated with the Taliban and the Al Qaeda runs into hundreds of names and many of them have several aliases. Does it mean everyone named Abdul Ghafoor, or Mohammed, or Ibrahim, names that also figure on the list, will be put through the ringer if they try to open accounts in Indian banks? Does the RBI really think that one of those named will actually seek to open such an account and provide all the detail to link them to the proscribed individual? Terrorists find this name game useful.

 

Take the case of Daoud Gilani, aka David Coleman Headley. Mr Gilani is of Pakistani- origin and South Asian ethnicity.

 

But by taking on what appears to be a good Anglo- Saxon name, he has pulled wool over the eyes of officials in three continents.

 

Or the case of the Markaz Dawa- ul- Irshad and its military wing, the Lashkare- Tayyeba. The moment it was banned, the Markaz changed its name to Jamaatud- Dawa and as for the Lashkar, it relocated to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir aka Azad Kashmir. Thereafter the western media began to speak of the Lashkar as a Kashmiri militant organisation.

 

The legal- minded western countries may find it important to issue periodic lists proscribing this or that organisation.

 

But does that really help to check the outfit? All the efforts to ban various trusts and foundations have not stopped the flow of Arab money to the Al Qaeda and terrorist groups elsewhere. The groups may be mildly discommoded by the ban, but all they have to do to carry on is to repaint the old sign- plate.

 

Legal proscription does have some moral value, but more practical steps are needed to fight terrorism.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

OUT OF REACH

 

THE inaugural of the Noida Metro line on Thursday is nothing short of a blessing for the residents of the suburb. Commuting for them will never be the same again, having become faster, more convenient and hugely comfortable. The slick, modern system also imbues a feel- good factor on the affected citizenry.

 

However, the same cannot be said about the decision to hike Metro fares. Metro authorities may claim that the hike is nominal but it is going to be an added strain on the middle- class pocket in these times of downturn. Besides, for the poorest of the poor, it will get more out of reach to avail the services. After all, how many of our citizens can afford to pay Rs 60 every day on Metro travel, the revised fare for a two- way long distance travel on the network? In a city where the minimum wages are around Rs 130, this is deeply regrettable and implies that the authorities do not have the aam admi in mind when they go in for such decisions. The Delhi Metro has cited high running costs, expansion of network and other expenditure to rationalise the hike. But then public transport even in developed countries is a subsidised affair and there is no reason for it to be any different in a country like ours.

 

The alternative to Metro travel, the bus services, are no cheaper, particularly after the recent hike in fares. It costs as much as Rs 2.50 per km now, which is far more than what a self- owned two- wheeler or a CNGfitted car incurs. There is a lot of tall talk about shifting people from private to public transport, but these recent decisions are likely to ensure that the opposite will happen.

 

Those who take such decisions are the kind who do not ever use public transport.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COLUMN

IN PARDONING CRIMINALS YOU BETRAY VICTIMS

BY MANOJ JOSHI

 

AT THE time of the national and state assembly elections, earlier this year, an NGO provided considerable detail to show that our legislative assemblies and parliament had come to be populated by a disproportionately large number of millionaires. The implication is that the legislatures are now skewed towards the interests of the well off.

 

Coincidence or not, it now seems apparent from the revelations of the Manu Sharma episode that our criminal justice system, too, favours the the rich and powerful. Even if you are convicted of rape and murder, if you have the right connections, not only can you manage the occasional parole, but actually receive a signed and certified pardon from the state.

 

PARDONS

It is true, of course, that with access to good ( read expensive) lawyers the rich do have an advantage when it comes to facing the criminal justice system. But they face the same procedures, judges and the law as do the poor. Indeed, the rich and the powerful, too, get convicted, despite their best, and often questionable, efforts to get off.

 

The conviction of Sharma himself, the son of an influential and rich politician, Vikas Yadav, the son of a powerful West Uttar Pradesh politician, Sanjeev Nanda, former police officer R. K. Sharma have been pointers towards this. But this is where the script changes. Even though they are convicted and liable for the same punishment, the rich, even those guilty of heinous crimes, manage to systematically cheat punishment through paroles, sentence remissions and, worse, outright pardons. The blame for this shameful and amoral situation rests squarely on our bureaucratic and political class.

 

On January 15, 1999, Sriyans Kumar Jain, a Bharatiya Janata Party activist whose life sentence for murder had been upheld by the Supreme Court, put in a mercy petition to the Haryana state government which on January 20, recommended the case to the governor of Haryana, Mahabir Prasad. By January 25th, Jain had gotten his pardon. At the time the government in the state was run by Bansi Lal and the Haryana Vikas Party which was allied to the BJP. Jain had been convicted for the murder of Krishan Kant Khandewala, a Congress municipal councillor of a small town called Hansi in 1987. He was an aide of BJP MLA P. K. Chaudhry who wanted to defeat Khandewala in the elections for the chairmanship of the town's municipality.

 

The pardon shocked Khandewala's family. This was not a mere commutation of a sentence. It was an actual pardon, under Section 161 of the Constitution and Section 432 of the Criminal Procedure Code, nullifying the original sentence. Subsequently the hapless family was pressured to avoid pressing an appeal in the case.

 

In July 1999, the successor Om Prakash Chautala government outdid the Bansi Lal largesse. By 2001 it had already pardoned ten convicted criminals. Among them were the killers of Jasbir Singh, a student leader. A sessions court initially acquitted the accused — Sat Parkash, Satbir, Himat and Devinder Singh, but a Supreme Court Bench comprising Justices K. T. Thomas and M. K. Mukherjee set aside the order and sentenced the first two to life imprisonment and the others to lesser terms. All of them were party activists belonging to Chautala's Indian National Lok Dal and three months after assuming office, Sat Parkash and Satbir were pardoned and the others a short while later.

 

Neighbouring Punjab's record is no better. Six years after their son was shot, Bathinda farmer Jagroop Singh and his wife Kartar Kaur thought that justice had been delivered when three accused were given a life sentence by a sessions judge. So confident was Sandeep Singh, the main accused, that his family did not bother to file an appeal; it merely petitioned the governor S. F. Rodrigues who granted a pardon to him. Singh is the son of former Akali minister Teja Singh, who later joined the ruling Congress.

 

FEUDAL

Why blame the northern states? Last September, in a grand gesture, Tamil Nadu released nearly 1500 prisoners to celebrate the anniversary of DMK founder C. N. Annadurai's birth. Among them were lifers who had already served seven years of their sentence. The state justified its action, though you can be sure that among those pardoned were murderers, rapists and other reprehensible people. This act of criminal generosity was followed up by the Andhra Pradesh government this year which released nearly 1000 people, mostly lifers, citing Gandhi Jayanti as a pretext.Its attempt to free G Venkata Reddy, a Congress activist was quashed by the Supreme Court in 2006 on procedural grounds.

 

The concept of pardon is a feudal leftover of the divine right of kings who could not only take a life, but grant one merely on whim. This system has been inherited by India through Article 72 of the Constitution which allows the President to grant a pardon, or remission of punishment of any convict. But the president cannot act on whim and must be guided by the Home Ministry and the Council of Ministers.

 

But while the President is so constrained, there seems to be no check on our governors who operate under the radar, as it were, to free convicted murderers or give dangerous criminals parole at will, or at the instance of our politicians.

 

AMORAL

Given instances of wrongful conviction, it is important to have pardoning power in the constitutional system, but its gross misuse by our politicians and bureaucrats requires that it be vested in a judicial body. As a rule, there should be no pardon for violent assault, murder or rape. If an arrest or conviction was bad in law, surely our court system can set that right. Executive intervention is, more often than not, based on extraneous considerations.

 

The Supreme Court has generally upheld the state's right to pardon criminals or remit their sentences.

 

This, as various officials who have testified to counter petitions opposing the pardons, is as per the law and the Constitution. The case is often couched in the language of rehabilitation of the criminals. But what of society at large? What about the victims? Is their any consideration that a convicted rapist could rape again or a pathological killer kill? Doesn't society deserve protection against violent criminals? Remarkably, neither the executive nor the judiciary has ever bothered to consider the rights of the victims.A person who has been murdered can only depend on the state for judicial revenge. But the state is betraying the interest of the victims by freeing prisoners who have served only a part of their sentence.The government is supposed to protect the life and liberty of the people of the country. When it fails to do so, it is responsible for ensuring that those guilty of depriving a citizen of his or her life is punished.

But what we are seeing is that large sections of the political and bureaucratic class have lost their moral compass. Instead of care and compassion for the victims of the crimes, they are showing sympathy and kindness to their killers.

manoj.joshi@mailtoday.in

 

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MAIL TODAY

THE LAHORE LOG

WHAT NEXT IN THIS LAND OF TURMOIL?

BY NAJAM SETHI

 

PRESIDENT Asif Zardari's bid to bury the National Reconciliation Ordinance in parliament has come a cropper. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement has stabbed him in the back. He should have done his homework and also known better. The MQM has a record of ditching friends up the creek. The debacle had a familiar ring to it. The same half- baked approach was taken by the PPP when Governor's Rule was imposed in Punjab last March without firmly stitching up an alliance with the Pakistan Muslim League Quaid on the basis of some solid arithmetic and the PPP had to retreat ignominiously in the face of a resurgent judiciary and entrenched Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz.

 

What next? Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has confirmed that the NRO bill will be withdrawn from the roster of Parliament.

 

That means that after November 28, the cut off date given by the Supreme Court ( SC), the NRO will be null

and void. Two possibilities will then open up.

 

First, according to Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, the beneficiaries of the NRO should apply for pre- arrest bail because their cases would stand revived. But since the government is the prosecutor, and elements in the government or allied to it are affected by the NRO, this may be unnecessary because the government certainly has no intention of acting against its own. But the fly in the ointment here is the resurgent new judiciary.

 

As we have seen, the SC is in an unprecedented activist mode. It could order the police to arrest the alleged criminals and go so far as to deny them bail.

 

So even if the government is not interested in arresting or prosecuting anyone it could be thwarted by the judiciary. This would be the height of political activism. But, given the bitter political mood of the country, the anti- Zardari media might be able to sell it to the people as a " revolutionary" and " moral" step. Under the circumstances, President Zardari and the PPP cannot afford to sit back in the hope that the judges will not fashion the law according to the dictates of their conscience or political tilt instead of due process and the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers.

 

The only safe person in this scenario is President Zardari himself because of his constitutional immunity from prosecution while he is President. But if he is stripped of his companions and supporters by the courts, he will be a much wounded man given to desperate measures and it would be foolish to predictthe turn that events may take.

 

Second, the SC may readily agree to hear petitions against Mr Zardari's eligibility to be President of Pakistan. Since there is no conviction against him, it would require a desperate leap of vindictiveness to unseat him legally. But anything is possible in these trying times.

 

The new judges have taken some hugely controversial decisions already — that is a mild way of putting it — which smack more of politics than law. But who's to challenge the SC?

 

SO, WHATEVER happens, Mr Zardari must work out his strategy on the basis of the assumption that " they" are out to get him, come hell or high water.

 

What are his options? He can dig his heels in and get ready to fight a legal war with the SC. He can justifiably

argue that, under Section 33A, the NRO knocked out all the political cases against holders of public office on the very day it was promulgated ( 5th October 2007). The language is very clear on this count: " Notwithstanding anything contained in this Ordinance or any other law for the time being in force, proceedings under investigation or pending in any court including a High Court and the Supreme Court of Pakistan initiated by or on a reference by the National Accountability Bureau inside or outside Pakistan including proceedings continued under section 33, requests for mutual assistance and civil party to proceedings initiated by the Federal Government before the 12th day of October, 1999 against holders of public office stand withdrawn and terminated with immediate effect and such holders of public office shall also not be liable to any action in future as well under this Ordinance for acts having been done in good faith before the said date". In other words, he can argue that the debate over the validity of the NRO after February 5, 2008 ( four month validity period) for holders of public office like he and his cronies is largely irrelevant. But if " they" are out to get him — which is the premise from which there seems no escape — all such legal niceties are inconsequential.

 

Mr Zardari can take a more productive route. He can ally with Nawaz Sharif and together the two of them can thwart " them" ( their joint nemeses) via parliament.

 

There is a small window of opportunity following the expiry of the 28 November deadline on the NRO, after which the courts will get into overdrive and create problems all round. If a constitutional amendment can be passed to enshrine the Charter Of Democracy signed by Mr Sharif and Benazir Bhutto in all its dimensions, Mr Zardari can get guarantees of longevity to complete his term and that of the PPP- led government, Mr Sharif can get the roadblocks to third term prime ministership removed and the office of the PM strengthened, and all Provisional Constitutional Order judges ( regardless of which PCO they swore allegiance to) can be replaced constitutionally, and with the approval of parliament, with a truly merited, independent, non- controversial and apolitical judiciary. In this way, the democratic system can be protected from the certain derailment that is bound to happen sooner than later to the joint detriment of both Mr Zardari and Mr Sharif.

 

The writer is editor of The Friday Times ( Lahore)

 

A FICTITIOUS DIARY OF IMRAN KHAN

JUGNU MOHSIN

 

AS YOU know, these days I'm standing on the soap box, rousing the rabble and talking rubbish on talk shows.

 

My arguments are all wonderfully hollow, bogus and beautifully misleading. This will bring in millions of followers amongst ordinary people in the teeming bazaars to my fold especially women, children and the elderly if they haven't been killed off by the Taliban.

 

I'm planning for an early election and a long vacation but first I'll go and talk to the Taliban.

 

Because enough is enough. They're very sweet men who are deeply misunderstood.

 

I'll get to Waziristan by disguising myself as The Grinch because he has such sound and politically correct credentials since he steals Christmas and kills happiness and joy in other people's lives. Or I can go as Caspar the Ghost ( since it was recently Halloween) and blend in perfectly with the funereal atmosphere there. Or I could even go as Fred Flinstone to fit in with the Stone Age culture of the Taliban. We'll see, depending on which costume Jem can send me from Hamley's. ( BTW, every time I go to London to pick up some toys from Hamley's, I always tell them how un- Islamic and unacceptable their name is. They always say, well what do you suggest sir? And I always say, well you can change your name to Chickenley's or Beefley's or even Vegley's but they never listen to me.

I wonder why?) Anyway, once I get to Cave No 1 to meet the new leader of the Taliban, Hakimullah, I will start by saying, " Dear brother. I've come to invite you to merge the Tehrik- e- Taliban with the Tehrik- e- Insaf. As you can see, there's very little difference between our two organs". I'll then quickly move on to a discussion about how to establish peace and harmony in the region but we won't get very far because neither of us knows the first thing about it.

 

My friends are saying there are many caves in Waziristan and it's not going to be easy to find Cave No 1 and even more impossible to find Hakimullah.

 

I'm not so stupid. I'll just follow my nose and once I meet him, I'll know from his body language about who's hiding where and who's hiding who. And then I'll hide and he'll go seek and that's how we'll become friends and defeat America. I'll also ask him for a donation for my hospital from his endless poppy fund. And then, depending on Hakimullah's reaction, I'll come home. Or not, as the case may be. My friends tell me that if I'm determined to go, I shouldn't be scared because Hakimullah is actually vegetarian which means that ( to be continued) Im the Dim

 

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MAIL TODAY

INTERACTIVE

SAVE THE TAJ AT ALL COSTS FROM TERRORISTS

 

IT IS IRONIC that the Lashkar- e- Tayyeba, the Pakistan- based terror organisation was targeting the Taj Mahal in Agra, a monument of love built by one of the greatest Mughal emperors and part of India's rich Islamic heritage. But then, we know by now that the LeT, or any such terror organisation, has no religious affiliations.

 

Therein lies the trouble. Since it has no fixed agenda ( which terror organisation has stated in clear terms what it really wants?), terrorists are difficult to find and then tackle. But let us not get into the philosophy ( or lack of it) of terrorism. Our singular aim must be to protect our people and our heritage at all costs.

 

Now, if we have to emulate the US model and prevent any further terror attack on India, then we will need to have a multi- pronged strategy to do so. For instance, first of all, no matter what the global reaction is going to be, we have to have stricter visa controls — both at the issuing point as well as at the immigration counters at airports and seaports.

 

Two, our intelligence machinery should have the right equipment — both hardware and software — to deal with suspicious ingress and egress activity.

 

For instance, David Coleman Headley allegedly made nine visits to India between 2006 and March 2009. How come our intelligence officials had no clue about him whereas the FBI found out everything there was to find out about him? Three, and this is critical, the local police must be trained in urban warfare tactics and strategy.

 

If the beat constable is aware of his larger duty towards the nation rather than indulge in taking money for himself from local low- lives, then maybe we would have better security on the ground.

 

It is important that the government — most critically the home ministry — take these relevant steps so that there is no repeat of a terror attack like the one that took place on November 26, 2008 in Mumbai.

 

Mohd Sohail Khan via email

 

MNS' HOOLIGANISM WILL NOT WORK FOR LONG

APROPOS of the editorial page article, ' Intolerant politics a threat to urban living' ( November 12), I agree with the author Amrita Ibrahim that divisive politics by Raj Thackeray of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena on the issue of migrants in Mumbai is a disturbing trend.

 

For all practical purposes, India is one nation, a federal constitution comprising several states. Inter- state relocation due to better job opportunities or any other reason is perfectly legal. Moreover, there is a reservation policy in favour of those who are from within any state.

 

Therefore, hooliganism by the MNS should be dealt with sternly. Meanwhile, let us decide once for all whether we do have a national language. If yes, is it Hindi? There appears to be ambiguity on this. If Hindi is truly our national language, then why should anyone be insulted if Marathi is given less importance than Hindi at certain occasions. After all, no matter how rich the language and its literature is, Marathi will be a state language.

 

Manujula Pal via email

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TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

ABOVE THE LAW

 

It has now been established that rules were bent when Manu Sharma, who is serving a life sentence for the murder of model Jessica Lall, was given parole. Sharma had sought parole on three grounds: to participate in the religious rites of his late grandmother; attend to his ailing mother; and to take care of his business. Delhi police did not find any of these reasons good enough to grant parole. However, the Delhi government did not go by its own state police recommendations and cleared Sharma's request based on a report by the Chandigarh police. Incidentally, Sharma's father is an influential Congress politician in Chandigarh. Besides, Sharma's request was processed in unseemly haste.


The way parole was granted to Sharma makes a mockery of justice. The Supreme Court has ruled that every accused or convict should be released on parole once a year. In principle this is a good thing. But in reality parole pleas of ordinary convicts across the country have been gathering dust. This is true also for Tihar jail, here Sharma is serving his sentence.

 

The parole figures for Delhi clearly show that the system isn't working. This year, out of 132 applications for parole from prisoners in Tihar, only 11 were approved. And despite a court directive that parole applications be processed quickly it takes more than 8-10 months to decide most cases. In many cases the delay often negates the very reason for which parole was being requested. It's clear that very few convicts do manage to get parole, and Sharma was one of them. The situation in Delhi is further complicated because the lieutenant-governor and not the director-general of police has the final say. This could lead to situations where considerations other than urgency or merit of the application could creep in, as it seems to have done in Sharma's case.


That the parole system is not working is also evident from prisoners who have disappeared after being out on parole. These include terrorists and ISI agents. Clearly, the way parole is being handled needs to be overhauled. The SC's logic of being lenient about parole is laudable since that could be a way of reforming criminals. But if the system is being subverted to favour the powerful or to allow dangerous criminals to flee, that cannot be allowed to continue. The method of processing and tracking parole needs to be streamlined so that only deserving criminals, whether for good behaviour or the urgency of their request, are let out. The others, including dangerous criminals, must remain behind bars.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

TIME TO RETHINK

 

The past few weeks have seen a somewhat contradictory message emerging from New Delhi on the issue of arms trafficking. On the one hand, home secretary G K Pillai has stated Indian concerns about Maoists being supplied arms from China, albeit by private Chinese players rather than by Beijing. On the other, when the UN committee on disarmament and peace voted on a resolution last month calling for talks on a treaty to regulate the global conventional arms trade, India abstained. The final tally was 153 for, 1 against, 19 abstaining; India now finds itself not just in the minority, but in the company of countries like Pakistan and China.


This is a dicey stance, particularly when Pillai himself followed up his concerns about illegal arms transfers from China by pointing out that 80 per cent of small arms are manufactured by the United States, China, Pakistan and Iran; and that most of these arms are harming the developing world. Ethical issues aside and there are a host of those hard-headed self-interest dictates that New Delhi reconsider its stance. Doubtless, it has valid concerns given India's reliance on defence imports, but the way to protect its interests is by having a seat at the table, not by opting out of the entire process.


If there are sticking points in the treaty and doubtless there will be given how proposed conditions about human rights violations and monitoring could be open to interpretations in a problematic manner there is ample time to work on them given that the final round of talks is slated only for 2012. Crucially, there are likely to be powerful allies as well; the issue has been a contentious one with the US voting against it in 2006 before signing on this year. And that is the crux of the matter. Russia may have abstained as well but the days when it was India's sole arms supplier are past. New Delhi's defence trade with the US and EU backers of the treaty, all is at the higher end of the military equipment spectrum and largely outside the potential rubric of the treaty. Thus, it has little to lose by signing on. But if it does not, having the unsigned treaty's ghost at the table could potentially complicate future deals.


Handled correctly, New Delhi has little to lose. And by joining the mainstream on this issue, not only will it position itself as a responsible stakeholder, it will have more leverage to address precisely the sort of concerns Pillai voiced.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

THE LEAGUE OF ONE

As Sachin Tendulkar completes 20 years in international cricket on Sunday, it is time to go beyond cricketscape to fully comprehend his contribution to India's sporting history. Sir Donald Bradman too had played international cricket for nearly two decades between 1929 and 1948. However, with not more than a handful of Test matches scheduled per year and with no ODIs and T-20 matches cramping the cricket calendar then, let alone the IPL, his body hadn't endured half of what Sachin's has. This statistic coupled with the pressure of a billion expectations that Sachin has played under in each of his 159 Tests and 435 ODIs makes him the greatest-ever sportsman to have played the game.


In fact, it is now passe to suggest that Sachin is India's greatest-ever cricketer. Rather, it is time to step up the comparison and compare him with the world's greatest, to come to terms with his place in the global sporting pantheon.

At a time when Sachin emerged on the international scene in 1989, India was gradually falling prey to escalating international and domestic tensions. Kashmir was on the boil, ULFA was eating into the edifice of Assam and the demand for Gorkhaland was gathering momentum in Bengal. It wouldn't be wrong to say that our democracy was at risk and the concept of Indianness was being threatened by secessionists and insurgents.


In this atmosphere of growing political instability, Sachin emerged, someone who helped us feel uniquely Indian everytime he stepped out into the middle to espouse the national sporting cause. Be it at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata, at the Kotla in Delhi or at Chepauk in Chennai or indeed any stadium in this country he was always greeted with the same intensity and cheer. He helped carve out a truly pan-Indian imagined community.

It is this singular contribution that places him on the same pedestal as a Jackie Robinson or a Jesse Owens. While Robinson's breaking the colour line in 1947 justly continues to be hailed as a huge breakthrough in major league baseball and went a long way to address the race issue in America, Owens standing up against the Nazi might in 1936 remains a significant sporting fairytale. His achievement helped in giving coloured sportspersons a respectability they had craved for years.


Sachin's case is somewhat similar. Just as the nation was reeling under the impact of the Mumbai terror attacks and needed something to lift the collective national spirit, Sachin scored a match-winning fourth innings century at Chennai against the English in December 2008. His determination to do it "for India" was sure to rub off on every Indian sports fan. His gesture of dedicating the century to the memory of the victims of 26/11 did much to elevate Indian sport to a different level. He provided a salve for a troubled nation.


Sachin's innings of 136 against Pakistan at Chennai in 1999, while suffering from severe back pain, was a pointer to his dedication to playing for the nation's cause. Kargil wasn't a far-away memory. The resilience and the will to fight were what we most wanted to see in our icons. Striving for success for the country at times of adversity while enduring maximum pain was the best message Sachin could offer his fellow citizens. If Chennai 1999 ended in tragedy, with India losing the match by a meagre 12 runs, Centurion, South Africa, in March 2003 marked a spectacular resurgence. In one of the most intensely fought World Cup encounters in the history of the competition, India triumphed over Pakistan thanks to Sachin's 78-ball 98. The impact was such that he was worshipped across the country alongside Lord Shiva on Shivratri.

Sachin's aura isn't restricted to Indians at home. In the ever-growing Indian diaspora, Indian professionals will inevitably have a desktop scorecard open on their computer monitors every time Sachin steps out to bat. It is an instant connect with things Indian that helps unite the diverse but powerful Indian community in the West.


While we can compare Sachin with legends like Nadia Commaneci, or more recently Usain Bolt, it is important to remember that Sachin is member of a collective and for a large part of his career has had to wage his battle with a mediocre team behind him. While Shane Warne had a Glenn McGrath or a Jason Gillespie to back him all through his career, Sachin, for most of the 1990s, was India's only answer to the best that world cricket hurled at us. For those who still need convincing of his stature as India's best-ever cricketer, his stay at the top of world cricket for 20 long years is the answer. Two long decades at the helm of international cricket, and still counting.

The writer is a sports historian.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

SUBVERSE

BIRDAY BLUES

JUG SURAIYA 

 

With 'Happy birday' friends, who needs enemies? 'Happy birday' is, of course, the Indic version of the salutation 'Happy Birthday', and there is archaeological evidence proving that people used this felicitation way back in Harappan and Mohenjo-Daro times. All of which suggests the paradoxical nature both of time and of birdays. To our enemies, who wish we'd never been born to begin with, whatever time we have enjoyed on earth is already way too long, and our birdays all too many, starting with the very first one. Our friends, who like having us around, wish us recurring anniversaries of the day of our birth. And this is where the paradox reveals itself, both in terms of time and birdays, as well as friends and foes.

 

Birdays are funny things. When you're very young and can't wait to have more and more of them, birdays seem to take forever to come, an eternity between each. When I was nine I was in an agony of anticipation for my tenth birday to come around, 10 being the magical threshold beyond which I would officially be entitled to exchange my short pants - hateful emblem of a persistent and pernicious juvenility - for long trousers, the sartorial passport to the still-distant horizon of adulthood. When at long last I'd be able to go to 'A' certificate movies without fear of being thrown out by censorious ushers, my pimples miraculously transform into whiskers requiring the daily application of shaving instruments, and my voice turn from squeaky treble to the authoritative baritone of masculine maturity.

 

Up until you're about 20, birdays are like Chinese meals: you've barely had one when you're ready to have the next. Between 20 and 39, birdays are like breakfast cereal. Or like daal-bhaat: you have them because everyone else around you is having theirs. And then suddenly you're 40. Forty? Is that an age or a waistline measurement? Or maybe India's total score in the last ODI.

 

After 40, the birday law of diminishing happy returns comes into operation. The frequency of the damn things seems to increase in direct proportion to your antipathy for them. Another birday? Already? Where do the bloody things spring up from, out of the blue like that? There ought to be some sort of law against it. And against people who insist on saying - or worse, singing - 'Hay-pee Birday to You' at the tops of their voices in full public earshot. And that too in a country where 75 per cent of the population is under 26. And that's just their IQ, never mind their age, which is probably even lower.

 

Next thing you know, total strangers will be accosting you on the street and calling you Unkailji, or Auntyji, as the case may be. Or worse, Daduji/Dadiji, tick whichever is appropriate. And who's to blame? Your wellwishers, whom the alchemy of time and birday tide have made indistinguishable from those whom you suspect of sticking pins into waxen effigies of you.

 

In keeping with long established custom (no, I'm not going to tell you just how long established), a group comprising the usual suspects - my friendliest foes, or foeiest friends? - orchestrated my birday observances last week, as always , in the Cavala restaurant, in Baga, Goa. A band called Abracadabra was in attendance and several versions of 'Hay-pee Birday' were sung, shouted and generally broadcast to the public, including a rendition wishing 'Juggy-boy' many happy returns of the day. OK, guys. Payback time will come. Maybe it already has. For the TOI - bless its printing ink-smudged soul - gave me the birday gift of allowing me to write this column for yet another year. With a friendly columnist like me, do you, dear reader, need enemies?

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

Q&A

'GREEN HUNT WILL RESULT IN GENOCIDE OF ADIVASIS'

 

Gandhian Himanshu Kumar has been working among tribals in Bastar for more than 17 years. Though he has rehabilitated 30 villages devastated by the Chhattisgarh government's anti-Naxalite campaign Salwa Judum, his ashram was demolished by the government in May this year. Kumar spoke to Jyoti Punwani :


How did you rehabilitate the villages?

As a Gandhian, I could not just stand by and watch when Adivasis who had fled their village because of Salwa Judum, were beaten up for having returned to their village to depose before the NHRC. I decided to set up camp in that village. If the Salwa Judum forces came to burn it, they would have to burn me first. We persuaded the villagers to come back. They had lost everything seeds, cattle because whenever they tried to return, the Salwa Judum forces hounded them into camps and burnt their village. We arranged for everything, helped them plough their land. Slowly others began returning. Peace reigned in those villages till last month when Operation Green Hunt began.


The Supreme Court has directed the government to rehabilitate the tribals. If the government is not willing, let me do it. I can bring peace in a week. You withdraw your forces and provide the amenities that were stopped after Salwa Judum started: doctors, schools, aanganwadis.


Will the Maoists allow these to run?

Medical officers tell me ruefully that it's the CRPF that beat up their doctors who go into the jungle to treat patients. They beat up teachers too. They are furious that these people can travel safely inside the jungle, while they get blown up. I pointed out that doctors and teachers don't go there with weapons like the CRPF does! Naxalites have said they will not interfere with my rehabilitation work because i have no political ambitions.

Is a dialogue possible?

What stops the government from talking to the Adivasis? You are a democratically elected government, find out what your people want. As for the Maoists, how can the Centre tell them to stop violence without stopping it first? Every day, your forces demand liquor, chickens, women... they behead a child in front of his grandfather, rape Adivasi women at will... And when the Adivasi picks up a lathi, they cry foul. Why are the forces there in Bastar? The Maoists weren't marching into Delhi. Nor did the Adivasis plead for protection from them. When the police, the administration, the judiciary has turned against the Adivasis, the Maoists have stood by them. The forces are there only to hunt the tribals from their land, so that the state can hand it over to corporates. The state has no desire for peace and is too arrogant to acknowledge its crimes. We have tried to file 1,000 FIRs against the police; not one has been registered.


Salwa Judum saw a 22-fold increase in Maoist numbers. Green Hunt will result in genocide of Adivasis. Those who survive will become Naxalites.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

FUNEREAL MUSINGS

ODE TO IMMORTALITY

 

A news item that one Elsie Poncher advertised on eBay to auction off the posh tomb in Los Angeles currently occupied by her husband, the late Richard Poncher reconfirmed that death-fearing America is living up to the idea of planning of afterlife. ''Here is a once in a lifetime (sic) and into eternity opportunity to spend you eternal days directly above Marilyn Monroe", the advertisement proclaimed. The putative burial spot is directly above Monroe's, and thus ensures a post-life cohabitation with her for eternity, but at a whopping cost. In yet another case, multimillionaires in America can avail of the opportunity to freeze their corpses at a cryonics facility in the fond belief that scientific advances will someday revive them and heal whatever ailment ended their lives. The desire for an elaborate afterlife was not only the preserve of the rich pharaohs of Egypt! Though all of us wonder what happens to us when we die, and try to live longer than our physical life, not many would agree to spend a fortune on our post-mortal fate.


But afterlife has been given a religious and philosophical halo by our mortal strivings to remain immortal. That nothing glorifies the afterlife as an idea more than the jihad industry is evident when the inducement of a Jannat seems to draw thousands across the world to join the bandwagon of martyrdom. That the enjoyment is necessarily posthumous does not seem to deter them. Among philosophers, it was Schopenhauer who believed that death is the true aim of life. Rilke, afflicted with the "torment of transitoriness", struggled valiantly to transform death from a frightful spectre to the "greatest event" in life. But it was Giodarno Bruno who believed that death is not possible in this infinite universe. I, however, being one among the Charvakas, who were the disciples of Vrihaspati, who believed that there could be no life possible beyond this one, hold that the life at hand must be enjoyed fully because we live only once. But what would happen if you do not physically die in this one life you've got? If you read the book Fantastic Voyage by Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman, you begin to wonder how spending a fortune on your memorial is a lesser crime compared to not dying physically. As afterlife does not drain the earth's scant resources, aspiration to immortality, either through good work or ill-repute, should be our birthright.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

HEARTLAND MURMURS

 

The bypolls in Uttar Pradesh, always considered the crucible of Indian politics, have revealed that a clever mixture of inclusiveness and economics is increasingly winning the day. This explains why the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Congress were able to leave the Samajwadi Party (SP) in their dust in these polls. The SP was tripped up by the complacency that certain votebanks would not desert it and that focusing on exclusive castes would pay dividends. In contrast, Mayawati's foxy strategy, even before a less than impressive showing in the Lok Sabha elections earlier this year, has helped her to get away from her trademark Dalit politics and project her party as one with a pan-caste and class appeal. So, castes like the Brahmins, once anathema to her, are now visible faces of the BSP. Far from diluting her core competency, the voter plumped for this inclusive approach.
 
The Congress too played a deft hand in these polls. The secular appeal of Rahul Gandhi acted as a magnet for the Muslim voters to desert the man considered their messiah while the other choice was the secular BSP. The mistake that the SP strongman Mulayam Singh Yadav made was perhaps to get a former saffron leader Kalyan Singh into the party. The most devastating symbol of the SP's decline was the defeat of Mr Yadav's daughter-in-law, Dimple, from his stronghold of Firozabad at the hands of former actor Raj Babbar, who was once a star campaigner for him. Likewise, Mr Yadav's once mesmerising presence fell flat in Etawah and Bharthana where once he would not have even bothered to campaign.

 

This means now that the battle for UP will be between a broadbased BSP and a resurgent Congress with its aam admi agenda. Both parties were also smart enough not to rely on any of the popular caste combinations and threw in a generous dose of economic sweetners to an eager electorate that is no longer content with tired old shibboleths. In effect, both were able to reinvent themselves, especially the BSP which did not take the poor LS showing lying down. If UP is a forerunner of things to come, it could signal the death of theories like cowbelt politics, caste- and religion-based votebanks and inherited fiefdoms. The candidates, a degree of progressive political vision and a diverse appeal will the carry the day in future.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

ET, COME HOME

 

One of the great preparations that Hinduism offers both to its adherents and to its admirers is multiplicity. While 'religions of the Book' have the concept of God, the rather post-modern Hindu faith is comfortable with gods. God, as is obvious to even atheists, is made in the image of Man (Islam's decree of not having a visual representation of Allah notwithstanding). Now the Roman Catholic Church, through the pontifical portals of the Vatican, has begun to wonder aloud how Christianity — with its Book of Genesis and its take on the divine creation of life on Earth — would take to extra-terrestrial life.  The theologians were rightly puzzled by the possibility of how to handle the existence of heathens in worlds other than the one created in a seven-day fit of godly creativity. Do aliens also fit into the Christian scheme of things? Are they to be deemed as fellow creatures, 'brothers' of people of the Christian faith?

 

Considering that the record of Christianity in dealing with 'terrestrial aliens' has been rather weak — for a quick rundown, have a look at the Christianity-sponsored dealings in 16th century Americas, not to mention a longstanding real estate war later outsourced to the 'other people of the Book' involving Jerusalem — it is wise of theologians to be better prepared this time round, just in case. As for wondering what to do with Adam and Eve once the being from Proxima Centauri drops by, there's always the way out of considering him/her/it as an angel.

 

Meanwhile, many of us, regardless of our faith, acquainted with a humanoid with an elephant's head, or a half-lion, half-human creature, or even a sentient being with ten arms, can sidestep difficult questions about how to deal with extra-terrestrials when the occasion arises. For we know that we're all aliens really.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

NOT A RUN MACHINE

RAJDEEP SARDESAI

 

Where were you on November 15, 1989? I know where I was: glued to the TV watching a 16-year-old boy with curls and rosy cheeks take on Pakistan's fast bowlers. Twenty years later, the locks are showing a hint of grey but Sachin Tendulkar is still doing what he does best: score runs for India. Much has changed in the world around us in the last 20 years. One thing hasn't: the presence of Tendulkar on the cricket crease.

 

Remember 1989? It was the year that the Berlin Wall fell, Rajiv Gandhi lost the general elections and V.P. Singh was transformed into a middle-class hero. It was the year that the militant's gun first echoed in the Kashmir Valley while the bugle of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement was sounded in Ayodhya. In 1989, $500 was your forex limit, Manmohan Singh was far from being the finance minister, there were no private TV news channels and India was still struggling with the Hindu rate of growth. To many Indians of my generation, there is only one link between then and now: the batsmanship of Tendulkar.

 

Forget the runs and the records. That is for historians and statisticians. For the genuine cricket fan, Tendulkar has always been much more than a run machine: he has played the game the way it was meant to be played — with passion, unbridled enthusiasm and, above all, dignity. It's true that the gay abandon with which he lit into Abdul Qadir on his first tour to Pakistan has given way to a more methodical approach to batting. Yet, as he showed in Hyderabad, the core of his being is still in playing attacking cricket. Incredibly, even towards the end of his epic, he was running faster than his partners who were almost half his age.

 

It can't have been easy. Cricket's history is littered with stories of prodigies who never quite made the transition to the big league. Not only did Tendulkar make the great leap, but he did it in the span of less than two years. Lesser men would have simply buckled under when hit on the face as he was in the first series by a Waqar bouncer. But he didn't. In that one fleeting moment, when he dusted himself up, a teenager became a man.

 

We all have our favourite Tendulkar moment: was it the sliced cut off Shoaib Akhtar for a six in the 2003 world cup? Maybe, it was the emotional century within a week of his father's death? Or was it his demolition of Shane Warne in Chennai? Or the Sharjah innings that remains his signature one-day knock? Or the double century in Sydney? Or the match-winning innings last year against England within weeks of the 26/11 terror? When you've scored a staggering 87 international centuries, then picking a single cricketing achievement isn't easy.

 

But his real achievement is beyond the boundary. We live in an age of  instant stardom and mini-celebrities, where fame is an intoxicant that can easily consume the best of us. Sachin, remarkably, has been almost untouched by the fact that he is contemporary India's biggest icon, arguably bigger than even an Amitabh Bachchan or a Shah Rukh Khan. As Khan revealed in an interview, at a party there was a big noise when Big B entered. Then, Sachin entered the hall and Bachchan was leading the queue to grab hold of the cricket champion!

 

Through the many highs and a few lows, Tendulkar's balance has never wavered both on and off the field, driven by a single-minded devotion to the game. He has avoided controversy, remaining a private individual. He may not have gone to college, but life has perhaps taught him more than he could have ever learnt there. He is aware of his commercial value but his badge of identity is that he is the Maharashtrian middle-class boy who has remained true to his roots. He may lack the gravitas of Sunil Gavaskar, but on cricketing matters he can be just as articulate.

 

In a sense, the passing of the baton from Gavaskar to Tendulkar represents the coming of  age of Indian cricket and a new India. Gavaskar was the architect, who built every innings with a clinical precision, that perhaps was symbolic of a Nehruvian India when neither Indian cricket nor the country could afford any form of extravagance. Tendulkar is the free-spirited artist who bats with the freedom of an India unshackled of  its socialist baggage, where cricket is now part of a lucrative entertainment industry.

 

So, how much longer will Tendulkar continue? Sir Don Bradman, statistically the greatest-ever batsman, played for Australia for 20 years, interrupted by war and benefiting from the fact that cricket was then a seasonal sport. Sachin, whom the great Don likened to himself, has been playing virtually non-stop for two decades in the most high-pressure environment that modern sport can throw up. Maybe, the body is creaking a little, but the mind doesn't seem to have given up yet. Maybe, the goal of the 2011 World Cup is still the ultimate motivation. Of course, he will retire one day, but till he does, we must savour the magic. A banner in Sharjah once said it all, "I will see God when I die, but till then I will see Sachin!" Amen.

 

Rajdeep Sardesai is Editor-in-Chief , IBN Network (The views expressed by the author are personal)

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

MIND HIS LANGUAGE

SUJATA ANANDAN

 

Raj Thackeray was in search of issues in 2007 to further his Marathi agenda when he thought he had hit upon an ideal one. He decreed that registration numbers on all vehicles in Maharashtra henceforward be written in Marathi.

 

The Road Transport Authority (RTA) byelaws clearly state that licence plates be written in English alphabets with Arabic numerals. "If they can make this concession for Muslims and allow them to write in Urdu, then why this step-motherly treatment to Marathi?" Raj asked as posters supporting his demand went up across Mumbai.

 

They had to be brought down hastily a day or two later following media ridicule and an explanation from the authorities: Arabic numerals simply meant that the numbers were written as 1, 2, 3 etc; not as I, II, III et al, which were Roman numerals. "This has been done to facilitate vehicles to travel all across India because authorities in one state cannot be expected to read alien scripts. It is a central law in the interest of uniformity. No one in any state can overturn it," the RTA said

 

That level of ignorance was brought back this week to his Marathi manoos campaign, when his spokesperson Shirish Parkar denied — on national television — that Hindi was more than just the language of Biharis and Uttar Pradeshis. "It is not the national language," he stated unambiguously.

 

I was appalled but not really surprised. Because even Bal Thackeray has never in his life been conversant either with the Constitution of India or any of our laws. "North Indians migrating to Mumbai will not be

 

given ration cards," he had announced as his first policy soon after the Sena-BJP government came to power in Maharashtra in 1995, knowing little that the rationing authorities were not at the beck and call of the state government.

 

Pramod Mahajan of the BJP had to stretch himself to the extreme to persuade Thackeray to withdraw the remark and convince him that it was not constitutionally possible to disallow anyone to come to Mumbai and apply for a ration card. Then, again, at the ripe old age of 73, Thackeray Sr did not know the difference between a Commission of Inquiry and a simple Enquiry Committee. "They are different?" he had asked. And he was not dissembling.

 

Raj, then, is just a chip off the old block. But this time, perhaps in ignorance again, he has breached all constitutional propriety, setting himself up as an extra-constitutional authority by writing to all Maharashtra MLAs to eschew Hindi — or else.

 

Who will tell him that even the President of India cannot overturn Hindi as India's national language?

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

BOXES WITHIN BOX OFFICE

AMITABHA BAGCHI

 

Of the thousands of Hindi films that have been made till date, there are many that promote and reinforce the dominant cultural values that Soumitro Das (Politics of Popcorn, November 6, 2009) deplores as politically retrogressive and artistically meaningless.

 

But there are two problems with Das's theory: first, he ignores those films that don't accept the dominant culture and those that critique it. For example, look at the various versions of Devdas. The demolition of Devdas is a critique of a social structure that reduced an individual to a snivelling mess because he could not live by its rules. Devdas's pain is the emotional centre of this critique and many in the last century shared it.

 

Guru Dutt's Kaagaz ke Phool makes for a magnificently layered reading and revisits the Devdas story. It attacks the flawed nature of Indian masculinity and places it in a larger context, thereby, attacking that context as well. Dev D's callow protagonist is also a critique of a society that encourages self-destructive streaks in men.

