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Monday, November 16, 2009

EDITORIAL 16.11.09

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month november 16, edition 000351, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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



























the statesman










































Like a seasonal disorder, familiar voices in New Delhi are back in circulation demanding India somehow rescue, save or otherwise salvage Pakistan. There is a line of thinking in the UPA Government that it is in India's interest to shore up the crippled and nominally civilian administration in Islamabad, and make it look stronger and more credible than it is, by making unilateral concessions. There is no point, the argument goes, in appearing smug about Pakistan's current predicament or the creeping ascendancy of the jihadi groups. At a theoretical level, all this sounds plausible. However, it fails the test of reality. The fact is India cannot rescue — or for that matter destroy — Pakistan even if wants to. It has no compelling proxies, covert capacities or assets within that country and its military and political establishments to accomplish either mission. All these years, this has been a handicap and has prevented India from 'imposing costs' — to use jargon — on Pakistan for its support of militancy and terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir and beyond. What this has also meant is that India is unable to help Pakistan as it fights the Tehrik-e-Taliban and its associate groups that target state power in Islamabad as an immediate political goal. In this situation, a settlement on the status of Jammu & Kashmir, a possible trade agreement, serious negotiations on a gas pipeline that passes through both countries, a more liberal visa regime, and so on are fantasy endeavours. There is no guarantee that if the Pakistani Government were to sign any potential treaty or document today it would be able to enforce it even within the territory of the Pakistani capital, let alone outlying provinces. Pakistan is in the midst of an existential crisis. Until it sorts itself out, it is almost laughable to enter into meaningful discussion on any subject that has long-term implications. There is still no unanimity in Pakistan's political class and among its retinue of Generals and intelligence brass as to whether the so-called Punjabi Taliban is an internal enemy or a patriotic auxiliary of the Pakistani state. Hugs and kisses from India will not help resolve that conundrum.

Crude as it may sound, the current mess in Pakistan suits India just fine. The Hamid Karzai Government and the Rawalpindi military brass are at loggerheads and very likely sponsoring violence in each other's countries. Taliban recruitment in Punjab, the province that is Pakistan's sheet-anchor, is growing rapidly. Balochistan is at the cusp of becoming 'Great Game country': Afghanistan, Iran and the Americans have an interest in the insurgency there; more important, the vast and arid region is likely to become the last redoubt of the Tehrik-e-Taliban should it lose ground in Waziristan. Pakistan is setting itself up for a 10-year civil war, hopefully longer. This will inevitably give New Delhi a breather, as it will divide radical regiments the Pakistani Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence would otherwise have mobilised in the direction of India.

Pakistan's ICU status is not of India's making. However, India can draw quiet advantage from it, focus on internal security and anti-terrorism surveillance while, of course, building its economy. On Pakistan it can and should do nothing — except use its diplomatic leverage to urge global stakeholders to design a contingency plan for Islamabad's nuclear weapons. Finally, if sections of our liberal intelligentsia so desire, the UPA Government could also consider declaring February 30 'Pakistan Solidarity Day'.






Ever since Sheikh Hasina Wajed returned to power in Bangladesh in a landslide victory last December, relations between New Delhi and Dhaka have been on the ascendant. This was not unexpected. Sheikh Hasina, like her father Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rahman, has always considered India a treasured friend. Hence, her scheduled visit to New Delhi next month is being seen as a significant event which will further strengthen India-Bangladesh relations. In the run-up to the visit, the Foreign Secretaries of India and Bangladesh met in Dhaka over the weekend to discuss issues of mutual interest, including those related to security. Sheikh Hasina has demonstrated her commitment to fight terrorism by cracking down on Islamist organisations which had flourished during the previous BNP-Jamaat-e-Islami regime; over the last few months, Bangladesh has gone the extra mile to crack down on anti-India forces operating from its soil. Last week Bangladeshi authorities arrested three suspected Lashkar-e-Tayyeba operatives. Reportedly, the three were planning to strike Indian and American targets within Bangladesh. The week before, three other LeT operatives were arrested in a raid on a madarsa in the port city of Chittagong. Bangladeshi security agencies have also been coming down hard on ULFA cadre who had set up base in that country. Two top ULFA leaders, Sashadhar Choudhury and Chitraban Hazarika, were arrested and handed over to India recently.

India and Bangladesh are natural allies. The two countries share a common cultural ethos that can be harnessed to pave the way for significant mutual advancements. There are lots of areas in the India-Bangladesh relationship matrix that can be worked upon. For example, even though the two countries are now co-operating on the security front, there is no extradition treaty. Needless to say this has served the interest of anti-India elements in Bangladesh as well as Indian insurgents from our North-East who have taken shelter in that country in the past, especially during the years when the BNP-Jamaat alliance was in power. With New Delhi and Dhaka on the same wavelength, it should not be difficult to sign an extradition treaty. Both countries also need to tackle the issue of illegal migration from Bangladesh. Till now, Dhaka has been reluctant to accept the reality of migration from Bangladesh to India. This is in neither country's interest. Hopefully, Sheikh Hasina will not shy away from acknowledging that there is a problem which needs to be solved. Little or no purpose is served by denying there is a problem or being diffident about tackling it.


            THE PIONEER




India is under siege from both within and without. Maoists are having their way in 40 per cent of the country while, on the other hand, Pakistani terrorists are also keeping the country on its toes. In his latest rebuke, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram has warned Pakistan "not to play with India by covertly sponsoring terrorists… The Mumbai attacks should be Pakistan's last game". This is for the first time in the history of the fight against terrorism in India that the Union Home Minister has said that the terrorists will not only be defeated but also face retaliation.


A few days earlier Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had extended his hand of friendship to Pakistan but asked Islamabad to stop backing the terrorists. Intelligence inputs pouring in, even from unimpeachable and foreign sources, indicate that terrorists operating from Pakistani soil are very much intact.

The FBI, America's federal investigation agency, after interrogating two suspected terrorists in the US by the name of David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana has informed India that the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba is plotting a major attack on India. This information is reportedly based on Headley and Rana's confession made during interrogation. Apparently, the National Defence College in Delhi and two public schools in north India — Doon School in Dehradun and Woodstock in Mussoorie — were on the duo's hit-list. The NDC trains about 100 officers every year of which about 60 are from the Indian armed forces. Foreign military officers number about 25 while IAS, IPS and allied services officers number about 15.

Schoolmates Headley and Rana — both of whom are of Pakistani origin — were arrested by the FBI in Chicago last month on charges of planning major terrorist attacks in India and Denmark. No matter what our politicians say, such attacks require a lot of logistical support from local sympathisers. Hence, there is no reason to doubt that Headley and Rana had local contacts here in India.

26/11 as well as earlier terrorist attacks have exposed chinks in our intelligence set-up. Not only did we lack of actionable intelligence about these attacks but we were also totally unprepared. Terrorists are constantly changing their training and strategies. Governments and security forces, on the other hand, have traditionally responded very slowly. Even if changes are made, they are not in proportion to the threat levels.

Another problem is that even when our security agencies are capable of reacting, they don't act for the fear of being accused of being merciless and cruel. Even the normal precautions which are required to be taken are often ignored. But terror groups keep on improvising new tactics and crafting new plans to surprise India. Thus, there can never be too much of security.

It is shocking that our intelligence agencies have painted a possible scenario wherein terrorists could strike at our defence and nuclear installations, but no assessment or critical examination of the state of our preparedness has been done by the Government in this regard. The only silver lining is that the Union Home Minister has been seen to be taking a tough stand. But in spite of his best efforts, the changes needed to tackle any grim scenario have not been implemented like they should have.

Instead of having the terrorists surprise us all the time, our security agencies need to improvise and continuously modify their field strategies. This is the only way to neutralise the jihadis. There has to be a massive change in our security technologies and tradecraft before we can take the terrorists by surprise.

There is no such thing as a time-tested method for dealing with terrorism or for collecting intelligence. It is up to the Government of the day to give a free hand to its security agencies to invent new methodologies. Innovation is the key to remaining ahead of the terrorists. At present, due to a variety of reasons, our security agencies are on the defensive. This approach needs to be changed. We are the ones who should be on the offensive and going all out against the jihadis whose sole mission is to destroy the country.

The highest political leadership has offered to hold talks with the various separatist groups in the country. Force need not be used when talks can sort things out. This is a good policy. But the problem lies in the fact that there are no takers for this offer of dialogue. The separatists have not even responded as they feel that the Government is too weak to deal with them and, therefore, is asking for talks on bended knees. Our security agencies need to put themselves in the shoes of the terrorists and think like them in order to prepare themselves for any situation.

I received the following e-mail which supposedly comprises a quote by former Australian Prime Minister John Howard. The subject is 'Immigrants, not Australians, must adapt'.

"I am tired of this nation worrying about whether we are offending some individuals or their culture. Since the terrorist attacks on Bali, we have experienced a surge in patriotism among the majority of Australians. This culture has been developed over two centuries of struggles, trials and victories by millions of men and women who have sought freedom. We speak mainly English, not Spanish, Lebanese, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, or any other language. Therefore, if you wish to become part of our society learn the language! Most Australians believe in god. This is not some Christian, Right-wing, political push, but a fact, because Christian men and women, on Christian principles, founded this nation, and this is clearly documented. It is certainly appropriate to display it on the walls of our schools. If god offends you, then I suggest you consider another part of the world as your new home, because god is part of our culture."


We could learn a thing or two from this Australian viewpoint.







Despite the enforcement of the Anti-Defection Law, there has been no let-up in the cases of defection in our polity. The menace of defection was conceived in the then newly carved-out State of Haryana in 1967 whose image was maligned due to coining of the phrase "Aaya Ram-Gaya Ram" after a certain MLA changed loyalties many times in a single day. This happened not due to any ideological differences but horse-trading.

This continued for years together, resulting in the downfall of a number of State Governments and the emergence of Chief Ministers who have had tenures of a week, days and even single days. Thank god there has been no record of any Chief Minister holding charge for few hours. It was an era of instability, uncertainty and chaos. There was even an instance when the Supreme Court intervened to order a trial of strength which paved the way for the exit of a day-old Chief Minister. There used to be numerous undesirable theatrics by certain so-called democratic elements on the eve of trial of strength in State Assemblies. Defections became a daily menace, fracturing our democratic institutions and moral values.

We still remember 'Bharat Yatras' being organised by dissident leaders to prevent their flock of MLAs from being lured away by money power. We have not forgotten when Chief Ministers along with all their ministerial colleagues and MLAs turned coats overnight to take side with the ruling alliances at the Centre. This has happened in Sikkim, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh. Even Governments at the Centre have become victims of defection twice. Defections are still in the news. The motives are similar, although these are no more a reason for instability.

Anyhow, a few political parties are scared that unabated defections may make them extinct. It is a coincidence that a political party in Malyasia is also afraid of defections by their elected representatives due to lucrative offers by the ruling party. The Opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party has told its elected representatives that they will have to divorce their life partners in case they defect. This has provided it with an adhesive that is keeping its flock intact.

But we are afraid if this sort of condition is enforced in our country many elected representative would happily switch political loyalties as that would help them get rid of their spouses! Which only shows the rot that has set in.







As the Lashkar Chicago conspiracy unravels further, many details of David Headley's travel and stay in India are beginning to raise troubling questions on how he may have aided and abetted not just the deadly 26/11 Mumbai attacks but the series of mass terror attacks in multiple cities over the last three years.

In this multi-part series we attempt to connect the dots to take a hard look at how India may have missed many smoke signals on the wave of mass terror unleashed by Islamist jihadis between 2005 and 2009.

It was a strange coincidence that on November 26, 2008 the Indian Express took note of a report that had earlier appeared in a Pakistani newspaper on November 24 on how Kashmir jihadis had shifted base to Waziristan. A prominent name that appeared in either story was Ilyas Kashmiri alleged to be the leader of the terror outfit Harkat-ul-Mujahideen who had since moved to operate in Waziristan. It is a reflection on how dated and anachronistic the popular narrative is on the shifting loyalties within the jihadi landscape that the Indian media continued to refer to Ilyas Kashmiri's affiliations with a defunct HuJI operating as a stand-alone terror outfit.

In the weeks following the November 26, 2008 attacks in a piece that appeared in the Asian Times, its Pakistan bureau chief Syed Saleem Shahzad made three important revelations, two of which are of consequence to this series.

Shahzad revealed that the 26/11 plot was originally conceived as a low key operation by the ISI targeting Kashmir, but was hijacked by Al Qaeda to unleash terror on Mumbai. While the Lashkar angle has been the obsessive focus of the Indian establishment, Al Qaeda command and control of the attack was practically ignored in the immediate aftermath of 26/11. A significant revelation by Shahzad that was also ignored was that Al Qaeda had been using India as a safe route from the Arabian Sea into Gujarat and then on to Mumbai and then either by air or overland to the United Arab Emirates.

That was back in December 2, 2008, but it's only now 11 months later that we are seeing the tip of the iceberg of how India may have been used as a safe route with details trickling in of how a visa agency operated by David Headley in Mumbai may have ferreted out the many Indian Mujahideen activists absconding from law, including the top guns Abdul Subhan Qureshi alias Tauqeer and Riaz Bhatkal. The most damning pointer to such a David Headley-facilitated safe passage to the Indian Mujahideen fugitives comes from a cell phone that was retrieved by the Uttar Pradesh ATS after the Batla House encounter with call records to the cellular phone used by David Headley.

In the same article Shahzad also alludes to how the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and HuJI fell out of favor with the ISI to shift their loyalties to Al Qaeda with Ilyas Kashmiri moving to Waziristan. Many months later, on October 15 this year, Ilyas Kashmiri came back from the dead to grant an interview once again to Shahzad in which we learn of the role played by his '313 Brigade' in the Mumbai 26/11 attacks and subsequently in many fidayeen attacks in Pakistan.

In a reflection on how yet another smoke signal was ignored we are now told that the Indian security agencies had indeed stumbled on references to the '313 Brigade' during the phone intercepts of conversations between the 26/11 terrorists and their Pakistan-based handlers. It was reported back in February 2009 that the Indian authorities were confused on whether '313 Brigade' referred to a brigade within the Pakistani military establishment.

While not much is known of the composition of '313 Brigade' in the public domain, we must trace back to a botched Ilyas Kashmiri plot from 2008 to assassinate Pakistan's Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani for a glimpse into the anti-establishment fervour that drives the organisation. That plot was botched after Al Qaeda elders prevailed on Ilyas Kashmiri against destabilising the Pakistani establishment.

Recent events in Pakistan, including the GHQ attack in Rawalpindi, which have been traced back to Ilyas Kashmiri once again expose the tension marked by this anti-establishment faultline, the roots of which trace back to the philosophy of a 13th century Muslim scholar Ibn Taymiyyah that gave rise to foot soldiers also called Takfiris.

It was back in September 2007 before the wave of Indian Mujahideen attacks started in India in Uttar Pradesh, that Al Qaeda's Takfiri faultline was revealed with news that Ilyas Kashmiri had assumed the leadership of the Pakistani jihadi groups operating in Waziristan. While Kashmiri remained off the radar for Indian security agencies, little did we realise that Al Qaeda's Takfiri impulses would unleash a wave of attacks of mass terror across multiple Indian cities.

To Be Continued-- The writer tracks terrorism in South Asia








In the scramble to patch together fragments that approximately make up a majority of voters in any constituency, there are no pariahs any more. Politics is all about welding together disparate groups even those with conflicting aims and pulling off a win.

This could be described as post-modern politics or this could be a quick and easy way of cobbling together whatever is necessary to win. If the Trinamool Congress and its leader can defend the inclusion of erstwhile 'Naxalites' and call it mainstreaming to serve her purpose of setting up a counter to the Marxist's pro-poor Left politics then the Marxists are no less culpable of co-opting groups that contradict their original politics.

Startling as Ms Mamata Banerjee's defence of her proximity to Maoists may seem, the fact is that she is entirely successful in selling the idea to the voters. Her belated confession, after her triumph in the by-elections, is a measure of how confident she is of voter support and the capacity of the voter to make no judgements.