 

There are many other examples that puncture Das's argument. Mehboob's Mother India was an attempt to establish a humanist notion of nationhood that propelled a loving mother to kill her own son because he dishonoured a woman, even though the woman was the daughter of an enemy, Sukhilala.

 

The charge that Bollywood is artistically meaningless stands on such thin ice in Das's essay that attacking it seems gratuitous. But I do want to present two instances of cinematic sophistication to make the point that sometimes a viewer needs to be open to artistic meaning in order to find it.

 

Take David Dhawan's Jodi No. 1 in which Govinda and Sanjay Dutt convince a jeweller that they want to shoot a scene for a movie in his shop. The scene is very much like a scene from Mother India; in fact, the protagonist of the scene, played by Dutt, is called Birju, Sunil Dutt's character's name in Mother India.

 

While pretending to shoot the scene, they rob the jeweller, thereby providing a kind of revenge to the Birju of Mother India against Sukhilala, several decades later. My conjecture is that most of the people who watched this film revelled in

 

the fact that the new Birju was played by the old Birju's son, a case of cinematic language incorporating the concept of dynastic succession, which is a characteristic of the Hindi cinema world. By executing a situation that would be impossible to conceive of in any other art form, Jodi No. 1 establishes its artistic credentials by bringing the history of its own art form, and the cultural space it spawns, into the frame. It expands the range of cinema's possibilities.

 

And this isn't an isolated case. Those familiar with Haseena Maan Jayegi will recall that the title song, towards the end of which Karishma Kapoor's character admits her love for Govinda's character. Sanjay Dutt's character asks Govinda how he knew she would come around, the response to which is that at the end of a song the girl always comes around ('haseena maan jaati hai').

 

I hold no brief for Hindi films and I do agree they are often retrogressive. But they are also capacious end, incorporate a universe of diverse elements in them. In the search for box-office success, Hindi film directors have never put ideology, progressive or retrogressive, at the forefront. They have included everything they thought could work, in the way artists sometimes do, and they have given us a texture, a complex — sometimes annoying — sometimes gratifying, that lives and breathes through us the way art sometimes does.

 

Amitabha Bagchi is the author of the novel Above Average(The views expressed by the author are personal)

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

A GLOBAL FAMILY

SRI SRI RAVI SHANKAR

 

Tomorrow is Children's Day. The greatest tribute to 'Chacha Nehru' would be to work for value-based education. Education must attend to all facets of human life. Principles of education need to include the concept that education is an initiation into a life of spirit and a training of the human soul in the pursuit of truth and the practice of virtue.

 

Through nurturing the mind, body and spirit in the child, family values are strengthened and social barriers are replaced
with progressive attitudes. 

 

Every spirit is endowed with values. Only an education that can nourish in-built virtues can impart true intelligence.

 

Awareness of existence, belongingness to the whole creation and commitment to human values in life will help broaden our vision and deepen our roots.

 

Pluralism and embracing people of all cultures should be part of our education. The multicultural, multi-religious fabric are the glory and beauty of the planet. If this thought is imparted to children at an early age, they will love the difference. We need to bring about that multi-cultural and multi-ethnic approach, which in Sanskrit we call 'Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam'(The whole world is one family.) 

 

The sign of success to me is smile and friendliness, compassion and willingness to serve. I ask children to take a vow to make one new friend everyday. The second thing is to laugh and let go. Third is to work together towards a dual goal. One is to protect our environment, our planet earth. The second thing is to promote human values -- compassion, friendliness, cooperation and a sense of belonging to each other. 

 

These human values need to be nurtured so we can have a stress-free, violence-free society. The right education must harness a mind that is free, not obsessed with anything.

 

Through right education, we can change and unite the hearts and minds of people. The key is to harness the ancient wisdom and being innovative with the modern. We, as global citizens, should vow to take this responsibility.


(The author writes exclusively for HT every other week)

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

FROM AGGARWAL TO BANSAL

KUMKUM CHADHA

 

In three years, Pawan Kumar Bansal has become more confident and talks much more than he ever did.

 

From being monosyllabic he has graduated to complete sentences, from half-smiles to a hearty laugh and from Hindi and Punjabi to English.

 

Sum total: Bansal has come into his own. Najma Heptullah, former Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson, said: "He never created a ruckus in the House (Parliament)."

 

Probably because Bansal was done with unruly behaviour years ago. Bansal thought nothing of giving a slip to the cops, sneaking into the Punjab chief minister's official chamber, ransacking it and declaring what they then dubbed as a "takeover of the government". In other words, laying siege way back in 1978.

 

His father, Piara Lal, had the surname Aggarwal. For reasons best known to him, he wanted his son to be known as Bansal.

 

His father pulled Bansal out of the local school in their native village Tapa Mandi, currently in Barnala district, some 100 km from Chandigarh in Punjab. Overnight, things changed for Bansal: from a thatched-roof makeshift school, he found himself among the elite in Yadavindra Public school in Patiala, another district in Punjab. This was his first makeover:


"I learnt to live on my own," Bansal told Hindustan Times.His father did not go beyond local politics. But Bansal grew up watching chief ministers coming to meet his father: "Why don't you move over to state politics?" he often asked his dad.

 

Pat came the reply: "I will send you there". He did but did not live to see him reach Delhi: first as MP and then to the council of ministers: "A grassroots worker, committed and judicious. Even after losing two elections, he re-built his base and staged a comeback. He did not give up," said Mukul Wasnik, Bansal's Cabinet colleague.

 

Bansal's political career would have remained colourless and uneventful had he not got into a slanging match with the governor of Punjab, S.F. Rodrigues. Bansal was under attack for his criticism of the governor because the latter, a Constitutional authority, was not one which a minister was competent to comment.

 

The two had locked horns over a land allotment to Delhi Public School Society, run by Bansal. The governor had pointed out "serious irregularities" in the allotment.

 

Cricket and football are a complete NO: For the first he has no stamina and the second he dreads for an ingrained fear of hurting his ankle.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

 

Heated issues - A question of timing

THE GOVT appears to be shying away from a multilateral commitment on climate change.

Will it pay off in the longer term? IT IS CURIOUS THAT THE GOVERNMENT CHOSE TO CHALLENGE THE IPCC WITH THE HURRIEDLY PUBLISHED 60-PAGE DOCUMENT.

 M Rajshekhar in New Delhi

 

The ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) on November 9 released a discussion paper, which, on the basis of existing evidence, argued that there was no sign of any abnormal retreat among Indian glaciers.

 

And, further, that it is "premature to make a statement that glaciers in the Himalayas are retreating abnormally because of ... global warming".

 

Unsurprisingly, the paper left both laypersons and climate change policy experts wondering. It flatly challenged the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC's) fourth Assessment Report (2007), which said Himalayan glaciers were retreating faster than in any other part of the world; that they are likely to disappear by 2035; and attributed this receding and thinning primarily to global warming.

 

For policy experts, the stance of the government appeared to be another one in the lengthening series of flipflops on climate change. This may be an obstacle in the way of forming a consensus in the comity of nations. The issue is urgent because the Himalayan glaciers feed the rivers of the IndoGangetic plains.

 

On the one hand, in recent months, the government has released its National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC); it has announced plans to set up a National Institute of Climate and Environment (NICE) for climate research and it plans to shortly unveil the National Solar Mission.


Add to all that, there have been the bold, forward-looking statements from Jairam Ramesh, minister for environment & forests, on the need to combat climate change.

 

Ramesh was recently quoted as saying that India "cannot hide behind any excuses and we have to be aggressively taking on voluntary mitigation outcomes". At the same time, however, he has also been issuing sceptical statements, such as the latest report. Earlier, he asserted that India's per capita emissions would not rise above those of the west even by 2031.

 

This contradiction is baffling. Do we see climate change as a threat or not?


One part of the answer lies in Ramesh's statements to the media expressing dissatisfaction with climate change statistics on India.

 

"Studies about Himalayan glaciers on climate change and its impact on India come from Western countries.
Many of the Western sources are biased," he said.

 

Ramesh and his ministry officials like citing a 1990 US study that was countered by an Indian scientist. The US study projected 38 million tonnes of methane gas emissions a year due to wet paddy cultivation in India. This was later countered by Indian climate scientist A.P. Mitra, who put it at 2-6 million tonnes -- an estimate that won wider acceptance.

Similarly, in an interview to the Guardian shortly after this report was launched, Ramesh said: "It is high time India made an investment in understanding what is happening in the Himalayan ecosystem."

The report, it would seem, is part of the process of starting more local assessments on the impact of climate change on India.

 

But that explanation leaves several puzzles in its wake. If the idea is to demonstrate that IPCC data are weak, it is curious that the government chose to challenge the IPCC with a hurriedly published 60-page document.

 

In an interview to a TV channel, R.K.


Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC and Director-General of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), brushed aside the MoEF report saying it had not been subjected to a peer review.


Others, like Shresth Tayal, associate fellow (Glacier Research Programme), TERI, are marvelling that the report ignores a lot of existing scientific research, drawing very different conclusions about the Himalayan glaciers.

 

Most importantly, given that the MoEF report is a recapitulation of existing Indian research on glaciers, why has it been released now? Indeed, what does one infer if the Indian government starts casting aspersions on climate change data weeks before Copenhagen?


According to a former negotiator, it is likely that Copenhagen will result in nothing more than a political statement. One possibility, he feels, is that the Indian government is creating a cover for itself right now when the blame game over Copenhagen starts.


Don't blame us, it will say, and point at the NAPCC, the Solar Mission, the plan to set up NICE, our willingness to take non-binding targets, and use them to argue we take climate change seriously. In that context, this report could be used to question international commitments thrust upon India.

 

Perhaps due to the fear of being saddled with onerous emission reduction commitments, Ramesh and others are taking a new position. This prefers unilateral/bilateral agreements to multilateral ones and wants emission-reduction targets to be set by each country individually with domestic legislation on emission caps calibrated to those.

 

Seen in that context, most of the minister's recent statements like challenging legally binding emission reduction targets, the desire to gauge climate change impact through local institutions, independent unilateral action, the delinking of reduction from negotiations, etc make sense.

 

This report too fits into that logic. It is another reason for us to "officially" doubt the IPCC data. And to not support a binding commitment.Whether this move away from multilateralism can save the planet is another question.

 

The author is an independent environment researcher.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

power path - Mamata makeover

THE RAILWAY MINISTER is shedding her image of being a firebrand street fighter and positioning herself as a responsible CM-in-waiting. THERE IS THIS OPEN SECRET THAT EVERYBODY KNOWS ...MORE THAN THE AFFAIRS OF THE INDIAN RAILWAYS, HER GAZE THIS TIME IS INTENTLY FIXED ON THE 2011 ASSEMBLY ELECTIONS OF WEST BENGAL.

 Srinannd Jha in New Delhi

 

srinandjha@hindustantimes.com "I see no change at all in her (Mamata Banerjee). She ... wears a mask. She is always giving false hopes and doing mischief."

 

NAXALITE LEADER AZIZUL HAQUE "As far as I have known her, she was never a fickle-minded person. She has always been a very able administrator and a very good mass leader."

 

PAINTER SHUVAPRASANNA At the end of the day's work in her previous tenure as Railway Minister 10 years ago, Mamata Banerjee used to be in the habit of falling back to a compulsive routine.

 

That was being host to scribes (a majority of them from the Bengali Press) at tea sessions that -- to the huge annoyance of officials of the minister's secretariat -- often extended into late evenings.

 

Banerjee remains on friendly terms with pen-and-notebook journalists, but as regards her diatribes and crackling jibes against political opponents (read Left), she seems to be saving up her best quotes for the electronic media (read Star Ananda).

 

The metamorphosis of Banerjee's persona has been happening in other ways too. The "street-fighter" politician image has come to acquire an intellectual shield of sorts -- thanks to the community of artists, poets and filmmakers who have been drifting to the Trinamool Congress (TMC) camp in droves. She told Hindustan Times: "I am evolving as the stronger challenge to the CPI(M) with the support of the people."

 

In her brief stint as Railway Minister in 1999-2001, Banerjee initiated measures to enable the commercial utilisation of the extensive optical fibre cable (OFC) network of the Indian Railways, and had even sought to restrict her own powers by putting a cap on the numbers of free rail passes that could be issued at the minister's discretion.

In this term, her only visit to a railway centre outside New Delhi and Kolkata has been to Anantnag -- for the inauguration of the extended section of the Kashmir rail line project.


She has been handing out official patronage -- including free railway passes -- to TMC supporters who are essentially domiciled in West Bengal.


And -- as a matter of routine -- she is in New Delhi for only about a week each month.

 

In short, there is this open secret that everybody knows, but Banerjee is unwilling to admit: More than the affairs of the Indian Railways, her gaze this time is intently fixed on the 2011 assembly elections of West Bengal.

 

Correspondingly, with the pace at which the TMC has been gaining ground in West Bengal, Banerjee has acquired a new spring in her gait, a fresh dazzle to her smile. People close to her say that she is these days taking extra care to dye her hair and is even getting facials done. The TMC brand of politics has undergone a major shift in recent years.

Banerjee -- known for her proclivity to call bandhs (shutdown) at the drop of a hat -- declared two years ago that her party was opposed to demonstrations that disrupted life.


"The change has brought Banerjee closer to the middle-classes and has shaken the `red presence' at urban centres," a veteran Banerjee watcher said.

 

People such as Nayana Bandopadhyaya, Shatabdi Roy, Tapash Pal, Saoli Mitra and Shuvaprasanna share a common thread: All of them are connected to the world of art and today considered to be in the railway minister's close circle of friends.


Arguably, Samajwadi Party General Secretary Amar Singh is the only other politician who can boast such a wide circle of friends among filmstars and artistes.

 

Banerjee's slogan before the 2001 election in West Bengal was 'now or never'. It goes to her credit that she has another chance to win power.

 

With inputs from Arindam Sarkar and Joydeep Thakur in Kolkata

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

RED HERRING

 

There might appear reason for relief. The numbers might, at first sight, appear good. The index of industrial production (IIP) is up 9.1 per cent; that can be calculated as 6 per cent year-on-year. For those already looking for reasons to cheer, this could serve as an excuse: the industrial sector is recovering, the measures taken so far have worked, the government can take its foot off the pedal and start thinking of other things. But such optimism, visible also after the release last month of the previous iteration of the index, is premature. A closer look at the composition of the numbers will make that painfully clear. First, month-on-month figures, once properly adjusted, also appear weak. What pushed the publicised numbers up was capital goods purchases — energised, there is little doubt, by the now-flagging stimulus; and consumer durables, pushed a little further by the fag-end of the Pay Commission windfall for government employees.

 

Two other points should also give any optimistic observer pause: first, the figures released are for the month pre-Diwali, so that means that people are closing off yearly purchases, de-stocking and re-stocking (and consumers are in festive mood). Second, the base remains low for these figures; the recession has, after all, been on for a while. Only when December comes round, the anniversary of when the first effects of the stimulus began to be seen, will the base recover to something where good year-on-year figures might be a genuine reflection of better times approaching.

 

Simultaneous with the "good" numbers about industrial production, numbers were released for exports that were considerably gloomier. This is a reminder that specific sectors are still hurting. The government's job is clearly not over; any green shoots of recovery are probably mirages — and even if they exist, they are still shoots, and need watering, and lots of it. While Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has unsurprisingly been pessimistic about the chances that any further fiscal space exists for giving in to sector-specific demands, that does not mean that in an over-regulated economy like India the animal spirits of investors — which are, according to economic theory, central to demand contractions — cannot be restored. Big bang reforms will do precisely that; the government must shed its shyness about talking reform. And, if we are to expect that industrial production is genuinely to recover, we need small and medium enterprises to have access to credit. Credit is still too pricey; monetary policy must continue to be loosened for the foreseeable future.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

CAMPUS POLITICS

 

In a move heavy with symbolism, Columbia University has announced three fellowships in Sanskrit studies meant exclusively for Dalit scholars. Reactions are, predictably, mixed. Some protest the splashy tokenism of the idea, while others applaud the point it makes — flinging open the doors of Sanskrit scholarship to communities that have historically been kept out of an entire world of privilege and learning.

 

Sanskrit pedagogy has shrunk over the decades, and no one has chronicled the slo-mo death of Sanskrit literary culture as comprehensively as Professor Sheldon Pollock, the moving spirit behind these scholarships as well as initiatives like the Clay Sanskrit library. Certainly, many of those who mourn this moment as the twilight of our classical heritage are often those most invested in this us-and-them logic, of elite distinction. But that does not take away from the fact that Sanskrit scholarship needs serious attention, when the number of those who read and translate literary works is dwindling dramatically. Pollock has pointed out how, with the passing away of H.C. Bhayani, the great Apabhramsha scholar, the field of Apabhramsha studies itself died in India. We are on the brink of losing the very intellectual traditions that produced us (and Sanskrit is a very significant strand of this history). And if we do not engage with the past, the past controls us — India is one of the rare places where myth and religion, the texts of long ago, can be deployed for modern political mobilisation.

 

That the Sanskrit literary and intellectual tradition was a rarefied and exclusionary one is obvious. That it was one of the splendid founts of our culture is also self-evident. A scholarship like this, small as it is, addresses both facts. Mostly, the slender band of Indian academics immersed in Sanskrit studies are those who found their foothold from their families and personal background. By expanding that space for Dalit academics, it could possibly even inaugurate a new angle into the study of the same texts. Either way, the fellowships, named for Columbia alum B.R Ambedkar, make an eloquent case for similar initiatives in India.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

THE LAST GLOVES

 

German goalkeeper Robert Enke's death after being struck by a train is being investigated for suicide. He is reported to have left a "farewell note" and his widow speaks of his long spell of depression. He was, it turns out, concealing the extent of his depression from his family and the medical staff treating him, and the German Chancellor has expressed her "consternation" at this untimely death of a sportsperson.

 

In a curious way, Enke's death spotlights the strange loneliness of the players in gloves in our team sports. (This is, of course, not to suggest in any way that his condition was connected to his role in the team.) Goal-keepers and wicket-keepers are akin to referees and umpires — you really notice them when they get it wrong. Else, for the longest stretches of action on the field they must sustain, uncheered, an extraordinary level of alertness not required of other players. In football, they provide the last line of defence, a role that gets peculiarly highlighted when an opponent breaks away, leaving defenders stranded elsewhere, and confronts a goalkeeper with a choice: whether to simply try to block the shot at goal or to surrender to a dubious tackle and with it the possibility of conceding a penalty.

 

Great teams are often constructed around great goal-keepers and wicket-keepers — and in a curious way they can block the road for other aspirants. For them it's sometimes a struggle to just get a chance to prove their potential at the highest levels. For instance, Adam Gilchrist, among the most eloquent sportspersons today, moved to Western Australia because he couldn't get a game in for New South Wales. But then he also gave a new twist to his role, when he said he famously walked — un-Australia-like — because from behind the stumps he too often saw opponents dig in their heels when they'd been clearly out.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

MAPS FOR LOST PARTIES

BIBEK DEBROY

 

Dickens and the best-of-times, worst-of-times quote is clichéd. However, most people who quote it do not remember the complete quote. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way." In describing West Bengal today, there is no quote more apt, especially sentences beyond best-of-times, worst-of-times.

 

There is a cusp, reminiscent of 1977. With antipathy and popular backlash against the Congress in 1977, the Left Front came to power and West Bengal's politics was never the same again. In 2006, out of 294 seats, the Left Front won 233, Trinamool and its allies 30 and Congress and its allies 24. Despite pressures, it is unlikely the next round of elections will be in 2010. And 2011 won't be 2006. It will be more like 1977, with the anti-Congress backlash replaced by an anti-Left Front backlash. Though there is friction between the Trinamool and Congress, that alliance will probably hold till 2011. If the 2009 Lok Sabha or the recent by-election results are replicated, Trinamool-Congress should sweep 2011 with a two-thirds majority.

 

Even if two-thirds doesn't happen, ouster of the Left Front is certain and its leadership seems reconciled to that prospect, especially after municipal and assembly by-elections. The Left does have a useful role to play. It sometimes, though not always, asks the right questions, although invariably it comes up with wrong answers. Some core support for Left will always remain in West Bengal (and Kerala and Tripura) and being out of power will be a useful detoxification exercise, cleansing the party of corruption and hoodlums, what the Left describes as the lumpen proletariat. That explains the spring-of-hope and season-of-light mindset. In all this uncertainty, there is near certainty about who will form the next government and be the next chief minister. The light at the end of the tunnel can instead be the light of a train coming from the opposite direction. That's a quote ascribed to many people, including Winston Churchill. Apparently, someone has also calculated the odds. When you see a light inside a tunnel, six times out of 11, it is the light of a train and only five times out of 11 has the tunnel ended. That explains the winter-of-despair and season-of-darkness mindset.

 

Yes, there will be political change in 2011. Will that necessarily lead to economic change? A cusp is like a point of inflection in mathematics, where the curve changes shape. However, that change in shape can be in either direction. Whatever economic indicator is used, West Bengal's position in any inter-state comparison is just about average, with a slide since the mid-1960s. This is especially marked since 2003, when many states jacked up their growth trajectories and West Bengal's agriculture-based growth petered out. Whether it is agriculture, industry or services, there is no denying West Bengal's potential, drawing on geography, natural resources and human capital. For that potential energy to become kinetic, one needs transformation in land, labour and capital markets, and increases in productivity, with infrastructure thrown in. What is sometimes not appreciated outside West Bengal is that there has been a flowering of entrepreneurship since the early 1990s, unnoticed because it is small-ticket and small-time entrepreneurship. The creation of a facilitating environment requires reduction in state intervention and efficiency in existing public expenditure. The red corner hasn't been able to deliver on this. If there is expectation combined with uncertainty in West Bengal today, that's because one isn't sure if the blue corner of the Trinamool will deliver.

 

Trinamool's has been the classic opposition position. Can a party of opposition become a party of government? There has been no call yet for Trinamool to formulate a reform blueprint for the state. The party can legitimately claim the benefit of doubt. However, there is enough fragmentary evidence to suggest that on economic reform issues, there is little to differentiate the ideology of Tweedledum from that of Tweedledee. Even if such a reform blueprint were to be formulated, will Left opposition allow this to be implemented? If Bihar can change, why can't West Bengal? That's not quite a rhetorical question, because politics in the two states are different. There is an issue somewhat distinct from traditional economic reform agendas and that is supplanting of governance and administration by the party system. Even if this can be reversed, without implementing core economic reforms, incremental growth will follow. Indeed, Bihar's change can be interpreted as one of improved administrative delivery and governance. Three decades and more of Left politics in West Bengal has consistently undermined institutions, including those of democracy. Thus, even if Trinamool opposes privatisation, industry and changes in land usage, there is scope.

 

Unfortunately, there are question marks there too. Defeat of the Left in West Bengal requires appropriation of Left politics and instruments used to destroy institutions. It requires co-opting of what the Left calls the lumpen. At least in some parts of West Bengal, Trinamool has been able to accomplish that. Had that not been the case, there would have been no violence. Consequently, there is little differentiation there too and the Tweedledum-Tweedledee image gets reinforced. If one talks to people from West Bengal today, one notices a curious phenomenon. Non-residents and non-Bengalis are much more optimistic about West Bengal's future, circa 2011, than resident Bengalis are. That may be because resident Bengalis have become so hardened by TINA (there is no alternative) that they refuse to believe that change is imminent until change actually occurs. Alternatively, resident Bengalis may appreciate the Tweedledum-Tweedledee nuance better than others do. They report a refrain among Trinamool cadres (not leaders): they looted for thirty years, it is our turn now.

 

With a cleansing of the Left, perhaps a cleansing of the Trinamool will occur. Perhaps Trinamool will merge with the Congress and deliver a credible alternative in West Bengal, an unlikely scenario today. Perhaps the Congress, alone, will emerge as a credible alternative, an even more unlikely scenario today. That's the reason there is schizophrenia, rejoicing at Left's certain ouster, but scepticism about what will follow. Cleansing and credibility require a churning and post-2011, only that is certain. As always, order eventually emerges out of chaos. But for the moment, there is purgatory.

 

The writer is a Delhi-based economist(express@expressindia.com )

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

A FRIENDLY SOUTHERN FACE

ASHUTOSH MISRA

 

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is on his maiden two-day state visit to India since assuming power in November 2007. Rudd, even before he came to power, considered India as a major country in Australia's foreign policy calculus, believing that Australia-India ties are not just about curry, the Commonwealth and a common language. He emphasised the need for an exclusive India desk within the department of foreign affairs and trade and argued for establishing regular prime ministerial visits to "inject greater political ballast into this relationship". Now he needs to deliver.

 

After the Australia, India, the US and Japan quadrilateral initiative failed to reach anywhere largely due to the "China factor", Kevin Rudd recognises the importance of this visit for Australia's own standing and role in Asia. Any strategic initiative in Asia will be driven by the progress Australia makes at the bilateral level, especially with India. But the immediate challenges to the relationship are primarily that public opinion in India has turned adverse, especially in the wake of attacks on Indian students. In this context Kevin Rudd's public diplomacy skills will be tested; after all, should public perceptions in India continue to plummet the envisaged India-Australia strategic partnership will reach nowhere. There is a case that although both sides do have common interests with regards to regional security in the Indian Ocean region, climate change, terrorism, stability in Afghanistan and nuclear proliferation, in the interim they cannot afford to overlook the students' issue.

 

Although the number of attacks have gone down in recent months due to the initiatives taken by the Australian government and the Indian High Commission to address the security issues, these initiatives do not provide any long-term remedy for a complex and chronic problem plaguing Australia's $15 billion international education industry.

 

It is interesting to note that the major occasions in which Australia has figured recently in Indian public opinion have been controversies: from the Muhammad Haneef case to the Harbhajan Singh row and now the attacks on students, they have all had an adverse affect on public perceptions in India of Australia — and yet it remains a neglected aspect in their bilateral engagement. Commentary and analysis focuses on the nuclear issue, sale of uranium, business and trade, defence and security cooperation instead of confidence-building measures between the two sides.

 

In this visit if Kevin Rudd succeeds in reminding and convincing the Indian people that Australia is a desirable, multicultural destination, it will add "ballast to the relations" for sure. In recent months there have been ministerial -level visits exchanged but given the complex and unregulated nature of the international education sector it would be naïve to assume that anything tangible could be achieved from these.  

 

Part of the problem is the divergent perceptions of the attacks itself. In India the dominant public perception is that the attacks are racially motivated, whereas in Australia it is perceived more as a security problem, sans any racist element. A government led by a prime minister who started his tenure by offering the historic apology to the "lost generation" of Australia's aboriginal community cannot be expected to ignore the emergence of any racist tendency. But he needs to be more aggressive in pitching Australia's true character in India.

 

Both governments need to devise effective mechanisms to cleanse the entire international education industry. This will include regularising shady education agents in India, purging documents and identity fraud committed by these agents, ensuring the veracity of the pre-departure information provided to students, verification of the authenticity of the institution where admission is sought and taking stern action followed by prosecution against the perpetrators of attacks. Equally, there is a need to ensure the quality of life of the students once in Australia: to minimise any health and security risks by making arrangements for decent accommodation, health cover and security arrangements at night at vulnerable places. At present there is no structured mechanism which can deliver on all these counts.

 

Undoubtedly, in this visit Kevin Rudd's main goal should be to win heart and minds, on which the future of Indo-Australia strategic relationship will hinge.

 

The writer is a research fellow at Griffith Asia Institute, Nathan, Queensland, and associate investigator at the Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security

 

express@expressindia.com

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

PRESSING THE PM

INDER MALHOTRA

 

On the eve of Jawaharlal Nehru's 45th death anniversary I feel impelled to write about his celebrated press conferences, usually held once a month, that became a unique institution — an exhilarating combination of information, education and entertainment, the like of which has never been seen after him. To be sure, Lal Bahadur Shastri tried to keep up his predecessor's practice. But at his very first press conference the hack pack of those days treated him with such churlish familiarity that he gave up.

 

The scribes were more respectful to Indira Gandhi when she tried to revive her father's tradition. But in her "goongi gudiya" phase she was inarticulate and lacked her "papu's" encyclopedic knowledge. Once she caused roars of laughter by declaring that her "main problem was inflation and rising prices". After 1971 she had become deft in handling the press but first the Nav Nirman in Gujarat and then the JP movement engulfed her. The Emergency put paid to the prime ministerial press conference.

 

During his 28-month tenure as prime minister, Morarji Desai did hold half a dozen press conferences. But they were eminently forgettable because he answered every question with a counter-question. By Rajiv's time, the exponential expansion of the press corps, the "invasion from the sky" by satellite television and Doordarshan's unfailing propensity to telecast every word he uttered made press conferences by him superfluous. He did hold one in 1985. It had to be shifted from a commission room in Vigyan Bhavan (more than enough in his grandfather's time) to the main hall. It resembled the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly. Because of a fire in Vigyan Bhavan, V. P. Singh held his one and only press conference in the Siri Fort auditorium. Lasting three hours, it turned into a political brawl at one stage.

 

Thereafter there has been no prime ministerial press conference, which should explain my nostalgia for the joyous experience, of which let me give just one glimpse. After the Soviet Sputnik went up, Laurence P. Atkinson, one of our most colourful colleagues, asked: "Sir, not as Prime Minister of India, but as Jawaharlal Nehru... " Here Nehru interrupted him: "What is this distinction"? Atkinson: "Please, sir, don't spoil my question". He then repeated whether in his personal, not official, capacity Nehru would go to the moon for the sake of peace. The prime minister's reply — "for the sake of peace Jawaharlal Nehru would go to the moon or anywhere else in the universe" — was front-page news across the world.

 

Sadly, on two occasions there was a huge outburst of the famous Nehru temper. The first to draw the lightning was G. K. Reddy, then working for left-leaning tabloid Blitz and later a star of two major papers. By writing that the Chinese had every right to send their army into Tibet and insinuating that India was protesting at the behest of the British, he had infuriated the prime minister. "This man", thundered Nehru, "is either a fool or a knave or a combination of both". There was much more in the same vein. The Press Information Bureau served a notice on Reddy to vacate immediately the government accommodation allotted him.

 

Eight years later I was in the dock, and did Nehru give me a tongue-lashing! My minor consolation was that I had a co-sufferer, K. Subarayon of The Indian Express, much senior to me. He had published some of Nehru's sensitive remarks on the Nagas in his letter to chief ministers. The prime minister was angry and said so to Subarayon. With me he was livid. For I had caused him greater embarrassment by reproducing in The Statesman, for which I then worked, the first Law Commission's "interim report" telling the government that some appointments of high court judges had been made on considerations "of political expediency or regional, communal or caste sentiment". I had taken care to write the explosive story only after Nehru had left for Japan on an official visit. But early next morning, Feroze Gandhi rang up to say that I was in "deep trouble". Home Minister Govind Ballabh Pant had spoken to him very angrily about my "irresponsibility".

 

Nehru held his press conference immediately after returning home, and fell on me like a ton of bricks. After his outburst had lasted a while I got up respectfully to ask whether what I had reported wasn't an accurate and fair summary of the Law Commission's report. "Accurate it is", he retorted, "but it should never have been published. In a few days you would see that the Law Commission will reverse its position". I was too scared to say that we would publish the commission's recantation whenever it came. Luckily, a senior colleague intervened to ask: "prime minister, why are you pillorying the correspondent who has only done his job? Why don't you punish your ministers who leak secret documents"?

 

"That is being taken care of," replied the prime minister. "But because some of you don't mind damaging national interest for the sake of a scoop I may have to take action under the Official Secrets Act". Almost instantly, the IB, not the PIB, went into action in its rude, crude and flat-footed manner.

 

Three days later, at the usual tea party after an investiture at Rashtrapati Bhavan, an official came and said that "Panditji" wanted to see Subarayon and me in the adjoining room. Only Home Secretary A. V. Pai and the Intelligence czar, B. N. Mullik, were with him. He put one hand on Subarayon's shoulder and the other on mine. "I lose my temper often but never my sense of proportion. I am sorry to learn that Intelligence wallas have behaved badly and harassed you. I've called off the inquiry." (In Reddy's case, too, he had acted fast to restore to him his cancelled accommodation.)

 

On May 22, 1964, a questioner asked: "Shouldn't you settle the succession issue in your lifetime"? His reply: "My lifetime is not ending that soon". The cheers that followed were loud and prolonged.

 

Had the great man tempted fate by his famous last words?

 

The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

THE RIFT DEEPENS

YUBARAJ GHIMIRE

 

The United Nations has a substantial presence in Nepal. However, the UN Mission to Nepal (UNMIN) that has been here for the last three and a half years to assist the peace process in a limited way, is likely to pack off if not granted permission beyond January 23.

 

The peace process is not complete, and it certainly shows no signs of smoothly reaching the desired destination. On November 2, all the 22 parties which constitute the ruling coalition said that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's suggestion that Nepal form a national unity government for timely promulgation of the new Constitution was a gross interference in Nepal's internal affairs. Around the same time, Nepal's permanent representative to the United Nations lodged a protest with the UN headquarters.

 

What provoked Nepali parties to criticise Secy Gen. Ban for repeating exactly what he had stated three months ago, however, remains a mystery. The Nepali political spectrum is, however, divided on the issue, with the Maoists supporting Moon's contention. As the single largest party, Maoists hope — have been demanding the right, in fact — to head a new government as the one now headed by Madhav Nepal is a "puppet", remote-controlled by the South.

 

In fact, the last four years of democracy have seen a great "play" of diplomats and the international community in Nepal. The ambassadors, not only from India and China, but also European Union, United States and the UN agencies, can meet the prime minister at will, bypassing the foreign ministry altogether. The well-established protocol of the past has totally collapsed. And it is not uncommon to hear advice on what Nepal should be doing, privately or publicly. Ban's criticism, in that sense, remains a mystery.

 

As it happens, the fortnight-long agitation that the Maoists had begun on November 1 has not only paralysed the country, but will in all likelihod, derail the peace process. The United Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M) that had spearheaded the decade-long insurgency is a signatory to the peace process, and with the kind of agitation that it has launched, speculations have already begun on the fate of the peace process. The Maoists called off at least two major items on the agitation agenda — the sealing of the international airport and declaring ethnic provinces — but that has not bridged the distrust between Maoists (now rebels) and the ruling coalition.

 

On November 4, Prime Minister Madhav Nepal had a longish meeting with Maoist ideologue Baburam Bhattarai and asked him point blank whether Maoists spent lots of money purchasing arms during the month of Bhadra (mid-July to mid-August). The government has the information that the Maoists raised about two billion rupees and spent a substantial part of it on arms.

 

Bhattarai has denied it, but the government is not convinced. Prime Minister Nepal had reasons to be especially concerned about the issue as it came in the wake of an interview that Bhattarai gave to the World Peoples Resistance Movement journal, asserting that Maoists have not given up their goal of destroying the old state and capturing the new one, and that a fresh armed strike is not far away. He also asserted that Maoists have not given up the "People's Liberation Army" and the arms that it had during the insurgency.

 

And most revealing, he said the alliance with the bourgeois democratic parties was limited, to overthrow the monarchy. And so was the objective of the 12-point agreement that Delhi helped prepare and mediate way back in November 2005 to bring Nepal's Maoists and pro-democracy parties under one platform against the "absolute monarchy".

 

The movement that ensued in April 2006 moved decisively towards that goal, and the monarchy was ousted through a resolution of the constituent assembly in June 2008.

 

With the Maoists now claiming that the election of a constituent assembly as well as the republic was their agenda, and that the other political parties were remnants of the old regime led by the "feudal monarchy", the next round between the Maoists and other political parties appears right round the corner.

 

The Maoist moves are aimed towards creating chaos and confusion, and a slow destruction of the old regime. While the Maoists do not have sufficient numbers or backing from other parties in the constituent assembly to form their own government, their tactic —to ensure that no government should be functional or stable — has worked, for now.

 

Madhav Nepal's government has been unable to get the budget passed in parliament, as the Maoists have been obstructing it for three months now. Ministers and bureaucrats are unlikely to get salaries from government coffers if the budget is not passed within the next two weeks. And to avoid all that, the Maoists simply want President Rambaran Yadav to say that his reinstating army chief Katawal on May 4 hours after he was sacked by Prachanda when he was prime minister, was wrong. And at least on that point, 18 parties which had asked the president to reinstate the chief, are with the president. But that only increases the chances of confrontation.

 

yubaraj.ghimire@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

HOW TO BE A WARTIME PRESIDENT

LOS ANGLES

 

Hamid Karzai begins another term as Afghanistan's president with a long to-do list. The Obama administration has made clear to him that he must crack down on corruption, install a team of technocrats to run the country and weed out warlords and narco-traffickers. Those are all important priorities, but there is something else he should be doing as well: acting as a wartime leader.

 

So far, Karzai has been oddly disengaged from the war raging around him. Rarely if ever does he visit his own troops in the field, go to hospitals to comfort the wounded or honour the dead, as President Barack Obama did so stirringly with his recent middle-of-the-night visit to Dover Air Force Base. Karzai doesn't even give speeches to rally his people in the effort to defeat the Taliban. When he does speak out, it is usually to bemoan civilian casualties caused by the Western coalition, inadvertently helping to further a Taliban propaganda line. Most of the time, though, he prefers to shelter behind the high walls of his presidential compound in Kabul, where he can focus on backroom dealmaking.

 

That doesn't mean that Karzai is opposed to the war effort or soft on the Taliban. He must know that if the Taliban ever regains power, he would be one of the first victims dangling from a lamppost. But he has not embraced the war effort in the way that Franklin D. Roosevelt or Winston Churchill did — even though the war against the Taliban is every bit as important for the future of Afghanistan as the war against the Nazis and Japanese was for the future of Britain and America. He has not been, to put it mildly, a Ramon Magsaysay — the reformist Philippine defence minister and president in the 1950s who worked closely with his American advisor, Edward Lansdale, to defeat the communist Huk insurgents.

 

Karzai has not even been, to take a lesser and more recent example, a Nouri al-Maliki. The Iraqi prime minister was also oddly disengaged from the war tearing his country apart when he first took over in 2006. He came into office with no military experience and with deep-seated suspicions of an army that he associated with the Baathist regime. But as he grew more comfortable in his post, he became a formidable if sometimes impetuous frontline commander.

 

The highlight of his tenure came in 2008, when he personally directed Iraqi troops to clear the Sadrists out of Basra and Sadr City. Those operations were not well prepared, but they proved successful with US help, and as a result, they gave a tremendous boost not only to Iraq's stability but to al-Maliki's own standing. Today, al-Maliki is the most popular politician in Iraq, and his critics are fretting not that he is too weak, as they were in 2006, but that he is too strong and could run roughshod over Iraq's nascent democracy.

 

One factor working in al-Maliki's favor was that President George W. Bush took a close personal interest in his success. In video teleconferences and personal meetings, he served as a mentor and supporter, giving al-Maliki the kind of lessons in leadership that only one embattled head of state can impart to another. Today, by contrast, Obama is holding Karzai at arm's length. His administration is offering ultimatums, not mentoring, to the Afghan president.

 

A more productive approach would be for Obama to embrace Karzai and give him some pointers while nudging him in a more reformist direction. One of the top tips he could impart would be how to act as a wartime commander in chief who rallies public opinion behind him. Problem is, Obama himself is struggling with that job — as have most of his predecessors, including Bill Clinton and Bush. That's no surprise, because there is little that can prepare anyone for that awesome responsibility. Thus Clinton stumbled over Somalia and gays in the military before finding his footing in Bosnia and Kosovo.

 

Bush stumbled far worse in Iraq. Early on, he was a hands-off leader, delegating the management of the war to military and civilian subordinates who failed him and the country. Bush finally matured as a leader and earned a shot at redemption in 2006, when he approved the "surge" despite Washington's conventional wisdom to the contrary. Note that Bush is now unemployed except for the usual post-presidential activities of speech-giving and memoir-writing. Maybe it's time for Obama to summon his predecessor and ask him to undertake a special mission: Give Karzai some pointers on how to be a leader in wartime.

 

Los Angeles Times

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

FOX KNOWS MANY THINGS

 

Megan Fox is a fox. And not just in the way you might think if you've seen her in a tiny bikini in a men's magazine or leaning over the hood of a '76 Camaro in Transformers. Yes, Fox is beautiful and often scantily clad, but dozens of beautiful girls arrive in Hollywood every day who are more than happy to pose nearly naked. Unlike them, Fox has a quality that sets her apart: Fox is sly. Canny. A devoted student of stardom, past and present, she knows how to provide her own colour commentary — a narrative to go with the underwear. After having appeared only in Transformers I and II, in which the true stars were giant robots, she created a rebellious, frankly sexual persona and talked her way into the limelight. The only problem is, having come so far so fast, how do you stay this year's girl when the year is almost over?

 

This question seemed to be on Fox's mind when I met her one morning in late September. She was in New York to host Saturday Night Live, and she answered the door of her hotel room dressed in black leggings, a low-cut tank top under a grey, loose-fitting long cardigan and large, rectangular glasses, which gave her a kind of "sexy librarian" look that vividly contrasted with her pinup image. Fox is small and narrow, with a tiny waist, and she wears her long, thick dark brown hair parted in the middle, which gives her a vaguely Indian quality. Her most striking feature is her eyes — they're bright blue and catlike, and they look half-closed even when they're wide-open. For all her raunchy talk, Fox is surprisingly dainty and ladylike. She took ballet for much of her childhood, and she has a natural stillness and grace. She's not warm or particularly friendly and doesn't seem at all interested in small talk. Instead, she's self-contained and a bit wary. She will answer any question, but she resists true dialogue. With Fox, it's not a conversation but a presentation.

 

Four days earlier, Jennifer's Body opened, and despite Fox's many salacious interviews and alluring photos, the movie performed poorly, winding up in fifth place at the box office. Fox plays a sexually sophisticated high-school girl transformed into a zombie demon that must feed on humans to survive. She satisfies this desire by first seducing and then eating men. Not surprisingly, and despite the heavily publicised 64-second lesbian makeout scene, men did not buy many tickets. Neither did women, who tend to prefer movies that feature more approachable, less vixenish actresses, like Sandra Bullock or Jennifer Aniston. "People expected Jennifer's Body to make so much money," Fox said flatly. "But I was doubtful. The movie is about a man-eating, cannibalistic lesbian cheerleader, and that pretty much eliminates middle America. It's obviously a girl-power movie, but it's also about how scary girls are. Girls can be a nightmare."

 

Historically, Hollywood likes to look for a close (and usually younger) facsimile of its reigning stars. When Julia Roberts became less interested in romantic comedies, those parts went to Sandra Bullock. When Robert Redford was more attracted to directing than to being a leading man, Brad Pitt was waiting in the wings. Angelina Jolie was unique: from the start of her career, she combined stunning looks, talent and a penchant for extreme behaviour. She was openly bisexual, had many tattoos and flaunted her fascination with drugs, blood and self-destructive behavior. What better person for Megan Fox to emulate?

 

And while Fox hasn't shown Jolie's acting talent, the rest could be approximated. The physical resemblance is striking: Fox is shorter and less lush, but the pillowy lips are similar, and in a sea of Hollywood blondes, If there's an Angelina playbook, Fox followed it. The Jolie comparison would probably have been made by the media eventually, but Fox sped up the process. Fox, who is an expert shedder of skins, complains that the Jolie comparisons are now "the bane of my existence," which is part of the reason she wanted to host SNL.