The method adopted by the Trinamool Congress was a method developed by the Communist Party of India(Marxist) when it chose to befriend capital and turned insensitive to the anxieties of the peasantry. When Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee declared that he was all for capital and capitalists because wooing investors was critical for the economic transformation of West Bengal in the run up to the 2006 elections, he was hailed as the best Chief Minister in the country. The reason for being adjudged the best was his enthusiastic embrace of liberalisation, globalisation and economic reforms.

By working out a partnership between capital, the middle class and every variety of entrepreneur, including the shady promoters and contractors who mushroomed along with the changes that economic reforms wrought, the CPI(M) laid itself open to charges of protecting the muscle power-money power nexus. This became evident in the Vedic Village carnage. It is irrelevant that in the Vedic Village incident, there were goons and brokers who were linked to the Trinamool Congress. Voters were prepared to overlook the connection because according to the prevailing sentiment, the responsibility of creating this class of goons was the CPI(M)'s fault.

The truth is that the CPI(M) did indeed create a layer of people who were neither proletariat nor bourgeoisie. They are people with no particular political loyalty who run rackets that serve those who can afford their services. The pity is that the Trinamool Congress is doing the same thing for exactly the same reasons. The difference is that whereas the Trinamool Congress has no particular political lineage, the CPI(M) does.

In fact the Trinamool Congress is politically unique, in that it emerged out of the Congress, but does not share the lineage of the Congress. Its style and responses in politics are ad hoc and calibrated to serve immediate purposes. Since it birth, its purpose was and remains the same: Oust the CPI(M) from the Government in West Bengal. Unlike most regional parties, the Trinamool Congress has no specific constituency that it represents, because politics in West Bengal has not created those special groups of voters such as dalits or OBCs. Its appeal, therefore, is to those who have grown disenchanted with the CPI(M), those who traditionally voted against the CPI(M) and those who now see in the Trinamool Congress an opportunity to move rapidly from the periphery to centrestage, having been excluded from sharing power by the two older established parties in West Bengal, namely the Congress and the CPI(M).

The flexibility that the CPI(M) adopted to create a support base for the policies it adopted in the late-1990s and definitively from 2001 when Mr Bhattacharjee became Chief Minister has now acquired a fluidity that is new. This newness is what is attractive, because it is a huge change from the old, established order. Whether the squeamish think this subvert's regular democratic politics, because it is prepared to co-opt and sanitise elements that reject the institutions of the established power order is irrelevant.

The odd thing about all this new distribution of support and the methods for obtaining it is that it compels the Congress and the CPI(M) to toe a bizarre line. On the one hand the Congress and the CPI(M), for political as much as reasons of governance, are committed to crushing the Maoists. On the other the Congress and the CPI(M) are obviously helpless bystanders, open to moral attacks from Ms Banerjee, who has espoused the ultra Left for reasons of her own.

The reluctance of two out of the three political parties to deal with the mess in West Bengal, to accept responsibility for crafting a plan to subdue the Maoist threat, is obvious. Neither the CPI(M) nor the Congress is willing to face the situation for fear of damaging their image politically as the use of maximum force would provoke civil rights activists to react stridently. The Trinamool Congress is in a separate league because it is the party in waiting; even though Ms Banerjee has been a Minister for years in successive Governments at the Centre, she has never headed a Government.

As the party in waiting the Trinamool Congress is not burdened by a past and it therefore cannot be held responsible for failures of governance. The party can therefore acquire associates who challenge the performance of parties in power. Hence the association with the ex-Naxalites becomes a cachet rather than an embarrassment.







What happened in the Maharashtra Assembly on November 9 is a reminder of how the Governments since independence have been sweeping national problems under the carpet. On the subject of a national language, Kakasaheb Kalelkar had a visionary answer. He had studied the entire issue and had anticipated that the regional languages would lead to linguistic States. In turn some of these States could become chauvinistic about their languages. Tamil Nadu, led by CN Annadurai, was the first to revolt against Hindi. Maharastra under the Shiv Sena agitated against people who spoke other languages. Now the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena under Mr Raj Thackeray is protesting against Biharis. Assam has had its ups and downs of chauvinism.

Kalelkar was not optimistic about Hindi being accepted across all States as a national language. In his view it did not have rich enough literature. Its script did not lend itself to speedy writing nor did it have the variety of shapes for different letters. For example, the Kh, or the second letter, was merely a combination of R and V. Above all, Hindi was the mother tongue of the majority of the people. Therefore, the rest of the people would resent that because they would have to learn a third language over and above their mother tongue plus English. And then compete in Hindi against candidates who grew up on Hindi; not a level playing field.

Kakasaheb's prescription for multi-lingual India was first and foremost the selection of a common script. The question of choosing a national language could await a gradual consensus. Most of our languages owed their origin to Sanskrit. Tamil perhaps had a great deal of its own pristine beginning; nevertheless it had a strong Sanskrit streak as well. Tamil would also need a few extra letters like its special R currently spelt in English as Zh. All the verbs in Urdu were Khadi boli or Hindi as were many other words. It would not be out of the bounds of a common Indian script, especially if some extra letters were added. For example, the Persian Kh, Gh, Z (pronounced as in pleasure) and Arabic Z's of (Zulam and Ramzan). Marathi and Gujarati second L could also need to be accommodated.

Languages can be many but is there need for a script per language? Europe has essentially two scripts; the Roman and the Cyrillic, Russian is a variation. Incidentally, Croatian and Serbian are a single language although written in separate scripts, Roman and Cyrillic respectively. In 1928, over a three month period, Kemal Ataturk abolished the use of the Arabic script for Turkish and replaced it with the Roman alphabet. New editions of all essential literatures, including the holy books, were brought out in Turkish but in the new script. The reform has stood the test of time. This indicates that language and script are not intrinsically connected. After all Urdu or Hindustani was written in the Roman script for the Armed Forces in British days. Java, Sumatra and all the other islands have systematically developed Basha Indonesia written in the Roman script. Our own Khasis use the Roman; Nagamese has also adopted the Roman script. Many a dialect spoken by tribes across the globe has adopted the Roman alphabet and benefited. Africa's biggest country Nigeria uses the English language only!

Imagine the loss to nearly all reading non-Tamils merely because of its unfamiliar script! Tamil is perhaps the richest of our languages and its literature is no-entry for most Indians. As also Bengali and Urdu, with all their melodies, except for what is available in translation. If knowledge is wealth, how much wealthier Indians would be if there were a single script? Every distinct alphabet is a curtain, if not a partition between people using different languages.

Kakasaheb's hope was that a common script should help to evolve a greater Indian language enriched by all the regional tongues plus Sanskrit. Over and above its positive benefits, the idea would under cut linguistic chauvinism as a fissiparous factor, a big challenge to our national integrity. After discussing the pros and cons of various options, Kalelkar's preference was for the Gujarati alphabet as the common script. He himself was of Maharashtrian origin born and brought up in Gujarat. While his study and scholarship were beyond question, I would differ from his choice on this issue. Since Gujarati is already a regional language, its choice is likely to be controversial. Above all, the utility of the script in today's and foreseeable context. Keeping all these factors in view, the Roman alphabet duly amended for and added to our different and unique sounds, should fit the bill. With the memory of British rule fresh, the choice of anything English might have been unthinkable in Kakasaheb's time. Moreover, there was no talk of globalisation then nor was information technology so popular or important. These two developments add to the value of the Roman script.







It is heartening that the Government has set up a high-level Cabinet Committee under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister to give a major thrust to infrastructure development and keep the focus on this core sector. Allocation of Rs 1 lakh crore, the highest ever sum, for the infrastructure sector is indeed delightful and commendable.

The high growth rate of 6.3 per cent targeted by the Government invariably needs increase in the momentum of economic activities in the country. And for this purpose, development of more and more infrastructure is essential. Therefore, the Government's decision to allow 6.8 per cent fiscal deficit during the current financial year with a view to achieving high economic growth to enable it to spend more money for development as a whole and infrastructure development in particular to accelerate economic activities is a welcome step.

Infrastructure comprises power, railways, road, civil aviation, posts, telecommunications, ports and urban infrastructure, including water supply, sewerage, solid waste management, urban transport, urban renewal, sanitation, development of heritage areas and preservation of water bodies. The Government has now added information technology, irrigation, housing and urban development to the list for the sake of inclusive and all-round growth. So, the scope of its activities is evidently wide-ranging and vast, and hence challenging -particularly in this large country of ours inhabiting population of around 1.12 billion. It is certainly not possible to accomplish the task in a single year or in a fraction of the year in view of the fact that one quarter of the current fiscal had already passed when the Budget was presented in the Parliament by the Finance Minister. Yet, it is undoubtedly a remarkable beginning in that the Government is faced with financial constraint mainly owing to increase in non-plan expenditure on account of increased salary for Government employees, increased expenditure on internal and external security, expenditure on National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, National Food Security Scheme to ensure entitlement of 25 kg of rice or wheat per month at Rs 3 a kg to BPL families, education for all, etc.

A look at growth of certain categories of infrastructure during the financial years 2006-07 and 2007-08 indicate that while there has been deceleration in growth of some of them, the others recorded higher growth (Economic Survey 2007-08). Electricity generation, for instance, grew by 7.5 per cent in 2006-07(April-December) whereas its growth in the corresponding period in 2007-08 declined to 6.6 per cent. The number of telephone connections increased to 272.88 million in 2007(as in December, 2007) from 76.53 million in 2004. The growth in the field of information technology has also been immense. The Government has attached special importance to construction of roads in the North-East region under the special Accelerated Road Development Programme for the North-East Region in order to mitigate economic backwardness in the region.

As power (energy) plays the pivotal role in the economic activities, especially in industrial productions, there is an urgent need to pay special attention to generating more power to meet the ever-increasing demand. The other spheres where priority should be accorded include construction of roads in rural areas, augmentation of transport in rural areas, and increase in irrigation facilities. This is because first, the declining underground water-table and uncertain monsoon have cast diminishing effect on agriculture which has suffered a setback in terms of growth rate in the past for a number of reasons, including lack of sufficient irrigation facilities. Unless food production is considerably increased without delay, prices of essential commodities are kept under control and other poverty-alleviation measures are taken on war-footing, more and more people will come below the poverty line and number of starvation deaths will also increase with passage of the time. In that eventuality, the common man will be deprived of the fruits of economic growth and development.

Second, agricultural produce and handicraft products can be properly marketed at reasonable prices if there are good roads connecting villages with towns and cities. Besides, adequate transport facilities are also required for this purpose. All this can ensure growth of rural economy, improvement of the standard of living of the rural populace - in particular the small and marginal farmers and the poor artisans. Consequently, exodus of people from village to towns and cities in search of work will also decline. Thus there will comparatively be less increase in number of slum-dwellers in towns and cities and as a result urban life will be somewhat less inconvenient as compared to the present plight.

Therefore, while formulating plans and economic policies there is need to take holistic view of all the issues and keep in mind the facts that our Constitution aims at securing for all its citizens, among other things, social, economic and political justice and establishing a welfare state.

Let us hope that the Government's village-oriented Budget, combined with thrust to wide-ranging infrastructure development, will yield positive results in the form of all-round development, economic empowerment of the common man and social justice.








TWO surveys involving the Delhi Police show why they don't enjoy the best of reputations. In one, 81 per cent of women surveyed in Delhi said they do not report molestation cases because the police harass them with embarrassing questions.


The second survey, conducted to study the working of the 2005 Domestic Violence Act, reveals the policemen's attitude to women, that too those who happen to be their family members. In it, every second policeman admitted thinking domestic violence necessary for running a family. Also, for most of them physical battery alone constituted violence, with verbal, emotional and sexual assault counting for nothing.


When this is the mindset of law enforcers in the national capital, it is hardly a surprise that the figures get more shocking in the case of cops from Rajasthan, as they no doubt will be for the rest of the country.


It also explains why policemen in this country are every now and then associated with barbarity of all kind, whether it is encounter killing, custodial death or rape.


What this means is that donning the uniform of a law enforcement officer does little towards shedding the prejudices that sometimes characterise rural communities from which our policemen hail. Social attitudes are a problem, but they are not insurmountable. The higher authorities need to understand that they have a problem here and make an effort to educate the policemen and sensitise them to their vital social responsibility.


Neither do the police bosses or the judiciary take a tough view of cops breaking the law, which they tend to do with impunity.


Only when the law enforcement officers are made to understand that the law is the law, whether for the policeman or criminal, man or woman, that things will change.







THE chickens are most certainly coming home to roost for the Pakistani security establishment. The Taliban attack on the headquarters of the Inter- Services Intelligence directorate in Peshawar on Friday is the latest in a series of attacks against intelligence and military targets in Pakistan.


The explosion is said to have heavily damaged the ISI headquarters and severral other buildings in the surrounding high- security area.


The Taliban offensive, in response to that of the Pakistan Army in Waziristan, began with the strike on the Army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi. Later last month, terrorist assault teams attacked the Federal Investigation Agency building, and the Manawan police training centre, and the Elite Force Headquarters in Lahore. On November 2, a Taliban suicide bomber killed 34 Pakistanis and wounded scores in an attack in Rawalpindi within the high security area near the Army Headquarters.


In terms of casualties, Pakistani civilians — some 300 of whom have been killed — have borne the brunt of the strikes. Perhaps the most harrowing attack was the October 28 suicide bomber attack that led to the death of 119 Pakistanis in a bazaar in Peshawar. But there are few signs that the establishment has learnt any lessons. All the attacks are ascribed to India, or the Mossad- US combine. In this way, the Pakistani establishment seeks to divert the attention of its people from the criminal complicity of its own instruments in supporting terrorists and terrorism.







HOCKEY is our national game and hockey administrators are our national shame. A year and a half after India failed to qualify for the Beijing Olympics, we thought that dismissing the Indian Hockey Federation led by KPS Gill would cleanse the system.


However, the more one expected changes, the worse it has become as Hockey India, a new body put in place by the Indian Olympic Association, has done no better.


Having been given six months by the International Hockey Federation ( FIH) to ensure a merger of the men's and women's bodies and roping in of all state units, elections to Hockey India have hit a roadblock.


In fact, in the current scenario, the sports ministry has done well to ensure that elections were not rushed through.


Hockey India now has time till February 2010 to show it can elect a clean body to run the sport. And that is exactly a month before the World Cup is held in the Capital.








INDIA'S prison law and policy needs total review. For example, India's Prison's Act 1894 permits " whipping" for prison indiscipline.This remains on India's statute book though it's been abolished in Andhra, Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and West Bengal. Such laws and policies represent a prevailing attitude towards prisoners.


The redoubtable Justice Krishna Iyer carried forward the case for humanity, respecting life and liberty during confinement. In the Sunil Batra case, Krishna Iyer J deemed solitary confinements, bar fetters and whipping " barbaric". In 1966 the Supreme Court granted convict Prabhakar permission to publish a book on the atom. A prison is not a dungeon in the Bastille.


Kiran Bedi has shown that prisoners have talents, need opportunities and need creative and humane treatment. Constitutionally the message is: " Even prisoners have rights".



The Manu Sharma parole has excited all kinds of passions. The reactions are quite typical of our reactions to cricket. If our team or some player wins, we accord glory to them.


If not, we are inconsolably depressed. While evaluating Manu Sharma's parole, we should not put the entire system of parole into jeopardy.


Parole is a right ( perhaps, in strict legal parlance, a privilege) that inheres in every prisoner.


There are two broad views on parole. Justice Krishna Iyer's expansive view in Dharambir ( 1979) was that parole is a humanising necessity, which should be allowed for two weeks to every prisoner every year to prevent prisoners from becoming hardened criminals. The second ' strict necessity' view is that parole should be granted for personal necessity. In both views, good behaviour is a precondition.


In the expansive view every peccadillo by a person is not bad behaviour heralding a disentitling fall from grace.


Even Manu Sharma who is in jail for the killing of Jessica Lall, is entitled to be considered for remission and parole with strict conditionalities. Our Prisoners Act 1900 is woefully deficient on the subject of parole. Under the Constitution " prisons" are a state subject ( List II, Entry 4). So, it is left to the states to devise rules.