 

Her first acting role was in Holiday in the Sun an Olsen twins film that went straight to DVD. At 17, she moved to LA and landed the role of Lindsay Lohan's enemy in Disney's Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen. "I played the bitch, of course," Fox recalled. "I was always cast as the bitch. The light-haired girl is the sweet leading lady, and the dark girl is the sexy bitch." She paused. "I didn't know how to act when I did that movie. I just mimicked all the bitches I'd seen other people play on TV."

 

There would be a fairly easy way to enlarge her persona: Fox could look for a role that appealed primarily to a female audience. Jolie, who always had a stronger following in male-oriented movies like Tomb Raider, changed her image by appearing in the action-filled romantic comedy Mr. and Mrs. Smith. But Fox isn't convinced she should risk losing her male fan base. "It might be a good business move," she said. "And I get sent romantic comedies. But I'm fearful of doing those. I'm 23 — I don't belong in a romantic comedy yet. Those movies are very safe. They're tailored to middle America, which is why they make the money that they make. But I don't want to do that yet."

 

On her right forearm, Fox has an intricate tattoo of Marilyn Monroe. Although she has read biographies of Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor and other movie-star icons, Fox is particularly fascinated by Monroe. While Gardner led a wild life, her work is forgotten. Monroe created a legacy: her persona is instantly recognisable. It's not a character she played in a particular movie like, say, Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind. Monroe was her own brand before branding existed. "She lived her whole life as a character playing other characters," Fox said. "And that was her defence mechanism. But Marilyn stumbled and lost her way. She became overwhelmed by the character she created. Hollywood is filled with women who have tried to cope. I like to study them. I like to see how they've succeeded. And how they've failed."

 

The New York Times

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

PC HAS A POINT

 

Vested interest and compromise are the worst enemies of good policy, and taxation policy is no exception. As we argued in these columns yesterday, the goods & services tax is in danger of losing its purpose at the rate at which exemptions and adjustments are being sought by interested parties. There is a similar danger with the direct taxes code. Now, the main author of the code, Union home minister P Chidambaram (it was largely written out when he was finance minister), has told FE that he is completely against discussion on any watering down of the provisions of the code. What can be debated, according to the minister, are the principles of the code, not the provisions. He is completely right. It seems as though the strongest voices of dissent against the direct taxes code is coming straight from the people/firms that stand to pay more tax than they used to under the current Income-Tax Act.

 

The main problem with the Income-Tax Act as it stands now is that there are far too many exemptions, which make the system inefficient and inequitable. On corporate tax, for example, many firms end up paying only 19% in tax (after exemptions), whereas the actual rate of taxation is 30%. That is inefficient. And what makes it inequitable is that individual taxpayers don't get the benefit of these exemptions and pay the 30% rate if they earn more than Rs 5 lakh per annum. Under the new code, corporates will have to pay the full rate of tax as they should. And individuals will have their tax burden reduced. In fact, individuals with incomes up to Rs 10 lakh per annum will only pay 10% tax. This category includes 97% of all taxpayers. It can only be a problem of collective action that can pervert what is a good for an overwhelming majority into a twist in favour of a tiny minority. The government must not allow that to happen. Apart from income tax and corporate tax, another contested area of the new code is income from non-religious charitable trusts, which will be taxed net of expenditure at the rate of 15% for the first time. Given that these trusts are often used as a conduit to subvert legitimate taxation, the flat tax of 15% on net income is a good idea. The code also does away with bad taxes like the securities transaction tax. The government has every right to collect legitimate non-distortionary taxes at a reasonable rate. The direct taxes code is on the ball when it comes to lower tax rates, broadening the base , not to mention efficiency and equity. It must pass without capture by vested interests.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

THE CONSUMING CLASSES

 

The performance of factory output for the month of September was something the stock market was factoring in. At 9.1%, the monthly performance is an indication that growth trends are returning to the economy. Taken in conjunction with other indicators like improvement in excise collections, where the bottom seems to have been reached, the trend is encouraging. The problem is that all indicators do not reflect a uniform movement. For instance, exports are still bottoming out. The worst is bank credit, which does not give any indication of a pickup. This is something more than a statistical blip. It is impossible to believe that industrial growth can become robust without credit from the banking sector inching up. But as of now, the overall recovery is taking much longer than was initially anticipated. As a group, the indicators of the economic revival are still not pointing the same way. But the fact that the Index of Industrial Production has almost touched double digits in less than a year after the rout of September last year, is a big cause for cheer. At this point, it is also not particularly instructive to compare what is happening in, say, China to get a feel of the potential recovery.

 

The heartening feature of the current set of figures is that the recovery numbers are becoming broad based. Of the 17 industrial groups that the index tracks, 12 are in positive territory. Sectors like basic chemicals and those like machinery & equipment are into double-digit rates of growth. This is the underpinning of a large-scale investment recovery that will stand the economy in good stead. This is reflected in the performance of the capital goods as well as the intermediate goods sector, where the growth rate is now into double digits, too. Similarly, the demand for consumer durables has shot up in the festival month because of which production in the sector has risen 22.2%, the highest among all use-based sectors. This proves that the faith in domestic demand shown by industry is backed by solid data. Perhaps when sometime later the history of this period is written in detail, the faith in the Indian consumer to stay in the market will be treated as possibly one of the key elements that kept global recovery on course in 2009.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

MIND THE JINX IN MINING

MICHAEL WALTON


Mining is a dangerous fruit. It is often extraordinarily abundant but can also have the capacity to damage, distort and corrupt. In Jharkhand, ex-chief minister Koda has been accused of extracting large sums from the allocation of mining leases.

 

Mining wealth can shape politics. In Karnataka, the Reddy brothers have used their mineral wealth to help win elections in Bellary district, and then to challenge chief minister Yeddyurappa. The CM is still in power, but most observers see the brothers as succeeding in consolidating control over their fiefdom.

 

So, is there something intrinsic to mining that makes it dangerous? And can anything be done to harvest the fruit in a way more conducive to equitable development and the deepening of democracy? At first glance, international experience suggests this is tough. Mining attracts controversy throughout the world for its links to social displacement, environmental damage and corruption.

 

There are two features of the economics of mining that make it particularly prone to distorting effects. First, mining usually has collateral effects that are not reflected in the core economics of the production and market process. People are displaced, water may be polluted, forests cut down, mining workers' families moved to locations with poor schooling and so on. 'Rich Lands, Poor People', by the Centre for Science and the Environment provides a survey of the woeful effects. Since these are externalities in economics jargon, there are no incentives for the firm to act on them, and government intervention is called for to ensure decisions are aligned with overall development goals. This is basic welfare economics, not a pro-regulatory position.

 

Second, mining involves natural resource rents: prices are determined by the market, costs by the production process. Competition does not automatically bid profits down, and sometimes there are vast returns to be earned and shared. This is doubly true in periods of commodity booms, recently fuelled by the seemingly insatiable Chinese demand for minerals.

 

So here's the crux. Even if regulations are sound, mining firms and government actors have big incentives to collude and share the gains, at the cost of workers, affected households and the environment. Collusion is easier when institutions are weak: when regulatory, governmental and judicial processes are vulnerable to influence and corruption. This is especially problematic for India because of geography: some of the richest mining resources lie in areas of forests, relatively marginalised adivasi populations and weak governments. Some are also domains of Naxalite activity, which both feeds off and magnifies the failings of the state.

 

The wrong, distorting kind of mining prospers in weak institutional environments. Where mining, in turn, spurs corruption or distorts political finance, this can lead to further institutional debilitation, precisely when the Indian state needs to be strengthened.

 

So what can be done? Protest groups seek to stop mining altogether. But stopping mining is neither realistic nor desirable—at least if it can be embedded in processes that incorporate the full effects, with equitable sharing of benefits. Indeed, part of the problem lies in the polarisation of debate.

 

The government is expected to update the regulatory framework for mining in the forthcoming Parliamentary session. All observers agree the existing regulations are outdated. The question is whether new regulations will be shaped primarily around streamlining decisions, or are also used to develop processes that ensure mining firms compete, and concessions are awarded, based on full social and environmental effects. Some of this relates to specific designs: to promote open competition in concession allocation, and develop alternative mechanisms for consultation and sharing—equity stakes for affected families is just one example. But the incentives will always be to subvert regulations. In the end the issue is a fundamental one of deepening democratic process, in the broadest sense of the word. Accountability structures work best when there is complementarity between internal government mechanisms and structured societal processes, representing the interests of mining workers, affected families and environmental concerns, underpinned by much greater transparency and public debate.

 

This may sound utopian. But the fact that an ex-chief minister can be under investigation is a good sign. And some international experiences are positive.

 

Australia and Chile managed, over the long term, to use the fruits of mining to support long-run economic and human development. Peru, mineral-rich but institution-poor, now has structured sharing of part of the rents with local governments and communities. There is still controversy, but the level of public scrutiny is transformed from an earlier generation of mining. The fact that India is a consolidated democracy at a low income level should provide an opportunity to leapfrog: what is needed is serious debate, not on whether mining is good or bad, but on how to put in place the processes that align mining with the inclusive, sustainable development that the government has a mandate to seek.

 

The author is at the Harvard Kennedy School, the Institute of Economic & Social Change, and the Centre for Policy Research

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

SMALL CHANGE CAN HAVE BIG IMPACT

YOGINDER K ALAGH


One of the lessons from Keynes is that a lot of small changes can mean more in aggregate than a few large changes. Small scale industry in India would appreciate this.

 

In 1989 the President of South Korea had sent an emissary to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi arguing that their analysis showed that 1990s were going to be a decade of India and they wanted to diversify their triangular relationship with Japan, from where South Korea imported $21 billion, and the US, to which it exported $29 billion. The emissary wanted Indian policymakers to visit South Korea and to see their strategic policies. I was asked to lead the team. In conversations that I have reported in academic debates and which have been extensively quoted in the literature on strategic planning, I was told by the architect of their growth story not to worry about comparative advantage, but to implement what you plan well. Efficient import substitution and export promotion went hand in hand. The Koreans made and implemented rule-based policies that did not allow any intervention or failure.

 

As soon as an export order was received, by pre-determined norms developed by their Planning Board, the industrial unit was given in its bank account the set-offs, both for an actual export as well as a deemed export.

 

Our credit systems and prioritised lending for small industry are detailed and comprehensive. But I would suggest the following two steps. First, as soon as an order is received by a small enterprise, the bank is required to give a certain percentage predetermined by the government in the department of small scale industry to the unit, a loan for working capital. Second, as soon as the consignment is delivered to the unit ordering at home or abroad, with a proof of landing, a fresh loan is given to the unit based on norms decided by the small scale industry department and the loan for working capital is subtracted from it.

 

The loan is liquidated as soon as the payment is made by the customer. One out of 10,000 cases is investigated by the Special Enforcement Branch, created by the department of small-scale industry, and if any enterprise is found cheating, it is given severe punishment. The department of small scale industry also arranges a reinsurance scheme for default.

 

Also, do we need special policies in the stimulus period? A case in point is the kind of opportunities that arise in taxation policies to avoid negative protection. India has some experience of this. In global depressions, you are globally efficient if at international prices of outputs and inputs, firms make profits. Still, at market prices, they can make losses. In a partially reforming economy, if the input supplier has not been subjected to competition, even if a firm is efficient, it will make losses, because the global competitor gets components and equipment at cheaper prices, or his interest rate is lower. Clusters of industries would need to be reformed together and tariff policies would need to be determined in an optimal manner, taking these configurations into account.

 

Indians were once seen, in some of the literature, as following this path, sequencing and phasing reform. In a distorting trade epoch, which to an extent all depressions will be, it is possible to bring in policies of inverted tax structures in a measured and phased manner. India's budget papers, for the 2009-10 stimulus budget, describe this policy as indirect tax rates compensating for 'deeper cuts on finished goods as compared to their raw materials'. Peak tariff rates, set by reform of the tax system are not changed, but tariff rates reduced on specified inputs, components and capital goods. The department of small scale industry needs to identify these cases in a time-bound manner.

 

The question of technology support is more critical. To begin with, the recommendations of the V Krishnamurthy Committee on a technology policy for small scale industry must be implemented in a time-bound manner as the PM has underlined. The recommendations are specific and doable.

 

Dualism in the SME sector is well known. In a number of cases there have been strong linkages with global markets in the reform phase although the process, in some cases, seems to have predated the reforms. Most of these initiatives are from entrepreneurial efforts and traditional networks of information and market knowledge. These are not cases of large firms linking with SMEs as the literature or policy expectations posit. They are more interesting. They are cases of SMEs growing with intrinsic competitive advantages and developing strong global bases. As these firms succeed, they get into global strategic partnerships and acquisitions. They need help. The Chinese do it. We don't.

 

The author is a former Union minister

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

RECALL THIS

JAYA JUMRANI


On Monday, Nokia, the world's largest mobile phone maker initiated a precautionary charger exchange programme in which consumers owning certain Nokia-branded chargers manufactured by China's BYD Co Ltd were recommended to exchange these chargers for free replacements. Nokia will be replacing 14 million such chargers that expose consumers to an electric shock hazard.

 

A product recall is a very real possibility that can happen to most quality-conscious organisations as well as to the careless. The long global recall list mainly includes companies from the US, Europe and Japan covering almost all the major business segments. The incidents range from the Tylenol poisonings in the 1980s to the Firestone tyre recalls in 2000 to the latest Maclaren's recall of one million pushchairs.

 

Products have been recalled in India, too. However, such cases have been fewer. The majority of cases relate to MNCs operating in India and their recalls were part of a global programme. The Indian incidents range from the recall of Bajaj/Vespa scooters in the 1970s to the recent recall cases of soft drinks with pesticides content and Cadbury chocolates with worms being reported in them.

 

Indian manufacturers are becoming increasingly aware of the liabilities they potentially face, especially when exporting to litigious destinations like Australia, EU and the US. Recalls of food products are comparatively rare in India, but with the development of branded food products, they have become a common tool. In 2004, the EU had issued notices to 61 Indian companies to recall their food products on the ground that they were contaminated. Tough export regulations have led to manufacturers keeping records of their raw materials. Similar regulations should be implemented on the domestic front, too.

 

India has also initiated a law to trace the origins of all products, which would help companies to improve their brand value, besides making products adhere to higher safety norms and lower carbon footprint. However, it must be ensured that these details travel along with the product throughout the chain.

 

jaya.jumrani@expressindia.com

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

REPORT CARD

 

This paper* examines the relationship between patent protection for pharmaceuticals and investment in development of new drugs:

 

Patent protection has increased around the world as a consequence of the Trips Agreement, which specifies minimum levels of intellectual property protection for members of the WTO. It is generally argued that patents are critical for pharmaceutical research efforts, and so greater patent protection in developing and least-developed countries might result in greater effort by pharmaceutical firms to develop drugs that are especially needed in those countries. We find that patent protection is associated with increases in research & development (R&D) effort when adopted in high income countries. However, the introduction of patents in developing countries has not been followed by greater investment. This paper examines how R&D investment in pharmaceuticals has changed with the adoption of the Trips Agreement. Particularly in the case of patents for pharmaceutical treatments, Trips involves a tradeoff between dynamic efficiency and static inefficiency. An important issue for developing and least-developed countries is whether the introduction of patent protection for drugs has led to an increase in R&D effort to treat diseases that are especially prevalent there. We conclude that patent protection in developing and least-developed countries does not appear to have created incentives for investment in new treatments for diseases that primarily affect poorer countries. R&D on neglected diseases is not associated with increases in the potential market size in low-income countries, whether or not those markets provided patent protection. This is not to claim that patents are irrelevant: patent protection is associated with greater R&D investment in diseases that affect high income countries, and the treatments developed as a result may benefit people in poorer countries.

 

Margaret Kyle, Anita McGahan; Investments in Pharmaceuticals Before and After Trips; Working Paper 15,468, October 2009, National Bureau of Economic Research

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

A GAME CHANGING SCHEME

 

The importance accorded to the Unique Identification (UID) project is reflected in the constitution of a special group of Union Ministers headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to oversee its implementation. Some details about this audaciously ambitious project are yet to be finalised, but the broad plan is to cover some 1.2 billion people in the country by allotting each a unique number and creating a data base containing their photographs, biometric information (such a s fingerprints), and a few details such as name, sex, and age. The idea of a unique identification system goes back to the National Democratic Alliance government, when Home Minister L.K. Advani proposed the issue of Multipurpose National Identity Cards (MNICs) in 2001. While the MNIC project suffered from the image of being principally a doubtful internal security measure — inspired by such motives as distinguishing illegal Bangladeshi immigrants from Indian citizens — the UID project has been packaged and promoted as primarily a mechanism to improve the delivery of government schemes for the poor and the marginalised. Unlike the MNIC scheme, the UID will comprise a number and not a card; will be available to all residents and not only citizens; and will be demand-driven as opposed to mandatory (although this does not preclude government agencies at the Central and State level from mandating enrolment).

 

With proper implementation, the transformative potential of the UID scheme in enhancing access to government services should not be underestimated. In becoming a single source of identity verification, it could enable the easier roll-out of wide number of services such as bank accounts, passports, driving licences, and LPG connections. Proof of identity and greater financial inclusion could lay the basis for checking fraud and corruption, avoiding duplication and targeting intended beneficiaries in a range of programmes such as the NREGS and the PDS. The attendant risks of such a potentially game-changing scheme — which include risks or hacking, privacy invasion, and the possible misuse of information by a future 'Orwellian' government — are real. The UID project should be open to wide public debate and Nandan Nilekani, the former co-chairman of Infosys who heads the Unique Identification Authority of India, has made a good start by seeking opinions, allaying apprehensions, and discussing details of the project with a wide section of people in government and civil society. He has the ability to draw the best IT talent required to implement a project that could set a new paradigm for government service delivery. What it needs is a legal framework that enables the creation of a unique identity system with adequate safeguards to protect privacy and confidentiality.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

PREPARING THE GROUND FOR GST

 

The first discussion paper on the goods and services tax (GST) released by the Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers incorporates some key decisions announced earlier while adding a few new ones. In July, it was announced that there will be a dual structure, with the Centre levying and administering its own GST and the States having their own laws and rates. In effect, there will be two sets of GST, one for the goods and the other for the services, levied at two l evels of the Centre and the State on a uniform basis across the country. There would be minimal rate variations and as few exemptions as possible. It has now been decided that there would be two rates for goods and a single rate for services. The rate structure is yet to be decided but, for the tax on goods, the rate is expected to be between eight per cent and 10 per cent for the lower slab and 16 per cent to 18 per cent for the higher slab. There would be a lower rate for items of mass consumption and a standard rate for other goods. The threshold for the State GST covering both goods and services has been fixed at Rs.10 lakh, while that for the Centre's levy is expected to be around Rs.1.5 crore for goods and higher for the tax on services. In a significant decision, imports of goods and services will be subjected to the GST, both by the Centre and the States. The Centre will levy an integrated GST on inter-State transactions. Transfer of revenue between States will be on a net basis at fixed intervals.

 

The discussion paper, which will form the basis for further discussions with trade and industry and consumer organisations, is a major step forward but is not quite the road map it should ideally be. While there is a consensus that the GST should be as exhaustive as possible, certain items such as alcoholic beverages have been left out and will continue to be taxed by the States. In a concession that is sure to distort the new indirect tax structure, octroi and other purely local levies have been allowed to remain. The much-needed technical support for infrastructure is expected to be in place only by mid-January. There has been no firm indication as to when the preparatory legal measures, including amendments to the Constitution, will be carried out. More basically, some States are reportedly sceptical and have not come on board. As indicated by the Union Finance Minister, it seems certain that the GST cannot be introduced, as scheduled, by April 1, 2010.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

SECURING INDIA'S SCIENCE FUTURE

WHILE INDIA IS UNIQUELY POSITIONED TO USE TECHNOLOGY FOR PROGRESS, IT HAS IN THE RECENT PAST LAGGED BEHIND IN THE QUALITY AND SPREAD OF SCIENCE RESEARCH. THE NEED FOR A STRONG SCIENCE ECO-SYSTEM BASED ON A SOUND RESEARCH FOUNDATION HAS AN INTEGRAL CONNECT WITH INDIA'S DEVELOPMENT AS A WORLD POWER.

N.R. NARAYANA MURTHY

 

In 2004, while reviewing the science and technology policy of the Government of India, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam said: "In a world where the powers are determined by the share of the world's knowledge, reflected by patents, papers and so on…it is important for India to put all her acts together to become a continuous innovator and creator of science and technology intensive products." The importance of scientific and technological advancement in today̵ 7;s highly globalised environment cannot be overstated.

 

If we are to go by an observation in a report by India's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that "the health of a nation depends, among other factors, on the health of the state of its science and technology," we have cause to be concerned about the health of our nation. In an increasingly competitive global economy, knowledge-driven growth powered by innovation is a critical imperative. While India is uniquely positioned to use technology for progress, it has in the recent past lagged behind considerably in the quality and spread of science research. This is a critical lacuna that could well determine the fate not just of our scientific and developmental future but, more importantly, of our progress as a nation.

 

STATUS AND CHALLENGES

A recent study by Thomson Reuters titled Global Research Report: India concluded that, given ideal conditions, India's research productivity would be on a par with that of most G8 nations within seven to eight years and that it could probably overtake them in 2015-2020. In the last decade, India has seen its annual output of scientific publications grow from roughly 16,500 in 1998 to nearly 30,000 in 2007. Before we pat ourselves on the back, it would be good to consider things in perspective. Although India produces about 400,000 engineering graduates and about 300,000 computer science graduates every year, just about 20,000 master's degree holders and fewer than 1,000 Ph.Ds in engineering graduate each year.

 

In 2007-08, India had about 156 researchers per million in the population, compared with 4,700 per million in the United States. In terms of sheer numbers, in 2007 China had 1,423,000 researchers, second internationally to the United States, which had almost 1,571,000. India by comparison had 154,800. India's spend on R&D in 2007-08 was about US$ 24 billion compared with China's investment of about US$ 104 billion back in 2006 and the United States' US$ 368 billion. These comparative allocations, which have not changed much since then, reveal the gross inadequacy in India's commitment to research, considering our scientists' potential and our aspirations as a nation.

 

A survey of 47 universities conducted by the University Grants Commission in 2007-08 revealed vacancy levels as high as 51 per cent. It is evident that the majority of India's graduating engineers, particularly the cream, are going directly into the job market – affecting the number and quality of those available for research. This trend is partly because of the widespread notion that remuneration in a research career is below par and partly because of the lack of adequate encouragement and direction for young potential researchers.

 

Not enough Ph.Ds graduate in India — be it in number or excellence — to meet the growing staff requirements of its universities. As a result, even the quality of faculty has shown a declining trend and this is bound to have serious repercussions on the country's intellectual edge. Add to this the issues of politicisation of the Indian scientific establishment, particularly in according due recognition, the lack of adequate funding and infrastructure, and the disparity in research funds and facilities available to universities. Further, the long-time policy of target-oriented research in selected thrust areas, as against open-ended research, has often come at the cost of the basic sciences. It is common knowledge that research in basic sciences is a critical pre-requisite for the success of applied sciences and the bedrock of all technological advancement.

 

WAY FORWARD

The key to continued success for India in a globalised knowledge-driven economy is building a higher education system that is superior in quality and committed encouragement of relevant research in science and technology. What is needed is an environment where the government, universities, companies, venture capitalists, and other stakeholders come together for the enablement of the entire science eco-system with an eye on future sustainability.

 

A manifold increase in the country's investment in scientific research is only the beginning. The government must play a key role by enhancing the number, quality, and management of science schools focussed on science research. Given the present government's direction, this is something that could come to pass over the next few years. The IIT model of success needs to be replicated on a far larger scale. Providing the requisite autonomy to research institutions is an important necessity. Professors, scientists, and institution heads are often the people best informed on the necessary conditions required for the advancement of research goals. They must be enabled with the autonomy to create those conditions.

 

With industry often being the downstream beneficiary of several research efforts, increased interaction between industry and research establishments is important. There needs to be a sound incentive system for the corporate sector involved in scientific R&D as well, with infrastructure and financial benefits, as is the case with the IT industry. This includes viable incentives such as tax breaks for corporate R&D efforts and special economic zones and technology parks for R&D establishments.

 

In an age where issues of research interest are often global in nature, we must encourage active interaction and exchange with international research institutions. Cross-continental research cooperation and knowledge sharing was at the base of the story of the three winners of the Chemistry Nobel for 2009, among who was Dr Venkataraman Ramakrishnan, of Indian origin. Creating partnerships with relevant peer institutions in India and abroad, hosting events and conferences and getting eminent researchers and scientists to shed light on progress in key research areas and supporting related publications — these measures will go a long way not only in enriching India's research eco-system but also in enticing potential young researchers to the cause.

 

For instance, it should be a practice to invite Nobel Prize winners or similar eminent international scientists for seminars with selected young research minds and students in India at least annually. This could prove a valuable source of insight and inspiration to young potentials. In this regard, I would suggest the creation of an institution like the National Science Foundation, endowed with a suitable corpus from key public and private stakeholders, conferred with the responsibility of regularly undertaking such initiatives.

 

The importance of rewards and recognition for scientific research cannot be understated as a measure to encourage talented youngsters to consider careers in research. There is a need to recognise and applaud the accomplishments of our researchers and scientists, just as we applaud the achievements of our sportspersons. This must include measures such as financial support to encourage students to adopt research careers, suitable incentives, and awards for scientific achievement. For example, the best and brightest top 1000 students across India with the potential and inclination for research could be provided guaranteed funding for their further education and early careers in research. And the private sector could play the role of a patron here.

 

The government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has avowed goals to reduce poverty and stimulate development. One among the many facilitators for this is a focussed investment in science and technology, which the Prime Minister has acknowledged by announcing a doubling of related spend in terms of percentage of GDP over the next couple of years. Parliament's approval for the creation of a National Science and Engineering Research Board, responsible for funding and furthering scientific research, is laudable and a significant step in the right direction. The Human Resource Development Ministry's efforts to improve the higher education system and the establishment of five new Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research in the past three years will provide a vital boost to the cause of scientific research in India.

 

The need for a strong science eco-system based on a sound research foundation has an integral connect with India's development as a world power. India needs the best intellect available for government, business, military, or any aspect of society to strive for global excellence. Their accomplishments need to be lauded and brought to the forefront. Globally, there are several prestigious awards that ensure due recognition, visibility, and reward for outstanding achievements in research. There is a need to emulate this in India to encourage higher levels of research work with an impact on India's development. One such initiative is the Infosys Prize, which has been instituted to honour outstanding researchers who make a difference to India's scientific future and to motivate youngsters to consider careers in research. Overall, there is a need for many more integrated, multi-pronged, and multi-institutional interventions to encourage greater participation and strengthening of scientific research in India. Our success in ensuring this over the next few years will determine how best we will be able to secure India's scientific and developmental future.

 

(N.R. Narayana Murthy is President of the Board of Trustees, Infosys Science Foundation. He is Chairman and Chief Mentor, Infosys Technologies Limited. Through the Infosys Prize, the foundation seeks to recognise outstanding contributions and achievements of research in India, to elevate the prestige of scientific research, and to inspire young Indians to choose a vocation in the same.)

 

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THE HINDU

OPED

OBAMA FAILS TO RESUSCITATE THE MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS

OBITUARIES FOR THE HOPE GENERATED BY HIS ELECTION ARE BEING WRITTEN IN ARABIC, HEBREW AND ENGLISH.

IAN BLACK

 

Barack Obama seems to have failed dismally in his first sustained attempt to show he is serious about making peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Obituaries for the hope generated by his election, peaking in his Cairo speech in June, are being written in Arabic, Hebrew, and English. For those who never believed that even Mr. Obama could succeed where Bill Clinton failed in the final days of his presidency, this was a death foretold.

 

But having been unable to persuade or cajole Binyamin Netanyahu to accept a total freeze on West Bank settlements, friendly Arab states to "normalise" relations with Israel or the Palestinians to restart long-stalled peace talks without preconditions, what will he do next?

 

Mahmoud Abbas's decision to stand down as Palestinian President has sharpened concerns that the moribund peace process is now facing a terminal crisis. Even if Mr. Abbas relents, as he yet may, Mr. Obama's strategy is clearly in deep trouble.

 

The U.S. President's options can be roughly divided between raising or lowering the level of American ambition for tackling the world's most intractable conflict. Raising it means tabling a big idea, a fully fledged peace plan or setting out parameters for a settlement. That would involve addressing the highly sensitive core issues such as final borders, the status of Jerusalem and the refugee question. The obvious danger is that a bold move could crash in flames, risking failure and damaging Washington's credibility.

 

Analysts and diplomats surveying prospects at an international conference in Warsaw this week agreed that Mr. Obama is more likely to lower his ambition — proposing interim or limited steps to be discussed when the parties return to negotiations. Possibilities include a further Israeli handover of part of the West Bank or adding a new set of mutual obligations to George Bush's 2003 road map.

 

Israel might accept such an approach: Shaul Mofaz, a former Likud defence minister, has suggested setting up a Palestinian state on 60 per cent of the West Bank — circumventing all the knottiest problems. Overall, Mr. Netanyahu's government (the most rightwing in Israel's history) seems content to "manage" rather than resolve the conflict while seeking to further develop the West Bank economy — the agenda being pursued by Tony Blair, the quartet envoy.

 

But Palestinians would reject moves that do not end the total Israeli control over their disconnected enclaves. And any borders agreed on a "temporary" basis could turn out to last for years. Bitter experience suggests that Jewish settlements would meanwhile continue to grow.

 

Palestinians face a paralysing double division: within the West Bank, where Mr. Abbas's position has been badly weakened by his failure to deliver on peace with Israel; and between Fatah and the Islamists of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, where Yasser Arafat's successor is painted as no better than a collaborator with the occupation — presiding over a "Vichy" regime in Ramallah.

 

Mr. Obama needs to choose between attempting to resolve the conflict in all its aspects — a so-called "comprehensive peace" involving a deal with Syria and Israeli relations with Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies — and opting again for piecemeal measures that may build confidence and add up to something more substantial over time. The model for that is the ill-fated Oslo process, which began with such high hopes in 1993 and ended in the second intifada seven years later — and with twice as many Israelis settlers on the ground.

 

Talking of Oslo, Mr. Obama is due in the Norwegian capital in December to accept the Nobel peace prize he was awarded so prematurely. The association of the venue with past failure means it may not be a good idea to launch a new initiative on that occasion. Still, deciding what to do is far more difficult than choosing where to say it.

 

If most elements of this picture are grimly familiar, what has changed in recent days is the sense of deepening gloom captured in a report, on the dilemmas facing Fatah, by the International Crisis Group. "A peace process that yields results seems a distant prospect at best," it concludes. "The gap between the two sides, the character of Israel's government, entrenched divisions among the Palestinians and a U.S. diplomacy that appears more captive than master of events — these and more have deflated the hopes of an Israeli-Palestinian breakthrough to which Mr. Obama's election had given rise." It is hard to fault the accuracy of that assessment. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009

 

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THE HINDU

OPED

WHEN UNEMPLOYMENT STRESS TRICKLES DOWN TO CHILDREN

A RECENT STUDY OF HOW PEOPLE SPEND THEIR TIME SHOWED UNEMPLOYED FATHERS DEVOTE SIGNIFICANTLY LESS TIME TO HOUSEHOLD CHORES THAN EVEN MOTHERS WHO ARE EMPLOYED FULL-TIME, AND DO NOT WORK AS HARD IN CARING FOR CHILDREN.

MICHAEL LUO

 

Paul Bachmuth's 9-year-old daughter, Rebecca, began pulling out strands of her hair over the summer. His older child, Hannah, 12, has become noticeably angrier, more prone to throwing tantrums.

 

Initially, Bachmuth, 45, did not think his children were terribly affected when he lost his job nearly a year ago. But now he cannot ignore the mounting evidence.

 

"I'm starting to think it's all my fault," Bachmuth said.

 

As the months have worn on, his job search travails have consumed the family, even though the Bachmuths were outwardly holding up on unemployment benefits, their savings and the income from the part-time job held by Bachmuth's wife, Amanda. But beneath the surface, they have been a family on the brink. They have watched their children struggle with behavioural issues and a stress-induced disorder. He finally got a job offer last week, but not before the couple began seeing a therapist to save their marriage.

 

For many families across the country, the greatest damage inflicted by this recession has not necessarily been financial but emotional and psychological. Children, especially, have become hidden casualties, often absorbing more than their parents are fully aware of. Several academic studies have linked parental job loss — especially that of fathers — to adverse impacts on everything from school performance to self-esteem.

 

"I've heard a lot of people who are out of work say it's kind of been a blessing, that you have more time to spend with your family," Bachmuth said. "I love my family and my family comes first, and my family means more than anything to me, but it hasn't been that way for me."

 

A recent study at the University of California, Davis, found that children in families where the head of the household had lost a job were 15 per cent more likely to repeat a grade. Ariel Kalil, a University of Chicago professor of public policy, and Kathleen M. Ziol-Guest, of the Institute for Children and Poverty in New York, found in an earlier study that adolescent children of low-income single mothers who endured unemployment had an increased chance of dropping out of school and showed declines in emotional well-being.

 

In the long term, children whose parents were laid off have been found to have lower annual earnings as adults than those whose parents remained employed, a phenomenon Peter R. Orszag, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, mentioned in a speech last week at New York University.

 

A variety of studies have tied drops in family income to negative effects on children's development. But Kalil, a developmental psychologist and director of the university's Centre for Human Potential and Public Policy, said the more important factor, especially in middleclass households, appears to be changes in family dynamics from job loss.

 

"The extent that job losers are stressed and emotionally disengaged or withdrawn, this really matters for kids," she said. "The other thing that matters is parental conflict. That has been shown repeatedly in psychological studies to be a bad family dynamic."

 

Kalil said her research indicated that the repercussions were more pronounced in children when fathers experience unemployment, rather than mothers. She theorised that the reasons have to do with the importance of working to the male self-image, or the extra time that unemployed female breadwinners seem to spend with their children, mitigating the impact on them.

 

HELPFUL FOR SOME FAMILIES

Certainly, some of the more than a dozen families interviewed that were dealing with long-term unemployment said the period had been helpful in certain ways for their families.

 

Denise Stoll, 39, and her husband, Larry, 47, both lost their positions at a bank in San Antonio in October 2008 when it changed hands. Stoll, a vice-president who managed a technology group, earned significantly more than her husband, who worked as a district loan origination manager.

 

Nevertheless, Stoll took unemployment much harder than she did and struggled to keep his spirits up, before he landed a new job within several months in the Kansas City area, where the family had moved to be closer to relatives. He had to take a sizable pay cut but was grateful to be working again.

 

Denise Stoll is still looking but has also tried to make the most of the additional time with the couple's 5-year-old triplets, seeking to instil new lessons on the importance of thrift.

 

"Being a corporate mom, you work a lot of hours, you feed them dinner — maybe," she said. "This morning, we baked cookies together. I have time to help them with homework. I'm attending church. The house is managed by me. Just a lot more homemaker-type stuff, which I think is more nurturing to them."

 

Other families, however, reported unmistakable ill-effects.

 

Robert Syck, 42, of Fishers, Ind., lost his job as a call-centre manager in March. He has been around his 11-year-old stepson, Kody, more than ever before. Lately, however, their relationship has become increasingly strained, he said, with even little incidents setting off blowups. His stepson's grades have slipped and the boy has been talking back to his parents more.

 

"It's only been particularly in the last few months that it's gotten really bad, to where we're verbally chewing each other out," said Syck, who admitted he has been more irritable around the house. "A lot of that is due to the pressures of unemployment."

 

When Paul Bachmuth was first laid off in December from his $120,000 job at an energy consulting firm, he could not even bring himself to tell his family. For several days, he got dressed in the morning and left the house as usual at 6 a.m., but spent the day in coffee shops, the library or just walking around.

 

Bachmuth had started the job, working on finance and business development for electric utilities, eight months earlier, moving his family from Austin. They bought something of a dream home, complete with a backyard pool and spa.

 

Although she knew the economy was ultimately to blame, Amanda Bachmuth could not help but feel angry at her husband, both said later in interviews.

 

"She kind of had something in the back of her mind that it was partly my fault I was laid off," Paul Bachmuth said. "Maybe you're not a good enough worker."

 

Counselling improved matters significantly, but Amanda Bachmuth still occasionally dissolved into tears at home.

 

Besides quarrels over money, the reversal in the couple's roles also produced friction. Amanda Bachmuth took on a part-time job at a preschool to earn extra money. But she still did most, if not all, of the cooking, cleaning and laundry.

 

Kalil, of the University of Chicago, said a recent study of how people spend their time showed unemployed fathers devote significantly less time to household chores than even mothers who are employed full-time, and do not work as hard in caring for children.

 

Paul Bachmuth's time with his girls, however, did increase. He was the one dropping off Rebecca at school and usually the one who picked her up. He began helping her more with homework. He and Hannah played soccer and chatted more.

 

OPPORTUNITIES FOR SQUABBLING

But the additional time brought more opportunities for squabbling. The rest of the family had to get used to him being around, sometimes focussed on his job search but other times lounging around depressed, watching television or surfing soccer sites on the Internet.

 

"My dad's around a lot more, so it's a little strange because he gets frustrated he's not at work, and he's not being challenged," Hannah said. "So I think me and my dad are a lot closer now because we can spend a lot more time together, but we fight a lot more maybe because he's around 24-7."

 

When Rebecca began pulling her hair out in late summer in what was diagnosed as a stress-induced disorder, she insisted it was because she was bored. But her parents and her therapist — the same one seeing her parents — believed it was clearly related to the job situation.

 

The hair pulling has since stopped, but she continues to fidget with her brown locks. The other day, she suddenly asked her mother whether she thought she would be able to find a "good job" when she grew up.

 

Hannah said her father's unemployment has made it harder for her to focus on schoolwork. She also conceded she has been more easily aggravated with her parents and her sister. At night, she said, she has taken to stowing her worries away in an imaginary box.

 

"I take all the stress and bad things that happen over the day, and I lock them in a box," she said.

 

Then, she tries to sleep. — © 2009 The New York Times News Service

 

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THE HINDU

OPED

IS IRAQ THE NEXT HOLIDAY HOTSPOT?

TAMSYN KENT

 

After more than six years of conflict Iraq seems an unlikely place for a holiday. But could its status as the birthplace of civilisation see tourists flocking? For most travellers it will, undoubtedly, be years before Iraq becomes a destination of choice. But as the country stabilises its advocates believe its potential is beginning to emerge.

 

At one time Iraq was a regular stop for British travellers. Early flights to imperial India refuelled in the port city of Basra. But the fact that all the country's major cities have been ravaged by years of warfare now make it a more difficult sell.

 

Even so, for the first time in a decade, the head of Iraq's tourism board is in London to attend the World Travel Market to promote the country as a holiday destination.

 

"Tourism will help regenerate Iraq," says the tourist board chairman, Hammoud al-Yaqoubi. "We want to prove that Iraq still exists and maybe we can change people's minds about it." But Foreign Office advice is not to travel to most of Iraq at all. But for the intrepid there is a wealth of cultural monuments.

 

Known as the birthplace of civilisation, Iraq has thousands of historic sites of note. Landmarks include the ancient cities of Ur and Babylon. According to some historians, the Garden of Eden is 80 km north of Basra.

 

Inside Iraq, there are those who believe, despite the obvious challenges, that tourism has the potential to transform the country. It will help to rebuild confidence and create economic opportunities.

 

There is one British holiday company already offering package trips to Iraq. Hinterland Travel, based in Yorkshire, is run by Geoff Hann who has been visiting the country for 30 years. He has not been able to offer trips since October 2003 because of the escalation in violence, but after restarting tours in March he has led four successful expeditions there. There are at least another five planned for 2010. "The mood in Iraq was upbeat, vibrant and improving daily," he says of last month's tour.

 

"The security situation ensured that we could see almost all of the important sites, but for the foreseeable future all visitors should pack some patience and flexibility."

 

IRAQI TREASURES

Starting from 1,600 pounds per person for a nine-day tour you can take in some of the major cultural and natural heritage sites. And, Iraq has some of the finest in the world including some of the most sacred places in Islam. Baghdad has a host of historical riches and in Samarra the golden-dome of al-Askari shrine is a must-see. The region of Basra is, some would say, the most beautiful part of Iraq.

 

Years of war and decades of neglect during Saddam Hussein's regime have taken their toll. The Baghdad Museum was looted after the 2003 invasion and U.S troops were accused of harming artefacts when they built a base at. the site of Babylon. But restoration is starting and tourist accommodation is getting better.

 

"There's an Assyrian site, a Saddam palace site, but they require refurbishment, huge sums of money and a great deal of thought about how to do it for the best of the country."

 

For many travellers, he goes on, there is even an appeal in Saddam-era relics, such as his gaudy palaces, or the numerous vast sculptures of the former dictator. "There's the added spice of the Saddam era, the wars, the political changes, the whole ambience of the thing really attracts people," says Mr. Hann.

 

SECURITY RISKS

There might be plenty to see, but for many tourism experts staying safe will be one of the biggest challenges for visitors. "We provide a certain amount of security, but it's limited," says Mr Hann.

 

"At the end of the day how much security can you give somebody anyway and do people wish to go on a holiday where they're surrounded by armed guards? Not really, it's not a holiday if you do that."

 

A history of turmoil has not stopped other countries affected by war, such as Vietnam, Cambodia and Croatia, becoming popular tourist spots. But it can take years after the last hostilities end to become part of the mainstream tourist trail. "People who go to Iraq are adventurers. They will come back to their country of origin and they will tell the truth about what is going on there and this will encourage people to come," says Mr Yaqoubi. But for many, tourists are not going to be rushing there any time soon. "It wouldn't be attracting large numbers of package holiday-makers like Croatia has done. It would be a different market," says Mr. Tipton.

 

"Certainly from our perspective until the situation improves there shouldn't really be any tourists going to Iraq at all." — © BBC News/Distributed by the New York Times Syndicate

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

THE MANNER OF MAHA POLITICS

 

The new government in Maharashtra led by Ashok Chavan has an enormous task before it as it takes over at a time when the political culture in the state has reached its nadir. There is no ideology or principle involved as political parties indulge in violence. Democratic institutions have been badly hit. The only ideologies are money, power and self-interest. Even if there are economic issues underlying the so-called parochial positions of some of the players, the way these are articulated do more harm to their cause than good. It is not that Maharashtra has not seen powerful political parties and leaders since the formation of the state 50 years ago, but chief ministers and ministers in the early years of the formation of the state were political stalwarts like Y.B. Chavan, who later became the defence minister; V.P. Naik, the longest serving chief minister; Vasantdada Patil; S.B. Chavan, the present chief minister's father, and even A.R. Antulay and Sharad Pawar. They required all their administrative skill and understanding of issues to handle leaders like the communist patriarch S.A. Dange, fiery trade unionists like George Fernandes and Datta Samant, and the young Bal Thackeray, and the first terrorist attack on  Mumbai. There was also a powerful underworld. The government did not always succeed and the state and Mumbai were rocked by many violent bandhs and communal riots. But still the strength of the government of the day was such that the people had faith and confidence in it. Today things have changed for the worse. Governance is non-existent. Respect for government is scant and this is further accentuated by the infighting within the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party, which constitute the government. It failed the very first test thrown up by Raj Thackeray's men and Samajwadi Party leader Abu Azmi. For more than a week everyone was aware of the tension simmering between the two groups. Yet neither the chief minister nor the home minister did anything to try and prevent this confrontation in the Maharashtra Assembly. The result was a brawl and a mockery of the august House on the opening day of the new session. This failure was not entirely unexpected, what with the home minister being the same person booted out for his ineffectiveness during the 26/11 terror attack.

 

The present government is being torn apart even before it has a chance to settle in. The Congress has left five Cabinet seats vacant in order to accommodate the dissidents after getting a cue from the high command. The senior Congress ministers will be islands unto themselves as they do not consider the less experienced chief minister their leader. The situation in the NCP is even more chaotic. The NCP ministers will take instructions only from their leader, Sharad Pawar, and there are already two power centres within the NCP: one led by deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal and the other by irrigation minister Ajit Pawar, who wanted to be deputy chief minister but was reportedly overruled by his uncle, Sharad Pawar.  In this scenario the challenges that face the state and the government are enormous. Besides the law and order challenge posed by the MNS and Abu Azmi incident, the cloud of a terrorist attack perpetually hangs over Mumbai. Add to these the distress in the agriculture sector with farmers still committing suicide, the growing Naxalite problem and Mumbai's civic problems. One only hopes that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has always expressed his concern for the state and the city, and Congress president Sonia Gandhi monitor the progress of the government. The people of the state and the city have become more vocal in their duty to ensure this government keeps its election promises.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPED

A SONG AND A FATWA

BY JAVED ANAND

 

Maulana Mehmood Madni, Rajya Sabha member and the driving force behind the more relevant faction of the Jamiatul-ulema-e-Hind (JUH), is my hero, part-time. Self-assured but unassuming, gracious, intelligent, a twinkle in the eyes suggestive of playfulness, nice face, nice beard, nice sound, nice smile. I liked him the very first time we met in mid-April last year.

 

Two months prior to that, in February 2008, a few of us had met at the residence of ad guru Alyque Padamsee: A maulana, a mufti, a woman professor of Islamic Studies and yours truly. We were there to talk about Islam and terrorism.

 

"I don't get it. Every Muslim I meet tells me Islam is against terrorism, every non-Muslim I meet believes Islam teaches terrorism", said Alyque. The maulana, the mufti and the professor cited verses from the Quran to show how Islam denounces any targeting of innocents.

 

"So it's not a question of faith but a problem of communication and maybe that's where I come in", said Alyque with the air of someone who knew exactly how to fix the problem. "We need drama to catch the media's eyeballs so we'll give them that. What we need is a fatwa and a hundred maulanas, each holding a mike, to spell it out loud and clear. Then the media will listen!"

 

How to get a hundred maulanas? That was when we found our hero in Maulana Madni. "You are talking of a hundred, I'm thinking of a million Muslims", he told me when I met him in Delhi in mid-April 2008. I nearly fell off my chair! Already on February 29, 2008, he had brought together thousands of maulanas at Darul Uloom, Deoband, for the same purpose. As part of his year-long campaign against terrorism in Islam's name, he now planned to assemble a million Muslims at the Ramlila Ground in Delhi on May 31, 2008.

 

"Sau salaams to all of you, Maulana Sahib. But, with due respect, it was a mixed message that went out of Deoband", I ventured tentatively. "There is this ad guru friend who says he has an idea or two on how to make your message really travel". "Let's meet in Mumbai then", was Maulana Madni's ready response.

 

"It has to be a fatwa, nothing less", Alyque kept insisting. It was Maulana Madni who got an unequivocal, no nonsense fatwa out of Deoband. "How about an oath to make it more dramatic?" suggested Alyque. Yes, we can, came the response. At the Ramlila ground on May 31, 2008, over 3,00,000 maulanas, maulvis and madrasa students raised their hands and took an "Oath of Allegiance" to fight terrorism in India or wherever… whenever.

 

The self-absorbed media didn't get it. Recall the Muslim state of denial until then, recall the familiar why-don't-even-moderate-Muslims-speak-up grouse? Yet, when, in a clean break from the prevailing denial-ism, 3,00,000 teachers and students from madrasas — alleged dens of global jihad — spoke out in one voice, the national media failed to give it the rousing reception it well deserved. How else does one explain that international commentators, experts and scholars of "Islamic terrorism" are still unaware of a clerics-led anti-terrorism campaign without any parallel in the world?

 

Give it to Maulana Mehmood Madni. Not to be deterred by the myopic media, a trainload of maulanas travelled from Deoband to Hyderabad in November last year to reiterate their "Terrorists-are-enemies-of-Islam", "Islam-means-peace" message. That the message was finally getting home was clear from what special invitee Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of Art of Living fame said at the Hyderabad rally: "An atmosphere has been created the world over linking terrorism with Islam. We have to join hands to remove this misconception". Now, a week ago, it was yoga guru Baba Ramdev, in a beard-to-beard with the maulanas at Deoband.

 

For his unrelenting, unmatched campaign against terror, Maulana Madni and the Jamiat do deserve the grateful thanks of a nation plagued by the terror scourge in recent years. So, it's a real good thing that on November 3, 2009, Union home minister P. Chidambaram, minister of state for communications Sachin Pilot and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury travelled to Deoband to do just that.

 

But many in the media still didn't get it. For them, the "breaking news", the panel discussions that evening and the next, was the Deoband fatwa declaring the singing of Vande Mataram as un-Islamic. Why was there no news flash, no panel discussion on "Ayatollah" Bal Thackeray's adesh that followed directing his Sainiks to cut off the tongue of any Muslim who refuses to chant the national song? Forget the Deoband fatwa, my limited refusal to sing Vande Mataram is simple: It's the Hindu Taliban's patriotism test for Indian Muslims.

 

All good things, alas, must come to an end. And here sadly is the end of the good news from Deoband and the Jamiat: The Indian state need have no security concern from these quarters, but Indian Muslims, and Muslim women particularly, have much to worry about.

 

True, the bulk of the Deoband establishment had staunchly opposed Partition. Since Independence it has consistently opposed the idea of a separate Muslim political party. But, beyond that, all that the orthodox Deoband and the Jamiat have to offer is an obscurantist, insular, outdated Islam.

 

Have photographs at home, other than a passport? Burn them, NOW, for that's a grave sin. Celebrating a birthday, New Year or Valentine's Day is seriously un-Islamic. Visiting the dargah of a saint: Isn't it part family outing, part faith rejuvenation, part social intermingling with people of other faiths. No way, that's pure shirk! Teaching science and maths in the madrasas? Out of the question. A knowledge of the world and knowledge of Islam don't go together.

 

What if you are a woman? First thing, remember, Allah has made men "rulers", "sovereign" over women. The ideal Muslim woman is not heard or seen, except in a head-to-toe burqa. Higher education to become a doctor, engineer, lawyer, journalist, corporate executive, pilot, astronaut? Banish the thought. Co-education is haraam in Islam. Triple talaaq (instant divorce)? Yes, it's a socially repugnant practice but what to do, its Sharia law. If a man rapes his daughter-in-law, she becomes haraam to her husband for he is now her son: that too is one interpretation in Islamic law.

 

See what I mean? For what it's worth, here's my advice to all Indians, Muslims particularly: join Deoband and the JUH for they are invaluable allies in the fight against terrorism; but challenge them too for they are a huge, big drag on the community and the country's quest for a better tomorrow.

 

Javed Anand is co-editor of Communalism Combat and general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPED

A GHOST WHO STALKS

BY SHEKHAR BHATIA

 

Some years ago I was fortunate to see a tiger in Ranthambore, and believe me it's an awesome sight. We were on a jeep as the tiger appeared from the undergrowth and walked alongside for a good 10 minutes — though it seemed a lot longer. There was an arrogance with which it ignored us as it walked with majestic grace towards a pond on the other side of the path. Seen at close quarters, it was a hair-raising experience.

 

Tigers are now refugees in shrinking reserves. But there was a time when they hunted with impunity. By the time Jim Corbett, the hunter turned conservationist, killed the dreaded man-eater of Champawat in 1911, that single tigress had devoured 436 humans — 200 in Nepal and 236 in the Kumaon region of India where she hunted unchallenged for four years.

 

In his Man-eaters of Kumaon, Corbett gives a riveting account of how the Champawat tigress carried its victims ("I have not seen anything as pitiful as that young comely leg —bitten off a little below the knee as clean as though severed by the stroke of an axe"), and how he hunted her.

 

I looked up Corbett's tale when I came across a new study about the legendary man-eaters of Tsavo, the two lions who are believed to have killed 135 people in just nine months.

 

In 1898, the British East Africa Company hired a military engineer, Lt. Col. John H. Patterson, to build a bridge over the Tsavo River in Kenya. When Patterson reached the remote outpost he saw hundreds of Indian and Kenyan workers living in fear of lions who attacked the camp at night and dragged people from their tents. He may not have believed their stories had a lion not entered the camp on the night of his arrival.

 

The British Company hired an American big-game hunter, a man named Charles Remington, who brought with him some seasoned Masai warriors. But the Masai believe the lions have supernatural powers, and deserted the hunt; soon the workers fled the camp, leaving the engineer, the hunter and another officer to tackle the two male beasts that the natives had nicknamed "the Ghost" and "the Darkness".

 

When Remington killed one of the two lions, the three decided to celebrate and got drunk. As if in revenge, the other lion dragged Remington out of his tent at night. His mauled body was found nearby. In the end Patterson managed to kill the remaining beast and sold the skins to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

 

I have not read Patterson's account, The Man-eaters of Tsavo, but I have seen a gripping movie based on it, The Ghost and the Darkness, with Val Kilmer playing the role of Patterson and Michael Douglas acting as the American hunter.

 

I saw the movie late at night some years ago in a remote bungalow in a forest in Dehra Dun. I didn't know what I was in for. Trust me when I say, it was scary. The scenes are bloody and graphic, and the suspense nail-biting.

 

Patterson claimed that the two lions had killed 135 people; the Ugandans, however, put the number at 28. Now scientists at the University of California, Santa Cruz, say the number could be 35: one lion possibly ate 11 humans and the other 24. At most the number was 75, but no more. They have analysed the hair and bone samples from the pair of lions in the Chicago Museum, picked up human samples from that region in Kenya dating back to those days, and say they are certain about the number.

 

What amazes me is how, after more than a hundred years, scientists can come to such a definite conclusion: they calculated not just the number of humans devoured by the beasts but also figured out the lions' hunting strategy.

 

According to published reports of their research, both lions were male. One "was getting nearly one-third of its diet from human meat, while the other about half that much". The rest came from grazing animals. Extrapolating this to how much a lion needs to eat to survive they arrived at the figure 35 human kills.

 

There's another bit that I found fascinating: the Tsavo lions hunted together in a phenomenon known as "cooperative hunting", but did not share their kills. Their tastes differed, and yet they hunted together.

 

There's a similarity between the man-eaters of Tsavo and Champawat: one of the lions, according to the scientists, had a fractured jaw which inhibited its ability to hunt; in the case of the Champawat tigress a gunshot wound on the teeth "had prevented her from killing her natural prey", writes Corbett. "Human beings are not the natural prey of tigers", he says in the preface to his book. Lions and tigers, say wildlife experts, are more likely to attack humans if they have an injury or are too old to hunt other wildlife. And humans are easy prey.

 

Today, it's the other way around. We are encroaching into their territory, pushing them into a corner. They have nowhere to go.

 

Shekhar Bhatia can be contacted at shekhar.bhatia@gmail.com

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPED

CONNECT

BY ROBIN SHARMA

 

Leadership has so much to do with relationships. True leaders build strong social networks and trusted communities of teammates, suppliers and customers that will help them get to where they're going (while they, in turn, reciprocate). And exceptional leaders know how to connect. Extremely well.

 

I'm on the flight home home from Hong Kong as I blog on my BlackBerry. A pleasant Air Canada flight attendant has been finding ways to connect with her passengers all through the trip. She remembers our names. And she makes us smile. She just asked if I wanted to eat. I said no (I try to eat little when I fly). Her reply was a classic: "I guess you've had an elegant sufficiency of enoughness". Made me laugh — which made her even more memorable.

 

So find ways to connect. With the people you work with. With the loved ones you live with. And with the strangers with whom you share this journey called life. You'll not only attract more professional success, you'll also become a happier person.

 

 Excerpted from The Greatness Guide 2 by Robin Sharma. Published by Jaico Publishing House, jaicopub@vsnl.com

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

COLUMN

PAK'S TALIBAN WAR IS A CHESS GAME

BY SRINATH RAGHAVAN

 

Four weeks into the Army's offensive in South Waziristan, Pakistan has been hit by a string of audacious and murderous terror attacks. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its affiliates have shown that they are still a force to reckon with. The Army has admitted that TTP fighters are putting up strong resistance on the ground, though it claims to have captured key areas held by the militants. Given the smokescreen of propaganda put out by both sides, it is difficult to be certain about the progress of the operations. But the outlines of the strategic picture are becoming clear.

 

For a start, the objectives being pursued by the Pakistan Army are rather more limited than those suggested by official rhetoric. This is certainly the largest military operation undertaken in South Waziristan. But the difference is of scale rather than scope. Contrary to expectations in many quarters, the current operations do not presage a move against other militant groups in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), let alone those in other parts of the country. Pakistani officials have acknowledged that militants from Punjab are fighting alongside the TTP. But this does not imply that the Army will go after the Punjabi outfits that have played a major role in Kashmir. A move against the Afghan Taliban is not on the cards either.

 

Indeed, the Army's current strategy is continuous with its approach to the Pakistan Taliban in the past. The Pakistan Taliban came into existence after the American attack on Afghanistan in late 2001. The core of the movement comprised Pakistani fighters attached to Mullah Omar's regime, pupils of local madrasas, and tribal veterans of the anti-Soviet jihad. They worked with the tribes of Fata to provide logistical support for the fleeing Afghan Taliban and other Al Qaeda-affiliated foreign militants. It was only in mid-2003 that this loose grouping evolved into an organisation aimed at imposing the Taliban ideology in the Tribal Areas. Yet it was the operations undertaken by the Pakistan Army in pursuit of Al Qaeda that sparked off the insurgency in 2004.

 

The Army was well aware that the Pakistan Taliban was an ideological and operational offshoot of the Afghan Taliban, but it refrained from taking any steps against the latter for Omar and his cohorts were their most valuable strategic tool in Afghanistan. From the outset, the Army sought to contain the insurgency by playing on the tribal divisions and strategic differences within the Pakistan Taliban movement.

 

For instance, in dealing with Nek Mohammed, the Yargulkhel Ahmadzai Wazir who emerged as the first leader of the Pakistan Taliban, the Army quietly propped up Maulvi Nazir, a Kakakhel Ahmedzai Wazir. In 2006, Nazir's position was bolstered by an inflow of militants from Punjabi groups hitherto employed in Kashmir. These fighters also undertook not to harm Pakistani interests. Nazir was subsequently assisted by the Army in his operations against a common, lethal enemy — the Uzbek fighters led by Tahir Yuldashev.

 

By 2005, the locus of the insurgency had shifted to the northern parts of South Waziristan dominated by the Mehsud tribes. Following a peace deal between the Army and the insurgents, Baitullah Mehsud emerged as the main leader of the Pakistan Taliban. In the following years, the Army periodically took on Baitullah only to retreat with fragile agreements negotiated from a position of weakness. Prior to each such effort, the Army sought to wean away certain sections of the Pakistan Taliban. In fact, it was to prevent attrition along tribal lines that Baitullah moved in December 2007 to create an umbrella organisation (the TTP) capable of operating as a united front.

 

Although the TTP emerged as the most formidable opponent of the Pakistani state, especially with its well-trained cadre of suicide attackers, the Inter-Services Intelligence did manage to create and exploit chinks in the organisation. The most important of these was the departure of Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a key militant leader in North Waziristan.

 

By mid-2008, Pakistani intelligence operatives succeeded in aligning him with Maulvi Nazir and creating a new alliance called the Taliban Ittehad. In so doing, they sought to drive a wedge between the Wazirs and Mehsuds. The alliance also received the patronage of the Haqqani clan, a prominent group linked to the Afghan Taliban. More importantly, it was geared solely to waging jihad against outside forces in Afghanistan.

 

Subsequently, Mullah Omar sought to persuade Baitullah, Gul Bahadur and Nazir to unite and contribute to the war in Afghanistan and to give up attacks in Pakistan. On the Taliban supremo's urging, they formed the Council of United Mujahideen. The TTP, however, continued to be embroiled in fighting against the Pakistan forces. Besides, the older differences persisted. Following Baitullah's death the council proved unworkable.

 

In its current operations against the TTP in South Waziristan, the Army has stuck to its earlier approach. Pakistani officials have stated that they have struck deals with Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Maulvi Nazir in order to isolate the TTP fighters both strategically and geographically. The ongoing effort is aimed narrowly at the core of the TTP — the Mehsuds. By doing so, the Army hopes at once to contain the main anti-Pakistan component of the Pakistan Taliban and to maintain its links with the other groups willing to work with the Afghan Taliban inside Afghanistan. Similarly, action against the Punjabi groups in Fata is also limited to those operating with the TTP. A greater number, linked to Maulvi Nazar and others, will get a free pass.

 

Whether or not the Army manages to rout the TTP, the ongoing operations do not bode well for Afghanistan. India, too, will have to watch the situation closely. After all, attacks on Indian establishments in Afghanistan have been carried out by the nexus between the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban nurtured by the Pakistani intelligence apparatus.

 

If the operations go well, the people of Pakistan will have good reason to cheer. But given the assortment of militant outfits in the tribal areas, a collective sigh of relief would be premature.

 

Srinath Raghavan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

BACK TO THE WILD

 

A trip to the zoo often includes a ride on an elephant as an extra treat. No longer, says the Central Zoo Authority. Elephants are large creatures and must not be confined in the tiny spaces allocated to them in zoos.

All elephants in captivity, about 140 of them, are to be immediately sent to national parks, sanctuaries and tiger reserves. This does not mean that tame elephants -- those which take children for a ride, for instance -- will be sent back into the wild. Rather, they will be used for other purposes in the national forests. This includes patrolling, departmental work and eco-tourism. Or more simply, an elephant ride is verboten at Jijamata Udyan but de rigueur at Rajaji Natural Park or at Kaziranga.

 

In essence, the directive makes sense, especially when you consider elephants in isolation. They migrate long distances, follow their own distinct herding patterns and are very intelligent when it comes to dealing with enemies. For them to be kept in small enclosures for human pleasure is cruel. So for elephants, the return to a large forest, with some government work on the side, may not be a bad deal.

 

However, it is also true that this argument can be applied to all creatures in zoos. In the wild, they all had access to vast areas used in a way that suited them. The big cats, monkeys, deer, alligators, giraffes... every living thing, as it happens, once enjoyed a certain freedom which was curtailed by humankind for its own entertainment and edification. The CZA therefore has re-opened the argument about the need for zoos at all.
All zoo animals could be transferred to various reserve forests, where we can pay to see them in natural habitat and feel, fleetingly, that we ourselves are still in touch with our animal side.

 

In the short run, apart from elephants in zoos, the wildlife authorities might want to turn their attention to elephants used by itinerant mendicants, which are still seen lumbering on city streets begging for their owners. They also might be happier in national forests. What about elephants in circuses? The world over, animals are being used less and less in circus acts and animals in zoos are at least fed and looked after better.

 

Elephants in Indian circuses not only have to perform acts which do not normally enter a normal elephant's life, but are cramped into cages, often beaten and mistreated. They need rescue very fast. Then there are elephants in temples, which may be better looked after than all the others, but are still outside their natural milieu. Project elephant may well start a new movement.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

LOOKING INWARD

 

Judicial activism has been the mantra of the past decade and more and has been seen as a saving grace by many who feel that the legislature and the bureaucracy need courts to keep them in check. Certainly, over the years we have seen a number of decisions which have been aimed at the general good and should have been taken up by the government.

As general respect for politicians waned, the courts emerged as the knight. There were murmurs of dissent that the judiciary was taking over the role of the legislature and the executive. Now the Supreme Court itself is doing some introspection and is wondering whether it is extending its brief.

 

The case in point is a directive given a couple of years ago for an expert committee, headed by former election commissioner JM Lyngdoh and former CBI director RK Raghavan, to look into ragging and students' union elections. Now the apex court has set up another committee of five judges to study whether judges can enact law by directive and whether this impinges on the separation of powers.

 

This is an intriguing legal argument and deals with the very essence of one of the main principles of democracy -- the balance of power between the three arms of the state. In a parliamentary democracy like ours, the legislature makes the laws, the executive implements them and the judiciary interprets them. If the judiciary starts to make laws, does it contravene the very principle which it is sworn to uphold?

 

However important as this point is, it could also be asked if the SC is putting too fine a point on it and getting technical about what is a larger issue. If indeed the courts were making laws, the legislature would categorically not allow it. What the apex court especially has done in recent times is present the incumbent government with directions that it could take rather than undercut the importance of the legislature.

 

In the Gujarat riots cases, in saving the environment, the budgetary allocations made by the Mayawati government in its statue-building spree, in paying attention to public interest litigations, the apex court has stepped in at crucial times to provide much needed direction.

 

There have been enough instances where courts have refused to intervene in matters which were the prerogative of the law makers. But as long as the other branches do not honour their obligations, the courts may be the last refuge of the citizen.

 

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DNA

COLUMN

POISONING MINDS

AROON TIKEKAR

 

As if unhealthy competitive politics of the Thackeray cousins was not enough, the state of Maharashtra has plunged into noxious provocative politics. This week's disruptive raucous in the state assembly virtually muted leaders of all the four major parties, Congress, NCP, BJP and Shiv Sena.

 

Abu Azmi, the lone Samajwadi Party representative, was the target of attack by MNS MLAs for flouting their boss's diktat of taking oath of membership of the assembly only in Marathi. Azmi was obstructed, abused, even slapped.

 

The podium was removed and slogans were shouted. Azmi, who is no saint either, on his part, was seen taking his footwear in hand in retaliation to his detractors. He has ever been ready to play political mischief.

 

If in two and half decades of his residence in Mumbai Azmi has not picked up even rudimentary knowledge of Marathi and cannot read a few lines of the oath in the official language of the State, can he claim to be an MLA from Maharashtra? Therefore who provoked whom, could be a moot point and a matter of investigation. But that such an incident took place in a temple of democracy is a disgrace to all.

 

This single incident has disrespected all those guardians of democratic norms who strived to lay down sound and healthy traditions of party politics in Maharashtra. This week's incident does not appear to be an impulsive misadventure as both sides seemed to have planned their strategies. The signs of the times are that this is not going to end here. Azmi is a compulsive instigator and Raj, like his uncle, a compulsive reactor.

 

Raj will not relent in his campaign because brothers and sisters of the Marathi people from Maharashta have been residing in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi and Haryana. The Marathas went to North India on war campaigns in the 17th and the 18th centuries and many continued to stay there. These families are trying to retain and foster their Marathi culture in whatever way they can. Even in Karnataka Assembly the Marathi MLAs from Belgaum insist on taking oath in Marathi and not in Kannada.

 

What will happen to all of them if they are forced to eschew their Marathi pride? What if every Indian state starts insisting on observance of local traditions and customs and speaking only the local language? Will the trend ultimately lead to linguistic balkanisation of the country? Parochialism in a limited quantity does help development of the region, but when let loose it can kill the unity of a diverse nation.Mumbai being miniature India can ill-afford to lose its cosmopolitan character.

 

A small measure of initial political success seems to have given Raj Thackeray unlimited confidence. He has started issuing fatwas like his uncle Bal Thackeray. But the senior Thackeray operated in a different social milieu. The new saviour of the Marathi language had proclaimed that every member of the newly formed assembly must take oath in Marathi, the official language of Maharashtra.

 

Even Hindi won't do as the Constitution does not recognise Hindi as the "national" language, contrary to the common belief. Raj did not seem to have read that the same Constitution has termed Hindi as the "official" language of the new nation.

 

The followers of Raj ever willing carry out with great enthusiasm the "virile" diktat of their party boss particularly when Marathi honour is challenged. Convinced that the Marathi manoos is getting a raw deal in his own territory, they dutifully translate into 'action' his instructions and go on rampaging, ransacking, intimidating and even manhandling to "save the honour of Marathi manoos".

 

Has the Marathi manoos become so vulnerable that he is ready to indulge in violent acts at the slightest provocation? Is his mind so much infected with ill-conceived and unwise answers to complex issues? Shiv Sena leaders have been doing it for years.

 

Now Raj hopes to beat the party his uncle founded for similar causes on their own ground with his MNS. Marathi men and women ever in search of magical solutions appear to be convinced that Raj is on the way to righting the wrong done to them. On the other hand the migrants from UP and Bihar look to Abu Azmi as their saviour.

 

Faced with a similar situation, Cicero, the Roman statesman, is reported to have publicly stated, "How can people be called back when the crowd is urging them on?" Years of poisoning the minds of lower orders of society appear to result in the naive, emotional crowd urging both Abu Azmi and Raj Thackeray on.

 

The joy of being able to keep the Shiv Sena dream and shatter the dreams of Uddhav seems to have made him supercilious. Aren't there more important issues of the state that are waiting for Raj's attention? How to restrain both Raj and Azmi will be a priority issue for both chief minister Ashok Chavan and home minister RR Patil.

 

The writer is a commentator on political affairs

 

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DNA

HIDDEN POWER

 

To realise fully how much of our present daily life consists in symbols is to find the answer to the old question, 'what is truth', and in the degree in which we begin to recognise this we begin to approach Truth.

 

The realisation of Truth consists in the ability to translate symbols, whether natural or conventional, into their equivalents; and the root of all the errors of mankind consists in the inability to do this, and in maintaining that the symbol has nothing behind it.

 

The great duty incumbent on all who have attained to this knowledge is to impress upon their fellow men that there is an inner side to things, and that until this inner side is known, the things themselves are not known.

 

There is an inner and an outer side to everything; and the quality of the superficial mind which causes it to fail in the attainment of Truth is its willingness to rest content with the outside only. So long as this is the case it is impossible for a man to grasp the import of his own relation to the universal, and it is this relation which constitutes all that is signified by the word "Truth."

 

So long as a man fixes his attention only on the superficial it is impossible for him to make any progress in knowledge. He is denying that principle of "Growth" which is the root of all life, for he does not stop to reflect that all which he sees as the outer side of things can result only from some germinal principle hidden deep in the centre of their being.

 

Expansion from the centre by growth according to a necessaryorder of sequence, this is the Law of Life of which the whole universe is the outcome, alike in the one great solidarity of cosmic being, as inthe separate individualities of itsminutest organisms.

 

This greatprinciple is the key to the wholeriddle of Life, upon whatever plane we contemplate it.

 

From The Hidden Power & Other Papers on Mental Science by Thomas Troward

 

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DNA

BEING THERE

N RAGHURAMAN

 

Let me start with a story today. To renovate his house, a man in Japan broke open a wall. Normally, Japanese houses have hollow spaces between wooden walls. While tearing down the wall, he found a lizard wedged in there. A nail was hammered into one of its feet. While he took pity on the creature, he was curious to find out how it had survived as the nail had been struck when the house was built five years ago.

 

He realised it was mind-boggling for the reptile to have survived for such a long time without any assistance, and he wondered what kind of diet it had subsisted on. A few minutes later, he saw another lizard appear with food in its mouth. Ah! He was stunned, and deeply touched, by the symbiotic kinship.

 

Why don't humans develop such relationships during times of stress, I wondered? Recently I learnt about the Doctor Clown group while reading one of our news pages. A group of young professionals from various fields are trained in the art of making people laugh. Few times a week these volunteers land up at hospitals and help patients loosen up. The volunteers, led by Dr Mili Jelan, a physician, have taken up a challenge to amuse young patients with the aim of diverting their attention from their illnesses.

 

A patient in the hospital is like that lizard fastened to a bed. Nobody likes to be in a sick bay unless they work there. Illness isn't fun. It's painful for the patient and agonises the family. Almost as a rule, the air in waiting rooms of doctors is sepulchral, heavy with disease and anxiety. Hospitals are depressing for patients and their kin. The graceful disdain that doctors and staff at the hospitals feign for all matters only makes the wards and corridors more gloomy and miserable.

 

This monotonous anxiety ought to be broken with laughs, shouts, and hurrahs by the people in distress. This way the battle against disease can be won more easily. Laughter is music for our soul. We lose ourselves when laughter touches our core and brings us closer to people. Munnabhai MBBS is a rather exaggerated image of what I have in mind. Robin Williams in Patch Adams (the film where he played a doctor who laughs with his patients and eases the pain) is closer to my perception.

 

One lesson I've learnt from the lizard story is to never say you're busy when someone needs you. You may have the world at your feet, but chances are you're the only world to them.

 

N Raghuraman is an editor with DNA

 

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DNA

ARE WE PREPARED?

Apropos the report, 'Centre warns Maharashtra, other states of terror attacks', (DNA, November 12), Indian intelligence officials are returning home after being denied permission to question US national David Headley arrested by the FBI in Chicago. Alerts have now been issued by home ministry as a precautionary step to five states including Maharashtra, as Headley visited these states previously. Are the state authorities ready to provide necessary defence without any confusion, unlike on 26/11?

Achyut Railkar, Mumbai

 

LANGUAGE CONFUSION

The uproar over taking the oath in Marathi in the Maharashtra assembly was a re-enactment of something that had happened earlier ('Fighting Hindi hegemony' by R Jagannathan, DNA, November 12). In 1996, in the UP Assembly, the speaker refused to administer the oath to the two MLAs of the Samajwadi Party, who insisted on taking the oath in Urdu instead in Hindi. They yielded after the speaker warned them of disqualification. Further, in the Karnataka assembly a newly elected MLA lost his ministership for taking the oath in Marathi instead of Kannada. It is unfortunate that three speakers have ruled differently on the same matter. It is high time uniform, rational practices and rules apply. The speaker is supposed to be neutral.

CS Pathak, Pune

 

FAKE APOLOGY

Is the apology by the MNS from the heart ('Will apologise to House, not to Abu Asim Azmi: MNS', DNA, November 11)? No way. It is just to maintain their presence in the assembly. Their apology should not be accepted and the decision to suspend the four MLAs should be upheld to teach them a lesson. How can their apology be accepted when they have been repeatedly saying that they are not ashamed of their behaviour and will continue do so in the future. If they are pardoned, it will become a precedent for others who will want to indulge in such acts. Also, some advice forAzmi; kindly refrain from passing comments on senior politicians as it puts you in bad light.

Sundeep Mohnot, via email

 

MISREADING THE CYCLONE

Apropos 'Cyclone? City may have misread Met warnings', (DNA, November 12); one wonders whether the Met office itself had misread the course the cyclone was likely to take. Cyclonic storms developing in the Arabian Sea earlier had always moved parallel to the west coast without moving inland. If this behaviour pattern of cyclones had been understood, perhaps it would have been possible to spare Mumbai of all the suspense and drama.
V Subramanyan, Thane

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

PHYAN SKIPS MUMBAI

IT COULD HAVE BEEN WORSE

 

For a change, the Met office, the Indian Coast Guard, the Mumbai municipal authorities and other official agencies need to be commended for timely action they took to cope with cyclone Phyan ( which literally means a cherry fallen off a tree). It will be unfair now to blame them for causing unnecessary panic only because the cyclone weakened and side-stepped Mumbai. With memories of cyclone Aila still fresh and which devastated coastal West Bengal earlier this year, rendering half a million people homeless, no chances could have been taken and the agencies rightly took none. The alert was sounded early, thousands of people living on the coast were evacuated and helicopters were pressed into service to warn fishermen in the high seas. There were regular updates on the website of the Met office and the media was used more effectively to warn people and the administration chose to err on the side of caution when they ordered educational institutions and offices to shut down.

 

The UN panel on climate change had predicted in 2007 that coastal areas of India were extremely vulnerable to cyclones and both Mumbai and Kolkata would bear the brunt. Both cities have a large number of old buildings which may not withstand a devastating cyclone. Reclamation of the ocean in Mumbai has also made more people vulnerable to the rough seas. Mumbaikars have learnt to live with extreme weather conditions and they can scarcely forget the flash floods of July 2005 in which a thousand lives were lost. Disaster management plans for the city need to be revised and upgraded and all steps taken to cope with the calamities.

 

Cyclones on the west coast are said to be rare at this time of the year. Meteorological experts have pointed out that the Phyan was the first in 43 years to hit Mumbai, Goa, Daman and Diu during November. Maharashtra is said to have witnessed such a cyclone in this period just four or five times in the last 100 years. The depression that formed over the Arabian Sea is usually seen over the Bay of Bengal around this time of the year. The lesson is obvious. With climatic conditions becoming increasingly unpredictable, disaster management teams cannot afford to lower their guard at any time.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

HEADLEY ALERT

NEED TO GET TO THE BOTTOM OF THE TERROR PLOT

 

The US may have its own reasons for not allowing at this stage Indian investigators to interrogate David Coleman Headley, alias Daood Gilani, and his associate Tahawwur Hussain Rana, arrested by the FBI for plotting terrorist strikes in India and Denmark. The denial is, however, surprising as it has come at a time when there is much talk of close cooperation between Indian and US intelligence agencies. There are indications that India may be allowed to question Headley later on, most probably after the FBI has done its job, as it has to file an indictment report by January 1, 2010, in a Chicago court. Contrary to this, India had no objection to US agencies interrogating the lone captured Pakistani terrorist, Ajmal Kasab, immediately after 26/11. The US must allow the extradition of Headley and Rana to India which will be sought by New Delhi soon. India is trying to find out if these terrorists had any links with those who attacked Mumbai.

 

India's worry is based on the fact that Headley, a frequent visitor to Pakistan, had stayed in five Indian cities, including Mumbai, between 2006 and 2009 to implement a Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) plan of striking at key military installations such as Delhi's National Defence College and other targets like some elite schools in Uttarakhand. He might have succeeded in setting up LeT sleeper cells. That is why five states — Uttarakhand, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi — have been alerted by the Union Home Ministry to maintain strict vigil at all the sensitive places and key installations that may be targeted by Headley's recruits. But this is not enough. India has to get to the bottom of the Headley plot to expose and punish all those involved in harming the country's interests.

 

Interrogation of Headley and his associate Rana and the investigations that will follow may reveal the details about the functioning of the LeT, an otherwise banned terrorist outfit based in Pakistan. Obviously, there is more to it than meets the eye. The LeT, working against India, continues to have the patronage of the ISI. Reports have it that the terrorist outfit is still treated as a strategic asset by Pakistan. This shows Pakistan's duplicity in its claim of fighting terrorism. Islamabad should have realised by now that terrorists are nobody's friends, not even of Pakistan. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

FACULTY CRUNCH

REFORMS MEANINGLESS WITHOUT MORE TEACHERS

 

The Indian education system, especially higher education, faces many challenges. Shortage of teachers is perhaps the biggest, and now the Prime Minister has rightly asserted that problems of deficiency in quality teaching in our schools, colleges and universities have to be tackled urgently and the present state of affairs cannot be allowed to persist. Last week, at the Panjab University convocation he had also expressed reservations about the quality of education being imparted by universities.

 

Since Independence, India's education system has expanded vastly, although a chunk of the population is still illiterate. However, quality has often been sacrificed amidst the mushrooming of education institutions. Time and again it has been realised that higher education in India, barring a few institutions, is at best mediocre and falls far short of international standards. Unfortunately, even premier institutions like the IITs are facing a faculty crunch that is likely to become more acute in the coming years if efforts are not made to bridge the gap. The shortage of competent teachers ails all levels of education. According to a Planning Commission study, both the paucity of teachers and poor infrastructure have affected the performance of Sarva Siksha Abhiyan. An additional one million teachers are needed to implement the Right to Education Act. Besides, structural reforms being envisaged as pointed out by the National Knowledge Commission and the Yashpal Committee will have meaning only if the teaching staff are in place.

 

Ensuring the quality of teaching cannot be ignored. There is an urgent need to improve teaching standards across the county. Talented teachers can be attracted through higher emoluments and an encouraging atmosphere. The role of teachers cannot be underestimated. If India has to emerge as an education hub and have skilled and educated manpower, it can do so only with quality teaching. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

DOWNHILL IN KARNATAKA

BJP'S SOUTHERN HOPES TURN INTO DESPAIR

BY INDER MALHOTRA

 

FOR days on end the country witnessed with growing disgust what can only be described as a combination of fratricidal warfare within the Bharatiya Janata Party and a comic opera over its affairs in Karnataka that are scandalous beyond measure. Then the party announced a "compromise" between the warring factions and danced with joy.

 

Successful or failed attempts to overthrow chief ministers take place in all states among all parties all the time. But never before has there been anything like what the BJP, in comprehensible decline across the country, has done unto itself in Karnataka.

 

Karnataka is one state where the saffron party, or whatever is left of it, should have done everything in its power to preserve and promote its unity and control. It is the party's "Gateway to the South" where it has been non-existent during the last 62 years. This "bridgehead" has now all but collapsed. The possibility of it being repaired is remote, as the performance of the warriors on return to Bangalore indicates.

 

Mr B. S. Yeddyurappa, who has been allowed to survive as Chief Minister on very strict conditions, had earlier wept on a TV channel, for having agreed to drop from his Cabinet such "valued" associates as Shoba Karandlaje, declared after the compromise that no one was being dropped. But within minutes harsh reality hit him. More of the same should be expected in the days to come.

 

For the first thing, the second thing and the last thing needed to understand the Karnataka BJP's turmoil is that it has nothing to do with ideology, shades of Hindutva, factionalism, or personality clashes. It is a blatant case of blackmail by the hyper-rich mine owners of Bellary who have formidable clout. They had financed the election of a great many BJP members of the state legislature and thus command their total loyalty.

 

To this blackmail the BJP Central leadership, such as it is, has surrendered shamelessly. Two of the Reddy brothers, masters of the rapacious mining lobby, are Mr Yeddyurappa's colleagues but during the talks in Delhi they refused to sit across the table with him. Eventually, they gave up the demand for the Chief Minister's replacement but not before imposing conditions that are humiliating beyond words. Apart from having to "sacrifice" his trusted colleagues and bureaucrats (his principal secretary loathed by the Reddys was shunted out during the parleys), everyone saw Mr Yeddyurappa weep on a TV channel for having to "ditch him and Shoba". He has also agreed to withdraw a tax of Rs 1,000 on every truck loaded with iron ore or any other mineral that he had slapped down in a vain attempt to clip the wings of the Reddys. In short, the mighty mine owners will now have a "free run" of the mineral-rich southern districts, without any hindrance by anyone in Bangalore.

 

There is a further twist to this tawdry tale that exposes the moral bankruptcy of not only the battered BJP but also of the complacent Congress. Karnataka's mineral-rich districts adjoin those in Andhra. Needless to add that lucrative mining in Andhra is the preserve of Jaganmohan Reddy, the son of the late of YS Reddy. He is still continuing his campaign to be his father's successor. On this page two weeks ago I had warned of the steadily growing danger of big money virtually strangulating the democratic process in this country. Today, it is clear that hard cash is sweeping away all other loyalties and values.

 

Sadly, this is not all. The Bellary Reddys have yet another peremptory demand. At the time of the Beijing Olympics, there was an exponential increase in the Chinese demand for iron ore. The Reddys mined areas that were not covered by their licence. An upright civil servant initiated a case against them. They have the temerity to demand its withdrawal, and the BJP seems inclined to accept it. On the Reddys' demand, a coordination committee would now supervise the Chief Minister's work.

 

Seventeen months ago the BJP managed to scrape through to power in Bangalore - it had virtually to buy the support of four Janata Dal (Secular) members - because of a mild sympathy wave for it. This had resulted from a dismal but expected double-cross of the saffron outfit by the brood of former Prime Minister H. D. Deve Gowda. His son having ruled the state for two and half years as the head of the Janata Dal (Secular)-BJP coalition went back on his commitment to let the saffron party rule for the second half of the coalition's tenure. It must be recorded that the Gowda family and the Reddys of Bellary have always had most cordial and mutually beneficial relations that can easily be revived when the need arises.

 

Why was Mr Yeddyurappa chosen as the BJP Chief Minister and not the more senior party leader in the state, Mr Ananth Kumar, who was a member of Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee's Cabinet? He had staked his claim to be Chief Minister then and had renewed it now in the hope that the incumbent would be given the order of the boot? There were reasons for Mr Yeddyuruppa's ascendancy: Unlike other party leaders, he had worked at the grassroots; he belonged to the right caste, Lingayat; he had the all-important backing of the RSS; and he had a clean image. All these advantages have now been washed away like the tens of thousands of homes in the recent Karnataka floods. What cleanliness is left in the image of a man who has had to make the dirtiest compromises with the Bellary moneybags always able to crack the whip?

 

It is this that reduces to utter nonsense the tall talk at the BJP's headquarters at 11 Ashoka Road, New Delhi, about a "reunified" BJP in Karnataka progressing from strength to strength, lasting its full term of five years and recapturing the state. Anyone with eyes to see the ground reality knows that for the BJP in Karnataka it is down the hill all the way.

 

Equally, it should be obvious that the future of the BJP even in states where it is in power at present cannot be independent of what happens to the party as a whole across the country. At present it seems to be inching towards oblivion largely because of its own efforts at self-destruction.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

ON THE RUN

BY PRAMOD K CHAUDHARI

 

Bhag Dilli bhag, Chak de India, Jai ho, cried out runners during the Delhi Half Marathon recently.

 

This year also, I spread word in my local circle asking everybody to join feet for the big occasion on November 1. I have been taking part in the marathon ever since it was started in 2005.

 

First of all, I asked a gym-mate Ginni Singh. He refused, "No, I can't run with you. You swallow a Viagra pill and then run".

 

His remark reminded me of a horse who is fed gram before the wedding walkathon.

 

I used my persuasive power on old friend Dr Zaheer as well. He promised to run in the year of Commonwealth Games as he had not practised this time.

 

All the same, I started practising for the big event. Just a couple of days before it, I met Hansraj, a long-time marathoner. He promised to accompany me..

 

On the D-day, we put on our running shoes and made it to the venue on a slightly misty Sunday morning. All the world and his wife seemed to be there.

 

Soon the race started amidst a galaxy of stars like Shah Rukh Khan. My new-found buddy Hansraj was quite fast and did a vanishing trick shortly. Before disappearing, he did say, "I'll be with you in the race of life, but in this race, 'goodbye'." 

 

I was left alone having been outrun in the beginning itself. However, there was no question of quitting. I soldiered on, keeping in mind the saying of a wise soul: A man is not finished when he is defeated. He is finished, when he quits!

 

I made many friends during the race. There was a group of laughers. The race was all ha ha, hee hee for them.

 

On the way, I saw a runner vomiting; another was sitting on the pavement holding his head. I felt consoled that I held my horses in the beginning and did not rush in like Hansraj.

 

Soon I heard fellow-marathoners shouting 'Bharat mata ki jai, Bharat mata ki jai'. I saw that a fair foreign filly was leading a group of runners. "This is a British mata who is winning," I joked.