Rules of varying dimensions have been devised by law in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Tripura and West Bengal. Parole terms usually require serving one year of a larger term, considering the nature of the offence and good behaviour in prison. Tripura even allows release for up to 2 years, whilst others usually permit parole for 15 to 30 days. But apart from statutory provisions, there is also the general power of pardon in the President ( Article 72) and the Governor ( Article 161) which extends to granting parole. In addition there is also the state government's power under the Criminal Procedure Code 1973 ( section 432) to suspend or remit sentences.


This latter judicialised procedure is somewhat different from the pure bureaucratic procedure requiring the state to seek the opinion of the presiding judge of the convicting court. This diversity of legal and constitutional options is as haphazard as the results they produce.


The Delhi system seems to encounter many difficulties.


The relevant circular is that of 7 March 1958.


No changes have been made. If we look at the last four years, newspaper estimates suggest about 4 out of 5 parole applications fail. Reportedly in 2009, out of 132 applications, 11 were granted, 33 rejected and 88 are pending. This system of denial is being examined by the Delhi High Court. In Sumedh Singh's case ( of Connaught Place shooting fame) Justice Kailash Gambhir strongly disapproved delay in processing parole applications. The High Court has itself issued a suo motu petition ( WP 1121/ 2009) to resolve this. It will be heard on 25 November 2009. Whether a final court verdict with guidelines will emerge on that day is doubtful.


In Manu Sharma's case, Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit reports that the decision was taken after processual consideration by the Prison Department, Police, Home Department, and Chief Minister. The Delhi Legal Services Authority criticised this approach whereby applications are often considered after the necessity ( e. g. attending a marriage, sickness within family etc) is over! The High Court in October 2009 was absolutely right in demanding a review of the procedures. What we need is a single committee working full time to examine applications. Granting parole is not a part time job for a busy Chief Minister following hastily put together reports of uneven depth and significance.


The Lieutenant Governor's affirmation becomes a mere signature behind which he can hide his nonapplication of mind.


The Manu Sharma affair should not take the public gaze away from the need for a fair, just, quick and efficient parole system for deserving prisoners. In fact, Justice Krishna Iyer's view that parole should not just be grounded in necessity but as a matter of practice for at least two weeks every year for longserving prisoners deserves high consideration.



Manu Sharma's personal case was clearly botched up. Consistent with what I have argued earlier, prima facie Manu Sharma deserved bail subject to conditionalities ( including, perhaps against armed visiting of pubs).


He had been a model prisoner and had been in jail for a considerable period.


There was a difference of opinion between the Delhi Police ( which said " no") and the Chandigarh Police ( which said " yes"). It was to Chandigarh that Manu was heading. There was no serious flaw in granting him bail.


But there is a serious doubt about how his application was prioritised.


Was it that his mother was ' seriously ill'? This could be a reason for accelerated consideration.


Was it that he had to attend to business? That, by itself, is not a reason for prioritised consideration.


But the grant of parole to Manu Sharma created suspicion on at least two counts.


First, there appears to have been political influence in prioritising his case. His father is an influential businessman and politician. Second, his parole was extended by a month till 22 November 2009 — with a three day in between the two months of parole without permission.


An oversight, perhaps, but deliberately so.



There is a distinction between the granting of parole and its abuse. Did Manu abuse his parole? There seems little doubt that the very granting of parole was tainted.


His mother, Shakti Rani, was far from ill and she was organising press conferences for an under- 19 women's cricket competition.


But Manu's case has acquired public notoriety because he went to a pub in Delhi's Samrat Hotel.


This was certainly news, but was it a breach of parole? By itself, I do not think so. Not visiting a bar should have been an express condition for his parole. Suppose a spy found that Manu was drinking whisky and champagne every day at home, while playing rummy with his mother.


Would this be a breach of his parole? Manu's singular trip to a club is not by itself a breach of parole ( even if the media thinks otherwise) because of the absence of a strict condition of parole to this effect which should have been put in his case. Equally Manu should have had better sense than flaunt his parole in a bar.


The parole system is a salutary system. Prisoners have rights and duties. A proper full time system of parole must replace the present ad hoc system.


Our reactions to prisoners and their parole are as medieval as our minds on the subject.


The writer is a Supreme Court lawyer








WINTER is almost here and in normal times, the woollens should be out. But wait.


There is enough heat being generated in Delhi's environmental circles to keep us warm at least until next month's meeting on Climate Change in Copenhagen. While Manmohan Singh's aides finalise India's agenda for the summit, his environment minister is locked in a very public spat with the doyen among Indian environmentalists.


As anyone who has watched him will know, when Jairam Ramesh speaks, he creates a flutter.


Quite recently, at a news conference on environmental issues that he jointly addressed with Hillary Clinton in New Delhi, he made no effort to hide his anger when he thought the US Secretary of State was trying to lecture India on cutting down emission levels. Now, just three weeks ahead of the climate change summit, Jairam has locked horns with R. K. Pachauri, the chairman of the UN sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change( IPCC), the organisation which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace prize with former US Vice President Al Gore. The sparring began after Jairam released a government report that questioned the IPCC's findings of abnormal shrinking of the Himalayan glaciers. The IPCC warned that at the current rate of shrinkage, the glaciers could disappear altogether by 2035 if not earlier. Jairam rubbished the IPCC's findings while releasing the government report prepared by a group of Indian geologists. He said there was no conclusive evidence to link global warming with receding of the Himalayan glaciers and said he was " ready to take on the doomsday scenarios of the Nobel Prize winners". The controversy has sparked off a war of words between the ministry and environmentalists.


Stung by the Jairam offensive, Pachauri accused the environment ministry of " arrogance" while the credible Science magazine in its latest issue quotes a senior Fellow at The Energy and Resources Institute, New Delhi saying that the " Indian government has an ostrich like attitude in the face of impending apocalypse". To that, the minister's retort was " we don't need to write the epitaph for the glaciers". Alarmists at home and abroad have warned that the Gangetic river belts which feed much of North India could dry up if the glaciers disappear. But Jairam's ministry scoffs at such predictions. The truth as usual lies somewhere in between and what you are likely to believe depends on whom you spoke to last. Jairam quotes various R. K. Pachauri studies to say that the rate at which the glaciers have been retreating during the last 30 years is much less than the previous 60 years. On the other hand, Pachauri says Indian findings have not been " reviewed by peers" and accuses the ministry of practising " schoolboy science". Ordinary Indians will find it difficult to understand what the big fuss is all about since it has nothing to with their everyday lives that revolve around rising prices, safety and security, education, medical care etc. My instincts tell me that it is basically a battle between NGOs. Pachauri's wields enormous clout and has impeccable credibility but Indian officialdom sees him as an internationalist who takes a global view. The IIT- Harvard educated Jairam sees most NGOs as gravy train riders and is determined to show them their place. Jairam is particularly miffed that the IIPC has given short shrift to genuine Indian scientists and wants India — and China with which we entered into an agreement last month on cooperation in the run up to the Copenhagen summit — to make concessions that the West wants.


Jairam wonders why the domestic and international NGOs are mounting collective pressure to enforce emission cuts when the real threat is from the West. Even the US Congress is yet to approve the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. US Secretary of Energy Steven Hun said in Delhi on Friday that " the US government would have to go through the political process before committing itself to emission cuts". It's obvious that the US team will land in Copenhagen without any mandate while Jairam is being forced by powerful non- state and apolitical sections to toe the western line. As Jairam and Pachauri slug it out, it remains to be seen who gets the prime minister's backing — the outspoken minister or the iconic environmentalist.



WHEN it comes to outmaneuvering opponents — and even friends — few politicians are as shrewd as Sharad Pawar. It now emerges that it was not key portfolios like Home, Finance, PWD, Health and the office of the Speaker that stalled the process of government formation in Mumbai but a relatively low key portfolio — the ministry of Tribal Development. All these portfolios were held by the NCP in the last government and though initially the Congress staked claimed to all, it began to yield in the face of the NCP's intransigence.


After Pawar got his nephew Ajit Pawar to make noises about joining hands with the BJP- Shiv Sena combine, the Congress yielded the home and finance portfolios as also the Speaker's post.


When the NCP still showed no signs of yielding, the Congress gave up its claim for the PWD and Health portfolios, but insisted that the Tribal Development portfolio was non negotiable. Pawar then pulled out another trump card.


The Congress High Command yielded when told that if the tribal portfolio was not forthcoming, the NCP would choose to stay out of the government.


A prolonged tussle over a trivial portfolio? The mystery was unraveled to me last week by a NCP leader who told me about Congress apprehensions about the NCP's Vijaykumat Krishnarrao Gavit being handed the portfolio. In his earlier stint as the tribal development minister, Gavit had systematically worked to decimate the Congress in the tribal areas of the state and the Congress feared that one more stint as minister would wipe the party off the tribal map of Maharashtra.


As a compromise the NCP agreed to the Congress demand that Gavit not be given tribal development . Instead he holds Medical Education, Horticulture and Tourism and Tribal Development has been given to Babanrao Pachpute. But Pawar has made it clear that Gavit will run the Tribal Ministry as well. And that's the Congress's worry.



CONGRESS leaders seem to be following a very simple principle these days: when things are working out well, give all the credit to Rahul Gandhi; when things go wrong, lay the blame at someone else's door. There's much praise coming Rahulbaba's way after last week's by- election results in Uttar Pradesh where the Congress won the Firozabad Lok Sabha seat and one out of the 11 assembly by- polls.


A close look at the results would suggest that all the back- patting is really unwarranted. True, the party won the lone Lok Sabha by- poll, but the credit belongs entirely to winner Raj Babbar, who of course was chosen by Rahul Gandhi. The political record of the boy from Tundla shows that parties need him more than he needs parties. He has in the past contested on Janata Dal and Samajwadi Party tickets and each time won handsomely.


Take away Firozabad and the sheen is off. The Congress contested all 11 assembly seats and won only one. Two of the by- elections were caused by the resignation of Congress MLAs who became ministers at the Centre.


The tickets were given to close relatives — in one case, mother — yet the ministers could not ensure their victories.


Mulayam's Samajwadi Party had five seats and lost all.


The biggest gainer is Mayawati whose BSP won nine of the 11 seats, a gain of seven. Like the Congress, the BJP had two seats but lost both, which makes its plight even more pathetic. A close look at the results makes for revealing reading.


In eight of the 11 constituencies, the fight was between the regional parties with the national parties lagging far behind. If there is a message in this, it is that Uttar Pradesh will remain a distant dream for the big players for quite a while.


Equally important, the national parties will have to encourage the growth of local leaders to take on the likes of Mayawati and Mulayam. The by- elections results prove that the fortunes of national parties cannot be left in the hands of just family icons or parachute leaders.


TO ADD to recurring Congress- DMK flashpoints, here is the latest one. S. Jaipal Reddy, the Union urban development minister is the epitome of political manners but he showed political arrogance when he dispatched a letter to S. S. Palanimanickam, the union minister of state for revenue, asking him to vacate his official house on Bishambar Dass Marg. What made matters worse was that the minister received the notice on a day when the prime minister had invited all members of the Union Council of Ministers to Race Course Road for dinner. A seven term member of the Lok Sabha, the minister is pained that his senior colleague did not even bother to speak to him before sending the eviction notice. The ministry says the decision to vacate and demolish all eight houses on BD Marg was taken by the cabinet committee on housing in 2007 in order to build a multi- storeyed residential complex for ministers and MPs. Of the eight, four houses were lying vacant, while residents of three others, all of whom lost the last general elections, were evicted. Palanimanickam says if the decision was taken two years ago, why didn't the minister or the director of estates inform him earlier instead of waiting till the last minute to throw him out? It may be a simple matter of a roof over a ministerial head, but this one has now gone all way to the top to the prime minister Manmohan Singh and the DMK patriarch M. Karunanidhi.






THIS refers to the news report, " Kalyan never was nor will ever be part of SP" ( November 15).Shocked over the crushing defeat of his daughter- in- law Dimple Yadav in the Ferozabad Lok Sabha seat as well as the party drawing blank in 11 assembly seats in bypolls in UP, Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav is forced to assert that Kalyan Singh would never be allowed to join the party.


In fact, Yadav's friendship with the former BJP leader was forged in order to strengthen the SP's base among backward castes.


But proximity with the former Hindutava champion proved suicidal for the party in UP as Muslims distanced themselves from it in the Lok Sabha election and this cost the party dear.


Further, I take pity on Kalyan for the humiliation handed by Yadav to him. What Kalyan must understand is that his saffron past will always haunt him. His acceptability in the Muslim community is almost impossible.

Manoj Parashar via email



THIS is with reference to your report on Sameera Reddy's new figure ( Hot Sam thinks it's cool to lose oodles, November 15). I believe by carrying such reports you are only adding to all the hoopla surrounding size zero.


I don't think being thin is or ever will be in. I think it is unhealthy. Filmstars are icons and people look up to them for so many things, be it their dressing sense or health fads.


No wonder then that even little girls these days want to be reed thin.


Case in point is my cousin.


Barely 16 years old, she has started dieting! She won't take sugar, milk or ghee. This amid protests from my aunt, who rightly thinks all these things are crucial for her development at this growing age. So stop propagating such unhealthy trends.

Antara Singh Dwarka



I WAS appalled when I read your story on 87- year- old freedom fighter Santoshkumar Saha and the treatment meted out to him by the Gujarat Police.


It is always good to see cops hard at work to ensure that catastrophes such as 26/ 11 do not take place again. The swiftness at which officers at the Sabarmati police station summoned Saha was indeed admirable but they should have at least carried out a background check first.


To summon a veteran like Saha and accuse him of having " terror" links is an insult not just to him but to all freedom fighters, without whom independence may still have been a distant dream.


Saha has taken the right step in shooting off a legal notice to the director general of police after his harassment. Perhaps this will ensure that others like him are spared this humiliation.


Mitika Sen via email







Accusations and denials regarding the Chinese role in Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme have been legion over the years. But the latest report in a leading American newspaper has it straight from the horse's mouth. A Q Khan, the architect of Pakistan's nuclear programme, confirms that China did indeed supply Pakistan with 50 kg of bomb-grade uranium as well as the design of a nuclear weapon in 1982. That points to an unprecedented act of proliferation which continues to reverberate today, given that countries such as Iran and North Korea may have benefited from it indirectly via the nuclear black market set up by Khan. All of which is to say that US president Barack Obama is likely to face a delicate situation when he visits Beijing this week.

Although reports have said that Obama means to bring up the alleged proliferation during his trip, he is unlikely to press the issue. It is said to have occurred almost three decades ago at a time when China was not yet a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. More importantly, sheer pragmatism dictates a constructive engagement on Obama's part rather than an antagonistic one. He cannot afford to alienate his hosts when their global stock is as high as it is now. But Beijing's rising influence and its ties with Islamabad are precisely why the incident could instead be useful as a kick-off point to engage China on the Pakistan front.

There are a host of outstanding issues where Islamabad is concerned, all of them urgent. The militants have turned against their former mentors, with their bombers targeting army or ISI complexes. There are also widespread fears of extremist sympathisers within the ranks of the Pakistani military and, worryingly, the nuclear programme personnel. Add Khan's black market the extent of which was never fully discovered to the mix and it becomes even more dangerous.

Beijing has its own worries when it comes to these issues. It is justifiably concerned about the spillover of Pakistan's struggle with extremism into its restive Xinjiang province. Neither, given its status as NPT signatory and global position today as an insider rather than an outsider, is it likely to be sanguine about further proliferation. It will be even less so about the prospect of extremist elements gaining access to Pakistan's nuclear assets. These are concerns it shares with Washington, New Delhi, and other countries besides. But if there's anybody that Islamabad will listen to on adopting a comprehensive approach to jihadi terror, it's Beijing rather than Washington or New Delhi. The latter must therefore work hard to bring Beijing into closer accord on the future of the Af-Pak region.







The visit by Australian prime minister, Kevin Rudd, last week was largely overshadowed by the issue of attacks on Indian students in Australia. That's a pity, because other things too have been happening in the relationship. There might not have been big-ticket announcements but the Indian and Australian delegations have, in fact, had some constructive discussions.

Both Rudd and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh are agreed upon Canberra and New Delhi forging greater strategic cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region. So far, India and Australia have not really had a strategic partnership. There were proposals for a quadrilateral involving the US, Japan, India and Australia a few years back, which went into cold storage after Rudd's Labour government took over from the Conservatives. He's also refused to authorise uranium exports to India. However, the global security paradigm has changed since Labour took over and perhaps Rudd better understands the logic of engaging India on a strategic plane now. The other area of cooperation that holds potential is in the realm of climate change. Australia's $50 million investment to help India develop green technology is a good start in this direction.

The core of India-Australia ties will lie in trade and commerce. India is Australia's sixth largest trading partner and over the last five years, India has been the fastest growing market for Australian exports. India contributes substantially to Australia's revenue through the international students it sends. For the record, education is Australia's third largest export industry and Indian students are the second only to the Chinese in making up the overseas student numbers. It, therefore, behooves Canberra to improve conditions for Indian students in Australia.

Indian entrepreneurs are also steadily upping their investments in the IT and hospitality sectors Down Under.There is much potential for the two countries to scale up trade exchanges not just in the services sector but in other areas as well. Rudd made a strong pitch for free trade between the two countries. India's just concluded an FTA with ASEAN countries. But its ''Look East''policy won't be complete unless Australia, one of its major trade partners, is included in its purview as well. There's a good case for concluding an FTA with Australia. Strong economic ties not only aid a mutually beneficial bilateral relationship, they can serve to smooth out some of the irritants.







Perhaps it is about getting older. Or that the excitement has waned. Increasingly, the prospect of arrival in India fills us with apprehension as the cab winds its inevitable way to JFK or Chicago's O'Hare airports. For us, America is a cultural home: the food, the music, the clothes, the humour, the aesthetics, the very idiom of language is all comfortingly familiar. But this is less about extolling America than dreading what lies in store at Delhi or any other port of entry to India.

Within seconds of landing, the harsh reality hits you between the eyes. The airport is shoddy, grimy and smelly. To exit is to confront a menacing crowd of people, straining at the barricades: vast numbers of drivers pushing and shoving, swarms of noisy families come to receive their near and dear ones, and various other categories teeming around the crumbling arrival terminal. True, such crowds gather at arrival terminals everywhere in the world but at Indian airports it adds another dimension to the chaos that reigns supreme.

Step outside and it is quickly evident there is no system to smooth the way for arriving passengers. You are left on your own to dodge honking and swerving cars torturing the driveway, and everywhere, you encounter smoke, fumes and rubble.

However, if you are an anointed 'VIP', as India's public servants are called, you are whisked away through a plush private terminal to a private parking lot and into your car, all within minutes. Public servants don't even wait for their bags. There are orderlies to retrieve them and deliver them to their houses, which are invariably located in Lutyens Delhi home to smooth, wide, tree-lined boulevards with flowering rotaries, manicured parks and expansive villas.

In stark contrast, the taxpaying citizen has to endure subhuman conditions in the terminal and bump along cratered tracks that pass for roads and deal with seriously demented drivers who whiz through the non-VIP parts of the capital as if possessed by demons. It is apparent that you have landed in one of the world's least developed countries: Incredible India!

The rank disparity is outrageous. In America, things work smoothly for ordinary citizens. Yes, the economy is flagging and people are finding it tough to get or hold on to jobs. But the cities and communities are pleasant and there is a heady rush of egalitarianism in the air. The entire political and bureaucratic set-up in America is geared single-mindedly to ensure the welfare of citizens. The accent on public service is pronounced and evident.

In India, you can have a top job or own a fortune as a businessman but unless you are in the VIP zone of cities and towns, you may not have reliable electric power, adequate water supply and any sanitation at all. Those who can afford it make private arrangements, the rest simply suffer. This monsoon, when it rained consecutively for two days, the national capital was submerged. Questioned, a VIP dismissed the water-logging and traffic jams as an act of nature, a result of the heavy rains. He seemed criminally unaware of the problems people faced getting around the city. In his Lutyens Delhi, there is no flooding, traffic is light and the workplace is a pleasant drive of a few minutes.

This disparate order makes the chaos of India not just irksome but menacing. It is as though the system milks the ordinary individual who has a job or business to provide for the VIP. The random but deadly civil disturbances that plague India are spontaneous expressions of civic anger against the system that barely makes room for the middle class, leave alone marginal groups.

In huge swathes of India, the most deprived people have fallen sway to Maoist ideology and have taken to violence. No political party, not the hydra-headed government agencies, not the self-righteous NGOs can control them. Such civil violence will increase in frequency and scope as more and more citizens begin to see the disparity: not just the gap between the rich and the poor but between the privileged and the rest.

In the past few years, the elite have bought into the notion that India is set to emerge as a world power. Nothing belies the claim as comprehensively as the question mark that hangs over the staging of the Commonwealth Games next year. The controversy has shown up the Potemkin state, a cheap cardboard cutout fashioned by bureaucrats and politicians to fool themselves into believing the world power fantasy.

You don't have to look too hard to see beyond the Potemkin mirage. Dysfunctional highways and airports, garbage-ridden cities and hapless villages, deathly traffic and pervasive pollution, the poverty of civic values and the sheer indignity of the human condition all stare us in the face everyday.

The slogan 'Incredible India!' cuts both ways. At one level it is an illusory self-proclamation. On the other, it is damnation - of a modern 21st century democracy, with one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, is in such a shambles.

The writer is a public affairs commentator.







She is probably the only woman aviation historian in India. Having felt the exhilaration of flying, Anuradha Reddy knew her calling early in life. Her personal connect with planes, airfields and airports led her to chronicle the aviation history of Hyderabad, Delhi and now, Mumbai. India, she tells Shobha John , is careless about its aviation history, unlike other countries, which maintain their archives well:

How did you decide to choose this unlikely vocation?

I am basically a photographer and a researcher of monuments and natural heritage. The history of aviation fits into this. I realised that over a period of time, this magnificent history, including countless individual anecdotes, had not been documented by anyone, including airlines and airports. This bothered me. It's imperative for the younger generation to understand how the aviation sector evolved, from the time when flying was a luxury meant for the affluent, to now, when it's a common form of transport. My book, Aviation in the Hyderabad Dominions, is a step in this regard it covers a period from 1910 to 1953, the year private airlines were nationalised.

What's the biggest obstacle you faced in chronicling?

Until 1953, airlines kept good records. There were eight airlines then, including the Tatas, India National Airways, Air Services of India, Deccan Airways, etc. They took great pride in their work. But after nationalisation, documents were lost, logbooks neglected and airport plans not handed down. Even the Directorate General of Civil Aviation and the Airports Authority of India did not have proper documents of airports, airfields, pilots, etc. Some who were the direct beneficiaries of these former airlines hadn't even heard of them.

How did you overcome this?

I got the contact details of retired pilots from the medical section of Indian Airlines and worked from scratch, tracking them in various cities. They allowed me a peek into their lives, shared old photos and anecdotes and helped me create a wide network. History has remained only in the man and the machine, in memories and old biographies and among 80-90-year-old pilots. Many started their careers with a salary of just Rs 900.

Will you chronicle India's aviation history state by state?

Yes. So far, Hyderabad has been a pioneer, thanks to the patronage of the then Nizam, who hadn't even flown a plane till much later. Mumbai's aviation history, for example, dates back to the pre-independence era, and encompasses Aden, Karachi, Ceylon, parts of Gujarat and Mysore state. It has pioneers like J R D Tata to thank for it. I have invited people to share case studies, documents, trivia and photos pertinent to Mumbai. Initially, i plan to bring out a book and maybe later, put it all on the web. I also plan to organise exhibitions, similar to what i did for Delhi when its international airport was inaugurated.

Are young aviators appreciative of the sacrifices made by pioneers?

Yes, many still have the thrill and passion for flying like their predecessors.







A lot of people are worrying about the world coming to an end in 2012. Bummer. I thought we'd gotten over all that in 2000. The question of whether the End of Time will arrive during the holiday shopping season three years hence is already the subject of a veritable library of books. We also have what The Complete Idiot's Guide to 2012 claims are almost 600,000 websites devoted to worrying about it.

This seems to be the fault of Nostradamus, the Mayan calendar, angst on the left about global warming and angst on the right about the election of Barack Obama. Or government bailouts. Or the repositioning of 'In God We Trust' on the America's coinage.


Hollywood is unleashing a raft of movies about humanity tottering on the edge of extinction. In 2012 (the movie), a G-8 summit convenes to discuss the fact that "the world as we know it will soon come to an end". I would not be surprised if the participants found this preferable to another round of the Doha trade talks.

The film characters who are best prepared for the planetary calamity had been consulting the ancient Mayan calendar, which runs through more than five millennia and then comes screeching to a halt on December 21, 2012. Some say that for the Mayans, this was just the end of a cycle, like completing a really long year, and that if they'd been able to hang around for a few more centuries they'd simply have issued a new, post-2012 calendar, this time perhaps including some nice pictures of puppies.

Others see more dire forces at work. In the movie 2012, the crust of the earth starts bouncing around. No one can save us, not the black president. Certainly the Europeans can't help, since not even the collapse of every tall building on the planet can get Americans to pay attention to non-American ideas.

Also coming soon to a theatre near you are: The Road (Viggo Mortensen struggles across a barren landscape after a mysterious cataclysm) and The Book of Eli (Denzel Washington guards a book that could save post-apocalypse humanity from Gary Oldman). Obviously, Hollywood has determined that the reason all those Iraq-war-themed movies failed was that the moviegoers felt the scenery wasn't bleak enough.

I've been disappointed that, so far, almost no one has noticed that St. Malachy's List of the Last Popes has been running out of gas almost as fast as the Mayan calendar. Malachy was an Irish bishop who died in 1148, after allegedly having seen a vision of the future 112 popes who would reign until the end of the world. By this count, the current Benedict XVI would be 111.

Each of the popes gets a little hint as to his identity. For the most part, Malachy cannily chose to keep them general enough ("angelic shepherd") that it was hard not to hit a lot of home runs. But good luck in figuring out how Benedict is "glory of the olives".

Keeping things vague, or subject to multiple interpretations, is the real key to apocalyptic predictions. It's what made Nostradamus a household name. My own favourite prognosticator, The Amazing Criswell, always got into trouble with specificity, including his prediction that a black rainbow would circle the earth in 1999 and suck out all the oxygen.

I'm predicting that by the time we reach 2011, the 2012 websites will hit the million mark, not to mention the Twitters of Terror. But we've survived end-of-the-world panic many times before. When i was a kid, the nuns at my school filled us with stories about prophecies of doom, frequently from Our Lady of Fatima. They always revolved around the Communist menace, and we were occasionally sent home on Friday with assurances that the End was coming by Sunday. We were credulous enough not to question why, in that case, there were homework assignments.







Before take-off for Goa, my blond neighbour helped fasten my seatbelt. We got to talking, and he peered at my visiting card, said my first name rang a bell. Had i heard of Russell Arundel, the prince of Baldonia? I gave him a wan smile, assuming he was making fun of my baldness. But he said he meant no offence and that Baldonia really existed. In waters 16 miles south-east of Nova Scotia, there is an island of four acres, called Outer Bald Tusket. One afternoon some decades ago, rain and bitter cold drove a boatful of weekend fishermen to seek shelter there. Quickly, the men shared out the whisky, and it was not long before they convinced themselves that the barren rock island could be turned into a handsome princedom. Accordingly, they drew up a declaration of independence, which included among its provisions the right of citizens to drink, swear, gamble and lie about the fish they caught. The country was christened Outer Baldonia. There was a government charter and there were 69 admirals of the Baldonian navy fishermen who harvested tuna in the surrounding ocean.

In their island calendar, 1949 was year one and the ship's captain, Russell Arundel, was declared prince of princes. He bought the island for $750 and had coins minted, known as 'tunar', the value of which was set by the prince each afternoon between five and seven Outer Baldonia time. He built a castle on the island's coast and listed Outer Baldonia in the Washington DC telephone directory. Arundel was himself surprised at subsequent developments. The Nova Scotia legislature heard of Baldonia, and voted to recognise its sovereignty. Several newspapers picked up the story of the country's birth. Russell Arundel was invited and attended a cocktail party in his role as prince of princes, wearing a royal uniform decorated with a sash of beer bottle tops and medals made of sardine cans. In 1952, Krushchev's Russian government recorded that the 'fuhrer' Arundel's aim was to have savages as subjects as they had unrestricted rights to tell lies, to be rude, not to answer questions and had the freedom to go unshaved. Arundel thereupon declared war, ordering all two Outer Baldonia boats to seize and impound any Russian ships in Baldonian territorial waters. Arundel passed away some time ago. Overseas letters, addressed to Prince Arundel, still come though, asking about fishing conditions.








It is often said that the first spark of Naxalism was lit in Chhattisgarh when the Bailadila mines began its operations in the Dantewada district. Instead of providing employment and development — the two guarantees that mining companies unfailingly promise every time in lieu of exploration rights — the mine polluted the two drinking water sources of the area, the Sankini and Dankini rivers, used by the tribals. Though the jury is still out there about the veracity of such a correlation, there's little doubt that India's tribal areas suffer from the 'resource curse', a term used for areas 'blessed' with natural resources but figure very low on the development scale. A recently released report from the Ministry of Rural Development corroborates this fact. Tribals, it says, have suffered immensely thanks to large-scale land acquisition for mining, highway development, industries and special economic zones by private companies. A more generalised view has been echoed by the Prime Minister.


Certain other parts of the report, however, should be read closely as these bring out the important linkages behind this 'land grab': the unholy nexus between the government machinery and the mining companies. In the section 'State-connived land alienation', the authors point out that such land grabs occur with the "direct and indirect participation of revenue officials". To this we can also add another group: the political class, as the Madhu Koda case in Jharkhand has shown with such overwhelming force. In Orissa, too, sleuths are trying to find out the extent and dimensions of yet another mining scam. This could be to the tune of over Rs 14,000 crore. The three tribal-dominated states — Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand — are India's most productive mineral-bearing ones. They account for 70 per cent of the nation's coal reserves, 80 per cent of its high-grade iron ore and 60 per cent of bauxite and almost all chromite reserves.


So, it is not surprising that these areas are also the most restive. However, how to do damage control does not involve rocket science. First, the government must follow the existing set of laws; people need to be given the right to reject a project, and land-for-land must be made a fundamental requirement for acquiring tribal lands, not to mention full-fledged compensation in cases where it applies. The choice is really very simple: implement the laws in their true spirit, or find yourselves  







What India thought of day before yesterday, the cluster of civilisations known to us as 'the West' are thinking of today. Just when we were getting all riled up about people urinating on the streets, we hear the Brits are encouraging their folks to unzip and let it flow in the great outdoors. The National Trust of Britain isn't using any kind of cultural argument to push its agenda. And how can it, considering that, at least, urban-dwellers (barring the lot who make their annual pilgrimages to music festivals like the one held in Glastonbury) lost the habit of public urination since the Great Hygiene  Turnaround that followed the Industrial Revolution.


As suspected by some of us busy unclogging pipes here in India, these 'naturalists' with a twist want people to urinate in the open to save the world from — well, of course! — global warming. The more we take a piss in the privacy of our bathrooms, the more we end up flushing the lavatory, thereby 'wasting' water. Hollywood, always ahead of the game whether it's Free Tibet or freely pee, has already advocated, through the good office of Cameron Diaz, the practice of peeing in gardens and parks while they're taking a shower. Now comes the British urgings.


So should bladder-happy (male) Indians still stop in their tracks before letting it loose? Or should we go the other way to underline our inherent differences with 'Western practices and culture' and start urinating in private and public lavatories with a vengeance? After all, we are proud people who feel pressures of our own.