 

Inching towards the 21-km race, I kept saying to myself, 'Ab Dilli door nahin', joking all along with the co-marathoners.

 

As I had run for almost three hours and about to finish the line, someone among the spectators pulled my leg, "Bhago bhago, first prize to mil hi jayega." (Run fast, you'll get the first prize). That tongue-in-cheek remark had me in splits. I forgot my fatigue and pain, and sped up.

 

The game was worth the candle. I cherish the event every day of the year. Only half a km was left, I ran towards the finishing line despite my failing limbs, remembering the inspiring words written on the T-shirt of a runner: The pain is temporary; the pride is for ever. Jai ho! I cried out as I hit the end line.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

INDIA'S IS A PLURAL SOCIETY

WHY CAN'T THE RSS UNDERSTAND THIS SIMPLE TRUTH?

BY KULDIP NAYAR

 

The Rashtriyaswyam Sewak Sangh (RSS) is bad enough to represent an antediluvian philosophy which has injected the poison of parochialism into the body politics of India. But when the organisation continues to pursue the same agenda by digging up old controversies, it harms the country's integrity.

 

The latest from the RSS is that it wants the mosques standing close to the temples at Mathura and Varanasi to go. This is not the first time that the RSS has made such demands. It had raised them some time ago. But then the opposition was so vehement that the matter was allowed to disappear from the public gaze. The inference was that better sense had come to prevail in the organisation and it had left pursuing what could destabilise the country. Apparently, the perception was wrong.

 

The RSS has again justified the demolition of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya and has demanded the construction of a temple. This is at a time when the guilty are being tried in court for the heinous crime of pulling down the mosque. It means that the RSS has no respect for the law and order and it is bent upon fomenting trouble.

 

India has always taken pride in its diversity and has adopted a Constitution which gives freedom to all religious communities, not only to follow their faith in the way they want to but also to propagate its teachings without any bar. The struggle for Independence against the British had one distinctive feature: pluralism. That, in fact, is India's ethos.

 

That the RSS never imbibed those values is understandable because it did not take part in the freedom movement. If it all, it was inclined towards the British rulers. Nonetheless, after 62 years of Independence, the RSS should have realised that the Hindus can be instigated to go wild as they did during the "rath yatra" before the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

 

But the last two Lok Sabha elections should have taught the RSS that the community comes back to the intrinsic belief in the spirit of tolerance and the sense of accommodation.

 

The RSS should have learnt a lesson from what is happening to its political instrument, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It is speedily going down the hill and losing byelection after byelection because it fails to understand the country's pluralistic temperament.

 

By keeping apart the RSS agenda of Babri Masjid and common personal law, the BJP was able to come to power at the Centre with the support of those who saw it separating religion from politics. But it turned out to be wrong. The BJP had to follow the dictates of the RSS.

 

The personality of Atal Behari Vajpayee, the BJP's stalwart, gave a message that the party did not adopt the policy of Hindutva: the RSS ideology. Even Pakistan put its faith in Vajpayee since he spoke the language of pluralism.

 

His speech at Lahore is still remembered as one of the best efforts to bring the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and pluralistic India closer. In his absence, the other BJP leaders have tried to fill the space and be acceptable as he was. But they do not have the same stature or the sway in the country that Vajpayee has enjoyed.

 

Whether the present BJP leadership would regain the ground they have lost is difficult to say. But the RSS, particularly its new chief, Mohan Bhagwat, is creating more and more difficulties for them. In his craze for publicity, he has occupied the centre of the stage. He is dictating who in the BJP would serve in which capacity and for how long. Whatever prestige the party had regained by lying low after the reverses in the polls has been frittered away by this loud-mouthed RSS chief.

 

In any case, who is he or, for that matter, his colleagues in the organisation sitting at Nagpur, the RSS headquarters? They issue fiats (like fatwas) which have nothing to do with the reality on the ground. They have never faced any election to know the pulse of people. There is no inner democracy. They live in the shadows and initiate from there the dark deeds which affect the BJP adversely. Their problem is that they are still in the dark ages when the 21st century is already 10 years old.

 

In fact, the RSS resembles the Taliban in thinking and working. Both do not want liberalism. Both believe that religion is the beginning and end of all. They are a bigoted lot and have no place for tolerance in their methods.

 

India is fortunate in having a stable democratic system. The RSS, unfortunately, executes the Gujarat-like ethnic cleansing of Muslims or on a limited scale victimise Christians in Orissa. Yet the system is able to prevail, although it weakens every time it is hit.

 

Were India's pluralistic society to give in, the RSS would convert the entire country into a theocratic, intolerant polity. The example of Pakistan is before us. It is in the midst of a fierce battle against fanaticism and parochialism. Due to a weak system, it is facing great difficulties.

 

The weakening of the system needs to be emphasized because some BJP-run states are hitting at it by contaminating the police which are reluctant to take action against the Taliban-like Hindus. The law and order machinery is evoking less and less confidence. Both the RSS and the Taliban do not believe in the means. For them success by itself is the end. People on both sides should be vigilant because the RSS and the Taliban are targeting the entity of the respective country.

 

Mosques next to temples at Mathura and Varanasi are a proud heritage of India's secular society. Those who are trying to destroy the heritage are as fanatic as the Jammat Ulma, which has given a fatwa that the Muslims should not sing Vande Mataram, a song that goes back to the national movement against the British.

 

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the greatest Muslim authority, had seen to it that only the first two stanzas are sung so that Vande Mataram does not hurt the tenets of Islam in any way.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

LIES, DAMN LIES AND BERLIN SPEECHES

BY ADRIAN HAMILTON

 

One by one, the leaders of the West trooped out in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin this week to say what a great blow for freedom the fall of the Wall had been and how that momentum must be sustained throughout the world today.

 

"The fall of the Berlin Wall rings today as an appeal to fight oppression," declared President Nicolas Sarkozy. "A wall, a physical wall, may have come down but there are other walls that exist that we have to overcome and we will be working together to accomplish that," said Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State.

 

Gordon Brown went further and enumerated these walls, declaring that "an Africa in poverty, Darfur in agony, Zimbabwe in tears, Burma in chains, individuals, even when in pain, need not suffer forever without hope".

 

One can forgive a bit of hyperbole on these occasions. This was, after all, a celebration of an historic occasion in 1989 when politicians – without grand visions, one should add – clutched, in the words of Chancellor Helmut Kohl quoting Bismarck, "the cloak of history as it passed by".

 

One can even forgive the sheer vacuity of Brown's attempts at rhetoric (just what exactly does "you know that while force has temporary power to dominate, it can never ultimately decide" mean? It sounds portentous but the more you think about it, the less it makes sense).

 

What cannot be so easily forgiven, however, is the wilful denial of reality in all this high-flown claim of walls and liberty. And the worst of it is that the same people stepping up to the podium in Berlin are the very same people who are ensuring that it isn't so.

 

Take Brown's list of good causes. Darfur may be "in agony". It is in agony. But the whole Western pressure to free its people, punish the perpetrators and bring the chief culprit, President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, before the International Court of Justice has gone into reverse. What the West now wants is a settlement, not justice, and for that it feels the need to co-operate with the President, not hound him.

 

And so with Burma and even Zimbabwe. The former may be "in chains", the latter "in agony", as Brown would have it. But he, like the US President, has shifted tack from confrontation to co-operation with their murderous regimes. The ruling military junta in Burma is now being brought in from the cold by the US. President Robert Mugabe is being kept in power.

 

We are backing a regime in Afghanistan which we know to have stolen an election through fraud. We support a President in Pakistan whom we acknowledge as corrupt. We treat with a regime in Tehran which is now busily locking up its democratic opponents. We beg for admittance at the doors of North Korea in the full knowledge that here is a regime starving its own people for the sake of brandishing nuclear weapons at its neighbours. We give money to allay our concern for "Africa in poverty" but achieve, and try, little towards the overthrow of the rotten governments that keep their people in poverty.

 

We are back, in other words, to the old world of propping up discredited and oppressive regimes because stability has once again become more important than values. But before the old guard of the British Foreign Office and the US State Department get too carried away with welcoming back the traditional policy of a country pursuing its interests not principles, it is worth saying that it need not be so. We can still have values in our international relations without ruining their cause by our actions.

 

The whole concept of an ethical foreign policy, it is true, has been debased by the experience of former president George W Bush and his companion in arms, Tony Blair. But the problem of the doctrine of spreading democracy and humanitarian intervention was not that the aims were necessarily wrong, but they were used as cover for a Western assertion of power that was entirely contradictory to them.

 

You don't go around invading countries and waging war under the guise of "Christian values". Nor do you wage a "War on Terror" which forces international relations back into a Cold War format of enemies, who behave the worst through isolation, and friends, most of whom are the very authoritarian regimes you have been criticising on democratic grounds. You have only to travel almost anywhere abroad to understand just how much damage the charge of hypocrisy has done to "our cause" as we talk of "democracy" and "freedom" while all the while interfering to the opposite effect.

 

And yet democracy and freedom are what we do believe in. The answer has to be to forget the rhetoric, and the speeches of those in Berlin trying to keep alive a propaganda hollowed out by the actions of the past decade. It is also to accept that, in the post-Iraq and post-recession world, we have lost the moral high ground to go around telling other people what to do. They are no longer interested in listening and, in a globe where the US is becoming just one of a number of competing players and Britain is a middle-ranking country stuck uneasily on the fringes of Europe, there is no reason why they should listen.

 

We can huff and we can puff about Israeli settlements, Iranian double-dealing, Burmese government intransigence, China's suppression of its ethnic minorities, but there is nothing we will – and probably not much we can – do about it.

 

Yet we should not apologise for what we hold (or should hold) dear. We must keep developing and displaying the benefits of freedom and democracy at home – for all the expenses scandal (which has gained rather greater play abroad than people over here are aware of) and for all the effort of the Government to chip away at our liberties in the name of fighting "terror". We must make real efforts, as we do not, to prevent the corruption which our companies and agencies encourage by countenancing it abroad (what the French or Chinese may do is irrelevant).

 

Above all, we should stand here saying to those who want freedom abroad: "Yes, we are on your side, we won't keep quiet as to your plight and if you want a safe haven, our doors are open here." Instead, we sound the clarion call abroad while failing even to preserve it at home.

 

 By arrangement with The Independent

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

SCIENTISTS DEVELOP APPLE THAT WON'T ROT

BY CHRIS GREEN

 

Ever since somebody suggested that eating one a day kept the doctor away, the health benefits of the apple have been trumpeted by grandmothers and government ministers alike. The fruit's only drawback is its tendency to lose its glossy sheen and crunchy texture within a few days – a problem that a team of scientists in Australia now claims to have solved.

 

For the past 20 years, researchers at Queensland Primary Industries and Fisheries (QPIF), a department of the Queensland government, have been developing a new variety of apple which they claim can stay fresh for months.

 

Its name, RS103-130, might not have quite the same ring as popular varieties such as Golden Delicious, Pink Lady or Braeburn, but the scientists have described it as "the world's best apple" thanks to its sweet taste, longevity and ability to resist disease.

 

The apple, which is a deep red in colour, stays "crispy" for up to 14 days if kept in a fruit bowl, and if stored in a fridge it can remain edible for four months. The Queensland government is seeking a commercial supply partner to distribute the fruit and hopes to begin selling it next year.

 

Tim Mulherin, Queenland's primary industries minister, said: "This new variety is sweet. It ticks the other boxes too because it is disease resistant, so requires few or no fungicides. Initial taste tests have been outstanding. Out of the five apple types tasted, the new variety scored the highest."

 

The RS103-130 variety has a naturally strong resistance to apple scab, also known as black spot, a disease caused by the fungus venturia inaequalis which affects both the foliage and fruit. The apple is not genetically modified but is produced conventionally using a gene from the Asiatic apple variety Malus floribunda which has a proven resistance to black spot.

 

In Britain, apple producers need to spray each crop 14 times to protect against the disease, a process which costs the £200m-a-year industry up to 10 per cent of its turnover. A variety which did not require spraying could mean huge savings for the producers.

 

"If you're an apple grower and this [new apple] lives up to its promise, then it really is quite a breakthrough," said Dez Barbara, a senior research scientist at the University of Warwick's Horticulture Research International.

 

However, he added that the new apple was not guaranteed success in Britain and would have to be trialled. The Saturn variety, which used the same gene, was introduced to the UK in 1980 but didn't catch on.

 

"With apples, you've got to take into account things such as how easy they are to grow and pick," Dr Barbara said. "Above all, consumers have got to like them – if consumers won't buy them, producers won't grow them."

 

Guy Barter, chief horticultural adviser for the Royal Horticultural Society, said the new variety's longevity could give it a major advantage.

 

"Apples that have ripened in storage are never quite as nice as those that ripen naturally. There's also a huge environmental cost in running the cold stores to keep the apples, so if you had a variety that required less cold storing, that would be valuable," he said.n

 

 By arrangement with The Independent

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUME

EDITORIAL

POLL VERDICT

 

The results of the by-polls for Dhekiajuli and South Salmara Assembly constituencies once again reaffirmed the Congress' strength in the State. But the verdict has implications that go beyond the Congress success. The fall of the AGP bastion at Dhekiajuli is not just a serious blow to the party but something that confirms the dwindling fortunes of regionalism in the State. To the Congress' credit, it successfully wrested both seats despite the fact that it was favourite in neither. The resounding victories have put the Congress in a very strong position ahead of the 2011 Assembly election and it would be a Herculean task for the opposition to check the ascent of the Congress. However, it does not call for any great thinking to see that the Congress' job has been made much easier by the absence of a solid opposition. It is a fact that the absence of a viable alternative is largely attributable to the party's success.


The most discerning political trend since the 2006 Assembly election has been the increasingly lacklustre performance by the AGP at successive polls – Lok Sabha, Panchayat and municipal. Unfortunately, in spite of the recurring debacles, the party refuses to see the writing on the wall and mend its ways. Even after the humiliating defeat at Dhekiajuli, it is clear from the AGP's post-verdict utterances that the party is in no mood to acknowledge the reality. Its mass base is eroding and it needs to strengthen its organization from the grassroots. Unfortunately for the people, the prospects of regionalism in the State are inextricably liked with the fortunes of the AGP. The party, which had twice been in power in the 1980s and 1990s, has to share much of the blame for the disintegration of regional forces. Despite its much-publicized unification, the party continues to be a divided house with leadership still being a contentious issue. A strong opposition is critical to checking any arbitrary tendencies on the part of the ruling party. Indications are already there that the Congress – buoyed by its continuous success – might indulge in arbitrary functioning unless there are checks and balances from a sound opposition. The big question is whether the AGP plagued by perennial dissent within its fold and an adamant attitude can stand up to the challenge. The foremost task before the AGP is to strengthen itself from the grassroots and place before the people a clear-cut, unambiguous agenda guided by genuine regional concerns. The AGP's efforts should go beyond just reuniting to gain mass acceptance.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUME

EDITORIAL

LESSONS TO LEARN

 

Curtains have come down on the one-day series between India and Australia, with the Kangaroos going home happy with a robust 4-2 margin. India would have liked to end the series on a winning note by clinching the inconsequential match in Mumbai, but unfortunately it wasn't to be. The rain gods conspired against them and dashed any hope India had been nurturing of salvaging some pride and giving the scoreline some respectability. Had everything gone well, a 4-3 scoreline in favour of Australia would have shown that the series had been closely fought. It would also have helped India get rid of the bitter taste given by the Guwahati debacle. But an Australian victory in Mumbai, on the other hand, would have made the scoreline 5-2, and it would have added more salt to India's injury. The final 2-4 verdict in the seven-match series is still quite demeaning for India, for it has shattered the myth that Indians are hard to beat at home. The Australians have not only done it handsomely, but they have done it with their second-best side and against an Indian team that was very close to being full-strength. It has only established the fact that there is still a yawning gap between India and Australia on the ground, although they are going neck and neck in the ranking ladder of late.


So what are the positives that India can draw from this lost series? Apart from the flashes of brilliance and few close matches, India can also use this losing cause as a great source of motivation and like a wounded tiger, come back with a vengeance. In a sense, the loss might work in India's favour in the long run, because a series victory over Australia would have sparked off euphoria and all the shortcomings would have remained unnoticed. Now it's time for introspection and mending the weak areas. If we just take our slipshod fielding into account, the difference between India and other top teams is crystal clear. In the mental aspect too, especially the ability to wriggle out of crunch situations – no marks for guessing who are superior. The reality is, the South Africans are a much better claimant to the No.2 slot in the ODI rankings, as they have the credentials to be there, and that is clearly visible on the ground, too. The Indian bowling department has also been a huge let-down in recent times, and that leaves only the star-studded batting line-up as our strongest point. However, unless India set their house in order, merely harbouring lofty ambitions would be of no use. In fact, the Indian cricket authorities must set their sights on the upcoming World Cup now. If they truly believe that Team India can win the World Cup 2011, they must prepare the groundwork right away. The ensuing battle against Sri Lanka would give them a good opportunity to build a winning combination for the future.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUME

EDITORIAL

THE VANDE MATARAM BROUHAHA!

SAIKH MD SABAH AL-AHMED

 

History is replete with myriad of instances that grossly smacks of null and void, intra-national, xenophobic absurdities vis-à-vis one's profuse proclivity towards pristine patriotism. There have been a plethora of bizarre jingoistic benchmarks of nationalistic mockery, that have been set, in more ways than one, characterised by a thick smattering of polluted, patriotic jobbery, so very typical of a 'blustering patriot'. Who else?


India, a paradoxically mystic-land with an age-old, bloated, delusory paradigm of 'unity in diversity', (given its brush with an umpteenth number of communally-cancerous pogroms), stands at the very vertex of these so-called intra-national xenophobic absurdities, which merely corroborates the postulate of nullifying a pompous national paradigm. It is evidently axiomatic that these sort of riff-raff, rabble rousing had tersely halted 'The Pilgrim's Progress' lock, stock and barrel; the make-believe notion of a nation steeped in religious-harmony seems nothing sort of a misnomer having already "broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls".

Coming back to specifics, after a somewhat laborious, lexicon-laced generalisation, the hub of the entire frenzied 'debate' revolves around the fatwa (a legal pronouncement in Islam, issued by a religious law-specialist on a specific issue) issued by the historic and influential Darul Uloom seminary at Deoband, a city in Saharanpur district of western Uttar Pradesh, calling on Muslims not to recite the National Song, Vande Mataram, as doing so was violative of Islam's faith in monotheism, which strongly opposes idolatry. This apart, in a move likely to spark a political controversy and further widen the communal divide, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind (a leading Islamic Organization of Indian Scholars) on November 3, 2009, had also thrown its weight behind the Darul Uloom's edict, thus in essence, endorsing the absurd fatwa. "The fatwa of Darul Uloom (opposing the recitation of Vande Mataram) is correct," stated one of the 25 resolutions passed by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind on November 3, at its 30th general session in Deoband, that too, surprisingly, in the presence of Union Home Minister P Chidambaram, who had gone there to address a massive gathering of clerics, Islamic scholars and their followers at the historic seminary in an attempt to reach out to a key segment of the Muslim clergy, seek their support in the country's war on terror and fight all shades of communalism.


Before a delicate dissection of the entire, superfluous brouhaha over Vande Mataram, a random peep into the hallowed history of this national legacy becomes all the more obligatory. Vande Mataram inspired a true sense of patriotism amongst Bharatiyas (Indian patriots). It will be appropriate to glance over the plethora of inspirations of writer-poet Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay, the composer of this great song. Although a sudden flux of energy made him write it instantly, many events have acted as trigger. The first runner of the Indian National Congress was a gathering started in 1867, 'The Hindu Mela'. In its second convention on April 11, 1868, Bankimchandra heard a song Jai Bharat, Jai and was greatly influenced by its content. He started thinking on a need of a universal, patriotic message to fellow Bharatiyas. On November 7, 1875 as he was quietly meditating in a house on the banks of river Ganges, he suddenly heard a group of fishermen, who were merrily chanting, "For us, the river Ganga is nothing else but mother Durga; easily will we sacrifice our lives for her, within her". That was the right tone, the right feeling Bankimchandra was looking for. And thus was born the Indian national song, Vande Mataram on November 7, 1875; Kartik Shuddha Navami, Hindu year 1797. The song is a mixture of Bengali and Sanskrit and the first political occasion where it was sung was by Rabindranath Tagore at the December 26-31, 1896 Calcutta Session of the Indian National Congress held at Beadon Square, which was presided over by Rahimtulla M Sayani. The song (with its first two stanzas) appeared in a Bengali journal, Bongodarshan, and then later appeared in his own novel, Anandmath (The Abbey of Bliss) published in 1882 with three additional stanzas. In 2003, þBBC World Service conducted an international poll to choose ten most famous songs of all time. Around 7000 songs were selected from all over the world. According to BBC, people from 155 countries voted. Vande Mataram was ranked second in the top ten songs.


Now coming back to the present unnecessary brouhaha, the controversy surrounding Vande Mataram is older than independent India. In 1937, the Indian National Congress discussed at length the status of the song. It was pointed out that the last two stanzas invoked Goddess Durga. So it was decided to keep the two paragraphs out of the song. Due to reservations expressed by Muslims over Vande Mataram, the status of National Anthem was given to Jana Gana Mana. Many Muslim organizations in India have declared fatwas against singing Vande Mataram, due to the song giving a notion of worshipping 'Mother India'. The core of Vande Mataram is a hymn to 'Bharat Mata', which, in no way whatsoever, reverberates with any smatterings of cultural colonisation. It's a potent patriotic hymn which was the keystone of the arch of Indian Nationalism; it inspired generations after generations to supreme sacrifice. The Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind's endorsement of the fatwa issued by the Darul Uloom seminary at Deoband calling on Muslims not to sing Vande Mataram is unfortunate and stirs a needless controversy. It is likely to ignite a political and partisan debate and in the process undermine ongoing efforts to draw alienated Muslims into the mainstream, who are already tagged as stereotype clichés in India. It's an irony that it was the same Darul Uloom seminary of Deoband (founded in 1867) that had strongly opposed the partition of India in 1947, issued a fatwa against terror; now it is issuing fatwas against Vande Mataram. Have we (as Indian Muslims) forgotten legends like Mohammed Rafi who used to sing Bhajans and Ghazals with the same passion? Who else could forget the rendition of Vande Mataram by Oscar winner AR Rahman, who himself went on a Haj pilgrimage? Don't we, (as Indian Muslims) get goose-bumps, the moment our lips murmur these inspiring lines? Have we habituated ourselves to wink at any notions of pure-patriotism? This really is an issue out of a non-issue, and unless and until there is a serious change in the value-architecture of these self-appointed religious crusaders, the contours of this age-old religious-national dichotomy will only widen, instead of being blurred forever.


Finally, as the unnecessary euphoric-brouhaha over these hallowed patriotic accoutrements gradually dies down, (only to surface later at some other opportune time), this nation of over a billion are left with certain serious soul-searching questions. Is dissent (read opposition) against the National Song, that too, by its own bona fide citizens, legitimate? Have we become so narrow minded, being fanatically cocooned and ensconced in a state of perennially-perverse religious rigidity of sorts? Do we want to glorify ourselves as die-hard xenophobic bigots, only to become a laughing stock in front of the entire global community? How can showing respect to one's Motherland be confused with one's religious belief? This is a reality-check that India as a nation needs to undertake without much ado to reaffirm and reassert our lost faith in the age old secular-fabric of India.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUME

EDITORIAL

HUMAN RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT IN ASSAM

DR MANAMOHAN DAS

 

In any discussion on resources, more emphasis is generally laid on natural resources than human resource. Man is considered only as an agent who utilises natural resources for his benefit, not as the most vital part of the concept of resources. Such a notion very often leads to the misconception that a region or a country is rich if it is endowed with abundant natural resources. But it is not always true because of the evidences that there are some regions or countries endowed with abounding natural resources, but still remain under-developed because of low level of human resource development in contrast to which there are some other regions or countries with scarcity of natural resources, yet they are found to be highly developed because of high level of human resource development. For example Bhutan, Brazil, Congo, Mongolia and some other Latin American and African Countries are either underdeveloped or developing, though rich in natural resources while on the other hand. Japan and Israel are developed countries with limited natural resoufces. We can now clearly understand the dominant role of human resource in the socioeconomic development in any region or country.


Within India. Assam and Punjab are the best contrasting examples. Endowed with rich natural resources, Assam remains under-developed whereas Punjab with deficiency of natural resources is a highly developed one. Because of such geographical instances, it is highly necessary to seriously think of human resource development and management for socio-economic development in Assam.


Taking for granted that all men constitute potential human resources, it can be said that there are abundant potential human resource in Assam besides its abundant potential natural resources, thus fulfilling both the necessary and sufficient conditions required for development. Then why the State still remains poor in socio-economic development? Development depends not on the availability of potential natural and human resources, but on their proper utilisation by the human skill, ingenuity, dexterity and management capability aided by capital and technology both of which are again the man-made products created by processing natural resources. From such a viewpoint, it is seen that human resource in Assam is not properly, developed and utilised. In other words, there is no worth-mentioning man power planning and human resource development schemes. Where are the schemes for improving the quality of life of the people? Where are the strategy for providing useful education and training for skill development, health measures with sanitation, nutrition and medical facilities, employment opportunities, empowerment of women and poorer section of the people with employment and income generation? In the developed countries, even the handicapped persons are trained to do some particular types of works for which they are fit. But what happens to Assam where more than 20 lakh registered educated unemployed youths (not to speak of unregistered educated and uneducated youths) are there? Even that figure has been increasing year after year. Some of our energetic youths are compelled to take arms in their hands. Our so-called education system is responsible for creating a generation of youths who cannot use their hands to do physical labour, legs to move without bikes or cars, and their brains for creative thinking. They are taught to ape the western culture blindly without any understanding of the positive qualities of western culture. Is it education in the real sense of the term? Thus there is a gross misuse of human resource.


How many persons are active workers in Assam? There are only 35.8 per cent with 49.9 per cent male workers and 20.7 per cent female workers (according to 2001 census). What are the remaining section of the population doing? Is it not a huge wastage of human resource? With such a large number of non-working people, how can the economy of Assam grow? Even most of the workers are not properly trained for which labor efficiency of the Assamese workers is much lower in comparison to the Punjabi workers. Thus there is an urgent need of human resource development and man power planning in Assam. In this respect, the geographers have a great role to play as they are the scientists who can analyse the problems of human resource management from the spatial perspective.


However, it may be mentioned that the Muslim immigrants are very laborious and they are ready to do any kind of works at their own. This is because of the fact that they are compelled to do hard labor so that they may be firmly rooted in the soil of Assam. It is not that they are educated and trained to do their works more efficiently. In fact they are exploited by others to become rich at the cost of their hard labor. So they remain illiterate and poor. As a result their socio-economic condition is very low. Can we hope socioeconomic development of Assam with such a large number of ever increasing immigrant peasants?


In the name of human resource development, higher educational institutions like a large number of degree colleges, universities, engineering colleges, medical colleges and at least one IIT are established in Assam. But the result is that most of the degree holders from such educational institutions except from the IIT who are educated at the cost of huge sums of money from the public exchequer are creating only ever increasing number of unemployed youths, most of whom are indulged in various kinds of social evils because of their frustration instead of being productive work force to overhaul the socio-economic condition of Assam. The most meritorious students have been migrating to other developed States of India or developed countries in search of better technical education, training and job opportunities with higher salaries and better standard of living. The IIT, trained engineers are produced at the huge cost of public exchequer not to serve our own State or country but only to serve other countries. Then what is the benefit of the establishment of such a higher technical institutions? Instead it would have been better if the majority of the youths were trained in agricultural training centres for agricultural modernisation and development and in IT1 for development of small scale industries and various kinds of mechanical works in vehicles, electricity, construction and other services for which there is a dearth of trained man power.


It should be taken into consideration that only the man power planning through effective education and training to improve the work efficiency is not sufficient if an integrated economic planning in a holistic way to cover all the sectors of economy is not adopted and executed to employ the trained man power. The achievement of such a goal depends on a host of socio-cultural and political conditions. Ultimately nothing can be materialised without a strong Government policy.


(The writer is former Head of Geography, Gauhati University).

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE GOOD SON

 

We should be impressed that, contrary to popular misconceptions about women, convicted killer Manu Sharma's mother had no objection to being described as 'ageing' despite being sprightly enough to go about campaigning and announcing the cricket contingent for the state. That the lady showed no signs of 'ageing', the reason for which her devoted son wanted time off from jail to tend to her, should have occurred to the policemen who were despatched to ascertain the veracity of Sharma's reasons for parole. We should commend the valiant policemen for ungallantly verifying the signs of what cosmetic companies warning women against — ageing — in the otherwise comely visage of Shakti Rani Sharma, even if she is the wife of the formidable Haryana politico Venod Sharma. Of course, if cosmetic brands are to be believed, 'the visible signs of ageing' can be exacerbated apparently even by the simple act of stepping out into the 'harmful' sunshine. Maybe the fiesty lady did not pay enough heed to the advertisements urging women to use the right amount of sunblock to 'keep away' those pernicious wrinkles and fearlessly went forth to do foolhardy things in broad daylight like attending functions and press conferences.


Considering she has probably notched up quite a few years of such reckless behaviour, she could well have been 'ageing' enough to prompt her anguished son to want to be by her side to slather on some last minute creams and potions, and perhaps take her to a spa. Clearly, Sharma is the sort of new-age son that the beauty business has been waiting for. After all, not many men in their 30s would have the sensitivity to gauge their mothers' secret laments about ageing, even if outwardly they remain serene and unwrinkled. Maybe the miracle creams were just not doing their stuff well enough or fast enough, which is why he cut short his parole and returned to jail, tellingly ending his letter to his mother with the lines, "...I love you very much and I can't see you go through all this. I want to assure you that I will always stand by the values you have taught me..."

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

GROWTH IS INTACT

 

The Centre's indirect tax collections for April-October fell a steep 21.6% against the comparable figure for 2008-09. Does this negate the impression of manufacturing recovery suggested by the growth of the index of industrial production by 11% in August and 9.1% in September? It does not. Revenues have fallen on a year-on-year basis because of duty cuts and sharp reduction in import volumes, particularly of oil. Customs and excise duty cuts in petro-products, across-the-board cuts in excise duty to stimulate the economy and a contraction in exports due to the global slowdown largely explain the fall in indirect tax collections. The drop in Customs, which account for more than a third of total indirect tax collections, was, at 46%, double the drop in excise collections. In June last year, the government cut Customs duty on crude and petroleum products and excise duty on petrol and diesel following the unprecedented surge in global prices. The impact is being felt this fiscal. Crude import values plummeted along with crude prices as well. Revenues from non-POL products also slid, despite rates being unchanged, due to reduced economic activity in the global and domestic markets, slowdown in exports and a corresponding drop in imported inputs for exports. But the good news is that exports shrank at a lower rate this October and could expand in January. This, in turn, could push up imports and Customs collections.

The decline in excise duty collections was mainly on account of the sharp cut in the tax rate from 14% to 8% in two stimulus packages. Revenues slid despite the 6.3% rise in manufacturing output in April-September this year compared to the same period last year. But there has been a modest sequential 4% rise in excise collections in October over September. The problem of revenues leaking away to Cenvat credit claims appears to be much smaller this year. The proportion of Cenvat credit to total excise revenues is lower. Service tax revenues have fallen 5.5%, partly on account of a 2% cut in the tax rate. Reviving growth should boost service tax collections in the near future.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

 

KNOW YOUR KODA!

 

The law and reality are often far removed in the Indian context. We have some of the best laws in the world. But only on paper! Nowhere is this better reflected than in the ease with which former Jharkhand chief minister Madhu Koda's henchmen seem to have deposited Rs 640 crore in cash in a nationalised bank, even though strict know-your-customer (KYC) norms cast an extra responsibility on banks to pay more vigil to such transactions. KYC norms, aimed at ensuring banks are not used as a channel to route funds that are not kosher, often hamstring ordinary citizens. Indeed, 'no-frills' accounts came up only because it became so difficult for the aam aadmi to meet the heightened security requirements brought in by new KYC norms in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in the US. But clearly, what is sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander. So while banks may make ordinary citizens run from pillar to post and ask for a host of supporting documentation — any cash transaction of more than Rs 50,000, for instance, must be accompanied by an income-tax permanent account number (PAN) card — the rules are quite different when it comes to the rich and the powerful.

 

The amount in question was deposited in the Zaveri Bazar branch of the state-owned Union Bank of India between November 2006 and December 2008 and should immediately have aroused the bank's suspicions. KYC guidelines mandate banks to 'pay special attention to all complex, unusually large transactions and all unusual patterns which have no apparent economic or visible lawful purpose'. Further, banks have been told to 'watch out for transactions involving large amounts of cash inconsistent with the normal and expected activity of the customer and apply enhanced due diligence measures for higher risk customers, especially those for whom the sources of funds are not clear'. These accounts are to be subjected to greater monitoring. They are also required to be monitored and reported to the Financial Intelligence Unit in the finance ministry. So much for the rule book! Clearly, none of this was done when Koda's men transacted with impunity.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

CLIMATE TALKS: LEARNING FROM PAST

MANOJ PANT

 

If a random perusal of various commentaries on the forthcoming climate change negotiations at Copenhagen next month are a guide, it is clear that not much is likely to be achieved there. It is unlikely that a mandatory framework of carbon reductions will emerge to guide countries in domestic legislation. One major factor here is the unwillingness of the US to be seriously involved in firm reduction commitments. This is, of course, largely a consequence of President Obama trying to build up a sagging domestic image by concentrating on healthcare reforms. With the passage of the health Bill in the House this week, his agenda for the next month will largely consist of preparing the ground to sign the Bill into an Act by the end of the year.

 

However, if (fortunately) the strength of the environmental lobbies in various countries is an indicator, it can be safely assumed that the issue of negotiating climate change is not off the table. Through print, visual and other media, the consequences of ignoring climate change issues — and, in general, issues of the clash between environment and development — are likely to be in the forefront in both developed and developing countries. Like no other issue in the past, there is a fair degree of global coordination today between 'green lobbies'.

In addition, the EU's commitment to environmental issues is quite apparent. It even dominates many of their present negotiations in trade agreements. All in all, it would be wise to assume that 2010 is going to test the negotiation strength of Indian policymakers not only in trade negotiations but in issues of climate change.

 

In a previous column (The issue of climate change, ET, July 10), I had argued that the only mandatory international negotiating forum today is the WTO. The current mood seems to be to set up a similar forum for climate negotiations. In my article, I had argued that while the principles of negotiations are the same, the issues are somewhat different. Most important, while negotiating trade agreements, countries are negotiating an increase in world production and trade of private goods and services. On the other hand, in climate negotiations, the focus would be on increasing the supply of a public good, a clean environment. The difference is important for India.


Stalled trade negotiations do not have a major economic impact on India with its share of world trade at under 2%. But stalled climate negotiations would have a major impact as, with 25-30% of world population, India cannot escape the consequences of an adverse climate change. Having said this, it would also be in order to see what India can learn from past WTO negotiations to prepare itself for the future.


The first lesson in negotiations is not to reveal your real preferences. This is where our minister for environment and forests, Mr Jairam Ramesh yet seems to require finer appreciation of what is at stake. As the minister for environment, he is perceived as the final word on environment legislation. In that sense, for him to reveal his preferences defeats the purpose of negotiations, even if that is his private view. In WTO negotiations, it is common for countries to espouse each other's causes after bilateral/plurilateral side deals. Thus, while the EU has environment as its main concern, it has used countries like Australia and others to push the issue. Similarly, while opening up the Indian market for agricultural goods is more important for countries like Brazil and South Africa, it is the US and the EU that are perceived as pushing this issue.


Second, while negotiators need to know the technical consequences of their commitments, it is not necessary for them to be technical experts themselves. Thus, it would be foolish to decide that negotiators on climate change must be bureaucrats from the ministry of environment. This seems to be the presumption in India where the purpose of lobby groups seems to be to ensure that the minister/principal bureaucrat in charge must attend seminars irrespective of who or where the stakeholders are.

This is merely a reflection of the feudal mindset in the country. But this fails to understand the dynamics of a democracy where regional interests are beginning to assert themselves politically. India's negotiations in agriculture at the WTO are a perfect case study for this. So, pick your negotiators from the WTO group: they have more than a decade of experience. They know what makes the opposition blink.


The bottomline? Negotiating a mandatory multilateral agreement on climate change — whether under the UNFCC or not — will be very much like negotiating the WTO agreements in 1995. There are similar losses and gains, similar political tradeoffs, but far more severe consequences. But, hopefully, India will not be unprepared this time.


(The author is professor of economics at the Centre for International Trade and Development, School of International Studies, JNU)

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE MULTIPLE ACT OF CREATION

MUKUL SHARMA

 

In the words of the English physicist and author Paul Davies, "The existence of extra-terrestrial (ET) intelligences would have a profound impact on religion, shattering completely the traditional perspective of God's special relationship with man." He maintains, moreover, that the difficulties are particularly acute for Christianity, which postulates that Jesus Christ was God incarnate whose mission was to provide salvation for man on Earth. The prospect, for instance, of a host of 'alien Christs' in extra-terrestrial garb systematically visiting every inhabited planet in the physical form of the local creatures has a rather absurd aspect. But does it really? Like, is it actually that unlikely that organised religion cannot come up with more absurdities in order to retain its thrall over the faithful?

 

Somewhat to that end, the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Sciences has called in experts to study the possibility of extra-terrestrial alien life and its implication on the Catholic Church. This is a far cry from 1,600 when the Inquisition burned Giordano Bruno at the stake for saying that the Sun was only one among many heavenly bodies and arguing for an infinite universe in which every star is surrounded by its own solar system with probable life on those planets. Today, the Rev Jose Gabriel Funes, the director of the Vatican Observatory, says, "The question of life's origins and whether it exists elsewhere in the universe are very suitable and deserve serious consideration." What happened?


No one is singling out the Christian faith here for reverse fulminating. In the face of mounting scientific evidence, other religions have also from time to time — and to a more or lesser degree — had to do some furious, or subtle, back-peddling and damage control to sustain their sway over the masses.


Yet, why are most religions so loath sometimes when it comes to considering cosmic pluralism — the belief in numerous other worlds harbouring intelligence similar or more advanced than ours? If they posit a Creator as the first cause which can conceive and develop structures and minds like we possess, is it beyond Its powers besides that to do the same elsewhere and seed the universe likewise? If It manifests on a cosmic scale, then why should our brains and bodies be the one and only repository of that largesse? Will organised religion ever integrate this simple, overarching fact into its act?

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

STATE FUNDING IS THE MOST SUITABLE FOR INDIA

 

It's obvious to any citizen, committed to electoral democracy, that money power must not be allowed to play any role in the political process. The challenge, however, is to ensure, through systemic reforms, that the power of money is neutralised. Recall that the US reformed its Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) as late as 1971 and amended it in 1974 to curb money power and bring transparency. Similarly, the UK addressed the problem of political financing as late as 1983 through the Representation of Peoples Act (RPA) and the Elections and Referendum Act, 2000, amended further in 2006. Japan, after suffering numerous scams on politics and donations, passed a legislation in the Diet in November 1994. Undoubtedly, late as it may be, now it is India's turn.

The European system of state funding is, in my view, the most optimum system for India with requisite modifications. The immediate question is how much money does it entail and where the money will come from. The official poll budget of national political parties in the last elections added up to Rs 4,000 crore. However, estimates of real expenditure reach up to Rs 50,000 crore. Unfortunately, up to Rs 15,000 crore of this amount may have been spent on purchase of votes.


If Rs 35,000 crore is the direct expenditure by political parties in India, this is a puny sum of our GDP. It is also a small subset of our annual Union Budget. The arithmetic shows that this sum is less than 1% of our GDP and less than 5% of our annual Union Budget. In other words, if we keep just 1% of our Union Budget annually into an escrow account, we can fund the elections ever fifth year without any major sacrifice.


Of course, the estimated Rs 15,000 crore that could be going today into purchase of votes will have to be handled with a tight fist. Any candidate found to have paid for votes must be debarred from contesting an election for a minimum of 10 years. The political party to which this candidate belongs must not be allowed to contest from that seat for five years. In other words, it is time that we make a bold and an unambiguous move to curb money power, backed by a financially-viable model.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

CLEAN FUNDING OF PARTIES REQUIRED URGENTLY

 

The sordid drama involving the Yeddyurappa government and the Reddy brothers in Karnataka and the Madhu Koda scandal in Jharkhand over amassing unaccounted money from dubious business/industry deals has brought to the fore the urgent need to have a 'clean' and accountable source of funding of elections. The Reddys, mining magnates who won elections and became ministers with money power rather than a political history/base, held the government to ransom for a fortnight, forcing the CM to drop ministers and agree to the creation of unelected, unaccountable super-structures to oversee government functioning.


Koda has fielded five independent candidates including his wife — a political novice — for the forthcoming Jharkhand elections, which, in the present scenario, would require massive deployment of funds. A powerful nexus seems to be emerging between big business and political parties — Karnataka and Jharkhand providing good examples — leading to corporatisation of the state in a post-liberalisation scenario where pre-poll donations by large manufacturing/real estate businesses are becoming support bought in advance.


Attempts have been made to introduce transparency through the Election and other Related Laws (Amendment) Act, 2003, which introduced tax-deductibility for political donation against receipts; mandatory listing of donations above Rs 20,000 on the Election Commission's Website; imposition of expenditure limit of Rs 2.5 million per candidate in a constituency in 2009 etc. But these rules have not been effective as many loopholes exist. Nor have corruption scandals or rising cost of elections been deterrents.


Unfortunately, there is no public debate on corporate money muddying the political process. The only positive development has been punishment by the electorate of corrupt governments that fail to invest in public goods/services while rewarding those that do so. While a ban on corporate funding of parties has been called for, a better solution would be a combination, as in western Europe, of state subsidies and private funding with stringent regulations on transparency and accountability of public and party funds. Such a step together with internal reform of parties might help break the unholy nexus and clean up public life.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

STATE FUNDING IS THE MOST SUITABLE FOR INDIA


It's obvious to any citizen, committed to electoral democracy, that money power must not be allowed to play any role in the political process. The challenge, however, is to ensure, through systemic reforms, that the power of money is neutralised. Recall that the US reformed its Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) as late as 1971 and amended it in 1974 to curb money power and bring transparency. Similarly, the UK addressed the problem of political financing as late as 1983 through the Representation of Peoples Act (RPA) and the Elections and Referendum Act, 2000, amended further in 2006. Japan, after suffering numerous scams on politics and donations, passed a legislation in the Diet in November 1994. Undoubtedly, late as it may be, now it is India's turn.

The European system of state funding is, in my view, the most optimum system for India with requisite modifications. The immediate question is how much money does it entail and where the money will come from. The official poll budget of national political parties in the last elections added up to Rs 4,000 crore. However, estimates of real expenditure reach up to Rs 50,000 crore. Unfortunately, up to Rs 15,000 crore of this amount may have been spent on purchase of votes.


If Rs 35,000 crore is the direct expenditure by political parties in India, this is a puny sum of our GDP. It is also a small subset of our annual Union Budget. The arithmetic shows that this sum is less than 1% of our GDP and less than 5% of our annual Union Budget. In other words, if we keep just 1% of our Union Budget annually into an escrow account, we can fund the elections ever fifth year without any major sacrifice.