It was Gandhi's idea that India should have a single national language, and that it should be Hindi/Hindustani. The idea of Hindi as the sole national language offended many in the South.   


Their languages not only had different scripts — not Devnagari in which Hindi was being projected — but also completely different vocabularies which, while loosely connected to Sanskrit in some cases, had their own histories. Languages were not just cultural artefacts but also a passport to jobs, especially in government offices. Indians from the South had taken to English as their passport to any place in India before 1947. The Constitution resolved to have Hindi as the sole national language of India, but allowed for a transition period of 15 years while English shared the stature of national language.


This led to a widespread protest in the South. In April 1962, C.N. Annadurai spoke in the Lok Sabha, three years before the deadline for the adoption of Hindi, for self-determination of Dravida Nadu, the homeland of the Dravidian people. This was "a country," he said, "a part [of which] in India now, but which I think is of a different stock, not necessarily antagonistic". He demanded separation, though reassuring his fellow MPs that "our separation is entirely different from the Partition which has brought about Pakistan".


He cited the view of many in Madras province that they were ruled by "northern imperialism", and warned that "the natural unity that we found when we were opposing the British is not to be construed as a permanent affair". Some months after he spoke, the India-China border conflict united the entire Indian nation from north to south and east to west. The government also passed a law making it illegal to argue for secession. Later, English was given an indefinite extension as a joint language with Hindi for official purposes, and individual states could also use their local language. The Hindi language issue was settled amicably.


Newly independent India also faced the problem of reconciling the various provincial 'nations', which historically had often been enemies of each other and nurtured old resentments. These were in addition to the over-arching Hindu–Muslim differences. The problem was to convince every citizen that they were all equal in the new free India. The 17th century Maratha warrior, Shivaji, for example, was a hero in Maharashtra, but was feared and loathed in Bengal and Gujarat for his frequent raids. Aurangzeb, the last of the great Mughal emperors, ruled India for 40 years and his rule is the last by an Indian ruler over such a large swathe of the Indian subcontinent till 1947. Yet, he is condemned as intolerant, tyrannical and almost un-Indian by the secularists. Muslim kings began to be divided into 'good' (in other words, tolerant of Hindus) and 'bad' (taking the propagation of Islam as their mission). No similar classification was made for Hindu kings since if they displayed anti-Muslim sentiments, as some Rajput kings did — the Sisodias, for example, who defied Akbar's policy of Hindu-Muslim reconciliation — they were praised for their valour and patriotism in standing up to the Mughals. While Nehru was alive, the Hindu-Muslim cleavage was kept under control and a syncretic Indian history was constructed… But provincial quarrels were another matter…


The Partition experience was so fraught that any further redrawing of boundaries was thought unwise. A Congress committee comprising Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel and Congress party president Pattabhi Sitaraimayya was formed, and reiterated caution. But the demand for a Telugu-speaking Andhra Pradesh to be formed out of the northern parts of Madras province and Hyderabad was acknowledged. Nehru was still doubtful. He feared Balkanisation, but his hand was forced when Potti Sriramulu — an activist for the establishment of Andhra Pradesh — went on a fast and died. This led to a violent reaction which could not be resisted. Andhra was created in 1953.

The States Reorganisation Commission was appointed to propose other such linguistic states. It reported in 1955 and had several suggestions on the redrawing of boundaries to form unilingual states. Many such demands were granted. Long-time residents in a province suddenly found themselves part of a minority language group as the dominant language group won majority status. The rights of all people as Indian citizens to live and work anywhere had to be maintained by curbing attempts by majority linguistic groups to impose 'non-tariff barriers' on the employment or advancement of minority groups.


It is a sore point which flares up again and again even 50 years after the establishment of such states. The most contentious was the division of Bombay province between a Marathi-speaking state — Maharashtra —  and a Gujarati-speaking one — Gujarat. In this case the multilingual, cosmopolitan city of Bombay was at issue. Marathi-speaking people were the largest single group, but not a majority.


There were other minorities who had significantly contributed to Bombay's economy and culture: Gujaratis, Hindu as well as Muslim; Parsis who also spoke Gujarati, but in their own special way; Punjabis who then dominated the cinema industry; people from the southern states who had migrated in search of jobs; Sindhis who had just migrated from Sind; Christians of all denominations including Goan Catholics, Kerala Syrian Christians, Anglo-Indians; and, of course, a small enclave of foreigners settled permanently. Bombay was unique until Independence, but democracy made number counting important. There was even a proposal to make it a city state. Nehru refused a division in the mid-1950s, but had to concede when a popular agitation in Maharashtra led to a severe election loss for the Congress in the 1957 elections. The two states were inaugurated in 1960 with Bombay going to Maharashtra.


The provinces knew little about each other once you got beyond the English-speaking elite. Their arts and their histories and their literatures had to be given room to flourish, but in a way which enhanced India's unity, not detract from it. They had cohabited in the same territorial space and, in some sense, shared a common religion or social system — such as the caste system — but there were historical memories of old wrongs and perceived or imagined differences in economic circumstances between neighbouring linguistic groups…


Democracy has been both a problem — since numbers matter and majorities batten down on minorities — and a solvent, since no linguistic community, even a majority one, is so homogenous that it can win power on its own. Alliances have to be made across linguistic groups as across castes and classes. India's democracy bears a chaotic look because it has had to cope with such multiple class and social cleavages, as well as sub-nationalities within a Union.


Meghnad Desai is a member of the British Labour Party. This is an edited extract from The Rediscovery of India (Penguin)

(The views expressed by the author are personal)








The recently concluded elections have had one serious fallout in the 'Aya Ram Gaya Ram' state of Haryana. Bhajan Lal, a former Chief Minister and the master of 'horse-trading', finds himself this time at the receiving end. The enticement of five of his party's six MLAs by the Congress has ensured that he and his younger son, Kuldeep Bishnoi, stand isolated.


The duo's plight stems from their immaturity in dealing with the Congress, which while emerging as the largest party was still six short of the magic number. Bhajan Lal's Haryana Janhit Congress had secured six seats, the exact number needed by the Congress to form a stable government. However, in their eagerness to settle scores with their arch adversary and CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda, the two have had to taste the bitterness of 'defection politics'.


Bhajan Lal was the only non-Jat leader to have ruled Haryana for a number of years by outwitting two iconic Jat leaders, Devi Lal and Bansi Lal. He had become adept in engineering defections and had even successfully transformed his entire Janata Party government into a Congress one after Indira Gandhi returned to power in 1980. Bhajan Lal, a truly pan-Haryana leader, used to normally get elected from Adampur, near the Rajasthan border. His elder son, Chandra Prakash, had been successful from Kalka, bordering Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Chandigarh. Younger son Kuldeep had defeated both Bansi Lal's son, Surinder Singh, and Om Prakash Chautala's son, Ajay Chautala, from Bhiwani in 2004 to emerge as the victor in a battle of the sons of ex-CMs.


In addition, Bhajan Lal had represented Faridabad, which shares borders with UP and Karnal, the latter in the middle of Haryana. In that sense, he — and his family — had been given the mandate by the people of the state from every region in Haryana, something no other leader can boast of. Even in 2009, fighting against a Congress wave, Bhajan Lal got elected to the Lok Sabha from Hissar. But this time, an ailing Lal was unable to impress upon Kuldeep that he should be pragmatic and settle for a reasonable offer from the Congress. This was not only to prolong his political career but also to get back into the power structure. In the 2005 Haryana assembly polls, the Congress high command opted for Hooda essentially because the party won from every Jat constituency and, thus, was compelled to have a CM from that community.


Bhajan Lal found himself left high and dry and thus broke away to form his own outfit, though his elder son Chandra Prakash remained the deputy CM till his controversial marriage to Anuradha Bali under Islamic rites. The Bhajan Lal family distanced itself from Chandra Prakash and the younger son took political centrestage.


Kuldeep faltered when he started insisting that Hooda should not be made the CM and his six MLAs would support anyone else but him. His other demands initially also included his inclusion in the ministry as the deputy CM and his father's induction in the Union Cabinet. Despite being sounded by Prithviraj Chavan, the Congressman in charge of Haryana, Kuldeep tried to bargain — even demanding a cash prize for his MLAs — without realising that a blueprint had been prepared to entice them away. So he could not keep his flock in check. It is a matter of speculation whether his and his father's image would have been intact if he had merged his party with the Congress. In the bargain, he very well could have become deputy CM.


But as things stand today, developments in Haryana have virtually ensured that Bhajan Lal and Kuldeep Bishnoi have only each other for company. As of now, their politics seems to be over. Between us.









He was a man revered for his public image — almost as spotless as his white dhoti-kurta — for his first six years as successor to Jyoti Basu as chief minister of West Bengal. Then Nandigram happened in 2007. Since then, he has been pilloried as a "blindfolded" apostle of industry. By the time 2009 comes to an end, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's public image will have turned a darker shade of grey.


It's not just Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, CPI(Maoist) leader Kishenji, or the torchbearers for Kamtapur, Gorkhaland and greater Jharkhand (states their supporters want to carve out of West Bengal) who want him out. Going by the results of the last two years' panchayat, civic and general elections, it seems even millions of voters, a significant section of the media, many policemen and bureaucrats, too, want to see the last of him.


But what happened to the Buddhadeb the Bengali buddhijibi (intellectual) had fallen in love with? One of the first occasions he popped into the headlines was in 1993, when he resigned from Jyoti Basu's Cabinet because of difference of opinion. The former information and culture minister used the time to pen a critique of a work by modernist poet Jibanananda Das.


Veteran journalist Amitabha Chaudhuri, who has known Buddhadeb since his childhood days, remembers his astonishing memory. "Even at the age of 5, he could recite Tagore's poems one after another."  Chaudhuri was a regular visitor to the Bhattacharjee residence at 11D Ramdhan Mitra Lane in north Kolkata. "Whenever Bacchu (Buddhadeb's pet name) came in, we would make him sit on the almirah. He was allowed to come down only after he sang a few songs," said Chaudhuri. It's this artistic persona that the Bengali middle-class fell for.


The love fest continued even after he became chief minister.


If cricket is Buddhadeb's religion, Sourav Ganguly is its presiding deity. Neil Mukherjee, a television journalist, remembers how Buddhadeb kept himself informed of cricket scores between interviews. "It was a Sunday in 2000, and the electronic media had been invited to the [CPI(M)] party headquarters for consecutive interviews. As we took time to organise, Buddhababu kept sending his party workers to the TV room to feed him the latest scores."
The Bengali voter kept loving him till the Assembly elections of 1996.


"It was only after the March 14 [2007] police firing at Nandigram that a section of the media started maligning his image and section of people got confused," says Rabin Deb, former MLA and CPI(M) state committee member, in defense of his senior colleague.


It's true Buddhadeb's credentials are impeccable. He first showed his capability as an organiser while serving as the state secretary of the newly-formed Democratic Youth Organisation of India, a mass wing of the CPI(M), in the late 1960s. He has been a state committee member of the party since 1972, a central committee member of 1985 and a politburo member from 2000. Besides, he has also been serving as a minister for more than 26 years.


Kshiti Goswami, RSP leader and the state's public works minister, says, "He took charge at a time when there were new questions and challenges. He tried to find out a new way, tried to experiment. In a sense, he can be called an adventurist... he's always trying to do something new. Sometimes things go well, sometimes not."

But after that fateful winter day in 2007, the people of Bengal were not left in much doubt which way things had gone. The police, sent in to open a blockade enforced by the Trinamool Congress in Nandigram, opened fire and killed 14 people. Buddhadeb, as a chief minister who had long been in charge of the home ministry too, was directly responsible.


A large number of intellectuals, who had pampered for his self-confessed weakness for poetry, art and parallel cinema, turned against him.


Then came Singur. Then the death of Rizwanur Rahman that implicated three IPS officers. Then came the botched relief efforts following the havoc of the Aila cyclone.


Even allies within the Left Front, who had already started criticising the state's land acquisition policy, raised the pitch of protest.


At a rally last week, the 65-year-old chief minister told his followers: "We cannot deny there is a wind of change blowing over Bengal." Coming from a man who's known to speak his mind, it sounded like the understatement of the decade.








On his way to Shanghai and Beijing this week, US President Barack Obama has declared that America has no desire to contain China and is ready to welcome its efforts to play a larger role in the world. In a major speech in Tokyo at the start of his first Asian tour, Obama made light of the traditional Sino-US differences on political values and emphasised the importance of practical bilateral cooperation. Rejecting the notion that power politics will define the future of Asian security, Obama argued that in an inter-connected world, "nations need not fear the success of another". The broad lines of Obama's rhetorical thrust on China were widely anticipated. It is no secret that Obama administration has decided to abandon the China policy of his predecessor George W. Bush — to hedge against the rise of China by building stronger ties with its Asian neighbours.


There is something new, however, in Obama's Asian tour: while Washington wants a warm embrace, Beijing's signals are cold. TheChinese Communist Party, with its acute sensitivity to shifting power balances, is quite convinced that America can't contain China even if it wants to. The CCP is conscious of America's new vulnerabilities — financial and military — and Washington's need for Beijing's cooperation across a range of issues. Obama's tall talk may remind the Chinese leaders of Mikhail Gorbachev, who tried to hide Russia's weakness in idealist sentiment. No wonder Beijing is playing hard to get — whether it is in circumscribing Obama's attempts to reach wider audiences during his visit or rejecting the "grand bargain" he has offered.


Obama's proposition that America will not stand in the way of China's rise if Beijing agrees to be a responsible power draws only sneers from the CCP. Beijing is confident that its rise is now unstoppable and wants to lay out its own terms for an accommodation with Washington. Obama might then be treated to some pointed lectures in China — get America's financial house in order, end protectionist measures against Chinese goods, endorse Beijing's sovereignty over Tibet, and stop American arms sales to Taiwan. As Beijing and Washington redefine their ties, New Delhi must recognise the inevitability of expanded Sino-US cooperation in some areas as well as the irreconcilability of their core contradictions. If India can gets its sums right, it will find that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will have ample room to play his own version of great power politics when he meets Obama in Washington a few days after the US president returns home from Asia.







Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's request for a status report on the railways from Minister Mamata Banerjee — a request more in the nature of a gentle rap — is eerily timely. Dr Singh is acting upon a report of the Planning Commission's documentation of the drift in railways. The railway minister must take the hint and shape up. Or ship out.


The prime minister's wake up call coincides with yet another horrific railway disaster, a disaster that took place on Banerjee's watch. On Saturday, the Mandor Express derailed, killing seven. The cause of the accident is to be ascertained. But here's a reality check on our railways. Apart from poor equipment, a staggering 90,000 safety-related posts are still vacant. Reforming all of this requires, at the very least, a minister who shows up and takes responsibility, and thereby sends the message all the way down that railways staff are to be held accountable. But Banerjee's focus on the 2011 West Bengal elections — even at the cost of her ministerial work — has been evident from the early days of this government, when she spent 20 of its first 31 days in Bengal. She has attended less than half the cabinet meetings held so far, even skipping those where her own ministry's work was on the agenda. The few railway events she turns up for are in her home state, and her absurd opposition to changes in the Land Acquisition Act (voiced in one of the few cabinet meetings that she did, in fact, attend) was based less on principle than on the electoral arithmetic in Bengal.


Mamata Banerjee is hardly the only Union minister to be preoccupied with her own state. New Delhi has a long tradition of ministers using their national pedestal for narrow geographic ends. It was hoped that with the new UPA government less beholden to regional satraps, rent-seeking would be diminished. But Banerjee's indifference flies in the face on any such hope. It is hoped that the prime minister's action jolts her into action. Either way, she must know that she is on notice.







The Samajwadi Party and Mulayam Singh Yadav are paying a price for their failure to evolve their politics and positioning. Beset by a grave identity crisis in Uttar Pradesh's post-Mandal politics, the SP looks confused and lost, unsure of the path to take, of the people to co-opt or abandon. Mulayam's attempt to distance himself and his party from former BJP chief minister Kalyan Singh is mark of this post-defeat desperation. (A stung Kalyan Singh retaliated, calling Mulayam Singh 'a traitor', and resolving to pour his energies into strengthening Hindutva in UP.)Undeniably, the SP is in visible decline in its home state, increasingly turfed out by the poles being formed by arch-rival Bahujan Samaj Party and a self-reviving Congress. Its loss of stronghold Firozabad in the Lok Sabha bypoll and failure to win even a single seat in the assembly bypolls make the picture of the SP's fall stark.


Undeniably also, Mulayam needs to introspect. Loud proclamations that Kalyan was not, is not and will never be a member of the SP seek an easy rhetorical solution to a crisis that is deep and is not likely to be stemmed overnight. Either way, in aligning with Kalyan then and ditching him now, Mulayam can be charged by some quarters of political opportunism. The courting and now distancing of Kalyan Singh reflects SP's acute identity crisis. It is not able to come to terms with the decline of the BJP in UP — it has also not found a positive agenda on which to retain its key vote banks of the post-Mandal and post-Mandir years. Instead, the party has been reduced to raising absurd bogeys, like its concern at English-language education and computers before the Lok Sabha election.


If the SP keenly looked beyond, or ahead, it would realise the need to change its brand of personality politics — excessive focus on its own top, its chief's family candidates, or blaming one individual for full-scale political failure. In UP's, and India's transformed political arenas, parties need constructive agendas for success. Mere reliance on identity and vote-bank calculations will not pay off any more.








Professor Sheldon Pollock has just announced scholarships for Dalit students who wish to study Sanskrit at Columbia University. This is indeed welcome news. The tragedy is that this initiative is not being undertaken in India, the home of Sanskrit as well as Dalits. It is revealing to note what Professor Saroja Bhate of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune has to say: "I congratulate Professor Pollock for doing this. This is exactly what I would have done and would do in future if I have the resources." The question we need to ask is why Professor Bhate does not have the resources. We spend crores and crores casually on conferences, commissions and committees of which we have lost count, but there is no money in Pune for pursuing Sanskrit studies or encouraging Dalits. The irony is aggravated when one knows that the current vice chancellor of Pune University, Dr Narendra Jadhav, is himself a Dalit and a Sanskrit scholar. (He stood first in his high school class in Sanskrit. His Brahmin teacher was apparently quite puzzled when he got to know that his brilliant student was in fact a Dalit!) Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, the winner of the Chemistry Nobel, works in the UK; Amartya Sen, the winner of an Economics Nobel, trains doctoral students in Cambridge, England and Cambridge, Massachusetts. C.R. Rao, Bhagwati, Kulkarni, Reddy, Ramachandran, Prahlad, Bhabha, Chakravarti, Bose, Appadurai, Subrahmanyam, Narayana Rao — in fields as diverse as physics, robotics, economics, neuro-science, statistics, philosophy, history, management and Telugu literature — are all ensconced in universities outside India. And now, we have even conceded the commanding heights of Sanskrit scholarship to distant lands. It is as if we have abandoned the pursuit of higher learning in India. There are a few exceptions. The Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore still struggles bravely. JNU does have a handful of scholars. The rest is silence as Hamlet would have it, or shall we say darkness?


The British started universities in India as institutions that conducted examinations and awarded degrees. Research and the creation of knowledge would still take place at Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh. Despite this unhappy beginning, the universities of Calcutta, Bombay, Madras, Allahabad, Poona and Benares did manage to have outstanding scholars at one time and reasonable reputations. In the thirties, Raman was able to do cutting edge research in Calcutta. In the forties, Radhakrishnan assembled a world-class faculty in Waltair, where the new Andhra University was situated. What has gone wrong that we have "out-sourced" all knowledge creation, not just in aeronautics or molecular biology but even in Sanskrit and Telugu studies to foreign institutions? If this continues, we can forget any hope of becoming a prosperous country in the foreseeable future. It is not sufficient if our IITs and IIMs teach well to students who are of a high calibre simply by self-selection. They need to produce seminal research. They need to create original knowledge which is a pre-requisite for any progress that we aspire for. In years gone by, the art historian Stella Kramrisch came to Calcutta and Shantiniketan to study Indian art. Today, she can stay away from India completely (except for messy obligatory field trips) and use her time more productively in Philadelphia or in London at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).


While the entry of private universities on a not-for-profit as well as a for-profit basis is to be welcomed, because they increase choice for our students, this does not mean that the state walks away from this space. Even in the US, the University of California system or the Universities of Michigan and Texas are publicly funded universities and their existence is critical to the overall success of the system. Any moves to improve public universities must reject the deadening hand of excessive centralisation. A single University Grants Commission sitting in Delhi trying to impose one set of standards, salaries and processes for all institutions across the country has a Stalinist feel to it and like all central-planning solutions will lead to mediocrity and a slow death of creativity. The medieval European university was granted autonomy usually by specific royal charter. This enabled each of them to pursue excellence as they saw fit; over time different models emerged. Bologna was different from Heidelberg; Oxford was different from Uppsala. There is no reason for the omniscient UGC to insist that every lecturer have an MPhil with 6.5 years of experience and that every professor have a PhD with 11.2 years of experience. It might be quite in order to appoint a brilliant young person straight away to a professor's position.


Because he decided that we could not rescue the existing universities from the clutches of venal politicians in different states, Nehru set the stage for elite Central government institutions. Unfortunately, we copied the French model of elite Ecoles specialising in single areas (technology, management, statistics, films, medicine, law) rather than the Scottish, English or American models of multi-disciplinary universities. Similarly we structured CSIR laboratories so that they have no undergraduate students and hardly any doctoral candidates. The Central institutions have become islands of specialisation and we are not getting the benefits of a large, copious well-rounded university population. Recent attempts by the IITs to start programmes in management and in the humanities need to be welcomed. We need to build on this auspicious beginning. Just like MIT, which started as an engineering college and grew into a full-fledged university, the IITs and IIMs are well-positioned to become broad-based centres of learning and research.


The argument that an academic institution which receives land and grants from the government must therefore be controlled by ministries is a weak and fallacious one. We can and must grant autonomy to our public universities just as we do to the Election Commission or the judiciary. This combined with a large injection of resources could easily result in India having its own Nobel laureates in a ten to twenty-year time-frame. Otherwise, let us be prepared for intellectual darkness.








Even as Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee enters his tenth year as chief minister of West Bengal, the CPM leader is confronted with a big question mark on his legitimacy in power. After a political career that spanned five decades, he stands at the crossroads. The man who charted a rather revolutionary course for the Left in Bengal this century is now being put in the dock for successive electoral upsets: the Lok Sabha debacle, the civic poll rout and now, the deplorable by-poll results to 10 assembly seats.


In this rising din is one singular tragic truth: left to himself, Bhattacharjee would have quit the scene long ago. But it is common knowledge that in a regimented communist party collective will gets precedence over individual preferences. Thus he continues in the hot seat. The real tragedy lies elsewhere: as one looks for the causes of such debacles, the Bengal chief minister becomes a soft target for vilification, and often an unfortunate scapegoat. For all his ideological moorings, his spartan lifestyle and honesty of purpose, he is being seen as the villain of the piece — ironically, his individual failures are projected as being on a bigger scale than the rot within the party itself.


In pointing an accusing finger at him, there is a conscious and concerted attempt at suppressing the bigger threat before the Left in Bengal: of rapid disintegration and decline. The party is not only being rejected, but there is a strong element of hate against its rank and file, primarily because of rampant nepotism, the accumulation of personal wealth by party leaders and their relatives, arrogance and hypocrisy at all levels. These factors have much to do with the fall of the Left in Bengal but are being deliberately overshadowed.


Bhattacharjee, therefore, stands battered and bruised. He looks a defeated man, with nowhere to turn, with no way to avert the impending doom of his government and party. His administration, which came in with such promise to transform Bengal, is now a lame-duck ministry. The reforms agenda has stopped. The problem of employment has become worse; last fortnight, when the government distributed forms for recruitment of several thousand teachers, 40 lakh applicants picked them up. The placement in 60-odd private and government engineering colleges has dipped by about 70 per cent in the past two years. Even in the IT sector — one of Bhattacharjee's thrust areas — over 2500 seats remained vacant as there were no takers. No fresh industrial investments are coming. Everything has fallen flat.


What has grown? Political violence in this changing of the guard. According to one estimate, over 510 political murders have been committed since the 2006 assembly polls. Within a small block of Lalgarh alone, over 112 murders took place after the joint security forces began operations from mid-June 2009. Amid this growing political strife there is definitely a sense that the government lacks the power and authority to ensure the rule of law. There is a crisis of credibility.


What the latest by-poll results have projected are crucial changes at the micro-level. The panchayat polls of July 2008 showcased the alienation of the Muslim voters from the Left, particularly the CPM. It marked a silent revolution in rural Bengal, with the Trinamool and Congress bagging 1505 village panchayat seats as against the Left's 1597. (In 2003, the Left controlled almost 80 per cent of these.) The maximum erosion was evident in Muslim-minority belts; these constitute 27 per cent of the population.


In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the opposition combine made further inroads, having hijacked the land issue. The Left's edge has always been on account of its land reforms programme in the '80s. But the Singur-Nandigram fiasco turned that into a negative. The Lok Sabha results also showed a middle class swing away from the Left. Now, the assembly by-poll results highlight another crack in the Left's vote bank — the alienation of the SC/ ST population. The Left lost Rajgunj and Kalchini — two reserved seats out of the 10, to the Trinamool and a Gorkha Janamukti Morcha-backed Independent.


The SC/ ST population in Bengal is estimated at 22.5 per cent (15 per cent SC and 7.5 per cent ST) and accounts for 59 SC and 17 ST seats — a total of 76 out of 294. In 1991, the LF won 75 out of these 76 seats; in 2006, 70. While trouble brews around the tribal belt in Bankura-Purulia-West Midnapore in south Bengal, the reverses suffered in the reserved seats in the north send truly ominous signals for the Left.


Neither Bhattacharjee nor the party seems to be ready with a substantive response to the crisis. Given a free choice, the Bengal CM would truly like to seek a fresh mandate sooner than March, 2011.









There was a half-page advertisement celebrating Rahul Gandhi's success in UP (a specific reference to Firozabad, where Raj Babbar defeated Mulayam's daughter-in-law) about the "future" being "more than just about caste and community", and about "development and progress." There are no regulation stamp-size pictures of the Congress president or PM alongside Rahul's dimpled smile. Raj Thackeray will get angry when he sees it, as the ad has been issued by the South Mumbai District Congress Committee, and has a suggestion that Maharashtra and UP are part of the same country. Other me-too ads will doubtless follow. But besides being a way of cosying up to the Amethi MP, this ad suggests a clear acknowledgement in the Congress on the importance of good news from Uttar Pradesh if the Congress is to grow into its own, nationally.


In political tutorials, UP, with 80 parliamentary seats has never been underestimated. Those who ruled Delhi did it via Lucknow, as that popular Lucknow MP, Atal Behari Vajpayee never tired of saying. However, since 1999, this axiom of Indian politics was not considered valid. UP picked the ruling party in the Centre directly till 1999, but after that, voters in UP were said to have been paralysed in the caste bog. Analysts concluded that finding candidates to vote for in UP was like voters choosing grooms for daughters, caste, kin, gotra, all being central, if unstated criteria. UP, in the past decade, was seen as stuck in a trap which would ensure that governance (as understood in cities), for example, would never be important. Bihar, with broader coalitions, was seen as more radical historically. Even now, there is space for Nitish Kumar (seen as more radical, a 'doer' in many ways who wanted to take politics 'forward' — no pun intended) to push the envelope beyond simple caste arithmetic.


However, what has been forgotten is how radical, shifty and surprising UP has always been. Of course, from 1946 till 1967, it was steady, stable Congress rule, with patronage politics playing out smoothly. In 1967, as the wave of anti-Congressism first spread, this was also seen in UP, which saw a non-Congress CM being elected that year. Post-1969, as Indira Gandhi went about centralising things, she (with H.N. Bahuguna's support) reinvented the party in UP leading to improved results for the Congress in the rest of the country.


All the way until 1977, in Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha polls, the ruling party at the centre was provided the numbers by UP. In 1971, when Indira Gandhi swept nationally, it was riding on the back of 73 out of then-78 UP seats. More dramatic was the time when UP changed its mind in 1977, and the party scored a neat duck, out of a then total of 85 seats. If more evidence is required of UP's power to shock, it was just three years later, when the Congress' comeback in 1980 rode on UP, with 51 seats out of 85. The next election, right after Indira Gandhi's assassination saw more than 400 seats for the Congress nationally, and UP contributed 83 seats. Conversely, when the ground shook under the GoP's feet, the tremors were begun and sustained by UP. When the drift in UP started, with the 'Janta lehar' — backward classes, Dalits and minorities, confused and restless, looked for alternatives, it was the beginning of the weakest and longest phase out of government for the Congress, reflected again in UP's results. 1989 was a dramatic slump for the Congress tally, down from 83 in 1984 to 15 five years on. In 1991, the Congress did manage to form a minority government at the centre, but the Congress got a mere 5 MPs from UP. Conversely, for the BJP, the only time it has been able to nurse national ambitions was when it held the cards in UP — in 1991 it had 51 seats, which hovered in that range till 1999.


In the state elections too, UP has experimented, displayed vibrancy and shown very stunning results at each election, not just boring swings between two parties — in 1992-3, the SP-BSP combine secured a big victory for the underdog, pipping the then-invincible BJP. The BJP-BSP combination got a chance, then it was BJP along with fragments of other parties ('Loktantrik' this-and-that) which won, and then forces led by the SP had a run, and finally in 2007 Mayawati's single party government was elected. In the 2009 national elections though, the BSP was dragged down to the third position and underdog Congress was snapping at Mulayam Singh's heels.


Nationally, 2004 was a year with a difference, when both the Congress and the BJP performed below par in UP. The BJP was swept out of the national race and the Congress made it only when it got the support of 61 Left MPs. So, as all strategists will tell the Congress high command, which is anxious to shake off coalition allies and has aspirations of making it on its own, keeping UP onside is very important in dictating terms nationally. UP strategy will decide its ability to leverage nationally — in effect, that makes it very clear why the bangle town of Firozabad is exciting the South Mumbai Congress Committee — or even the Tirunelveli or Goalpokhar Congress Committee. Coalitions have never come easily to the Congress' blood-type. Those who do business with the Congress seem to rely on personalities (the Congress president) to help the wheels of seat-sharing move ahead — but its always a reluctant and sullen local Congress that talks seats.


If anecdotal evidence is to be made much of from the recent bypolls, then the fact of the 'Yadav vote' not voting in a predictable way is what has been a rude shock for the SP. What has turned the loyal Muslim vote away from them is their confidence that a vote away from SP is no longer a vote for the BJP, the parameters of the ruling vs. opposition framework have changed from between the SP and the BJP see-saw to a new one, Congress versus the BSP. The language of this debate promises to be different, and it is led on either side by two very determined and somewhat enigmatic people, about whose innermost strategies, despite hagiographic accounts every now and then, very little is actually known. What we do know is that both believe in taking the battle head-on, and leading it personally. Whatever the outcome, it promises to be a gripping watch — and, as per UP's forgotten traditions, a surprise.







One year in, it seemed obvious what would define this decade. After 9/11, everyone could see that we were living in the age of terror. Presidents and senators talked about it, the media covered its every twist and turn, from bombings in Bali to terror camps in Pakistan. And yet, as the decade comes to a close, it is clear to me that the big story is actually something quite different, something less crisis-ridden, less television-friendly but in the long run far more consequential — the rise of China.


First, the case against terrorism as a defining idea. A few years into the decade, the age of terror began fizzling out. Once the combined power and attention of governments worldwide were focussed on them, terrorist groups found it much harder to operate. They were chased around the globe by special forces, their money tracked, and their recruits scrutinised at every visa entry point. Al Qaeda's core mission was a jihad against the United States, and its methods were large attacks on symbols of American power— warships, embassies. It has found it very difficult to continue along this path in the new environment. Similar groups and people — all small minorities as well — have picked up the battle, inspired by Al Qaeda more than directed by it. But these local groups can only attack smaller targets in their home countries, often places that are unprotected and will always be unprotected — cafes, railway stations, subways. The problem with these attacks, however, is that they kill locals, turning more and more Muslims against Al Qaeda and its ilk.