Of course, the estimated Rs 15,000 crore that could be going today into purchase of votes will have to be handled with a tight fist. Any candidate found to have paid for votes must be debarred from contesting an election for a minimum of 10 years. The political party to which this candidate belongs must not be allowed to contest from that seat for five years. In other words, it is time that we make a bold and an unambiguous move to curb money power, backed by a financially-viable model.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'OUR GOAL IS NOT TO BID FOR 3G TO GET BUSINESS'

HARSIMRAN SINGH & PRAMUGDHA MAMGAIN

 

For Google, which owns the world's most visited search engine, India's over 471 million phone subscribers provide the best opportunity to replicate its internet success and challenge rivals like Microsoft. Google India managing director Shailesh Rao spoke with ET BUreau about how India ranks first in the global mobile search market, whether Google would participate in the 3G auctions, and how the company's advertising revenues from the country are growing at double digit rates. Excerpts:


Will Google bid for 3G spectrum in India?

The mobile medium is very important to us, particularly in countries such as Japan, India, US and China. We have no such plans of bidding in an auction as yet. Of the 500 million subscribers in India, around 25 million are mobile internet users, 19 million are subset users. The users, that are actually using data are smaller but growing. We are not only focused on providing our classic services to mobile internet users but also experimenting with SMS. Recently, we came up with 'Google SMS channels.'. So, mobile is a critical component of what we do. But in principle, our goal is not to bid for 3G to get business.


How has the Indian online advertising market evolved for Google?

2009 was a kind of a breakthrough year. Earlier, we used to rely on internet oriented firms, matrimonial and job sites for our ad revenues. Today, I rely upon on large banks, telecom companies, airlines and online travel agencies for revenues. Banks which have been losing depositors, and want to go after young ones, are coming to advertise online. According to estimates, Indian ad market will shrink by 5% in 2009. But Google's ad revenues have been growing in double-digits, even in this environment.


What kind of success has your mobile search business achieved?

Of the total number of Google searches, that happen from India, the percentage that happen through mobile are in double digits. Google search on mobile in India has become the fastest growing mobile search in the world. The volumes have gone through the roof. With no marketing and partnerships, we are witnessing triple-digit growth in mobile search numbers.

 

Will Google ever get into manufacturing hardware?

Our mission is to organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. Whatever, we can do to achieve this goal, we will do.What we are focused on is bringing down the cost of hardware, by making software associated with it open and free.


In India, we have the risk of an increasing digital divide. I get worried when out of 30 students, just 10 possess a computer and 20 don't.

 

Google's rivals say that people spend only 3% of their time on search, and rest on movies, cricket etc. Does Google plan to offer it all in a single portal?

It's unfortunate when people associate us only with search. Google has a very broad-based relationship with users. They use it to watch video on YouTube, communicate with friends on Orkut, chat and mail through Gmail, blog through Blogger, and of course Google search. We are developing new products like Google Wave, to provide users a singular browsing experience. Then there is Chrome and Android. So, we offer a large number of services and are thus successful with over $16 billion in cash, larger than any other internet company.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

PREPARING INDIA FOR DISRUPTION

DELSHAD IRANI AND PRASAD SANGAMESHWARAN

 

Tom Carroll is one CEO who's unfazed by long flights or difficult questions. After all, he's the super-cool boss of one of the most respected advertising networks in the world, known for outstanding campaigns such as those for Absolut Vodka and Apple. In an interview with ET Bureau, the 54-year-old Carroll talks about building a dream team of top 'adthletes' to compete for advertising glory on Indian soil. Excerpts:


TBWA is recognised as one of the most disruptive, cutting-edge agencies in the world. But it's not the same story in India. What are you doing to recreate the magic here?


No matter where you are in this world, we are competing, maintaining creative standard and delivering against the best in class. We are competing globally against lot of creative agencies such as Goodby Silverstein, Crispin Porter, BBH, Wieden+Kennedy... There are good signs of our future. GSK, Nissan, Kraft—we have acquired some great global accounts.


But you can't do any of that without the right athletes, smart and experienced guys who 'get' your standards. Talented people change your fortunes. We don't want you to just run the company but be a general manager, athlete and point guard. What Shiv (Sethuraman, the India CEO) has done is on nine different levels! The old office didn't feel like a TBWA office. As I walked in to the new one...it felt like home. He changed the team dramatically, now the team is fit and ready to go. He's like the American football quarterback. And just look at the work, there are signs, it's as good as the best we have anywhere in the world. I have no fear of sending a global client here. This used to be an isolated market, or so I thought. It's funny. In the last year-and-half, India comes up far more in global conversations than it used to in the past.


You are technically competing with well-established behemoths here. What's the game plan going forward?
It was the same story in the US, 10 years ago. We are not fearful. That's also the reason why we are going ahead of an awful lot of big agencies, even legacy agencies. To catch up with them locally will have a lot to do with global activity. Smart clients are where we gravitate to—Apple and Absolut, for instance. But even the conventional client comes to us for some disruption. It's like the same process we went through in NY. A new CEO, took some time, changed people around, that's how we function. It's not the perfect formula but a good formula.

You have acquired talent from rival networks pretty aggressively for your Indian operations. Does it pose a challenge when it comes to people adjusting to the TBWA way?

Every good company thinks their culture is unique. I don't have to think it. We just are. Most agencies work New York out, London out, Paris out. We work, the world in. Twelve years ago, I was the only American on the board, today there are three and the others are from all over the world. So we are built differently.


I can tell within five minutes of meeting a person if they will fit in. I can tell if they are pretentious, dumb, advertising only, I can tell whether someone will do well here. To be fair nine out of ten are smart, intellectually honest and dedicated to creativity. It's funny, most people seek us out, and if so they tend to know they will do well. That's a strong culture. (I'm just lucky to be here.) The culture comes from people like Lee Clow and Jean-Marie Dru, they are super-cool, smart guys. Leaders tend to have a better shot at attracting super-cool people.

Advertising, they say, is broke. How would you fix it?

We are the first one's cut in a slowdown and the last one to come back in better times. It's not right to call advertising broke. Digital media has changed the math of our industry. Earlier it was just about a print ad, a TV commercial, a billboard and a radio spot, just four things, right? Today add another ten things. There's never been a greater premium on creativity. Media is no longer a good way to determine how we get paid. Advertising math is being re-calibrated. If some are broke it's because they didn't take the time to ask for what they deserve. It's crap. Push people to pay what you are worth.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

PAK'S TALIBAN WAR IS A CHESS GAME

BY SRINATH RAGHAVAN

 

Four weeks into the Army's offensive in South Waziristan, Pakistan has been hit by a string of audacious and murderous terror attacks. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its affiliates have shown that they are still a force to reckon with. The Army has admitted that TTP fighters are putting up strong resistance on the ground, though it claims to have captured key areas held by the militants. Given the smokescreen of propaganda put out by both sides, it is difficult to be certain about the progress of the operations. But the outlines of the strategic picture are becoming clear.


For a start, the objectives being pursued by the Pakistan Army are rather more limited than those suggested by official rhetoric. This is certainly the largest military operation undertaken in South Waziristan. But the difference is of scale rather than scope. Contrary to expectations in many quarters, the current operations do not presage a move against other militant groups in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), let alone those in other parts of the country. Pakistani officials have acknowledged that militants from Punjab are fighting alongside the TTP. But this does not imply that the Army will go after the Punjabi outfits that have played a major role in Kashmir. A move against the Afghan Taliban is not on the cards either.


Indeed, the Army's current strategy is continuous with its approach to the Pakistan Taliban in the past. The Pakistan Taliban came into existence after the American attack on Afghanistan in late 2001. The core of the movement comprised Pakistani fighters attached to Mullah Omar's regime, pupils of local madrasas, and tribal veterans of the anti-Soviet jihad. They worked with the tribes of Fata to provide logistical support for the fleeing Afghan Taliban and other Al Qaeda-affiliated foreign militants. It was only in mid-2003 that this loose grouping evolved into an organisation aimed at imposing the Taliban ideology in the Tribal Areas. Yet it was the operations undertaken by the Pakistan Army in pursuit of Al Qaeda that sparked off the insurgency in 2004.
The Army was well aware that the Pakistan Taliban was an ideological and operational offshoot of the Afghan Taliban, but it refrained from taking any steps against the latter for Omar and his cohorts were their most valuable strategic tool in Afghanistan. From the outset, the Army sought to contain the insurgency by playing on the tribal divisions and strategic differences within the Pakistan Taliban movement.


For instance, in dealing with Nek Mohammed, the Yargulkhel Ahmadzai Wazir who emerged as the first leader of the Pakistan Taliban, the Army quietly propped up Maulvi Nazir, a Kakakhel Ahmedzai Wazir. In 2006, Nazir's position was bolstered by an inflow of militants from Punjabi groups hitherto employed in Kashmir. These fighters also undertook not to harm Pakistani interests. Nazir was subsequently assisted by the Army in his operations against a common, lethal enemy — the Uzbek fighters led by Tahir Yuldashev.


By 2005, the locus of the insurgency had shifted to the northern parts of South Waziristan dominated by the Mehsud tribes. Following a peace deal between the Army and the insurgents, Baitullah Mehsud emerged as the main leader of the Pakistan Taliban. In the following years, the Army periodically took on Baitullah only to retreat with fragile agreements negotiated from a position of weakness. Prior to each such effort, the Army sought to wean away certain sections of the Pakistan Taliban. In fact, it was to prevent attrition along tribal lines that Baitullah moved in December 2007 to create an umbrella organisation (the TTP) capable of operating as a united front.


Although the TTP emerged as the most formidable opponent of the Pakistani state, especially with its well-trained cadre of suicide attackers, the Inter-Services Intelligence did manage to create and exploit chinks in the organisation. The most important of these was the departure of Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a key militant leader in North Waziristan.


By mid-2008, Pakistani intelligence operatives succeeded in aligning him with Maulvi Nazir and creating a new alliance called the Taliban Ittehad. In so doing, they sought to drive a wedge between the Wazirs and Mehsuds.

 

The alliance also received the patronage of the Haqqani clan, a prominent group linked to the Afghan Taliban.

 

More importantly, it was geared solely to waging jihad against outside forces in Afghanistan.


Subsequently, Mullah Omar sought to persuade Baitullah, Gul Bahadur and Nazir to unite and contribute to the war in Afghanistan and to give up attacks in Pakistan. On the Taliban supremo's urging, they formed the Council of United Mujahideen. The TTP, however, continued to be embroiled in fighting against the Pakistan forces. Besides, the older differences persisted. Following Baitullah's death the council proved unworkable.


In its current operations against the TTP in South Waziristan, the Army has stuck to its earlier approach. Pakistani officials have stated that they have struck deals with Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Maulvi Nazir in order to isolate the TTP fighters both strategically and geographically. The ongoing effort is aimed narrowly at the core of the TTP — the Mehsuds. By doing so, the Army hopes at once to contain the main anti-Pakistan component of the Pakistan Taliban and to maintain its links with the other groups willing to work with the Afghan Taliban inside Afghanistan. Similarly, action against the Punjabi groups in Fata is also limited to those operating with the TTP. A greater number, linked to Maulvi Nazar and others, will get a free pass.


Whether or not the Army manages to rout the TTP, the ongoing operations do not bode well for Afghanistan. India, too, will have to watch the situation closely. After all, attacks on Indian establishments in Afghanistan have been carried out by the nexus between the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban nurtured by the Pakistani intelligence apparatus.


If the operations go well, the people of Pakistan will have good reason to cheer. But given the assortment of militant outfits in the tribal areas, a collective sigh of relief would be premature.

 

Srinath Raghavan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

THE MANNER OF MAHA POLITICS

 

The new government in Maharashtra led by Mr Ashok Chavan has an enormous task before it as it takes over at a time when the political culture in the state has reached its nadir. There is no ideology or principle involved as political parties indulge in violence. Democratic institutions have been badly hit. The only ideologies are money, power and self-interest. Even if there are economic issues underlying the so-called parochial positions of some of the players, the way these are articulated do more harm to their cause than good. It is not that Maharashtra has not seen powerful political parties and leaders since the formation of the state 50 years ago, but chief ministers and ministers in the early years of the formation of the state were political stalwarts like Y.B. Chavan, who later became the defence minister; V.P. Naik, the longest serving chief minister; Vasantdada Patil; S.B. Chavan, the present chief minister's father, and even Mr A.R. Antulay and Mr Sharad Pawar. They required all their administrative skill and understanding of issues to handle leaders like the communist patriarch Mr S.A. Dange, fiery trade unionists like Mr George Fernandes and Mr Datta Samant, and the young Bal Thackeray, and the first terrorist attack on  Mumbai. There was also a powerful underworld. The government did not always succeed and the state and Mumbai were rocked by many violent bandhs and communal riots. But still the strength of the government of the day was such that the people had faith and confidence in it. Today things have changed for the worse. Governance is non-existent. Respect for government is scant and this is further accentuated by the infighting within the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party, which constitute the government. It failed the very first test thrown up by Mr Raj Thackeray's men and Samajwadi Party leader Mr Abu Azmi. For more than a week everyone was aware of the tension simmering between the two groups. Yet neither the Chief Minister nor the home minister did anything to try and prevent this confrontation in the Maharashtra Assembly. The result was a brawl and a mockery of the august House on the opening day of the new session. This failure was not entirely unexpected, what with the home minister being the same person booted out for his ineffectiveness during the 26/11 terror attack. The present government is being torn apart even before it has a chance to settle in. The Congress has left five Cabinet seats vacant in order to accommodate the dissidents after getting a cue from the high command. The senior Congress ministers will be islands unto themselves as they do not consider the less experienced chief minister their leader. The situation in the NCP is even more chaotic. The NCP ministers will take instructions only from their leader, Mr Sharad Pawar, and there are already two power centres within the NCP: one led by deputy chief minister Mr Chhagan Bhujbal and the other by irrigation minister Ajit Pawar, who wanted to be deputy chief minister but was reportedly overruled by his uncle, Mr Sharad Pawar.  In this scenario the challenges that face the state and the government are enormous. Besides the law and order challenge posed by the MNS and Abu Azmi incident, the cloud of a terrorist attack perpetually hangs over Mumbai. Add to these the distress in the agriculture sector with farmers still committing suicide, the growing Naxalite problem and Mumbai's civic problems. One only hopes that the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, who has always expressed his concern for the state and the city, and the Congress president, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, monitor the progress of the government. The people of the state and the city have become more vocal in their duty to ensure this government keeps its election promises.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

A DEFINING CHOICE: PAP SMEAR OR BULLETS?

BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

 

President barack Obama and Congress will soon make defining choices about healthcare and troops for Afghanistan.

 

These two choices have something in common — each has a bill of around $100 billion per year. So one question is whether we're better off spending that money blowing up things in Helmand Province or building up things in America.


The total bill in Afghanistan has been running around $1 million per year per soldier deployed there. That doesn't include the long-term costs that will be incurred in coming decades — such as disability benefits, or up to $5 million to provide round-the-clock nursing care indefinitely for a single soldier who suffers brain injuries.
So if President Obama dispatches another 30,000 or 40,000 troops, on top of the 68,000 already there, that would bring the total annual bill for our military presence there to perhaps $100 billion — or more. And we haven't even come to the human costs.


As for healthcare reforms, the 10-year cost suggests an average of $80 billion to $110 billion per year, depending on what the final bill looks like.


Granted, the healthcare costs will continue indefinitely, while the United States cannot sustain 100,000 troops in Afghanistan for many years. On the other hand, the healthcare legislation pays for itself, according to the Congressional Budget Office, while the deployment in Afghanistan is unfinanced and will raise our budget deficits and undermine our long-term economic security.


So doesn't it seem odd to hear hawks say that health reform is fiscally irresponsible, while in the next breath they cheer a larger deployment of troops in Afghanistan?


Meanwhile, lack of health insurance kills about 45,000 Americans a year, according to a Harvard study released in September. So which is the greater danger to our homeland security, the Taliban or our dysfunctional insurance system?


Who are these Americans who die for lack of insurance? Dr Linda Harris, an ob-gyn in Oregon tells of Sue, a 31-year-old patient of hers. Sue was a single mom who worked hard — sometimes two jobs at once — to ensure that her beloved daughter would enjoy a better life.


Sue's jobs never provided health insurance, and Sue felt she couldn't afford to splurge on herself to get gynecological checkups. For more than a dozen years, she never had a Pap smear, although one is recommended annually. Even when Sue began bleeding and suffering abdominal pain, she was reluctant to see a doctor because she didn't know how she would pay the bills.


Finally, Sue sought help from a hospital emergency room, and then from the low-cost public clinic where Dr Harris works. Dr Harris found that Sue had advanced cervical cancer. Three months later, she died. Her daughter was 13.


"I get teary whenever I think about her", Dr Harris said. "It was so needless".

Cervical cancer has a long preinvasive stage that can be detected with Pap smears, and then effectively treated with relatively minor procedures, Dr Harris said.


"People talk about waiting lines in Canada", Dr Harris added. "I say, well, at least they have a line to wait in".
Based on the numbers from the Harvard study, a person like Sue dies as a consequence of lack of healthcare coverage every 12 minutes in America. As many people die every three weeks from lack of health insurance as were killed in the 9/11 attacks.


Health coverage is becoming steadily more precarious as companies try to cut costs and insurance companies boost profits by denying claims and cancelling coverage of people who get sick. I grew up on a farm in Yamhill, Oregon, where we sometimes had greased pig contests. I'm not sure which is harder: getting a good grip on a greased hog or wrestling with an insurance company trying to avoid paying a claim it should.
Joe Lieberman, a pivotal vote in the Senate, says he recognises that there are problems and would like reform, but he denounces "another government health insurance entitlement, the government going into the health insurance business". Look out — it sounds as if Mr Lieberman is planning to axe Medicare.


The health reform legislation in Congress is imperfect, of course. It won't do enough to hold down costs; it may restrict access even to private insurance coverage for abortion services; it won't do enough to address public health or unhealthy lifestyles.


Likewise, troop deployment plans in Afghanistan are imperfect. Some experts think more troops will help. Others think they will foster a nationalist backlash and feed the insurgency (that's my view).
So where's the best place to spend $100 billion a year? Is it on patrols in Helmand? Or is it to refurbish our healthcare system so that people like Sue don't die unnecessarily every 12 minutes?

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

A SONG AND A FATWA

BY JAVED ANAND

 

Maulana Mehmood Madni, Rajya Sabha member and the driving force behind the more relevant faction of the Jamiatul-ulema-e-Hind (JUH), is my hero, part-time. Self-assured but unassuming, gracious, intelligent, a twinkle in the eyes suggestive of playfulness, nice face, nice beard, nice sound, nice smile. I liked him the very first time we met in mid-April last year.


Two months prior to that, in February 2008, a few of us had met at the residence of ad guru Alyque Padamsee: A maulana, a mufti, a woman professor of Islamic Studies and yours truly. We were there to talk about Islam and terrorism.


"I don't get it. Every Muslim I meet tells me Islam is against terrorism, every non-Muslim I meet believes Islam teaches terrorism", said Alyque. The maulana, the mufti and the professor cited verses from the Quran to show how Islam denounces any targeting of innocents.


"So it's not a question of faith but a problem of communication and maybe that's where I come in", said Alyque with the air of someone who knew exactly how to fix the problem. "We need drama to catch the media's eyeballs so we'll give them that. What we need is a fatwa and a hundred maulanas, each holding a mike, to spell it out loud and clear. Then the media will listen!"


How to get a hundred maulanas? That was when we found our hero in Maulana Madni. "You are talking of a hundred, I'm thinking of a million Muslims", he told me when I met him in Delhi in mid-April 2008. I nearly fell off my chair! Already on February 29, 2008, he had brought together thousands of maulanas at Darul Uloom, Deoband, for the same purpose. As part of his year-long campaign against terrorism in Islam's name, he now planned to assemble a million Muslims at the Ramlila Ground in Delhi on May 31, 2008.


"Sau salaams to all of you, Maulana Sahib. But, with due respect, it was a mixed message that went out of Deoband", I ventured tentatively. "There is this ad guru friend who says he has an idea or two on how to make your message really travel". "Let's meet in Mumbai then", was Maulana Madni's ready response.
"It has to be a fatwa, nothing less", Alyque kept insisting. It was Maulana Madni who got an unequivocal, no nonsense fatwa out of Deoband. "How about an oath to make it more dramatic?" suggested Alyque. Yes, we can, came the response. At the Ramlila ground on May 31, 2008, over 3,00,000 maulanas, maulvis and madrasa students raised their hands and took an "Oath of Allegiance" to fight terrorism in India or wherever… whenever.
The self-absorbed media didn't get it. Recall the Muslim state of denial until then, recall the familiar why-don't-even-moderate-Muslims-speak-up grouse? Yet, when, in a clean break from the prevailing denial-ism, 3,00,000 teachers and students from madrasas — alleged dens of global jihad — spoke out in one voice, the national media failed to give it the rousing reception it well deserved. How else does one explain that international commentators, experts and scholars of "Islamic terrorism" are still unaware of a clerics-led anti-terrorism campaign without any parallel in the world?


Give it to Maulana Mehmood Madni. Not to be deterred by the myopic media, a trainload of maulanas travelled from Deoband to Hyderabad in November last year to reiterate their "Terrorists-are-enemies-of-Islam", "Islam-means-peace" message. That the message was finally getting home was clear from what special invitee Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of Art of Living fame said at the Hyderabad rally: "An atmosphere has been created the world over linking terrorism with Islam. We have to join hands to remove this misconception". Now, a week ago, it was yoga guru Baba Ramdev, in a beard-to-beard with the maulanas at Deoband.


For his unrelenting, unmatched campaign against terror, Maulana Madni and the Jamiat do deserve the grateful thanks of a nation plagued by the terror scourge in recent years. So, it's a real good thing that on November 3, 2009, Union home minister P. Chidambaram, minister of state for communications Sachin Pilot and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury travelled to Deoband to do just that.
But many in the media still didn't get it. For them, the "breaking news", the panel discussions that evening and the next, was the Deoband fatwa declaring the singing of Vande Mataram as un-Islamic. Why was there no news flash, no panel discussion on "Ayatollah" Bal Thackeray's adesh that followed directing his Sainiks to cut off the tongue of any Muslim who refuses to chant the national song? Forget the Deoband fatwa, my limited refusal to sing Vande Mataram is simple: It's the Hindu Taliban's patriotism test for Indian Muslims.

 

All good things, alas, must come to an end. And here sadly is the end of the good news from Deoband and the Jamiat: The Indian state need have no security concern from these quarters, but Indian Muslims, and Muslim women particularly, have much to worry about.


True, the bulk of the Deoband establishment had staunchly opposed Partition. Since Independence it has consistently opposed the idea of a separate Muslim political party. But, beyond that, all that the orthodox Deoband and the Jamiat have to offer is an obscurantist, insular, outdated Islam.


Have photographs at home, other than a passport? Burn them, NOW, for that's a grave sin. Celebrating a birthday, New Year or Valentine's Day is seriously un-Islamic. Visiting the dargah of a saint: Isn't it part family outing, part faith rejuvenation, part social intermingling with people of other faiths. No way, that's pure shirk! Teaching science and maths in the madrasas? Out of the question. A knowledge of the world and knowledge of Islam don't go together.


What if you are a woman? First thing, remember, Allah has made men "rulers", "sovereign" over women. The ideal Muslim woman is not heard or seen, except in a head-to-toe burqa. Higher education to become a doctor, engineer, lawyer, journalist, corporate executive, pilot, astronaut? Banish the thought. Co-education is haraam in Islam. Triple talaaq (instant divorce)? Yes, it's a socially repugnant practice but what to do, its Sharia law. If a man rapes his daughter-in-law, she becomes haraam to her husband for he is now her son: that too is one interpretation in Islamic law.


See what I mean? For what it's worth, here's my advice to all Indians, Muslims particularly: join Deoband and the JUH for they are invaluable allies in the fight against terrorism; but challenge them too for they are a huge, big drag on the community and the country's quest for a better tomorrow.

 

Javed Anand is co-editor of Communalism Combat and general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

ABC: ALWAYS BE CONNECTING

BY ROBIN SHARMA

 

Leadership has so much to do with relationships. True leaders build strong social networks and trusted communities of teammates, suppliers and customers that will help them get to where they're going (while they, in turn, reciprocate). And exceptional leaders know how to connect. Extremely well.


I'm on the flight home home from Hong Kong as I blog on my BlackBerry. A pleasant Air Canada flight attendant has been finding ways to connect with her passengers all through the trip. She remembers our names. And she makes us smile. She just asked if I wanted to eat. I said no (I try to eat little when I fly). Her reply was a classic: "I guess you've had an elegant sufficiency of enoughness". Made me laugh — which made her even more memorable.


So find ways to connect. With the people you work with. With the loved ones you live with. And with the strangers with whom you share this journey called life. You'll not only attract more professional success, you'll also become a happier person.

 

 Excerpted from The Greatness Guide 2by Robin Sharma. Published by JaicoPublishing House, jaicopub@vsnl.com [1]

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

HEALTHCARE OR ABORTION?

BY KATE MICHELMAN & FRANCES KISSLING

 

Washington, United States

A grim reality sits behind the joyful press statements from Washington Democrats. To secure passage of healthcare legislation in the House, the party chose a course that risks the well-being of millions of women for generations to come.


House Democrats voted to expand the current ban on public financing for abortion and to effectively prohibit women who participate in the proposed health system from obtaining private insurance that covers the full range of reproductive health options. Political calculation aside, the House Democrats reinforced the principle that a minority view on the morality of abortion can determine reproductive health policy for American women.
Many House members who support abortion rights decided reluctantly to accept this ban, which is embodied in the Stupak-Pitts Amendment. They say the tradeoff was necessary to advance the right to guaranteed healthcare. They say they will fight another day for a woman's right to choose.


Perhaps. But they can't ignore the underlying shift that has taken place in recent years. The Democratic majority has abandoned its platform and subordinated women's health to short-term political success. In doing so, these so-called friends of women's rights have arguably done more to undermine reproductive rights than some of abortion's staunchest foes. That Senate Democrats are poised to allow similar anti-abortion language in their bill simply underscores the degree of the damage that has been done.


Many women — ourselves included — warned the Democratic Party in 2004 that it was a mistake to build a Congressional majority by recruiting and electing candidates opposed to the party's commitment to legal abortion and to public financing for the procedure. Instead, the lust for power yielded to misguided, self-serving poll analysis by operatives with no experience in the fight for these principles. They mistakenly believed that giving leadership roles to a small minority of anti-abortion Democrats would solve the party's image problems with "values voters" and answer critics who claimed Democrats were hostile to religion.


Democrats were told to stop talking about abortion as a moral and legal right and to focus instead on comforting language about reducing the number of abortions. In this regard, US President Barack Obama was right on message when he declared in his healthcare speech to Congress in September that "under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions" — as if this happened to be a good and moral thing. (The tone of his statement made the point even more sharply than his words.)


The party has distanced itself from the abortion-rights movement in other ways. It has taken to calling Democrats who oppose a woman's right to choose "pro-life" (and not "anti-choice"). The group Democrats for Life of America, whose Congressional members ultimately led the battle to exclude private insurance companies that cover abortions from health insurance exchanges, was invited to hold a press conference in Democratic Party offices. The party has promoted "pro-life progressives" like Sojourners, Catholics United and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, organisations whose leaders have stated that abortions should be made "more difficult to get".


This, then, is where we stand as party leaders celebrate passage of the House bill. When it comes to abortion, they seem to think all positions are of equal value so long as the party maintains a majority. But the party will eventually reap what it has sown. If Democrats do not commit themselves to defeating the amendment, then they will face an uncompromising effort by Democratic women to defeat them, regardless of the cost to the party's precious majority.


In the meantime, the victims of their folly will be the millions of women who once could count on the Democratic Party to protect them from those who would sacrifice their rights for political gains.

 

Kate Michelman is the former president of Naral Pro-Choice America. Frances Kissling is the former
president of Catholics for Choice.

 

By arrangement with the New York Times

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

LINGUA FRANCA

MNS ASSAULT ON DEMOCRACY


THE outrage in the newly-constituted Maharashtra assembly was no less repugnant than the MNS-sponsored parochial violence that Mumbai often witnessed. The assault on the Samajwadi Party's Abu Asim Azmi ~ for taking the oath in Hindi ~ by the legislative footsoldiers of Raj Thackeray's MNS was an assault no less on the national language, on legislative civility and the canons of democracy in the wider perspective. The insistence that Azmi must take the oath in Marathi was an uncouth manifestation of rabid provincialism, of a kind that no legislature has ever witnessed. Having gained a marked presence in the House after the recent election, it is now established that the four MLAs had acted on instructions from on high with the dubious intention to make their presence felt. One must give it to the House that it has been remarkably prompt and swift in its unanimous response. Yet a closer reflection would suggest that the four-year suspension has been a somewhat mild award though in its immediate impact the MNS members were placed on the backfoot. Subsequently, two MLAs were able to take the oath in Hindi, another in English and yet another in Sanskrit. Whether the MNS had a score to settle with Azmi in the context of his involvement in the 1993 blast can only be speculated upon.
The Chief Minister, Ashok Chavan, has reportedly been instructed by the Congress high command to adopt a tough stand against the hooliganism. The home department, which has been directed to conduct an inquiry, must identify the MNS leaders who masterminded the outrage. The Congress can scarcely deny that its pre-election strategy to marginalise the Shiv Sena has doubtless enabled the MNS to expand its sinister influence, and now make a travesty of the legislature. An MNS leader's plea that Azmi could have taken the oath in Marathi, a language which, like Hindi, follows the Devanagri script is neither here nor there. The script is not pertinent to the language in which the oath is taken. Equally vacuous is the MNS description of the suspensions as "unconstitutional" because its four members hadn't yet been sworn in. These are contrived technicalities that ought not to detract from the gravity of the party's offence.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

WARNING SIGNALS

FRESH WORRIES AFTER THE KALCHINI RESULT


THE Left Front may have more worries after the drubbing it has received in the ten by-elections than the fall of Kalchini in the Dooars, one of the strongest bases of the RSP in Jalpaiguri. But even the opposition alliance that is having a dream run in successive elections has reason to be worried that this election was fought wholly on ethnic divisions and that the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha has managed to send its representative to the state assembly to demand nothing less than Gorkhaland. Bimal Gurung has already launched a non-cooperation movement against the state government and so far has not expressed any confidence in Mamata Banerjee either. By now creating a larger constituency, there are reasons to fear that he may well harden his position since the Morcha-supported Independent candidate had clearly fought on the Gorkhaland slogan. While Gurung will try to prove there is popular support for the statehood demand, others such as the Adivasi Vikash Parishad, which came second in this election, have pledged to put up a stiff resistance. This may mean an ominous future for the Dooars hills with ethnic groups ranged against each other and the RSP left to recover lost ground at a time Alimuddin Street appears to have given up Darjeeling as a lost cause.


The silver lining is that Trinamul has joined Congress in recording a significant presence in North Bengal. The Congress has slumped to fourth position but Mamata Banerjee has declared in different forums that the neglect which the hills has suffered deserves to be addressed with a firm commitment. While the Left had first left Subash Ghisingh and now Bimal Gurung to their own devices hoping to garner some political support and ensure a fragile peace, the Trinamul chief has suggested development programmes within the present framework. It remains to be seen if this will soften postures in the light of expected political changes. There is still the unpleasant reality of a freak success that may be exploited to create more tensions. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee cannot shy away from his administrative responsibilities even when his government is in dire distress.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

SORRY CONTRAST

INDIA IGNORES MILITARY MARTYRS


EMPTINESS must add to the sense of sadness that would grip India's military community when every November the media highlights ceremonies across Europe and America to honour and pay homage to the fallen soldier. What was initially observed as Armistice Day ~ marking the end of the 1914-18 war ~ has since progressed to Remembrance Day in Europe and Veteran's Day in the US. There was added poignancy this year when for the first time ever the French President and German Chancellor paid joint homage, while President Obama went to the scene of the recent outrage at Fort Hood to empathise with his men in uniform. Looking on, Indian soldiers would be emotional not merely because some of their professional forebears participated gallantly in both the World Wars, but also feel deeply "deprived" because there is no national equivalent of Remembrance Day. Rightly do we "recognise" the freedom fighters on Martyrs Day (30 January) and the policemen who died on duty on Commemoration Day (21 September), but the thousands of soldiers, sailors and airmen who have made the supreme sacrifice in the national cause have to be comforted with several low-key functions in which the Prime Minister (once a year, on Republic Day), and the Service Chiefs lay wreaths at the makeshift Amar Jawan Memorial in the shadow of the colonial era memorial that is India Gate.


There can be no objection to India opting out of the 11 November regimen because that is rooted in "western" wars (Pranab Mukherjee has contended that World War II was not "our war" though Indian soldiers acquitted themselves with glory), but the continued slighting of the military martyr is shameful. Not nominating India's own veterans' day is another reflection of the indifference that has led to the plans for a National War Memorial remaining file-bound, and the pathetic collections on Armed Forces Flag Day. In times of armed conflict ~ Kargil for example ~ there is much jingoistic drumbeating but it dies down fast. Having the memorial raised could well be beyond the current defence minister's capacity, but surely a "day" to honour the fallen soldier is possible. And should AK Antony seek suggestions, why not the day the first Indian soldier died in Jammu and Kashmir in 1947 when defending recently-won Independence?

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

SCIENTISTS INCH CLOSER TO 'THREE PARENT BABIES'

 

LONDON, 12 NOV: Scientists have inched closer to producing a controversial "three parent baby" after they successfully fertilised an egg with two biological mothers, a development likely to provoke an ethical storm over hybrid or genetically modified children.


The research led by Dr Atsushi Tanaka of St Mother Hospital in Kitakyushu, Japan, has shown that eggs donated by young females could be used to repair the damaged eggs of older women, increasing the chances of successful fertilisation.


Though they are yet to use the eggs to produce babies, they injected them with sperm to produce an early stage embryo in the laboratory. Dr Tanaka team removed the nuclei from 31 eggs collected from women undergoing IVF and injected them into enucleated eggs donated by women aged under 35. Of these, 25 eggs looked viable. When injected with sperm, 7 eggs or 28 per cent formed early-stage embryos called blastocyts, compared with just 3 per cent of the unrepaired eggs, the New Scientist reported today. The research is likely to provoke an ethical outrage as critics believe it could lead to hybrid or genetically modified children.PTI 

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

WHY EXISTING NOTIONS OF PROGRESS NEED TO BE QUESTIONED

DEBATE ON WELFARE

BY BHARAT DOGRA


THE much-awaited report of the group of economists, assembled by the French President Sarkozy to identify certain satisfactory indicators of human welfare and well-being, was released recently. It helps us to understand better why the GNP is not a wholly convincing indicator; the report also makes valuable suggestions on finding alternative measures. There is a sense of a task well begun but not quite completed yet.


There is a growing realisation that more work needs to be done in this important field and not necessarily under the leadership of professional economists. Several other disciplines will have to pool their wisdom before we can come nearer to finding a satisfactory indicator of welfare.


Another important realisation, particularly in the midst of a serious environmental crisis is that we ought to be talking not just of human welfare but the welfare of all forms of life. After all human beings comprise only one species among several hundred thousand species of living beings.


FORMS OF LIFE

ANY comprehensive and meaningful discussion on welfare should include all forms of life, particularly at a time when it can no longer be disputed that what appeared to be highly celebrated symbols of human development (particularly the entire industrial revolution fed largely by fossil fuels) have actually created survival problems for many forms of life. Is the earth only for human beings? To make such a claim would be morally repugnant. It follows then that any proper evaluation of the changes in welfare on our planet should include all forms of life.


Now if we ask a simple question ~ has the welfare of life improved for all forms of life on earth during the last 3000 years or so, then for most forms of life other than human beings the answer is very clear ~ the conditions of living have deteriorated. The reason is pretty obvious. For the well-being of most other forms of life it is the availability of clean air, clean water sources in their natural form, dense natural forests, absence of poisonous chemicals in the environment and healthy soil conditions which are most important. And as all these conditions have deteriorated during the last 3000 years or so, it is clear that the living conditions of most forms of life other than human beings have deteriorated.


Harvard Professor Edward O. Wilson, one of the world's leading experts on bio-diversity recently summarised the current state of other forms of life in an article in Time magazine. He wrote, "On the land at least and on a worldwide basis, species are vanishing 100 times faster than before the arrival of homo sapiens. The ongoing loss in bio-diversity is the greatest since the end of the Mesozoic era 65 million years ago."
It is significant that half of the world's forest loss over the course of human history occurred between 1950 and 1990. In the fragile ecosystems of the tropical forests ~ where 50 per cent of the world's species reside ~ half of the forest cover has disappeared and half of what remains is fragmented and degraded.


All notions of progress are, therefore, based on the progress of just one among several hundred thousand species. But even in the case of human beings, despite all the outer glitter of modern life, what we cannot forget is that even the basic needs of almost half of humanity cannot be fulfilled even today. Nearly a billion remain exposed to hunger. Nearly ten million child deaths take place in a year largely because of human deprivation.
The processes, which have created the abundance, enormous comforts, and luxuries of modern life are also the processes (again fed largely by the gigantic use of fossil fuels). They have tremendously increased the risks and hazards of future generations of human beings, as is evident from the projections of climate change.
Social disintegration


IN addition the burden of growing crime, social disintegration and alienation has been tremendous. In 48 population-based surveys from around the world, between 10 per cent and 69 per cent of women reported that they had been physically assaulted by "an intimate male partner" at some point in their lives. For many of these women, such assaults did not constitute an isolated event, but were part of a continuing pattern of abusive behaviour.


Surveys have revealed that one in five women suffer rape or attempted rape in their lifetime. An estimated 1,30,000 rapes are reported every year in the OECD countries. Only one in five rape incidents is actually reported. If the OECD statistics are used to formulate world estimates, we will have to countenance the shocking scenario that about 37,00,000 rapes take place in a year.


All this goes to prove that despite the many valuable contributions made by the Sarkozy-appointed commission on indicators of genuine well-being, we need to go beyond an economics-centred approach. A host of other important factors will have to be taken into consideration to arrive at the true indicators of well-being and welfare. This is certainly not just an academic exercise; an earnest and holistic effort can help our troubled world to find the badly needed alternative paths based on justice and sustainability.


(The writer, a social activist, is currently a Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi.)

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

BACK TO BASICS

 

In every gentleman's club in postcolonial India, there is the fuddy-duddy who sits around with his whisky and never tires of declaiming that the only solution for the anarchy of independent India is the return of colonial rule. He is rightly dismissed as a reactionary old bore. But the most patriotic Calcuttan would perhaps think twice before dismissing as imperialism an old law recently rediscovered in the archives that allows the police to arrest without warrant anyone caught littering or ravaging the Maidan. Article III of the 1881 Fort William Act had made the Maidan a "no-nuisance" piece of land. And it is both amusing and dispiriting to read the list of offences against the greens that this law imagines itself punishing: littering, bathing, washing clothes, picketing, spitting paan, cooking, washing dishes, destroying trees, bushes and plants, and so on. Obviously, old habits die hard. The fact that these offences have survived robustly into the present, while the law has been quietly forgotten, is a telling comment on the effectiveness of colonial rule. The ravaging of the Maidan continues with impunity — a wonderful testimony to the resilience of native energies.

 

Yet, it is reassuring for most concerned Calcuttans that there does exist a law, which might be resurrected to add new ammunition to the ongoing battle for the preservation of the city's greens. A whole range of enthusiasts need to be civilized by something powerful enough to counter the combined ineffectiveness of the police, the military and the State. These passionate creatures range from book-lovers to leaders of the masses to open-air cooks, not to mention the masses themselves. When asked to respond to the idea of such a law, senior police officers have called for a more "balanced" approach than arresting without a warrant. The court is always on the right side of the problem when it comes to the Maidan, but nothing that it has pronounced has been implemented with any consistency by the city's law and order machinery or by the state government. So, even if the old law is revived, who will enforce it and how? Environmental or green-bench activism is certainly not a new-fangled thing, as the existence of this law proves. Concern for health, beauty and ecology, whether democratic or colonial, has been, and ought to be, part of the natural reflexes of any civilized society.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

FALL GUY

 

President Asif Ali Zardari is widely reported to have made up his mind about his final resting place, Ghari Khudabaksh, where his wife and her family are buried. It is difficult to miss the irony of the president on a hunt for a grave at a time when his presidency is under serious threat. The Pakistan supreme court has listed criminal and graft charges against Mr Zardari for hearing within the next few days. Although the list was prepared way back in August, and a hearing, in itself, may not amount to much given the fact that the constitution grants the president legal immunity against prosecution, the timing of this apparently routine procedure is most inopportune for Mr Zardari. It is likely to give wind to the sails of the powerful political agitation building up against him. And in case the supreme court rules against the National Reconciliation Ordinance (which, by suspending the legal charges against Benazir Bhutto and her husband in 2007, had made way for their re-entry into electoral politics) in the two petitions pending before it, the renewal of the court cases against Mr Zardari may make it morally and ethically untenable for him to continue in the highest elected office in the country. This is precisely the situation Mr Zardari has been desperate to avoid, and his political opponents, led by a self-righteous Nawaz Sharif, equally desperate to precipitate. This cat-and-mouse game has led Pakistan into a series of entirely avoidable political crises ever since the February 2008 polls when the nation unanimously voted for the return of democracy, and, with it, political stability.

 

There can be no arguments over the necessity of taking a legal process to its logical culmination. There can, however, be serious reservations if the law is made to serve narrow political ends. If the passing of the NRO was one such end, its repeal may also become another. The booting out of Mr Zardari has become the chief political purpose of a number of power brokers in Pakistan, the army being one. Mr Zardari's bold and unconventional posturing vis-à-vis India and the other forces viewed as 'traditional' foes of Pakistan and his rapport with Pakistan's Western allies have made the army edgy. His exit holds the promise of not only reverting the balance of power in its favour (a more gullible president can ensure that) but also of distracting the people from their immediate fears and insecurities.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

A SHIFT IN POSITION

THE RSS NEEDS TO DISCOVER THE INDIA OF THE 21ST CENTURY

SWAPAN DASGUPTA

 

Last week, eyebrows were raised over yet another media appearance by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief, Mohan Rao Bhagwat. This time, the fuss centred on his categorical public announcement that the next national president of the Bharatiya Janata Party would not be a Delhi-based leader, and that L.K. Advani would soon relinquish his post as leader of the Opposition. Fortuitously for the Indian foreign policy establishment, his prognosis that Pakistan and Afghanistan "are a part of us and will return one day" did not arouse corresponding attention.

 

That a person who is not a primary member of the BJP could presume to lay down the line and blackball the party's four prominent second-rung faces has profound ramifications. It suggests that the RSS has not merely acquired control over the decision-making of the BJP but is no longer squeamish about saying so openly. The niceties and the elaborate protocol that earlier marked the RSS's expression of interest in specific decisions of the BJP have been replaced by an in-your-face flaunting of the political role of a so-called "socio-cultural organization". The whispered "request from the Sangh" that earlier influenced the odd selection of candidates and office-bearers has been replaced by a command-and-control regime.