Thus the core weakness for Al Qaeda is exposed — it lacks popular appeal. Its message does not resonate anywhere. It hopes to stun the world by spectacular acts of violence precisely because it cannot do so with its political message or popular support. This lack of appeal always limited Al Qaeda's global danger — after all, no non-Muslim wants to live under an Islamic caliphate. Now even Muslims were emphatically turned off. How can a movement with no real mass appeal pretend to be the future or scare us into reshaping our societies? Of course, terrorism is a problem. Modern technologies of communication and violence ensure that a small group of people can make a lot of trouble anywhere in the world. They have to be fought and societies have to learn resilience, bouncing back from the next attack. But that makes terrorism a condition of today's world, not a dominant story of tomorrow.


The real trend of the decade has been the rise of China from a Third World nation to the second-most-important country on the planet. In 1990, China was under a cloud. It was still very much a Third World country, with average income at less than a dollar a day. Most of its reforms were about a decade old, progress was real but still slow, and the high drama of the brutal suppression of Tiananmen Square had caused the leadership in China to stop all new reformist policies and caused the world to put better relations with China on hold. China was in a freeze.


The thaw came, as Zachary Karabell points out in his new book, Superfusion, when Deng Xiaoping toured China a few months after the crackdown. He announced that economic reforms would continue. China would continue its embrace of modernity, the West, trade, and technology. Politics would be placed on hold but not the economic development of the country. "One does not stop eating for fear of choking," Deng said, using one of his trademark epigrams to explain the future.


The rest is history. China grew over the decade around 10 per cent a year. Compounded, this has grown its GDP to $4.8 trillion, which will make it the second-largest economy by next year. The scale of China's achievement, which can now be viewed over three decades, is extraordinary by any standard. It has industrialised at roughly three times the pace that the West did. What took 100 years in Europe has taken one generation in China. And in handling this massive transformation, what is really striking is the absence of large-scale violence. It is true that China is a dictatorship, but so were many Western countries when they industrialised, and they had much mass violence. Other East Asian countries have made this journey, but none has the size and scale to alter the world.


And China has not just survived the financial crisis but thrived during it. The Chinese economy will grow at 8.5 per cent this year, exports have rebounded to where they were in early 2008, foreign-exchange reserves have hit an all-time high of $2.3 trillion, and Beijing's stimulus package has launched the next great phase of infrastructure building in the country. Much of this has been driven by remarkably effective government policies. Before the global economy skidded to a halt, Beijing was running a budget surplus and had been raising interest rates to tamp down excessive growth. Its banks had been reining in consumer spending and excessive credit. So when the crisis hit, the Chinese government could adopt textbook policies to jump-start growth. It's fair to say that the winner of the global economic crisis is Beijing.


The net effect is that we have the rise onto the world stage of a new great power and one with massive potential for further growth along all dimensions. Of course, nothing can be taken for granted. China does have a restless middle class, persecuted minorities, border disputes, and the challenge of moving up the economic ladder, all within the context of a one-party system. Perhaps these troubles will make the country spiral downwards. I doubt it, but were it to happen, China's unravelling would be the dominant story of the next decade.










In a bit of uncharacteristic hyperbole on the eve of his 2005 meeting with President Bush, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared that the bilateral relationship was "without limits." At that time, his optimism was not unfounded: despite considerable domestic and international opposition over the next three years, the Bush administration pushed through the US-India nuclear deal, earning itself considerable goodwill in New Delhi.


In contrast, the Obama presidency has generated much unease in India through its initial missteps in linking the Kashmir issue with broader problems in the region, the confusion it created over its willingness to follow-through on commitments to provide India with access to nuclear technologies as well as its signalling of a possible preference for a Sino-American 'Group of Two (G2)' to manage global affairs. While there is clearly much that the Obama administration needs to do to improve Indo-US ties, New Delhi, in turn, needs to take the initiative in shaping the bilateral relationship which it can do by focusing on three broad areas.


First, India needs to take ownership of the relationship and proactively define both their vision for the bilateral relationship as well as their broader role in Asia and beyond. Many observers feel that the remarkable upswing in Indo-US relations over the past decade has largely been an American-driven effort with Washington working hard to "pull" a reluctant New Delhi along. While some of this may have had to do with the polarising sentiments that the Bush administration evoked, President Obama's multilateral approach to foreign affairs complements India's traditional world-view. Hence, India's political leaders should take the lead and clearly enunciate a bilateral roadmap that advances India's economic, strategic and developmental interests. As part of this effort, India could announce a follow-up to the moderately successful Next Step in Strategic Partnership (NSSP).


Secondly, creating a relationship without limits requires New Delhi to think about the benefits that can accrue to the US from closer ties. Demands for reciprocity and equality must be matched by action on both sides. While India stands to benefit significantly in the near-term from access to American tech and defence materials, the tangible returns to Washington are less clear. Obviously, access to lucrative Indian defence contracts are one such benefit, however even more important would be assistance in stabilising both Afghanistan and Pakistan. India has already been playing a much appreciated role in Afghanistan. As the relative costs of Indian labour translates into more 'bang-per-buck' vis-à-vis western developmental agencies, it might serve the interests of all parties if western aid is channelled through Indian, Pakistani, Turkish and other non-western NGOs. More importantly, US and India need to engage in a serious discussion on future stability in the region.


Finally, to be able to manage its complex bilateral relationships, India needs to change the structure, functioning and capabilities of its foreign-policy and national security bureaucracies. At present, there are only around 750 foreign-service officers in the MEA to engage with the entire global community. No matter how brilliant or hardworking they are, it is humanly impossible for these officials to competently track the myriad issues (strategy, economy, trade, cultural and people-to-people ties) involved in bilateral relations between major powers. Hence, despite the transformation in US-India relations over the last decade, the number of Indian officials at the embassy in Washington DC has remained unchanged. Similarly, at the MEA headquarters in South Block only five officers are assigned to cover all of the Americas. The defence ministry also lacks the capability to engage other countries on international security issues, with 90 per cent of their personnel focused on acquisition and only one joint secretary handling global security cooperation. As a result, in recent years, a number of training exercises between the Indian military and other foreign forces have been called off at the last moment leading to a loss of credibility. This has led to a legitimate complaint, made most prominently by Dan Markey of the Council on Foreign Relations, that India lacks the institutional arrangement to emerge as a global power.


Ultimately, if the Indo-US relationship is truly important to India, the government needs to expend political capital to educate the public on the merits of closer cooperation. Of course this will be influenced by the Obama adminstration's policies, but to proactively shape them, India needs to put forward its own big-picture ideas when Manmohan Singh pays a state visit to the White House next month.


Anit Mukherjee is a PhD candidate at the School of Advanced Studies, Johns Hopkins University and Walter Ladwig is a PhD candidate at Oxford University.







There are 45 days left in 2009, which means it is just about time to commence the beloved and enduring parlour game known as "Name That Decade." You know the rules — coin a pithy, reductive phrase that encapsulates the multitude of events, trends, triumphs and calamities of the past 10 years.


The decade began with a frenzy of fear about the Y2k millennium bug, which many technology experts said would sunder computers, crash jets and wreak havoc in every corner of the globe.


As that non-emergency passed, a genuine threat quietly gathered in the form of a plot to fell the twin towers. Later, we scoured Iraq for weapons of mass destruction, which we did not find. As we searched, we built weapons of financial chaos right at home. Fortunes and a staggering number of jobs have vanished, inflicting misery on a scale that would surely have exceeded the most garish of Saddam's fantasies.


So: The Era of Misplaced Anxiety? "How about the Decade of Disruptions?" suggests Walter Isaacson, the former editor of Time magazine. "We had coasted through the '90s with irrational exuberance. Between the fall of the Berlin Wall until the fall of the twin towers, there was nothing unnerving us. " "Then we get to a decade that begins with 9/11 and we realise we will be involved with a global struggle. And the decade has various financial disruptions — the dot-com bubble, Enron — culminating in the one last year. It's been a decade as bumpy as the '90s were blithe."


Actually, the Decade of the Unthinkable is pretty good, too."It's been a tough decade for those of us in the future prediction business," says the futurist Paul Saffo, who teaches at Stanford University. "Realities have consistently outpaced our wildest imaginings." "In the '90s," he says, "we had all the indicators of the problems that were coming and in our complacency we did nothing. The environment, terrorism, financial markets." But because no one acted, "the problems, once they began, overshot the institutions that could have solved them." And this isn't a problem that he thinks is going away. "Without a doubt, we're seven billion people driving at light speed down a dark and foggy highway and we can't see past the windshield."


This seems rather excessively gloomy. Unless humanity's seven-billion-seater hits a wall some time soon, we might not know if his car analogy is accurate, perhaps for quite a while. That is what makes this name-the-decade game such a challenge. We lack the critical distance that only time affords to sort through the lasting significance of the recent past. The Twenties apparently weren't tattooed with Roaring until a few years after they were over.


And even with the distance of time, some decades are just label-resistant. For example, the '90s had plenty of flavour and atmospherics — the Clinton era, regional wars, Pamela Anderson — but have managed to elude the best efforts of name-affixers everywhere.


Thus, a note of caution from Paul Kennedy, a historian at Yale. The urge to name moments and eras, he said, is an affliction common to historians, but one that is best attempted with a certain sobriety.


He cited an extended metaphor of E. H. Carr, a historian who compared history to the experience of riding in a camel train through a North African desert. "As you approach the mountains, they have a particular shape and formation," Kennedy said. "By the time your train has drawn equal to the mountains, their shape has changed. And as the train winds further northwards, if you cast a look back, the shape will change again." In a poem called "Nostalgia," the former poet laureate Billy Collins satirises the urge to control the past by slicing it up into easy-to-handle units. Here's how it opens:


Remember the 1340's? We were doing a dance called the Catapult.


You always wore brown, the colour craze of the decade, and I was draped in one of those capes that were popular, the ones with unicorns and pomegranates in needlework.


Everyone would pause for beer and onions in the afternoon, and at night we would play a game called "Find the Cow."


Everything was hand-lettered then, not like today.


"There's this mysterious thing called the past," said Collins, "and the temptation is to tame it, to demystify it. That's the underlying human motive for naming decades." He thinks it will take many years to name the '00s because it will take many years to figure out what we feel that we lost during that period, and therefore what to feel sentimental or wistful about. "Nostalgia needs to brew for a while," he says.


For those of us who can't wait? "I think we should start naming decades the way we name hurricanes," he said. "Let's skip right past the A's. Let's call this one Bob."


The New York Times







The leading narrative of our time, which places the US and China at the apex of the global power game, demands that special attention be paid to Barack Obama's first visit to China as US President. What we know almost for sure is that the two sides will not be discussing the Dalai Lama or Tibet—the Chinese prevailed on Obama not to meet the Dalai Lama in the US. What they need to talk about, and will talk about, is economics. And not just trade wars over tyres, or retaliatory anti-dumping duties and other protectionist measures. Those are certainly important issues, but they are largely pure bilateral matters. From the point of view of the rest of the world, including India, what need to be the major talking points are exchange rates and massive trade imbalances, which are in fact closely linked.


There is fair consensus that one of the underlying causes of the financial crisis, which we are just about seeing the end of, was the massive imbalance created by the US that was living on cheap finance funded by foreign countries buying cheap goods from other countries. On the other side were the surplus economies, China being the largest, which were financing US consumption while under-consuming within. Why China draws more attention than say Germany or Japan is because it manipulates its exchange rate to enhance its export competitiveness. The yuan is pegged (at what is generally agreed to be an undervalued amount) to the dollar. This distorts trade with the US. Ideally, a somewhat appreciated yuan will reduce Chinese exports and increase domestic consumption. It will also boost US exports and reduce local US consumption. This will help correct some of the fundamental global imbalances more than any other policy measure. What makes the situation even more urgent from the point of view of countries like India is that the declining dollar (and hence yuan) is making exports from emerging economies other than China very uncompetitive. It is also forcing central banks to buy dollars to prevent excessive appreciation of the exchange rate. So, if Obama presses the Chinese to revalue their currency, he will not only address the US-China imbalance, but he will also help address the perverse effects of a falling dollar on the real economies of other emerging economies. Of course, there is no obvious reason for the Chinese to agree to this. They stand to lose some of their impressive growth momentum if exports slow down after a revaluation. The US, however, can use the carrot of granting China market economy status—that will make a number of US anti-dumping actions illegal in the future—as a condition for addressing the highly problematic exchange rate issue.






It's an irony of sorts. Though bank credit to the corporate sector has declined, companies are tapping other sources of funds with élan. They are tapping equity, corporate debt, qualified institutional placements and the overseas market to fund their working capital and capital expenditure needs. The low-cost advantage offered by commercial paper and bonds, at around 3.5% for 180 days, as compared to 6.5% from banks, is prompting companies to tap these routes aggressively instead of bank funding. In the first seven months of this financial year, companies have mopped up about Rs 50,000 crore from these sources, nearly 25 times the level in the corresponding period last year. Similarly, they borrowed around Rs 35,000 crore from the overseas market and most of it was done in the last two months. In contrast, RBI data shows that the share of adjusted non-bank food credit to the commercial sector has more than halved to 22% during the first half of this financial year from around 49% a year ago. With the growing time lag between the loan sanction and actual disbursement by banks, which typically ranges from 4 months to 8 months, companies are now preferring non-bank sources for funding. For their working capital requirements, companies are also tapping foreign currency loans as they are disbursed quickly with no end-use restrictions. For banks, it is important at this point of time to make quick disbursals as many companies have in the past put their capital expenditure plans on hold because of delays in disbursement. Quick disbursement is also important if banks expect to meet the central bank's revised credit growth target of 18% at the end of the financial year.


For the past two months, companies are finding the global market more lucrative to borrow as the credit default spread has come down to the same level as it was before the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Though borrowing from the overseas market or the domestic bond market is possible for big companies, small and medium companies in sectors like textiles, jewellery and leather are having a difficult time as banks are still wary of incremental exposure to these sectors. At the depth of the financial crisis, capital-hungry companies in sectors like real estate, heavy engineering, chemicals, power and infrastructure raised funds through equity issues and follow-on offers. This has indeed helped, as many high-leveraged companies in the last one year have reduced their skewed debt-to-equity ratio. Banks must consider this as an encouraging sign and take proactive steps to increase their lending to companies, which are looking for funds, especially for their capital expenditure plans as it takes 12 to 18 months to yield results. A long wait for bank funds may just dampen a quick recovery.








We have a deadline of April 2010 for GST (goods & services tax), a deadline first promised in budget for 2007-08. On November 10, Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers released the first discussion paper on GST.  That is a bit late in the day, if the deadline of April 2010 is serious.  FM has said states like Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Haryana want a delayed introduction of GST and there are several other reasons why GST from April 2010 is unlikely, if GST is interpreted as meaning complete harmonisation, unification and standardisation, with elimination of all other indirect taxes.


Here is a quote from the discussion paper. "Despite this success with VAT, there are still certain shortcomings in the structure of VAT both at the Central and at the state level. The shortcoming in Cenvat of the Government of India lies in non-inclusion of several Central taxes in the overall framework of Cenvat, such as additional customs duty, surcharges, etc, and thus keeping the benefits of comprehensive input tax and service tax set-off out of reach of manufacturers/dealers. Moreover, no step has yet been taken to capture the value-added chain in the distribution trade below the manufacturing level in the existing scheme of Cenvat. In the existing state-level VAT structure, there are certain shortcomings that are as follows. There are, for instance, even now, several taxes which are in the nature of indirect tax on goods and services, such as luxury tax, entertainment tax, etc, and yet not subsumed in the VAT. Moreover, in the present State-level VAT scheme, Cenvat load on the goods remains included in the value of goods to be taxed under State VAT, and contributing to that extent a cascading effect on account of Cenvat element. This Cenvat load needs to be removed."