 

Nor does the exercise of control depend on a three-line whip to professional politicians. Since the advent of Rajnath Singh in 2005, the RSS has strategically placed its full-timers in crucial organizational posts in the belief that politicians with an eye on electoral politics are incapable of institution-building. Whereas in the 1990s the RSS despatched only a dozen or so full-timers on deputation to the BJP, their numbers are in the region of 350 today. Apart from the state organizing secretaries whose identities are prominently displayed on the BJP website, these include large numbers of district sangathan mantri who form the nucleus of a parallel party organization in the localities. In the words of a BJP leader, many of those entrusted with organizational responsibilities are "unfit to be employed as primary school teachers."

 

In the past, the RSS was very wary of involvement in the political arena, seeing it as a corrupting influence and a diversion from the organization's priority of injecting nationalism into civil society. RSS old-timers were fond of comparing the role of politics in society to the toilet in a household: a necessity but hardly something to be showcased. Today, these inhibitions have been set aside and there now appears to be a marked enthusiasm among full-timers to be deputed to the BJP. Compared to the other 'fraternal' organizations of the RSS, such as the Vanvasi Kalyan Kendra, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, there is glamour and self-importance attached to rubbing shoulders with the political class. Predictably, some of the lifestyle distortions that come with exercising authority and hobnobbing with political power are evident among the full-timers. The joke in political circles is that the RSS full-timer is extremely malleable and is easily won over by modest 'gifts' that range from mobile phones, stitched kurta-pyjamas, air conditioners and a good, home cooked, vegetarian meal — a case, as one 'fixer' called it, of "low investments and high returns".

 

What has compounded the problem is the RSS's brazen non-accountability to the party. It is remarkable that despite holding positions of authority in the BJP, the pracharaks on deputation are neither appointed nor can they be removed by the BJP state and national presidents. A few months ago, the president of the West Bengal BJP did something inconceivable: he issued a show-cause to the local RSS-appointed sangathan mantri. The outcome was predictable: the state president was peremptorily sacked by the national president for his audacity. Likewise in Rajasthan, Vasundhara Raje successfully secured the removal of a disruptive organizing secretary. But, as a quid pro quo, the RSS demanded Raje's removal as leader of the Opposition, despite the fact that a majority of the members of the legislative assembly was backing her. She resisted her removal for nearly three months, but ultimately had to succumb. Once again, Rajnath Singh played the part of an obliging executioner.

 

RSS full-timers in the BJP are spared the obligations of ordinary members. A 2005 amendment to the BJP constitution stipulated that a sangathan mantri was ineligible to contest elections. Since endorsement by the electorate is the basis of politics, the RSS appears to have insulated itself from the principle of popular endorsement. It is this detachment from the numbers game, without which democracy is meaningless, that explains the RSS's obsession with 'ideology', the shorthand for the pursuit of abstruse and cranky themes. It may also explain why mass leaders such as Kalyan Singh, Uma Bharti, Narendra Modi, Vasundhara Raje and B.C. Khanduri have been at loggerheads with the RSS.

 

A small example may illustrate the distance that separates the RSS from the mass politician. In its manifesto for the Haryana assembly election held last month, the BJP included an assurance to ban "Western music and vulgarity" in the unlikely event it was voted to power. The manifesto, which had apparently been drafted by a local RSS 'intellectual', took the BJP completely by surprise. Confronted by the ridiculous imagery of motorists switching off alien sounds the moment their cars crossed the Gurgaon toll bridge from Delhi, a red-faced BJP had to issue clarifications and denials. Later, when some national leaders enquired from the state unit why the absurd promise had been inserted in the first place, they were given an ingenuous explanation. The production of milk in Haryana, it was claimed, had suffered because cows were disturbed by loud disco music in villages!

 

There is a huge gulf that separates the RSS's priorities and the BJP's perception of politics — though there are moments of convergence. The world view of the RSS leadership is shaped primarily by interactions with its own full-timers and lay swayamsevaks. It's a relationship shaped by two factors: unflinching faith in the sangh's role as the vanguard of Hindu resurgence and timeless certitudes. A remarkable degree of group solidarity— including a very distinctive use of language — has contributed to a 'groupthink' and discouraged scepticism and inquiry in the sangh. The RSS has nurtured an enviable degree of loyalty and dedication among its followers but its efficacy has been tempered by an inability to engage with 'non-believers'. From being an instrument of Hindu re-awakening, it has become a variant of the Freemasons, a self-aggrandizing brotherhood.

 

This distortion is at the heart of the RSS's desperation to control the BJP. In the past 15 years, the BJP has outgrown the RSS. It is the country's premier Opposition party with a stake in at least eight state governments and umpteen district bodies and municipalities. Its social reach far exceeds that of the RSS's. More important, the BJP has acquired relevance at a time the RSS is declining in its traditional catchment areas. Lifestyle shifts fuelled by prosperity, cosmopolitanism and leisure have made the daily bout of callisthenics less appealing to pre-pubescent Hindu boys. And yet, there is no direct correlation between the RSS's diminishing appeal and the fortunes of the BJP. It's only after the RSS decided the BJP was its exclusive charge that both graphs showed a southward incline.

 

It takes decades of good politics and sensible leadership to build a national party; it takes a few well-publicized acts of misguided zeal to demolish it. Bhagwat has got his diagnosis wrong. It's not the BJP that needs either chemotherapy or surgery; plain detoxification will be sufficient. It's the RSS that needs to discover the India of the 21st century.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

FILLED WITH MUCK

BONA FIDE - MALVIKA SINGH

 

Firozabad in Uttar Pradesh: November 10, 2009. Reportedly, 30 electronic voting machines were removed from polling booths and later found in the possession of an extremely prominent 'national' leader of the Opposition in Uttar Pradesh. It is believed that the polling stations from where the machines were removed were primarily non-Yadav and non-Lodh areas and would be the places from where Raj Babbar would have gained an edge over the bahu of Mulayam Singh Yadav. This illegality that was being played out in Firozabad was blanked out by the national English language media, both print and electronic.

 

Channels and newspapers were, at that time, busying themselves with sordid city stories about 'paroles' to convicts, and were also belting out hysterical 'repeats' of the Koda and Bellary Brothers episodes, with no substantial changes or additions of news or editorial positions. The evening story that same day, one that titillated them, was that of the shameful goonda gardi in the Maharashtra assembly. Not one presenter stated emphatically that the Indian Constitution endorses and protects plurality. Anything outside that must be damned, and those indulging in this form of separatism must be severely punished under a law that does not need to be interpreted but instead, enforced. Sometimes, when the law is broken in full public view, the media must take a position.

 

Back to the Firozabad story. The same media, mandated to be the watchdog of our democracy, managed to skirt the EVM story, which was symbolic of the criminality that has entered our democratic processes and mechanisms. There was no mention of it anywhere. Why did the glass-fronted, comfortable, smart and swanky offices of the press in Delhi not expose this happening in Firozabad? Surely, it had its reporters there following Raj Babbar. Why this orchestrated silence? It was a silly, rather stupid, silence because Raj Babbar defeated Yadav's bahu with a resounding lead of 85,000 votes.

 

NEXT TIME

The Samajwadi Party has been roundly routed by the Bahujan Samaj Party in the assembly elections. The Congress, from third and fourth positions, has moved up the scale to number two, but it should be disappointing for the party to find itself losing two seats that are in the constituencies of sitting ministers of state at the Centre — Jitin Prasada and R.P.N. Singh. The Jhansi ticket went to a clear non-winner, on the whim of a senior leader, and the seat was lost. Here is yet another opportunity for the Congress to revamp its decision-making vis-à-vis ticket distribution and other such managerial issues in UP. The old guard has failed to take the changing trajectory that unfolded in the last general election further up the scale of victories. Such political operators must be put to pasture and a fresh, new dispensation, which does not carry the baggage of unsavoury politicking and old, failed tactics, must be given the mandate to deliver. The Congress, pitted against the BSP, could swing UP in its favour next time round with the right strategy.

 

The political muck is finally rising to the surface and choking the nation. Its stench is overpowering. A new beginning is inevitable because things around us cannot get much worse. Once the 'protectors' of the commercial mafia, who are operating outside the law to dislodge people from their legitimate homesteads, are exposed and denied the loot, the correctives will resume.

Illegal activities must be stopped for the cleansing of a hugely corrupt but privileged conglomerate of the state administration, business tycoons and the political class. With growing tension on all its borders, India has one priority —cleaning up the internal mess and governing with equality and transparency.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

SAMSON'S PILLARS

 

This week, 25 IDF reservists from the Shimshon - Samson - battalion presented their commanders with a petition saying they did not want to be involved in evacuating West Bank settlements or outposts. They wanted the unit to return to its core values rather than hounding wayward settlers who keep coming back to Homesh, one of the settlements in Samaria dismantled during the 2005 disengagement.

 

The reservists were further incensed about having to confront settlers on Shabbat. But their main complaint was of being "exploited to carry out political policies that have no relation" to Israel's security needs.

 

The reservists did not say they would refuse orders.

 

The Shimshon battalion was established in 1997 and initially confronted Palestinian rioters in the Gaza Strip; it now polices Judea and Samaria. By capturing hundreds of wanted Palestinians, Shimshon has done more than any other Central Command unit to secure the West Bank.

 

The battalion is part of the Kfir Brigade, two of whose soldiers interrupted an IDF ceremony at the Western Wall three weeks ago by holding up a "Don't Evacuate Homesh" sign. For their disobedience, Aryeh Arbus and Ahiyah Ovadya were handed 20-day sentences in a military lockup and expelled from their unit.

 

The two have nevertheless become poster boys in a campaign to prevent the IDF from serving as an "expulsion force." Indeed, an anonymous American benefactor has supposedly contributed NIS 40,000 to the families of the young martyrs.

 

IMPROBABLY, the defenders of Homesh can trace their "lineage of dissent" to another group - the 350 reservists who, in March 1978, sent a letter to prime minister Menachem Begin saying his attachment to the Land of Israel and to settlements had become an obstacle to peace.

 

At its inception, Peace Now received funding not from foreign governments and foundations, but from the Kibbutz Movement and a few wealthy industrialists. Within a month, the grass-roots movement had brought 30,000 demonstrators into the streets of Tel Aviv to put pressure on Begin as he negotiated with Anwar Sadat.

 

Because it was so showily led by reserve officers, Peace Now broke a taboo about the propriety of manipulating military rank to leverage political outcomes. Within three weeks of the Tel Aviv rally, a group of 37 liberal Jewish Americans signed a petition in support of Peace Now, making page 1 of The New York Times.

 

Over the years, some who started out with Peace Now began taking extremist positions - for instance, refusing to do army service in the "Occupied Territories."

 

A RECIPE for national disaster, brewed by the Left, is now percolating on the Right. We're witnessing a parallel "selective refusal." Right-wing soldiers will serve so long as they're not asked to do something that conflicts with their political views.

 

Left unchecked, this phenomenon could prove fatal to the Third Commonwealth.

For what is at stake is whether a free and independent Jewish people can govern themselves, or are doomed - like our ancestors - to break up into separate kingdoms and be swallowed by our enemies.

 

The issue is not the wisdom - or lack thereof - of government policies. It is almost beside the point that territorial compromise, in return for genuine peace, is the platform of all the major parties in the country.

 

It does not matter, for the purposes of this argument, that the Palestinian polity shows no genuine interest in coming to terms with a Jewish state in any boundaries.

 

It makes no difference that Israeli governments have pursued incoherent and flip-flopping polices on settlements.

 

What does matter is that the legitimacy of the regime - not any particular government, but of the Zionist idea - is being undercut.

 

Of course the government is using the army as a political tool. The army is nothing if not a means for the government to exercise its political will. It does so by protecting settlers against the wishes of some, and by dismantling outposts against the wishes of others.

 

This argument will prove unpersuasive to those whose allegiance is foremost to the land. But it behooves those who appreciate how fortunate our generation is to live in this imperfect, chaotic, frustrating country to maintain Zionist discipline.

 

To do otherwise, men of Shimshon, is to pull down the temple pillars upon us all.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

AN AG SELECTION RUSE

 

The committee to select the next attorney general has reached an impasse. The committee, headed by former Supreme Court justice Theodor Or, is supposed to rank the candidates and pick three to recommend to the cabinet. The cabinet will then make the appointment, most likely in keeping with the justice minister's recommendation.

Ostensibly, the justice minister's choice may not receive a majority in the cabinet. However, just as the defense minister's candidate for chief of staff is likely to get the job even if the prime minister and other ministers are not enthusiastic, it is reasonable to assume that if the justice minister's choice is among the three finalists, the appointment is in the bag.


Along with Or, the committee's members include a former justice minister, an MK, a representative of the Israel Bar Association and a law professor. Finalists require at least four votes. Thus, two members can disqualify any candidate. Alternatively, two members can agree to back a candidate in exchange for support for another candidate that three members don't like. Thus a candidate who lacks a majority, but is the justice minister's favorite, can become one of the three finalists, along with another two who have no real chance. Then, not surprisingly, the favorite will be appointed to one of the most important and influential positions in the country.

 

Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman clearly wants Jerusalem District Court Judge Noam Sohlberg for the job. Based on his skills, background and rulings, Sohlberg is far from being the most worthy man for this lofty post. The concern is that what Neeman likes about Sohlberg is exactly what must stop him from getting the position.


To appoint Sohlberg, Neeman made two moves. First, he proposed Sohlberg as a candidate for Supreme Court justice, to make him appear suited to be attorney general. Then Neeman obtained a bloc on the Or committee by appointing two members who share his opinion, former justice minister Moshe Nissim and MK Yariv Levin (Likud). If Nissim and Levin insist on including Sohlberg among the three finalists, Neeman and Sohlberg can celebrate even before the cabinet meets to discuss the appointment.


The Or committee is in a strange position. Its members and the candidates (as well as those who considered presenting their candidacy) do not know what the position of attorney general will entail, as Neeman has proposed splitting the current job into two posts. Nevertheless, they are being pushed to appoint Sohlberg, as Neeman wants. Neeman needs two rubber stamps. The Or committee will provide the first, and the cabinet, the second.

Under these shameful circumstances, a committee member did well to warn that the appointment risks being politicized, as reported in Haaretz yesterday. Or and his fellow committee members must prove that they have backbones and are basing their recommendations on professional considerations only.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

ARE WE WITH OBAMA, OR WHAT?

BY YOEL MARCUS

 

Goody goody! Journalist Ayala Hasson reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had positive body language after the meeting. But her colleague Shimon Shiffer told us Netanyahu looked tense, with his lips were pursed; the White House didn't release a photo of the meeting, and in the 51-word communique, the word "friendship" never appeared. Oy, oy, oy!


Thinking about how much these things really matter, the question occurs to me: Who was more reliable, Charles de Gaulle or Richard Nixon? De Gaulle declared publicly that Israel was France's friend and ally, but in those most fateful of days before the Six-Day War, he imposed a total arms embargo on us and swung France back to its pro-Arab orientation, to the point of building a nuclear reactor in Iraq. Nixon didn't especially like Jews, but he came to our assistance with an arms airlift during the Yom Kippur War.


Our politicians have a record of abusing the White House photo-op. As a Washington correspondent, I was embarrassed to see the degree of groveling to which Israelis would descend just to get a picture with the president. Some presidents acceded to these requests, but they didn't like it, especially when relations were at a low point. They also disliked how our leaders would shoot their mouths off as soon as they could after the meetings.

 

When David Levy was foreign minister, he once came out of secretary of state James Baker's office and called him "Jimmy" in front of the assembled reporters, as if they were old school chums. Baker was less chummy, and when he got sick of wooing Israel, he simply gave up and said: When you decide you want peace, call the White House, the number is 456-1414. On the other hand, Menachem Begin once saw fit to call in U.S. ambassador Samuel Lewis and lecture him angrily, starting off by declaring, "We are not your vassals."


In the very days when many were either chagrined by or gloating over the humiliating treatment the White House staff meted out to Netanyahu, there were some 1,500 American soldiers here, training with Israeli army units on missile interception. Rahm Emanuel orchestrated Netanyahu's ignominious reception not because Emanuel is not a good Jew, but because he had to protect his boss from a forced show of friendship just when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was quitting and the U.S. president's peace initiative was biting the dust. So there were no briefings and no flag wavings, and the meeting intentionally was not scheduled to occur during Israeli TV news broadcasts.


But the ostensibly shoddy way Netanyahu was treated does not mean that there wasn't a serious discussion at the meeting. The two were alone for at least an hour and a quarter after their aides left, and it's unlikely that during that time these two loquacious men didn't find a great deal to discuss, seriously and perhaps even harshly. No small talk and no declarations of undying love, but peace with the Palestinians, Abbas' resignation threat and the Iranian menace. What's important for us isn't the personal relations between the president and the prime minister, but that the diplomatic, security and economic support America has given Israel since its establishment continues.


President Truman recognized Israel two hours after the state was declared, over the objections of his secretary of state, Gen. George Marshall, who feared both that the new state would be wiped out immediately and that petroleum supplies to the United States would be harmed. Neither Truman nor Ben-Gurion heeded him. Truman said in a speech on October 28, 1948 that his goal was to help the founding of an independent, free, strong and prosperous state in Palestine, and that this state had to be strong enough for its population to live securely, and that's what actually occurred.


President Kennedy approved supplying Israel with Hawk anti-aircraft missiles. President Johnson approved the supply of jet fighters, and opened the White House to our leaders. It is doubtful that without America's support Israel would have attained its current status. It is not only because of the presidents, but also because of the political influence of America's Jews, their high voting rates and their generous financial aid to candidates.


A year after the electrifying election of President Obama, his goals have not been achieved: not the reduction of unemployment, nor the end of military involvement in Afghanistan, nor the neutralization of the Iranian threat. People are still wondering if his deeds are as good as his words.


They used to say about Ariel Sharon that he was fun to be around, but as far as Obama is concerned, all we know is what we can see, and there's no certainty he will show the same intimacy some of his predecessors had with Israel's leaders. A great deal depends on whether we help him achieve his goals.

 

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 HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

ISRAEL'S RIGHT BETS ON THE WRONG HORSE

BY CARLO STRENGER

 

In all decision making processes, there are two conflicting principles: One is never give up on a winning horse. If a strategy's worked so far, just stick with it. This sometimes becomes problematic, however.


The second one is: Don't be like the frog who doesn't notice the water's heating up and boils to death. Watch out for new developments and be proactive.

 

Israel's pragmatic (as opposed to the ideological) right is committed to the first principle: Israel has occupied the territories for more than two thirds of its history. So far it's worked, so why give up on this winning horse? Time, they say, must be on our side, so let's wait and see.

 

The problem is that in this case, the "winning horse" principle covers up fear of change and political stalemate. The result is likely to turn out like what happened to General Motors: The auto company believed it was unassailable, and ended up bankrupt.


So far there seems to be nothing to convince the current government that the waiting game is not a winning horse, but a dying frog. Netanyahu keeps calling for negotiations while doing everything to avoid them, whereas Lieberman insists that he doesn't see the possibility of peace in the foreseeable future.


Here's how the strategy of Israel's right is leading to the State of Israel's demise. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is threatening to resign, and the dismantling of the Palestinian Authority is becoming a serious possibility. Many Israelis think that's just a negotiating tactic. They don't realize that long-time Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat is only restating what many leading Palestinians, starting with the late Edward Said, have argued for years: Palestinians shouldn't strive for a state of their own on 22 percent of Mandatory Palestine. Instead they should simply ask for Israeli citizenship.


Let's imagine the following scenario: The next Palestinian Authority president comes to the UN and declares that the PA has been dismantled; that after 43 years of occupation and settling more than 300,000 Jews in the territories, there is no way of implementing the two-state solution; that Israel has de facto annexed the West Bank, and that this status quo should now be recognized de jure by giving all Palestinians Israeli citizenship.

The UN is likely to accept the Palestinian argument. Israel has occupied the territories for more than two thirds of its history. Most Palestinians there have been born under Israeli occupation and should be entitled to full civil rights. Therefore, in 2010 or 2011, 60-odd years after the historic vote for a Jewish homeland, the UN would solemnly vote for the messianic right's dream: the Greater Land of Israel - only it would end up being the Greater Palestine.


An alternative to this strategy of endless procrastination leading to a binational state is now emerging. PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has called for the establishment of a Palestinian state with temporary borders de facto and the 1967 borders de jure. He wants to ask the UN for recognition of this state in 2011, and is meanwhile building institutions that will make the fledgling state viable. So far his success in doing so has been recognized by the IDF, which is turning increasing amounts of territory over to Palestinian control, and has even opened the border to Jenin.


The advantage of this move for the Palestinians is obvious: If the UN recognizes the Palestinian state, Israeli occupation immediately becomes unlawful. Seemingly this would be disadvantageous for Israel, but in reality it ensures that the binational state becomes impossible.

 

To the surprise of many, Shaul Mofaz has proposed a plan consistent with Fayyad's idea in principle: He calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state on 60 percent of the territories very soon, while leaving contentious issues for later negotiations. While some question Mofaz's motives, and while he would oppose the UN resolution Fayyad wants, his plan certainly offers a new element in the Israeli political debate, coming from a politician known as a security hardliner.


The Fayyad-Mofaz strategy will take the wind out of the sails of extremists on both camps: Israel's ideological right will realize that the dream of the Greater Israel must be left behind, and the Palestinians who still dream of a Greater Palestine will understand that history has moved on.


Netanyahu has no way of adopting this strategy with his current government and against the ideology of the majority in Likud. Since stalling the peace process may lead to Israel's demise, we can only hope that the Netanyahu government will not last. Political scientists tell me that there is no precedent for coalitions that do not include the center to last for more than 18 months. Let us pray they are right.

 

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 HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

YOSSI SARID / ABBAS MUST UNILATERALLY DECLARE PALESTINIAN STATE

BY YOSSI SARID

 

It is precisely now that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas must not give up hope, and not because of the sweet nothings that Shimon Peres uttered at the rally in the square last Saturday night about people giving up hope in Ramallah. As if at the President's Residence every day is Carnaval, and not only when he's packing his bags for his trip to Brazil.


Abbas was right when he decided to announce he would soon resign: It is impossible to hold negotiations "without prior conditions" while settlement is going on. For 42 years Israel has been scattering prior conditions and faits accomplis all over, marking them with red tile roofs and making the peace process into nothing more than a never-ending process.


But before Abu Mazen quits, he has just one more job to do: He must declare, unilaterally, the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Palestine now.

Both sides have a right to act unilaterally. Abbas owes it to his people, to himself, and to us. This week, there were reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finds this possibility very scary, and he expects the Americans to nip it in the bud. But his nightmare is our only chance for an end to the occupation in our time.



When he declares independence, Abbas should call upon the Jews living in the state of Palestine to preserve the peace and to do their part in building up the new country as full and equal citizens, enjoying fair representation in all of its institutions. David Ben-Gurion would not have been upset by such a pretty act of plagiarism from his Declaration of Independence.


And thus, Abbas will become the Palestinian Ben-Gurion. Conditions were no less foggy and circumstances were no more certain when Ben-Gurion declared independence in 1948. But our founding father took the risk, and we are fortunate that he did.


The risk Abbas would be taking is much smaller. Of the 192 member states of the United Nations, over 150 would recognize a free Palestine, and it would soon become the 193rd. Although the American position is an unknown, it is hard to believe that Barack Obama would agree to drag America back into isolation now that it has begun to be part of the world again.


And what would Netanyahu do? Invade and re-conquer the West Bank? Restore the military government in the Muqata in Ramallah?


And what orders will Ehud Barak give his army? Serbia didn't dare invade Kosovo after it declared independence, and even Russia the great didn't allow itself to remain inside the sovereign territory of Georgia after their war.


Immediately after the declaration, celebrations will begin in the capital, East Jerusalem, and people from all over the world will join in, including Israelis. The masses of the House of Ishmael will carouse joyously through the city's neighborhoods, and especially those neighborhoods from which they have been evicted by people with priestly pretensions. This will have to be joy without any manifestations of violence, not even one stone thrown.

This week, I phoned Abbas, after not having spoken to him for at least four years. I told him everything that I am writing now. I also told him something else: What happened to the wall in Berlin 20 years ago, and to apartheid a few months later, would also happen to the occupation: It will collapse, even if attempts are made to reinforce it with nails.

 

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 HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

AN ISRAELI AMBASSADOR IN RIYADH

BY YEHEZKEL DROR

 

An examination of the Arab-Israeli conflict from a historical perspective and in light of current developments leads one to the clear conclusion that Israel is in need of a new diplomatic paradigm. Time is not on our side. "Managing" the conflict based on the concept of "more of the same" will not do. No interim arrangement featuring "a kind of Palestinian state on a portion of the territory of Judea and Samaria" will prevent the constant erosion of Israel's situation.


That is also the verdict with respect to the "Mofaz Plan," which continues to focus on the Palestinian issue, with the added element of "opening the road to diplomatic arrangements and regional peace," instead of thinking first about a regional framework.


The significant security dangers do not stem from the Palestinians or Syria, and Iran alone is subject to containment as well as deterrence. However, the continued basic hostility on the part of Islamic forces to our existence as a Jewish state and our exclusive control over Jerusalem's holy sites is thriving in Islamic regions and is fraught with long-term existential dangers.

 

As a result, forfeiting the limited bargaining chips that we are holding for an agreement only with the Palestinians and Syrians without concessions in relations with Islamists would be a historic mistake.


The Israeli peace plan must be shaped to meet the interests of the rulers of the moderate Arab states, as well as Asian Islamic states and the superpowers, led by the United States. It should be based on the Arab peace initiative but with changes.


The suggested paradigm includes readiness to withdraw from almost all of Judea and Samaria and the Golan Heights, along with land swaps and security arrangements. Israel would also agree to shared governance or functional division of sovereignty in parts of Jerusalem, while agreeing to priority status for a central Muslim authority at Islamic holy places and a Palestinian capital within the area of greater Jerusalem.


Israel will be ready to express sorrow over Palestinian suffering, without taking responsibility for it, and will contribute proportionally and symbolically to a comprehensive regional resolution in the Middle East and a comprehensive global solution to the refugee problem.


All of this would only come about in return for peace agreements with most of the Arab states, agreement which would be clearly reflected in reality through the presence, for example, of an Israeli embassy in Riyadh, a city which is an Islamic religious center, and where the puritanical Wahhabi sect of Islam developed.


This would constitute a major ideological-psychological and cultural-religious turning point in the conflict. Such a shift is worth far-reaching concessions on Israel's part. Anything less does not justify concessions unless one is speaking of interim stages on the path to a comprehensive Middle East peace.


The same conclusion is reached from a historical and procedural analysis. Arab-Muslim animosity against Israel is rooted in profound historic developments. The probability that such developments would change for the better on their own in the 21st century thanks to modernization, democratization and Westernization as well as economic interests and realpolitik alone is small.

It is very doubtful if a more localized agreement with the Palestinians and Syrians would on its own bring about the needed change, in that creating a change in direction of historical developments requires major intervention.


A two-state solution at one stage or another would be part of a comprehensive settlement. As part of a wider Middle East peace agreement, it has different significance and also ensures stable moderation on the part of the Palestinian state.


Perhaps it also will make possible the existence of Jewish communities within such a state.


Such a plan would push the Goldstone Commission report and the question of the candidacy of Mahmoud Abbas in the Palestinian elections to the side.


It would block the possibility that a declaration of the establishment of a Palestinian state would be accorded international recognition without Israel getting anything in return. It would also make efforts to deal with the Iranian nuclear program easier.


With respect to domestic considerations in Israel, a comprehensive peace plan would permit the building of a broad consensus on wide-ranging concessions in return for a clearly historic achievement which would shape the future and be accompanied by credible security arrangements.


There is no room for illusions. It is reasonable to assume that the 21st century will be full of violence, but we must make every effort that such violence doesn't actually strike our region. In any event, Israel must maintain its military strength, which can ensure its existence and permit it to prosper even in the face of continued conflict. Paradoxically, a clear showing of such capabilities will also advance peace and reinforce its stability.


Imagine what would happen if on the prime minister's next visit to Washington, he made a surprise presentation, without coordinating either with the United States or with his coalition partners, of a move toward peace similar to what is suggested here.


It would constitute a major historic turning point for the better. The matter is in our hands.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

MAKING AN ENEMY OF ANKARA

BY SHLOMO BROM

 

Although we Israelis believe we belong to one of the world's most advanced states, we shy away from complexities and sophistication, always preferring the simplistic explanation. That's why, for example, we claim that we cannot resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because "there is no Palestinian partner," while the real question should be how we can cultivate a Palestinian partner instead of destroying with impressive determination the partner we currently have.


Another recent example of this pervasive tendency is the way we deal with the Israeli-Turkish relationship. We perceive Israel's foreign relations as having only two shades: black and white. Either a state is friendly toward Israel and willing to accept anything we do, including our mischief, or it is an enemy - anti-Semitic and a member of the "axis of evil." Rarely do we assume that the explanation may be a bit more complicated, or search for the real reason for a foreign government's behavior.


Thus, in the case of Turkey, the result is an almost wall-to-wall consensus among both pundits and politicians here that it has made a strategic choice to move from the camp of the West and the so-called free world to the camp of the radical Islamists, and now prefers Iran over the United States, Europe and Israel. In such an atmosphere, a researcher at the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy can even rush to suggest Turkey's expulsion from NATO.

 

But is this really the case? Does making such a choice serve the interests of the current Turkish government, according to its own perception? The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is a moderate Islamic political force, but like any other Turkish party, it is first and foremost nationalistic. When it is engaged in promoting a policy that is perceived as not sufficiently nationalistic, its base of support is hurt. That's what happened when it attempted to offer amnesty to members of the Kurdish independence movement (PKK) in exile, who were willing to return to Turkey and give up violence. The policy backfired and caused a visible drop in popular support for the AKP.


The AKP government devised its own, "neo-Ottoman" version of a foreign policy to serve the interests of the Turkish state. Called the "strategic depth doctrine," it was devised in recent years by Ahmet Davutoglu, an academic who went on to become Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's foreign policy advisor, and more recently foreign minister. It sees Turkey's situation as unique - both because of its geographical location in a region connecting two continents, and because of its historical links with the Balkans, the Middle East and Central Asia - and proposes basing foreign policy on this uniqueness. According to the doctrine, this requires a policy aimed at achieving a situation of "zero problems," meaning it should resolve any problems it may have with its neighbors and build friendly relationships with all of them. The upshot: Turkey can best serve its own interests by serving as a middleman between its neighbors and the great powers: West and Middle East, Israel and the Arabs, Iran and the United States, and so on.


The determination and sophistication with which Turkey has implemented this doctrine is impressive. It mended fences with Syria, established good relations with the Kurds in northern Iraq, reached an agreement with its arch-enemy Armenia, and is building good relationships with other states in the region. It mediated between Israel and Syria, and has tried to do the same between Israel and the Palestinians. It has also offered to mediate between the Untied States and Iran. Not that Turkey has been successful in all these endeavors, but it has demonstrated a strong interest in maintaining its position as a middleman and in preserving its relations with the West and Israel. The last thing Turkey needs is to be identified with states like Iran, and to lose its links to America, Europe or NATO, among others.


Israel should comprehend this, and take advantage of Turkey's unique position in a way that will serve its own interests. For a time, the government of Ehud Olmert behaved as if it had some understanding of the Israeli-Turkish relationship, but then it returned to its bad habits. So, several days after Olmert met with Erdogan, he launched a war in Gaza without having made even the slightest effort to alert his Turkish counterpart that something was about to take place. That misstep was compounded by Israel's rejection of all Turkish attempts to be involved in the international political effort to bring that campaign to an end. The third misstep is taking place now, in the shape of a media campaign that places Turkey in the axis of evil.


None of this is to suggest that the Turkish prime minister has not experienced his own share of mistakes, primarily in the language he uses in referring to Israel. But Israel's way of reciprocating with additional missteps is not the right response.


All of this could be seen as a comedy of errors. The problem is that, in relations between states, prophecies tend to be self-fulfilling: If Israel assumes Turkey is becoming its enemy, Israel will take steps that will ensure that it indeed becomes one.

 

Retired brigadier general Shlomo Brom is a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies, Tel Aviv.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

MURDERERS CAN'T BE HEROES

BY ROBERT ROZETT

 

The celebration is over, and the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall has come and gone. Now is the time for more sober assessments. Especially with regard to the place of the Holocaust in much of the former communist bloc, some serious issues remain to be resolved.


In the search for a usable past, dissidents, anti-communists and nationalists are generally regarded as heroes. In some cases, they were indeed just that. Andrei Sakharov comes to mind as one such courageous individual, who fought for freedom at great personal risk and is worthy of emulation as a humanist. Others, however, may well have strong anti-communist credentials, but fall far short of having displayed the kind of humanism embodied by Sakharov. During the Holocaust era, some of these so-called heroes took part in the persecution and murder of their Jewish neighbors, and of others. Despite this, they are frequently glorified as patriots and paragons.


Father Jozef Tiso, the head of the Slovak puppet government established by Nazi Germany in early 1939, is a clear example of a figure who has often been adulated in spite of his crimes. Tiso presided over the first, at least nominally, independent Slovak entity, and for this he is commonly revered. The regime he headed, however, played a crucial role in the murder of Slovak Jewry. The same could be said of Ante Pavelic, leader of the Croatian Ustase government, another Nazi puppet that engaged in wholesale murder. Although such men were fervent nationalists and anti-communists, they can hardly be regarded as patriots, since they fostered the murder of their peaceful, innocent neighbors. Not all people living in the former communist bloc have fallen into the trap of lionizing such criminals. But significant elements, either through ignorance or meanness of spirit, have.

Among some in the former communist states, the reaction to the communist period has led to another extreme. The contemporary glorification of Nazism and fascism has found significant and vocal adherents. The extreme right, which promotes a racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic agenda, regularly employs Nazi and fascist symbols, images and language. Whether the Magyar Garda in Hungary or neo-Nazi skinheads in the former Soviet Union and other countries - they make the news and have thus become part of public discourse, and have sometimes even entered the political arena. In societies that committed crimes in the name of such ideologies, it is hard to accept that these hateful ideas have surfaced again. Even more baffling is how in the former Soviet Union, where the war against Nazi Germany was dogged and vicious, the Nazis are glorified by some of the new generation. These young people apparently live in splendid ignorance or callous disregard of what their parents and grandparents actually experienced.


Lastly comes the conflation of the crimes of the Nazis and communists. Although both systems committed mass murders in an overlapping time frame, they were different. Vastly different ideologies motivated them. And they chose their victims for widely different reasons. There is no question that the crimes of both are worthy of discussion, research and commemoration. But when melded together, the distinctions between them blur - and blurred distinctions do nothing to further our understanding. They neither do honor to the memory of the victims, nor ensure that those responsible are held accountable.


The way Jews are sometimes seen when the two crimes are melted into one is a salient example of what can occur when distinctions are blurred. The Jews were the Nazi Germans' foremost victims and in the lands dominated by Germany, many local residents played a role in their murder. But in much of the former communist bloc, where so many Jews were murdered under the Nazis, the idea that "Jew" equals "Bolshevik" is still deeply entrenched. Thus Jews are often regarded as the foremost agents of communist crimes, even if history shows this to be false. Conflating Nazi and communist crimes in this way allows people to avoid taking responsibility for their society's role in Nazi atrocities. They say to themselves: We might have had a hand in killing some Jews, but the Jews made us suffer much more.


The adoption by the European Parliament this past April of August 23, the day the pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union was signed, as a day to commemorate the crimes of both regimes, has given the obfuscation of a multifaceted history a patina of official sanction. Instead of pandering to such distortions, European leaders should be leading a crusade to educate the public. Only through knowledge is there a chance to correct widely held misconceptions and to sidestep pitfalls on the road to perfecting the democracies that emerged after the Berlin Wall collapsed.


Dr. Robert Rozett is the director of the Yad Vashem Libraries, and author of "Approaching the Holocaust, Texts and Contexts," Vallentine Mitchell (2005).

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

TIME TO LEARN SPANISH

BY YOAV J. TENEMBAUM

 

The United States is a strategic asset to Israel. And America's Hispanic population is a strategic asset within a strategic asset. It's like a Russian nesting doll: Inside the largest doll are successively smaller ones, similar in appearance and form, which must be accorded special attention.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Hispanic population is the country's largest and fastest-growing minority. As of July 2007, their numbers had reached the 45.5-million figure, representing 15.1 percent of an estimated total of 301.6 million Americans. And, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, the numbers of those citizens will rise to 29 percent by 2050.

 

The Hispanic population is also concentrated in key political states: California, New York, Florida and Texas, among others. Beyond their intrinsic political weight, these states command large delegations in the Electoral College, and thus have a central role in determining presidential elections.

 

Hispanics have, on the whole, a collective social consciousness defined by a common language and a shared regional heritage. Most are Roman Catholics (68 percent), but evangelical movements have made inroads into their communities as well, bringing with them a special attachment to the Holy Land and the Jewish people.


Historically, most Hispanics have tended to vote for the Democratic Party. In fact, in some respects, voting trends among them can be compared to those of American Jews. Nonetheless, in recent decades (with the 2008 presidential vote being a notable exception), they have moved increasingly into the Republican camp. In the presidential election of 2004, for example, president George W. Bush mustered 40 percent of the Hispanic vote. Considering all of these facts, Israel's foreign-policy establishment would do well to start relating to the Hispanic minority in the United States as a potential strategic asset, requiring its own clear policy. It should do so, thinking in Spanish. In other words, it ought to avoid simply "translating" messages designed for an English-speaking audience. Spanish-speakers in the United States have not only their own language, but also culture and values, and as such deserve to be addressed with a tailor-made message.


American Jewish organizations have already tried, with reasonable success, to approach Hispanic leaders with the aim of enhancing communal relations. In 2006, for example, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee appointed a deputy director in charge of Hispanic outreach.


Although it is appropriate for Israel to cooperate with Jewish and pro-Israel organizations in the United States in devising a strategy aimed at the Hispanic population, it must also shape such a strategy as part of its own foreign policy. Israel should lead and not be led.


To begin with, Israeli diplomats should initiate a serious dialogue with Hispanic opinion shapers including politicians, communal and religious leaders, journalists, artists, writers and businesspeople. This dialogue must not just have a concrete short-term objective: The diplomatic horizon should extend well beyond the day-to-day affairs of state.


This dialogue - conceived and conducted in Spanish, by fluent Spanish-speaking Israeli diplomats, preferably of Hispanic origin themselves could have a different outcome than one conducted in English or broken Spanish by diplomats with whom the Hispanic interlocutor has no common heritage, no matter how capable and intelligent they might be.

American Hispanics have not been known for hostility toward the State of Israel; they lack the same critical aloofness that exists among parts of the African-American population. The basis for a constructive, indeed friendly, dialogue exists. And because many of them maintain close relationships with their Latin American countries of origin, the influence of Hispanic communities can also transcend the borders of the United States.


Devising a separate, coherent, diplomatic strategy vis-a-vis a minority population per se may not be a common feature of foreign policy. However, considering the strategic importance of the Hispanic minority in the United States, and its ever-increasing presence and influence in the socio-political life of the country, it is not too soon for Israel to take such a step.


Dr. Yoav J. Tenembaum is a lecturer in the diplomacy program at Tel Aviv University.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

MR. OBAMA, YOU'RE TOO COOL

BY MARCO GREENBERG

DEAR MR. PRESIDENT:


The food hadn't even been served, and within minutes of my arrival at the home of American-Israeli friends this summer, my hosts began interrogating me about my decision to vote for you last November.


"How could you?" they asked, with a mixture of astonishment and displeasure.

 

While I was looking forward to some intellectual jousting with my hawkish friends, I was unprepared for the ambush I had stepped into. I conceded some of their points, defended you on others, and changed the subject whenever possible. I managed to walk out of their home with our friendship still intact (I think), but they continued to be incredulous in a follow-up e-mail, which spoke of their continued "disappointment" in my support of you.


Since then, I've found it increasingly difficult to fight off these kinds of verbal assaults from fellow Israel supporters in the United States, and your dismal popularity ratings in Israel prove the point.


Look, Mr. President, you're a cool operator. No one questions your high intelligence. And you remain determined, even when pushing the boulder uphill on seemingly unsolvable issues from health care reform to unemployment. But cracking the code on the Arab-Israeli conflict makes these other issues seem lightweight by comparison.

Perhaps you might want to reconsider, to invest your efforts in relatively easier tasks like finishing Iraq and containing Afghanistan, and take this part of the Middle East equation off your "to-do list" entirely. However, if push on you must, start by changing your approach to the Israelis.


No doubt, Israelis are a prickly bunch and haven't always made life easy for you - plus, it's no secret your chemistry with Bibi Netanyahu isn't great. But, if you expect them to play ball and cough up further concessions, then you need to show them the love - even, or especially, if you plan to put the squeeze on them. Yes, despite their gruff and swaggering exterior, Israelis have a fundamental insecurity that is best assuaged by a charismatic American leader demonstrating genuine warmth and friendliness (think: Bill Clinton and Yitzhak Rabin), rather than toughness, aloofness and coolness - qualities that make Israelis bolt in the opposite direction.


While there's a parallel list of steps to take with the Palestinians and the greater Arab world now that the future of the Palestinian Authority seems more precarious than ever, if you want to make your ground-breaking speech in Cairo a reality rather than letting it remain mere rhetoric, you need to begin in Jerusalem.


You won't get Israel to budge until its leadership and people truly believe you have their best interests at heart.

So while your initial strategy was not to appear to be too close to Israel or its supporters, because you felt it would make you look more evenhanded, the success of future negotiations (not to mention your reelection) calls for a change in direction. Here, then, is an instant recipe for improving your likability among Israelis and bolstering American Jewish support:


? Invite an Israeli to dinner: When they see "Mahmoud Abbas" first on the official visitors' list recently released by the White House, Israel supporters automatically look to see who on "our side" has been your guest. Why not start with Israel's ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, a fellow Ivy League grad and distinguished historian?


? Return to red lines: Your decision to abstain for the first time in history on a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel for its purported nuclear-weapons arsenal sent out shock waves. Getting Israel to dismantle the "Samson Option" is something no Israeli, on either side of the political fence, is going to agree to while a good portion of the world still supports the country's destruction.


? Rule out nothing with Iran: U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates' public warnings to Israel about considering the military option effectively take its biggest deterrent to an Iranian bomb off the table. You can't fault stubborn Israelis for doing whatever it takes to safeguard their people.


? Get real: Militant Islam continues to be a huge threat to the United States and Israel. Refusing to acknowledge it, and its role in the horrific attacks at Fort Hood last week by a Muslim-American army psychiatrist, constitutes a form of political correctness that further estranges Israelis, not to mention many Americans.


? Go beyond the political: Make Israelis feel that their ultimate security lies in being a high-tech/green powerhouse. Invite Shai Agassi, CEO and founder of the electrical car initiative Better Place, to the White House.

? Make plans to visit: As the ultimate follow-up to holding a Passover seder at the White House last year, make it "next year in Jerusalem," and travel up from Egypt to have a seder in Israel's capital in 2010.


Bottom line: It is the emotive component that you need to embrace. "Warm is the new cool," as Liel Leibovitz, a friend and Ph.D. in communications from your alma mater, Columbia University, said about the future of social media. If you want to get the U.S.-Israeli relationship back on track, and make American Jews feel good again about your support of Israel, which is the key issue for many of us, then no truer words could be spoken.

Marco Greenberg is chief creative officer of Thunder11, a marketing and social media boutique, based in New York City.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

INTEL'S $1.25 BILLION SETTLEMENT

 

Intel's antitrust and patent settlement with Advanced Micro Devices is good news for A.M.D., which now finds itself $1.25 billion richer, but it is less clear what it does for the general public. Intel has been accused of stifling competition and driving up prices through a wide array of anticompetitive practices, which may or may not continue now that Intel has agreed to write a large check. Government agencies that have sued Intel or are considering it should not back away.

 

A.M.D.'s suit against Intel, which has been in the works for years, was supposed to be a major antitrust showdown. Instead, A.M.D. has agreed to call off the fireworks for a sum that means a lot more to A.M.D., whose stock price soared on the news, than to Intel. As part of the deal, Intel also agreed to adhere to some new business practices.

 

Intel is the big gorilla of the microchip industry. Four out of five PCs in the world use its chips, which gives it an enormous amount of market clout that can be misused. Regulators have accused Intel of offering big rebates and co-marketing agreements to induce large computer makers to choose its chips over its competitors' products.

 

Intel's behavior has drawn censure not just in the United States, but internationally. In May, the European Union leveled a $1.45 billion fine on Intel for using illegal, anticompetitive practices. The European Union's competition commissioner ordered Intel to change how it does business, including not offering rebates conditioned on the purchaser buying less of a competitor's products, or not buying them at all. Intel is appealing the European Union ruling.

 

This month, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo of New York filed a sweeping antitrust lawsuit against Intel, focusing in part on Intel payments to PC makers that are allegedly tied to the companies continuing to use Intel products. In announcing the suit, Mr. Cuomo charged Intel with using "illegal threats, coercion, fines and bullying to preserve its stranglehold on the market." Based on what is known so far about the A.M.D. settlement, there is no reason for Mr. Cuomo to let up in that lawsuit.

 

The Federal Trade Commission has also been considering opening formal proceedings against Intel. Like Mr. Cuomo's lawsuit, the focus of the F.T.C. investigation should be on what impact Intel's actions have on consumers. Intel and its smaller rival, A.M.D., may well have reached an agreement that is good for both companies, but that does little for computer buyers.

 

Antitrust law can seem like an abstraction, but in the case of computer chips the impact on ordinary Americans is very real. Chips are a significant part of the cost of new desktop and laptop computers, and the quality of those chips has a big effect on computer performance. If Intel is using its market power to keep prices high and fend off better products, it is consumers — and not just competitors like A.M.D. — who are the losers.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE 'HIGHLY QUALIFIED TEACHER' DODGE

 

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has been widely held in high regard since he was appointed in January, but no honeymoon lasts forever. Mr. Duncan's came to an abrupt end earlier this week when he issued long-awaited rules that the states must follow to apply for his $4.3 billion discretionary fund, known as the Race to the Top Fund, and the second round of federal financing under the $49 billion federal stimulus package known as the state fiscal stabilization fund.

 

The rules for the Race to the Top Fund, which is designed to reward states that embrace reform and bypass those that do not, are generally sound and have been greeted with enthusiasm. But some school reform groups and some in Congress have reacted with dismay to the part of the stabilization fund that was supposed to require the states to end the longstanding and reprehensible practice of shunting unprepared and unqualified teachers into the schools serving the poorest students.

 

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 was clear in requiring states to remedy situations in which high poverty schools were being disproportionately staffed by teachers who were inexperienced, unqualified or teaching in fields that they had not majored in.

 

The country would be much further along on the reform trail had the Bush administration followed the law. Instead, it allowed the states to define away the problem by re-labeling the existing, inadequate teacher corps as "highly qualified."

 

Congress tried to discourage the use of inexperienced and unqualified teachers a second time when it passed the stimulus act. Education advocates inside and outside Congress expected that the stabilization fund application would be explicit and ambitious on the issue of teacher equity. They were understandably disappointed to find the issue couched, once again, in euphemistic language that asks the states to describe in vague terms whether the teacher corps is "highly qualified."

 

The Congressional Black Caucus is unhappy with this approach. The Education Trust, an influential research group that deals with reform issues, accused Mr. Duncan of papering over a serious problem and squandering an opportunity to force "truth-telling about unfair teacher-assignment practices."

 

The language in the application reflects timidity at the White House and in Congress, where some voices wanted to delay the fight over this issue until next year when Congress will likely reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The language also reflects the sometimes excessive influence of boutique alternative certification programs, which want to keep doors open for teachers who might be shut out under traditional criteria.

 

But the facts on the ground remain inescapably clear. Children in poor neighborhoods will continue to be poorly served at school until Congress pushes the states to provide them with better, more effective teachers.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

FAREWELL TO LOU

 

Lou Dobbs has left CNN, or maybe the other way around. Whichever it is, an old, odd, infuriating-to-many mismatch of sober network and strident host is over. CNN, for now anyway, changes back to something closer to the nonpartisan, straight-up news network it wants you to think of it as, different from its ideologically branded rivals Fox News and MSNBC. The real question is the effect the change will have on Mr. Dobbs.

 

Mr. Dobbs, once a pinstriped purveyor of financial news, has burrowed deep into the popular culture as a self-styled populist enraged by illegal immigration. When he resigned on the air Wednesday night, he made it clear that that aspect of his public persona is not going away. He listed immigration along with jobs, the middle class and war as among the issues urgently needing his kind of honest, straightforward examination.

 

"Unfortunately," he said, "these issues are now defined in the public arena by partisanship and ideology rather than by rigorous, empirical thought and forthright analysis and discussion."

 

Mr. Dobbs couldn't have phrased a more apt criticism of himself. He calls himself Mr. Independent, but he is far closer in style and method to the right-wing ranters who mold the facts to shape the argument on television and on AM radio, where Mr. Dobbs still has a show. Mr. Dobbs's CNN program has long been a nesting ground for untruths and conspiracy theories: fretting over a nonexistent, immigrant-borne leprosy epidemic; questioning President Obama's citizenship; issuing dark warnings about the "North American Union," a supposed plot to strangle United States sovereignty.

 

It's hard to pinpoint how much damage these kinds of ideas have done to the national discussion of illegal immigration, but they have been corrosive. Solutions have withered as many politicians parrot the central myth that people desperate to seek new lives in the United States are an affliction to be feared, not an opportunity to be engaged, future Americans who could enrich the country as immigrants always have and will.

 

Now Mr. Dobbs has pledged to "engage in constructive problem solving." Here is a problem to solve constructively: Illegal immigrants are, as Mr. Dobbs likes to say, decent, honest, hard-working people. They are exploited by greedy corporate interests. They are not about to deport themselves, and we aren't about to deport them all.

 

It's a problem to which Mr. Dobbs has never really offered an answer. Perhaps someday he will.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

ETHICS WATCHDOGS SNARL AT THE MESSENGER

 

The House ethics committee is openly — and foolishly — sniping at its newly appointed ally in the difficult task of policing members' behavior. A recent ethics committee report exonerated an accused congressman but blistered the new semiautonomous Office of Congressional Ethics, or O.C.E., for "fundamentally flawed" procedures in vetting the complaint for the committee.

 

The accusation appears groundless, but the lawmakers on the committee spent 30 pages displaying their resentment of the new office. This investment of resources would be far better focused on members' behavior rather than the agency created by Speaker Nancy Pelosi to help the ethics committee shed its well-deserved reputation for inertia and evasion.

 

At issue was the behavior of Representative Sam Graves of Missouri in asking a business associate of his wife to testify before the Small Business Committee. In clearing the congressman, the ethics committee attacked the O.C.E. for suggesting there may be "an appearance of a conflict of interest." There is no explicit rule barring an appearance of conflict, the committee thundered, accusing the O.C.E. of trying to invent one.

 

Wait a minute. The House does have an ethics standard mandating members behave "at all times in a manner which shall reflect creditably on the House." Its ethics manual includes cautions against "appearance of impropriety." The worrisome question now is whether the ethics panel has promulgated a loophole for flatly ignoring appearances of conflict of interest.

 

The dispute might be dismissed as a turf fight, except fears are growing that opponents of the new ethics office might try and neuter it in a change of House rules next January.

 

Nothing could be more foolhardy for lawmakers in desperate need of a cleaner ethics rating before the voters. Congressional scandal prompted creation of the O.C.E. Its positive effect in public accountability is already clear. The House needs it, however much some members sense a threat to the slothful prerogatives of the ethics committee.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

MEET JOHN THUNE

BY DAVID BROOKS

 

Some days the Republican Party seems to be going crazy. Its public image is often shaped by people who appear to have gone into government because they saw it as a steppingstone to talk radio.

 

But deep in the bowels of the G.O.P., there are serious people having quiet conversations. The people holding these conversations created and admired Bob McDonnell's perfectly executed Virginia gubernatorial campaign. And now as they look to the future of their party, and who might lead it in 2012, the name John Thune keeps popping up.

 

As you may or may not know, Thune is the junior senator from South Dakota, the man who beat Tom Daschle in an epic campaign five years ago. The first thing everybody knows about him is that he is tall (6 feet 4 inches), tanned (in a prairie, sun-chapped sort of way) and handsome (John McCain jokes that if he had Thune's face he'd be president right now). If you wanted a Republican with the same general body type and athletic grace as Barack Obama, you'd pick Thune.

 

The second thing people say about him is that he is unfailingly genial, modest and nice. He grew up in Murdo, S.D., population 612. His father was a Naval aviator in World War II and a genuine war hero. He was called back home after the war to work in the family hardware store and went on to become an educator, as did his wife.

 

John was a high school basketball star and possesses idyllic small-town manners, like the perfect boy in a Thornton Wilder play. He appears to be untouched by cynicism. In speeches and interviews, he is straightforward, intelligent and earnest. He sometimes seems to have emerged straight into the 21st century from a more wholesome time.

 

After high school, he attended Biola University, a small Christian college outside of Los Angeles. He then got an M.B.A. from the University of South Dakota and has spent his adult life ascending — as a Congressional staffer, South Dakota Republican Party chairman, the state railroad director, a member of the U.S. House, and now the Senate.

 

His positions on the issues are unremarkable. He is down-the-line conservative on social, economic and foreign policy matters. What's notable is the way he talks about the issues and jumps off from them.

 

He is a gracious and ecumenical legislator, not a combative one. When you ask him to mention authors he likes, he mentions C.S. Lewis and Jeff Shaara, not political polemicists. The first person who told me I had to write a column about Thune was a liberal Democratic senator who really likes the guy.

 

Thune also possesses the favored Republican profile du jour: conservative at the roots but pragmatic at the surface. Like McDonnell, nobody can question Thune's conservative bona fides. As a result, he doesn't have to talk about them. Instead, he prefers to talk about what he calls the "economic cluster" of issues: job creation, balanced budgets and small-business-led growth.

 

He doesn't have radical plans to cut the federal leviathan. He just wants to restrain the growth of government to bring deficits down. He doesn't have ambitions to restructure the tax code. He just wants to lift burdens on small business.

He says his prairie background has given him a preference for small companies and local government. When he criticizes the Democrats, it is for mixing big government with big business: the bailouts of Wall Street, the subsidies to the big auto and energy corporations. His populism is not angry. He doesn't rail against the malefactors of wealth. But it's there, a celebration of the small and local over the big and urban.

 

Republican pros are attracted to Thune because he could rally the hard-core conservatives without scaring away the suburbanites. His weakness is that he's never really worked outside of government, and he's almost never shown a maverick side.

 

At the moment, Republicans are riding an emotional wave. Karl Rove had a piece in Thursday's Wall Street Journal that captures the mood: Obama is being defined as a liberal. Independents are fleeing. The political tide is shifting.

 

That overstates things. Obama remains the most talented political figure of the age. After health care passes, he will pivot and pick some fights with his own party over spending. He'll solidify his standing with independents, and if the economy recovers, he could go into his re-election with as much momentum as Ronald Reagan enjoyed in 1984.

 

Republicans are still going to have to do root-and-branch renovation if they hope to provide compelling answers to issues like middle-class economic anxiety. But in the meantime, people like Thune offer Republicans a way to connect fiscal discipline with traditional small-town values, a way to tap into rising populism in a manner that is optimistic, uplifting and nice.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

FREE TO LOSE

BY PAUL KRUGMAN

 

Consider, for a moment, a tale of two countries. Both have suffered a severe recession and lost jobs as a result — but not on the same scale. In Country A, employment has fallen more than 5 percent, and the unemployment rate has more than doubled. In Country B, employment has fallen only half a percent, and unemployment is only slightly higher than it was before the crisis.

 

Don't you think Country A might have something to learn from Country B?

 

This story isn't hypothetical. Country A is the United States, where stocks are up, G.D.P. is rising, but the terrible employment situation just keeps getting worse. Country B is Germany, which took a hit to its G.D.P. when world trade collapsed, but has been remarkably successful at avoiding mass job losses. Germany's jobs miracle hasn't received much attention in this country — but it's real, it's striking, and it raises serious questions about whether the U.S. government is doing the right things to fight unemployment.

 

Here in America, the philosophy behind jobs policy can be summarized as "if you grow it, they will come." That is, we don't really have a jobs policy: we have a G.D.P. policy. The theory is that by stimulating overall spending we can make G.D.P. grow faster, and this will induce companies to stop firing and resume hiring.

 

The alternative would be policies that address the job issue more directly. We could, for example, have New-Deal-style employment programs. Perhaps such a thing is politically impossible now — Glenn Beck would describe anything like the Works Progress Administration as a plan to recruit pro-Obama brownshirts — but we should note, for the record, that at their peak, the W.P.A. and the Civilian Conservation Corps employed millions of Americans, at relatively low cost to the budget.

 

Alternatively, or in addition, we could have policies that support private-sector employment. Such policies could range from labor rules that discourage firing to financial incentives for companies that either add workers or reduce hours to avoid layoffs.

 

And that's what the Germans have done. Germany came into the Great Recession with strong employment protection legislation. This has been supplemented with a "short-time work scheme," which provides subsidies to employers who reduce workers' hours rather than laying them off. These measures didn't prevent a nasty recession, but Germany got through the recession with remarkably few job losses.

 

Should America be trying anything along these lines? In a recent interview, Lawrence Summers, the Obama administration's highest-ranking economist, was dismissive: "It may be desirable to have a given amount of work shared among more people. But that's not as desirable as expanding the total amount of work." True. But we are not, in fact, expanding the total amount of work — and Congress doesn't seem willing to spend enough on stimulus to change that unfortunate fact. So shouldn't we be considering other measures, if only as a stopgap?

 

Now, the usual objection to European-style employment policies is that they're bad for long-run growth — that protecting jobs and encouraging work-sharing makes companies in expanding sectors less likely to hire and reduces the incentives for workers to move to more productive occupations. And in normal times there's something to be said for American-style "free to lose" labor markets, in which employers can fire workers at will but also face few barriers to new hiring.

But these aren't normal times. Right now, workers who lose their jobs aren't moving to the jobs of the future; they're entering the ranks of the unemployed and staying there. Long-term unemployment is already at its highest levels since the 1930s, and it's still on the rise.

 

And long-term unemployment inflicts long-term damage. Workers who have been out of a job for too long often find it hard to get back into the labor market even when conditions improve. And there are hidden costs, too — not least for children, who suffer physically and emotionally when their parents spend months or years unemployed.

 

So it's time to try something different.

 

Just to be clear, I believe that a large enough conventional stimulus would do the trick. But since that doesn't seem to be in the cards, we need to talk about cheaper alternatives that address the job problem directly. Should we introduce an employment tax credit, like the one proposed by the Economic Policy Institute? Should we introduce the German-style job-sharing subsidy proposed by the Center for Economic Policy Research? Both are worthy of consideration.

 

The point is that we need to start doing something more than, and different from, what we're already doing. And the experience of other countries suggests that it's time for a policy that explicitly and directly targets job creation.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

EATING BY THE NUMBERS

BY JULIE S. DOWNS, GEORGE LOEWENSTEIN AND JESSICA WISDOM

 

BURIED in the nearly 2,000 pages of the health reform bill passed by the House on Saturday is a provision requiring chain restaurants to post calorie counts on their menus. Given the worsening problem of obesity in the United States, and the superiority of disease prevention over treatment, calorie posting seems like a great idea. However, research by us and others suggests that it is unlikely to have much, if any, impact on eating or obesity.

 

There have now been three studies of New York City's menu-labeling legislation, which took effect last year and serves as a model for the national legislation. One relatively small study conducted by researchers at New York University and Yale and published in the journal Health Affairs found no impact of labels on healthier eating, although the sample wasn't large enough to detect modest changes.

 

We conducted a somewhat different study, supported by the United States Department of Agriculture and published in American Economic Review earlier this year, that examined purchases by 1,479 McDonald's customers in New York City in 2007 and 2008, both before and after menu labeling went into effect.

 

Beyond simply measuring the impact of labeling, we gave some diners information about how many calories one is recommended to consume per day or per meal, anticipating that this information would help diners to make use of the posted calorie information. However, we found that this did not help diners use menu labels, and we saw no impact on calorie consumption.

 

Supporters of menu labeling, however, have been talking up a third study, conducted by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which included more than 20,000 customers at 13 restaurant chains. It studied eating habits in 2007, before the labeling law took effect, and again this year. The full data from 2009 have not been published, but news reports indicate that the researchers found significant reductions in consumption at just four of the chains. (The only specific reduction cited was 23 calories per patron at Starbucks, a pretty modest improvement.)

 

Unfortunately, the press got carried away. The Reuters article on the study carried the headline, "New York Study Says Menu Labeling Affects Behavior." The National Post of Canada added a photograph with the caption reading: "A study of chain restaurants in New York City, where it is mandatory to list calorie content on the menu, found that consumers were consuming on average 106 calories less per visit." But that's not what the study found.

 

Instead, customers in 2009 were asked if they had noticed the calorie information, and 56 percent said yes — an encouraging sign. However, only about a quarter of that 56 percent said they used the information to decide what to order. This group, which make up only about 15 percent of total customers, bought meals with 106 fewer calories on average than those who said they didn't notice or use the information.

 

As anyone who has taken a course in statistics knows, correlation does not necessarily imply causation. Just because those who claimed to have used the information consumed relatively fewer calories doesn't mean that the information was what caused them to do so.

 

Based on the scientific literature, we know that people who seek out and use calorie information are likely to be different from other eaters in many ways, including their motivation to cut calories. Sure, it's possible that some people who looked at the information were persuaded to consume fewer calories, but it is equally plausible that those who were intending to order lower-calorie meals were more likely to seek out the calorie information.

 

By helping consumers make more informed decisions, calorie posting may be desirable even if it fails to reduce calorie intake. But effective policies to deal with obesity will need to involve much more than posting calories. People eat too much because calorie-dense foods are convenient and cheap, with large portion sizes priced to encourage overeating.

 

Members of Congress — and the New York State Assembly, which is considering similar labeling legislation — would do well to consider a wide range of methods to tip people toward healthier food choices, including efforts to make healthy foods relatively cheaper or more convenient. To pin our hopes on calorie posting is bad lawmaking based on poor reading of science.

 

Julie S. Downs is an assistant research professor, George Loewenstein is a professor and Jessica Wisdom is a graduate student in Carnegie Mellon University's Department of Social and Decision Sciences.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

WHERE CREDIT ISN'T DUE

BY JOHN CARNEY

 

SENATOR CHRISTOPHER DODD of Connecticut is trying to help consumers. Unfortunately, his plan is likely to backfire.

 

Despite the recent promising signs on economic growth, unemployment is rising and consumer spending is contracting. The slight rise in home prices we saw over the summer is already sputtering. Credit card rates have been shooting up — even though the Federal Reserve has extended generous interest rates to banks.

 

Mr. Dodd, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, has proposed legislation that would immediately freeze credit card rates. "At a time when families are struggling to make ends meet, jacked-up rates can quickly create crushing debt," he said in a statement. He also wants to extend and expand the tax credit for first-time home buyers, which was due to expire on Dec. 1.

 

At first glance, both proposals look like pragmatic attempts to relieve the tough economic problems faced by ordinary Americans. Unfortunately, the unintended consequences of the proposals may wind up creating even worse problems.

 

Let's start with the credit card rate freeze. The rising rates charged by issuing banks that inspired Mr. Dodd's legislation are themselves the unintended consequence of an earlier attempt to assist the consumer. Back in May, Congress passed a law requiring banks to give customers a 45-day notification before raising rates. To give banks time to adjust to the new rules, Congress decided not to put that provision into effect until February.

 

So what happened next? Banks rushed to raise rates before the law takes effect. Many customers who may not have had their rates raised until 2010 — or perhaps not at all, if the economy continues to improve — found themselves paying higher rates even though they had not missed any payments. How could Mr. Dodd and his fellow lawmakers not realize that banks would pre-emptively raise rates?

 

Mr. Dodd's new proposal may also wind up dealing a serious blow to consumers — and the economy. If banks find themselves unable to raise rates, many will limit their risk by severely restricting consumer credit. Many people will find their credit cards canceled, and new customers will be turned away. This will come on top of an already tight consumer credit market: banks sent out 2.1 billion direct-mail credit card solicitations in the third quarter of 2006, according to the research firm Mintel; this year in the same quarter, they sent out 391 million. A further contraction in consumer credit could devastate our nascent recovery.

 

The tax credit for new home buyers, now worth up to $8,000 per sale, can be credited with giving a boost to the housing market. Investment in housing rose almost 24 percent last quarter. Mr. Dodd would extend the program into next year, perhaps raising the $8,000 cap or allowing it to apply to those not purchasing homes for the first time.

 

But this program, too, has had an unintended consequence: large-scale fraud. According to the Treasury's inspector general for tax administration, at least 19,000 people who claimed the credit didn't actually purchase a home. Here's how: because the credit is "fully refundable," it is available to even those who don't pay any taxes or have any income at all. Thus people are buying homes under the names of their children — including at least one 4-year-old — to qualify as first-time homebuyers.

 

The tax credit is also interacting with other government programs to enable some of the worst mortgage practices of the recent past, including the notorious "no money down" mortgage. The Federal Housing Administration requires a down payment of at least 3.5 percent on mortgages it guarantees. But because homebuyers can recoup up to $8,000 from the tax credit and apply it to the down payment, they can buy a home worth up to $228,000 without spending a dime.

 

We don't know for certain how many such buyers will default on their loans. But borrowers who invest very little in their homes default at much higher rates than other homeowners. And because these loans are backed by the Federal Housing Administration, taxpayers pay the cost of those defaults. This sequence of events is eerily familiar from the subprime era.

 

Mr. Dodd's new proposals are guided by good intentions. But he and other lawmakers need to look to the future and see where that particular road may lead.

 

John Carney is a managing editor at BusinessInsider.com.

 

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

A BITTER TASTE

 

A 'new' sugar crisis has hit – even before the 'old' one was fully resolved. The delay in sugar-crushing by mill-owners, who claim to be short of funds, is one reason for the disappearance of sugar from shops. Consumers in Punjab report having to queue for hours to buy a single kilogram of the commodity. There have been allegations that the shortage is being artificially created by millers angered by the Rs40 per kilo price-fixation by the Supreme Court. Talks between the government and the PSMA have led to most demands made by the association being accepted. The Punjab CM has pledged the crisis will soon be resolved. No one is very convinced. What citizens do know is that the difficulties they face in finding sugar are a result essentially of poor governance. It is true there may be many agents to blame for the mess we see, but ultimately those in power must accept responsibility. The fact that for months they have been unable to solve the problem does nothing to build faith in their abilities. Perceptions are after all more important in many ways than reality and the discussions over – unsweetened – cups of tea about the problem add to the conviction that leaders have simply been unable to manage matters. In a country where sugarcane is a major crop people are, after all, accustomed to the white crystals being sold at every kiosk. Hoarding and black marketing adds to the crisis and means what sugar is sold is often exorbitantly priced, well beyond the rate fixed by the government. Apart from domestic users, smaller commercial businesses that utilize sugar, including the producers of sweetmeats and sherbets, report big losses as well as severe inconveniences.


As we have seen with the power crisis, bigger manufacturers seem able to manage better. Factory-owners after all have the wealth and influence needed to navigate a path that leads to sugar. So do other consumers with cash to spare. As always, it is those lower down the economic ladder who suffer most. The situation we have now lived with for months exposes the inadequacies of our system. The courts have felt compelled to intervene, indeed even to make attempts to micromanage the sale of sugar, by laying down the prices at which it should be sold by millers and retailers. This has in itself triggered a debate about what the role of courts should be and whether they should attempt to regulate issues such as that involving sugar-pricing so closely. The Competition Commission of Pakistan, asked by the apex court to look into the matter, has said that sugar prices should not be fixed and market forces permitted to play a role. This chaos is primarily a consequence of a failure to keep things running smoothly. The Punjab government has faced problems too as has the centre.


Mala fide intent on the part of some within government, who may have played a role in forcing up sugar prices, has aggravated the crisis and the suffering it has imposed on citizens everywhere in the country. We need now answers to the question everyone is asking: What went wrong and why?

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

SECTARIAN TARGET?

A Pakistani official employed at the Iranian consulate in Peshawar has been killed. He becomes the latest victim of carefully planned terrorism, executed by gunmen who lay await for him outside his home. We have seen almost identical murders in recent weeks in Islamabad. Terrorism in the Pakistan of today comes in many forms: bombs and bullets are both a part of it. It must be assumed the director of public relations at the consulate was attacked on the basis of his sect. Almost precisely a year ago a senior Iranian diplomat had been kidnapped in the same city. Whereas the wrath of terrorists has also been directed against American nationals, Afghan officials and Pakistanis linked to the state apparatus, for reasons that we are familiar with, the pattern of sectarian violence is disturbing. It signals a continued descent into the orthodoxy advocated by the groups that have unleashed fear across the country. Their influence has already changed the essential nature of a country in which different sects had co-existed for decades.


The murder will also add to the tensions that have recently crept into relations with Iran. We see before our eyes a situation in which Islamabad is becoming more and more isolated in the region as a result of the doings of terrorists. We need of course to tackle these militants. But perhaps the time has also come to open up dialogue with other capitals and openly discuss the situation we face. Islamabad today requires all the help it can possibly muster up. It must therefore take care to ensure that friends are not turned into foes and that nations that have expressed goodwill are not alienated by those working against the interests of the nation and its people.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

SHOOTING IN CAPITAL

The Islamabad police chief has denied that a shooting which took place at a check post in the capital a few days ago was an extra-judicial murder and has emphasized that the man who died was indeed a terrorist wearing a suicide jacket. He has hailed the action of the police marksman who killed him and said the alertness of police guards had helped avert disaster. We certainly hope this version of events is strictly true. Suspicions had been voiced that jittery policemen may have gunned down an innocent man. There is indeed a danger that this can happen in any of our cities. Motorists and especially those on motorcycles report that they have had guns pointed suddenly at their heads at check posts or been interrogated by jumpy security men at the barricades that now stand along many major roads. The fact that so many policemen have been blown to bits at security posts of course explains the edginess of others – but there are inherent dangers in a situation where so many policemen and also private security guards armed with guns stand everywhere.


In Islamabad, we are told the policemen posted at pickets are highly trained marksmen and not novices. We hope this is the case elsewhere too. The need for extraordinary security measures indeed exists, but this should not result in unnecessary loss of lives. Top-notch training for all security personnel must now be made a priority as part of an attempt to avert this and the government must ensure this is provided to all those assigned to guard us from terrorists.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

GHOSTS THAT WON'T GO AWAY

ISLAMABAD DIARY

AYAZ AMIR


In the field of high, or surreptitious, finance our dear president has been much too successful for his own good. Fortune may have been kind to him and he may have clambered up the greasy pole to occupy the highest office in the land, but what price this glory when the echo of some of his more spectacular achievements just won't go away?

A dozen NROs will not wash the name of Cotecna, the Swiss firm said to have given huge kickbacks for a customs inspection contract during the golden days of Mohtarma's first premiership. The famous Queen's necklace which later figured high in the allegations brought against the ruling couple (it was truly that) was said to have been paid for out of the Cotecna kickbacks.


The cases in Swiss courts which arose out of that affair if taken to their logical conclusion could have spelt serious international trouble for those figuring in it (I am being coy with names because after Ms Bhutto's all too tragic assassination taking her name in connection with these sordid events is not easy). But Pervez Musharraf's domestic necessities arose to the defence of the Cotecna principals. The Swiss cases magically melted away but their dim memory remains, a reminder, if nothing else, of how what could have been a fairy tale -- Ms Bhutto's premiership -- became mired in controversy and scandal.


My telephone number in Islamabad in those distant days was 826611 while the number of the Prime Minister's house was 816611. And since telephone lines then were not what they are now -- Pakistan not having quite entered the digital or optic fibre age -- it was not uncommon for calls to slip from one line to the other. So it was that sometimes to my amusement, at other times to my great annoyance, I used to receive calls meant for the Prime Minister's house.


Once, cross my heart, I got a call from Geneva from a Mr Schlegelmilch (I hope I have got his name right) who wanted to be put through to Mr Zardari. I pretended to be someone associated with Mr Zardari and said that he could tell me whatever he had to say in the fullest confidence. But Mr Schlegelmilch was too smart to fall for this. It later transpired that he was the go-between in the Cotecna affair and received a handsome cut for his pains. (I am not making this up. I wrote about it at the time.)


Part of the mythology to which the political class subscribes in Pakistan is that no sooner is a political government in place than the military establishment and the intelligence agencies start conspiring against it. While true to a great extent, this alone does not account for the fingers pointing at civilian shenanigans. Cotecna and the Queen's necklace were not scandals invented by ISI or Military Intelligence. They were real happenings scripted and performed by those then in power. ISI or MI may have made the most of them. But that's something else. Chinks in your armour don't expect your enemies not to exploit. True, Mr Zardari then was neither president nor prime minister. But he was the first husband and as Nancy Reagan once said of her time as first lady, being close to someone -- her actual words were a bit different -- gives you unbeatable access. Mr Zardari did not have to hold any position to be a big player, or rather the biggest player, in the realm of high finance. In fact so great was the buzz in those days about his stupendous skill in financial matters that he earned the lasting sobriquet Mr Ten Percent. He can become the pope tomorrow and this tag won't leave him. Like ghosts, some other things too just don't go away.


So it is a bit disingenuous of Mr Farhatullah Babar, the ubiquitous presidential spokesman, to aver that Mr Zardari could have had nothing to do with the submarine affair -- the taking of kickbacks in a contract for the supply of three French Agosta submarines in 1994 -- because he was neither president nor prime minister, nor minister of defence. Adnan Khashogi was the biggest name in Saudi defence deals in the 1980s and 1990s, his kickbacks running into the billions. But he was no minister of defence or civil aviation. He was a high-flying entrepreneur who operated from the shadows, as such men must, making and cutting big-time deals.


Kashogi operated out of Lebanon. Mr Zardari did one better. For the hectic philanthropy which was his speciality, he operated out of the Prime Minister's house. We must hand it to the man for another reason: the boldness of his imagination knew no bounds. For recreation purposes he had horse stables set up in the grounds of the PM's house. No one had done anything of the kind before. There were so many other things Mr Zardari did which no one had done before. In more senses than one, therefore, he remains one of a kind.

The media will sorely miss him when he is no longer there to write about. In fact if the media had a heart -- about which most people will have the gravest doubts -- it would give Mr Zardari a medal for being the most write-able figure that there has been in our history. Musharraf was good copy too, but not as much as Mr Zardari. In the media's hall of fame he deserves an honoured place.


I wrote about the submarine affair too in 1994. The air was rife with rumours about the then naval chief, Admiral Mansur-ul-Haq, and a go-between, Amer Lodhi, being involved in the kickbacks accruing from that contract. Nothing was ever proved but then that's one of the greatest things about our Islamic Republic: nothing ever gets proved and so, happily, no one is ever punished. In this sense, in one form or the other, Pakistan has been living on NROs since its birth. The only difference is that while there have been previous whitewashes none has had as beguiling and innocent a name as the National Reconciliation Ordinance. The artist who thought of the name deserves an award. I may add that because of the submarine column I wrote, I and the paper in which it was published received a five crore defamation/libel notice from Mr Zardari's lawyer. Thankfully it wasn't pursued beyond that first move. But returning to Mr Zardari, despite his image problem, he -- counting everything, especially his ascent to the presidency -- has been a lucky man. But as his troubles mount his luck seems to be deserting thin. The general perception of him now is of an increasingly beleaguered figure holed up in the Presidency, his only communication with the outside world through his spokesman, Farhatullah Babar, whose word, alas, engenders disbelief with every passing day. The submarine affair -- resurfacing in the French left-wing newspaper Liberation -- couldn't have come at a more difficult time, because it refreshes public memories of the president's awkward past, when his main claim to fame was being Mr Ten Percent.


The allegation that the terrorist attack on the Karachi Sheraton in 2002 which led to the deaths of 11 French nationals was in retaliation to the non-payment of full kickbacks for the submarine contract I personally find farfetched if not wildly imaginative. Such an attack would have required the resources and the expertise of a full-fledged terrorist syndicate. To attribute it to Mr Zardari, as Liberation seems to do, is to stretch the limits of credulity and give him a more evil look than he deserves. But the kickbacks are a different matter. Allegations about them were widely believed when the contract was being finalised.


But we are in a terrible bind. Here we have all these tales of corruption and it is no cause for comfort when every footprint should be leading -- how is one to put this? -- where it should not lead. But many of us are also prey to the fear that if there are forces out to get the president and somehow they succeed, we will end up with not a purified democracy but, most likely, no democracy at all.

Talk of being between the devil and the deep sea: either Zardari or perdition. The fairies could have dealt us a better hand. But this is the one we have and the one we will have to live with for the time being.
Email: winlust@yahoo.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

BUILDING HOPE ON STRAWS

DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL


"No one won or lost," Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani is reported to have said in connection with the most recent Zardari turn-around on the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). If this is more than his contribution to the pacification of certain hurt egos, then one can ignore it, but if the prime minister really believes in what he has said, then there is something seriously wrong with his assessment, for the fact of the matter is that this episode has brought a silver-lining to the otherwise bleak national scene -- a silver lining one wants to hold on to and build, even if this means building on drowning man's straws.


The facts of the case are rather hopeful reminders of the events of March 2009 which had led to the restoration of the higher judiciary. If a concerted effort by the media and makers of public opinion can force the otherwise placid and friendly opposition to play a more active and moral role in and outside the elected houses -- and if the same can force the rulers to back out, turn around, and reassess the limits of their power -- then there is hope.

One wants to build on this hope, for there are no other options available in a country where the political process has never been respected and where politicians have always brought the country to the wasteland of Martial Laws. This, in turn, has destroyed the very process of building emergence of a polity where certain basic moral principles are respected. One wants to pay tribute to a handful of watchful eyes and articulate tongues who have taken a public stand on issues of enduring importance, especially those men and women from among the community of lawyers who staged one of the most important movements in Pakistan's history against a man who thought of himself as an indispensible element of the American-led offensive strategy. The hope that has recently arisen in the land of the pure is no small matter and one cannot belittle it by saying "no one lost or won through the retracing of strategic steps on NRO", for that is equivalent to saying there is nothing wrong with an immoral ordinance that provided blanket coverage to so many tainted faces.


One needs to defend this ray of hope, for despite the continuous and mysterious acts of violence across the land, there are people whose political consciousness seems to have emerged out of long years of suffering and who now have the courage to stand against corruption and dictatorial tendencies. They are willing to sacrifice for the rule of law. This is no small accomplishment for a polity that never had a vanguard of this kind.


What still remains to emerge in this new scenario of hope is a process where this hope is entrenched in supra-individual mechanisms which will ensure continuation of the process if the present voices disappear. This is a longer-term process of transference, but it does require cutting-edge thinking on the part of those who have brought this hope to the nation: what would happen to this new voice if certain individuals are no longer present on the national scene?


One of the most important aspects of this new hope is the role of the media in building public opinion and influencing decisions. Through a maddeningly fast process of bursting development, Pakistan's media has suddenly assumed a role in national affairs which it never had. This process is still in its nascent stage and there are many trends which are not admirable or even antithetical to the very process itself, but there is a new force, a new voice that cannot be silenced again. Because this voice has emerged at lightening speed, it has no backbone: there is no or very little by way of an institutional structure from which professionally trained journalists and anchorpersons can continue to emerge. There is too much sensationalism, and too little anchoring of the new voice in the academic world, which can provide a certain degree of training and a counter-balance to sensationalism by developing analytical minds. All of these shortcomings are there, but one wants to hold on to what is positive in this development and build on that.


The hope one wants to nurture is that these new developments (both in the media and the voices of conscience which have emerged) will somehow force the existing political structures to evolve out their wadera-industrialist-charismatic leader paradigm and that this new energy will be channeled to jumpstart a genuine process for reform in the political set-up. This will ensure the continuous emergence of a new generation of Pakistani leaders -- men and women who are deeply rooted in this soil, and who have transcended the level of short-sighted personal goals, and above all, who can be identified with the highest levels of personal integrity.


This is the key to Pakistan's survival: the emergence of dedicated leaders who possess the highest state of honesty and personal integrity -- men and women who cannot be bought and sold and who understand the highly complex and existential dilemmas of our existence as a state which possesses nuclear weapons but cannot solve the sugar crisis. It is this hope that one wants to hold on to in this dark and gloomy national scenario of severed body parts and blood-stained walkways, of helicopter gunships desecrating villages and suicide bombers walking into educational institutions to blow themselves among innocent students.


May be there is just enough hope to spread to those who have lost their loved ones in this season of blood and killing; may be, just may be, this time around, the drowning man can really come out of stormy waters by holding the straws.


The writer is a freelance columnist. Email: quantumnotes@gmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

SAY A LITTLE A PRAYER FOR LAHORE

AHMAD RAFAY ALAM


The only thing as incredulous as the recent announcement by the Government of Punjab -- it intention to construct a highway through the heart of Lahore -- was the recent statement of the CEO of Fashion Pakistan Week that their glorified display of clothes was a "gesture of defiance towards the Taliban."


Our fashion industry is as much of an industry as the Holy Roman empire was holy, Roman or an empire. Our designers are talented without doubt; but to suggest that parading scantily clad men and women down a runway behind the bunkers and barricades of a five-star hotel in Karachi is an act of defiance is, well, really stretching the limits to which the "security situation" can make a fool out of us. The foreign media took to the sound bite like a starving man to a steak and now, once again, Pakistan is portrayed as two-dimensional: a country teeming with brave designers, fighting Islamic militancy. My friend and critic Faiza S.


Khan said it perfectly in her column at openthemagazine.com:


"One designer lamentably laid claim to being 'a very brave woman' for displaying her clothes on a catwalk at a five-star hotel in a country where women have been known to be murdered, maimed, mutilated and on occasion buried alive, where girls' schools are routinely attacked and where, even at the best of times, women's rights, outside of a tiny income bracket, are limited at best. Another designer called it an act of defiance in the face of the Taliban, glossing over the fact that fashion shows do, in fact, take place with some regularity in Pakistan, and if one must intellectualise this, then it could more honestly be described as a display of affluence in the face of a nation torn apart by the gaping chasm between rich and poor. Why the foreign media can't ask Pakistani designers questions about their work and why they, in turn, yield to the temptation, like Miss Universe, of providing a sound bite on world peace is beyond me."


Over the weekend, the Chief Minister of Punjab announced that he was allocating Rs3.15 billion for a project to widen Lahore's Canal Road.


The decision can only be described, at best, as a reckless adventure and, at worst, a catastrophe waiting to happen.

In 2006, the Traffic Engineering and Planning Agency (TEPA) of Lahore Development Agency (LDA) proposed to widen the Canal Bank Road, purportedly to reduce traffic congestion in the city. Because the project was over Rs50 million, the provisions of the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act,


1997 kicked in and TEPA was constrained to engage the National Engineering Services Pakistan (NESPAK) to carry out an environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the project. This was done and the EIA was presented to the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), Punjab, in a public hearing where hundreds of Lahoris gathered to protest against the decision to deprive the city of one of its last surviving environmental heritages: the 14 kilometres of green belt that line the canal and make the street one of the most unique avenues in the world.

The EPA, Punjab approved the EIA but before the project could go any further, the Lahore Bachao Tehreek (an umbrella organisation of dozens of grass-root NGOs as well as WWF-Pakistan) challenged the veracity of the EIA as well as the approval granted to it by the EPA, Punjab. The case remains pending before the Lahore High Court.

The announcement by the mhief minister, giving the go-ahead for the project "after completion of design", raises some important points.


First, it is clear that the project approved by the CM is not the project that the TEPA had originally proposed in 2006. For one thing, the cost of this new project is nearly five times the cost of the original design. Also, according to news reports, the new project is set to incorporate new features along the Canal Road (like "beautifications" which, I must hastily point out, in the context of roads means nothing).


What this means is that the Government of Punjab cannot use the EIA approval granted to the original TEPA project. According to our laws which, the last time I checked still apply to everyone including the government, road projects in excess of Rs50 million must have an EIA carried out and should be approved by the EPA.


But the observance of legal and procedural formalities is not the primary concern that most Lahoris have about the road widening project. It's an open secret that the Government of Punjab is operating on overdraft.


In such a situation, it would seem bizarre that the provincial government would choose to spend Rs3.15 billion -- nearly 10 per cent of the allocations it made last year to the three heads of health, public health and education -- on one road in one city of the province.


Less than 20 per cent of Lahoris have access to cars. For the vast majority of the over eight million people who try and live and work in this city, transport and mobility are dependent on motorcycles, cycles and what is euphemistically referred to as "public transport" (there are less than 1,000 buses that ply the city's streets). Ever since the previous tenure of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, when the Punjab Road Transport Corporation was shut down, neither this nor the PML-Q government of Chaudhary Pervaiz Elahi have spent a rupee on public transport, which, by the way, is the only way to reduce traffic congestion in a city. Now we are told that a seriously broke government is about to spend billions of rupees it doesn't have on a road it doesn't need for people who don't want or use it. Remarkable indeed.


In a presentation made by NESPAK on August 31 this year, the various options of widening the Canal Road were presented to the CM. According to NESPAK, all the road widening projects would "fail" by 2020 -- meaning thereby that if the government didn't do something to invest in public transport, and soon, the billion-rupee road widening adventure is, at best, a 10-year frolic. Is the Government of Punjab serious? Does the chief minister not know that, according to the Punjab Economic Survey of 2005 carried out by the Planning and Development Department (P&D), over 50 per cent of Punjabis live in slums? Who is this road being widened for?

All too often our politicians harbor the mistaken belief that infrastructure development is the only thing that will make our cities "modern"; that infrastructure is the only thing that will attract the foreign investment necessary to bring economic prosperity to a developing nation. But where are the examples of the success of this model? Our own urban Guru, Arif Hasan, in his brilliant essay "The world class city concept and its repercussion on urban planning in the Asia-Pacific region" demonstrates that our preoccupation with a modern city is also the root of our urban decay. But who in the government reads? Thus, one can only pray for Lahore.


The writer is an advocate of the high court and