Fair enough. And we already have two problems. First, will Cenvat be modified? Second, have states agreed that indirect taxes like purchase tax (important for food-grain producing states like Punjab and Haryana), entertainment tax, luxury tax, electricity tax and octroi (important for Maharashtra) will be removed? If any of these are retained, we don't quite have a GST. Third, CST (Central Sales Tax) has to go and states will complain about revenue losses, over and above general arguments about revenue losses. The model proposed in the discussion paper has a dual GST. "The GST shall have two components: one levied by the Centre (hereinafter referred to as Central GST), and the other levied by the states (hereinafter referred to as State GST). Rates for Central GST and State GST would be prescribed appropriately, reflecting revenue considerations and acceptability. The Central GST and the State GST would be applicable to all transactions of goods & services made for a consideration except the exempted goods & services, goods which are outside the purview of GST and the transactions which are below the prescribed threshold limits." This illustrates more problems with GST. Fourth, will exempted categories be the same across states? Fifth, will State GST rates be identical across states? Sixth, will thresholds be the same across states? The discussion paper states that purchase taxes, alcohol, petroleum and natural gas will be outside the purview of GST.


Seventh, we need Constitutional amendments (supported by two-thirds of the states) to allow states to tax services and the Centre to tax beyond manufacturing. Those amendments are unlikely overnight. Eighth, the IT backbone is missing in many states and even if the Centre meets part of costs (say 75%), that's not going to happen immediately. The discussion paper states that this will be ready by January 2010. However, reasons for this optimism aren't clear. Ninth, there is still lack of clarity about some aspects of inter-state sales (stock transfers, inter-unit transfers, inter-office services) and even on whether services will have an all-India or state-level registration. To quote from the discussion paper: "Prior to the introduction of VAT in the Centre and in the states, there was a burden of multiple taxation in the pre-existing Central excise duty and the State sales tax systems. This was causing a burden of multiple taxation (that is, 'tax on tax') with a cascading effect. Moreover, in the sales tax structure, when there was also a system of multi-point sales taxation at subsequent levels of distributive trade, then along with input tax load, burden of sales tax paid on purchase at each level was also added, thus aggravating the cascading effect further—there was also no harmony in the rates of sales tax on different commodities among the states." That's true. We want a reformed indirect tax structure, as in the ideal GST. Will we have that ideal GST and will we have it from April 2010? Based on VAT experience and the discussion paper, the answer to both questions seems to be 'no'.


The author is a noted economist







After decades of rapid growth and surges in capital inflows, East Asia faced a sudden withdrawal of capital flows and a sharp crisis in 1997-98, which brought the growth in much of that region to a screeching halt.There is a similar debate on capital inflows now after the recent crisis.


A less emphasised feature in 1997-98 was the decline in portfolio flows following the initial bank panic as investors also tried to scale down their exposures in the region. In contrast, FDI flows remained remarkably stable throughout the period. In fact, FDI inflows experienced a jump up in 1998 and 1999, likely driven by a fire-sale of assets in the region as well as greater inflows to China. In the more recent global financial crisis, the bulk of the capital withdrawals from Asia were due to portfolio capital with short-term bank reversals playing a secondary role. Once again FDI figures appear quite stable.


It is not surprising, therefore, that bank flows plus portfolio flows have been termed 'mobile capital' with policy focus on either trying to limit these flows via capital account restrictions or through prudential measures, or ensuring that the central bank holds enough low-yielding liquid assets (foreign exchange reserves) to cover possible sudden withdrawals.


There are many currency crisis models that conveniently explain the volatility of short-term capital flows. The essence of these models is that a relatively small initial loss of confidence can quickly translate into panic and a mass exodus of funds. In contrast, FDI is determined by long-term fundamental economic characteristics, which are more stable. Indeed, FDI is often presented as being relatively irreversible in the short-run. Since it is supposed to enhance the productive capacity of the host country, it produces the revenue stream necessary to cover future capital outflows. The above theory combined with the empirical evidence for developing countries has resulted in the conventional wisdom that switching from short-term to long-term capital flows may reduce the probability of currency crises.


But is the conventional wisdom unassailable? A potential criticism of the conventional view regarding differing degrees of stability of various capital flows is that it fails to take into account the complex interactions between FDI and other flows. Examining each flow individually, particularly during short periods of time (such as year-to-year variations), may be an unreliable indicator of the degree of risk of various classes of flow, and could even be highly misleading. Capital that flows in under the guise of FDI, could flow out under another guise. Contrary to popular belief, FDI is not quite 'bolted down', although the physical assets it finances are. Foreign investors can use the physical assets as collateral to obtain loans from banks and can then place the funds abroad. In other words, the foreign direct investor may hedge the firm's FDI exposure by borrowing domestically and then taking short-term capital out of the country. Hence, a firm may be doing one thing with its assets and a different thing with the manner in which it finances them.


Actually, the distinction between portfolio and FDI flows in the balance of payments can be somewhat arbitrary. Small differences in equity ownership, which may serve to reclassify financial flows, are unlikely to represent substantially different investment horizons. This is especially relevant in view of the fact that an increasing share of FDI is in the form of M&As (that is, ownership stake of over 10%) in recent years and is usually the reason for the increase in FDI immediately after a crisis as foreign investors purchase assets on fire sales. This is an important but often overlooked point. If a foreign entity undertakes a cross-border acquisition of less than 10%, it is regarded as FDI flows. The Chinese sovereign wealth fund (SWF) purchasing a 9.9% stake in the largest US private equity firm, Blackstone Group, is an example. Therefore, this investment enters the balance of payments as FDI flows from China to the US. If the Chinese had purchased a stake of above 10%, the transaction would have been categorised as FDI. This and other investments by foreign SWFs in the US have tended in recent times to be less than 10% so that they are not categorised as FDI and therefore do not need to undergo the evaluation by Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).


Given this marginal difference between the two, it is rather curious to expect the two categories of investment flows to be such different beasts. Do small differences in equity ownership represent substantially different investment horizons? A potential danger is that policy measures designed to encourage FDI (and discourage portfolio flows) may yield little gain in terms of enhanced financial stability. Given the growing interconnections between FDI and 'mobile capital', there is clearly a need for a deeper analysis of this issue.


The author is associate professor, School of Public Policy at George Mason University, Virginia








While the investment scenario improves and efforts are made to increase the level of infrastructure in India, regulators and intermediaries in the game should be looking at providing reliable data, especially of key market participants like the foreign institutional investor's trades and mutual fund data. At the moment there is a huge discrepancy in the data that the exchanges provide and the data that the Securities & Exchange Board of India (Sebi) provides.


Analysts reckon that one of the reasons for the difference is because the exchange data does not capture inflows on account of primary offerings while Sebi data does. However, during financial year 2009, when there were hardly any primary offerings, the difference between the data reported by the exchanges and that by Sebi was to the tune of $5 billion, says a report complied by CLSA Asia Pacific Markets' analysts. Similarly, the annual data on investments made by mutual funds also has a divergence between two data sources, Sebi and the Association of Mutual Funds in India (Amfi). One of the reasons, say experts, is because Sebi reports data on transactions done by funds on the exchanges, which is the secondary market, and does not include primary market investments. Fund managers also reluctantly agree that there could be semantic differences in the way equity schemes are defined and could lead to deviations.


Analysts also note that the inflow reported by Amfi is done before considering commissions, entry loads and other similar charges. These total charges are estimated to be around 3.5% of the inflows (or Rs 16,400 crore for financial year 2004-09) and this again lowers the actual amount of money available to the fund house for investmens. The CLSA report adds that this equity-inflow number do not adjust for the dividend payments.


These are estimated to be 5% of inflows as per industry participants, made by the fund houses on equity-related schemes, which are effective outflows and need to be deducted from the monthly fresh inflows reported by Amfi. These factors will become additional parameters for Indian markets to increase their credibility with the investing community. There is a dying need for standardisation of such critical data so as to facilitate better decision making.






This paper* applies the Permanent Income Model to non-oil current accounts of major oil exporters to assess the extent to which national consumption decisions in these countries are made on the basis of permanent versus current income:<.B>


A test of whether the return on oil wealth and oil balance coefficients sum to unity is accepted for all specifications that adjust the return on wealth for future population changes. For oil-exporting countries outside Africa, around half of the fluctuations in the private sector non-oil balance are driven by considerations of changes in permanent income (the return on oil wealth) rather than current income. By contrast, for the public sector and African countries permanent income has little or no effect. The paper also finds that the oil trade balance has significant negative effects on the non-oil fiscal balance with a fairly stable coefficient across all countries of between -0.25 and -0.41. On the other hand the effects of changes in oil wealth on the non-oil fiscal deficit are largely absent. These results underscore the importance of taking account of intertemporal decisions in analysing movements in macroeconomic aggregates of most major oil exporting countries.


Alun Thomas and Tamim Bayoumi; Today versus Tomorrow: The Sensitivity of the Non-Oil Current Account Balance to Permanent and Current Income; November 2009, IMF Working Paper








International diplomatic efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear question took a promising turn last month when the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany joined the International Atomic Energy Agency in underwriting a complex deal for providing enriched fuel to the Tehran Research Reactor. In essence, the deal involves Iran temporarily exporting up to 1,200 kg of low enriched uranium already produced by its Natanz facility to Russia, where it would be enriched to just under 20 per cent. This fuel would then be sent to France for fabrication into rods, whereupon it would be inserted into the TRR under IAEA supervision and used for the eventual production of medical isotopes. The Iranian side initially welcomed the broad proposal but the draft agreement has since run into trouble in Tehran. Some influential members of the Majlis have denounced it as a western plot to ensure that Iran loses control of its LEU stockpile. Other analysts and officials have questioned specific elements, such as the involvement of the French, a party the Islamic Republic is reluctant to trust. As a result, the Iranian government has yet to formally come back to the IAEA or the P5+1 with its response.


The TRR fuel deal is a classic win-win arrangement. It vindicates the emphasis Iran has placed on developing indigenous enrichment facilities. It provides time to the United States and its allies to work out the contours of an eventual diplomatic settlement without having to worry about Iran using its accumulated LEU stockpile to 'break out' of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and build a weapon. From the Iranian point of view, the most attractive part of the proposal is that it represents a climbdown of sorts from the untenable western insistence on suspending enrichment at Natanz altogether. Although all or a part of the existing Natanz output will be exported, there is no requirement that Iran undertake not to replenish its stockpile. Unfortunately, the TRR deal runs the risk of getting embroiled in President Mahmoud Ahmadinijad's domestic political troubles. Some of the details can be modified if Iran is wary of exporting all 1,200 kg in one shot: it could insist on part-purchase of enriched fuel or the prior shipment of a portion of the latter as a confidence-building measure. But Tehran would be unwise to reject the main thrust of the deal, not least because it represents the first serious effort by the Obama administration to diplomatically engage with the Islamic Republic. On its part, Washington must be flexible on the final shape the TRR package takes. It must resist the temptation to muddy the waters by constantly talking about the need for fresh sanctions. Productive dialogue cannot go hand in hand with the threat of coercion.







Two recent decisions of the the Securities and Exchange Board of India will have far-reaching consequences for investors and issuers of capital. To make the process of capital-raising easier and cost-efficient for the small and medium enterprises (SMEs), those listing on a specially created platform or exchange will be exempted from the eligibility norms applicable for initial public offers. Only companies with less than Rs.25 crore of paid up capital will qualify for this concession. That the special requirements of SMEs need to be addressed has long been recognised. In fact, in 1990, the OTC Exchange of India (OTCEI) was set up with the twin objectives of helping the smaller companies raise capital in a cost-effective manner and providing the investors with an efficient and transparent method of trade. But it failed to take off, despite its innovative features such as screen-based trading; it was probably ahead of its time. It remains to be seen whether the institution now proposed, almost two decades after the OTCEI, will fare better. SEBI is banking on financially sound and better-informed investors giving stability to this niche segment. The minimum application-size of Rs.1 lakh will however shut out many smaller investors.


The other important decision of SEBI is to permit auction as an additional method of book-building in "follow on" issues —the issues by companies that are already listed on the exchanges. The market price will be the benchmark. Bidders would be free to bid at any price above the floor price, and the allotment will be on the basis of the bid price and at differential prices. Retail investors will be allotted shares at the floor price. The auctioning a portion of shares, it is hoped, will help the issuers in better price discovery. Shares can be bid up to levels that may not be possible in the existing book-building process. However, for all the transparency it promises, auction has not been popular in almost all the countries where it was tried out. In the U.S., the spectacular success of Google Inc. in 2004 in auctioning its shares did not lead to a general revival of interest in the method. Various academic studies have shown that auction might trigger "winners' curse," a situation where the winners overbid. Secondly, it is possible that uninformed investors will be among the winners, shutting out the more knowledgeable ones. SEBI's gradual approach is to be commended. It should be able to fine-tune the new scheme in the light of its experience.










The victory of Hamid Karzai in the Afghan presidential election is a watershed event. Mr. Karzai showed the door to western sponsors who approached him for a last-minute "deal" to scrap the runoff by having his opponent Abdullah Abdullah, former Foreign Minister, accommodated in some position in the future administration. Mr. Karzai refused to deal and instead chose to call the West's bluff, which left the latter with no option but to back off. Mr. Abdullah too abdicated from the political scene, making the runoff redundant. In short, Mr. Karzai chose to "Afghanise" his power base, ignoring western protestations. He calculated that he would continue to enjoy strong support from within the major non-Pashtun groups as well so long as his partnership with Mohammed Fahim, Karim Khalili, Ismail Khan, Rashid Dostum and Mohammed Mohaqiq remained intact.


No doubt, a new power alignment is taking shape. Afghan-style politics is resuming after very many years. At the centre stage of the political theatre stands Mr. Karzai. He has turned the table squarely on the western powers. But he will not easily forget the sustained attempts over the past year and more to ridicule him and pull him down. There has been some attrition. The attacks on him and his family members have been on very personal terms at times. Afghans are not used to western-style character assassination in the name of democracy.


The latest broadside in the New York Times portraying his brother Wali Karzai as a drug trafficker and CIA agent has taken matters to a point of no return. The American officials who spoke out of turn have done colossal damage to the U.S. interests in Afghanistan. Washington must seriously note that the response to the New York Times report has come from none other than the Afghan Minister of Counter Narcotics, General Khodaidad Khodaidad. The Minister has brought on to public debate Afghanistan's best-kept secret: the role of foreign troops in drug-trafficking.


Gen. Khodaidad is a highly trained professional with acute political instincts, who knows what he is talking about. Indians knew him, so did Russians. He passed out of the prestigious Indian Military Academy in Dehra Dun and was a product of the famous Fronze Military Academy in Moscow. He had a proven record in the communist regime in Kabul as a highly decorated general; he led the crack paratrooper brigades in the war in the early 1980s and served as army commander in the Kunduz-Takhar frontline facing the legendary "Lion of Panjshir," Ahmed Shah Massoud. Britain, where he lived in exile for a decade, knows him too.


Therefore, when Gen. Khodaidad said early this month that the NATO contingents from the U.S., the U.K. and Canada are "taxing" the production of opium in the regions under their control, he actually carried a stern warning on behalf of Mr. Karzai. It is a direct message: don't throw stones while sitting in a glass cage. The western powers have systematically, through countless acts of plain idiocy, paying no heed to the culture and traditions of the Afghan people, brought things to this sorry, deplorable pass. Now onward, they will have to give up the doublespeak regarding "warlords" and "warlordism" and learn to perform the way Mr. Karzai wants or at least in consultation with him. The point is, he is staying in power for a second term on his own steam, defying the wishes and frustrating the designs of the western powers.


The U.S. should quickly move to bury the rift and do some cool introspection. Perilous times lie ahead. The Barack Obama presidency is on the firing line. The western powers cannot afford any more goof-ups. In institutional terms, the White House and the U.S. State Department have an uphill task in rebuilding ties with Mr. Karzai. From all accounts, the equations between President Obama and Mr. Karzai remain very poor. Apparently, they don't even use satellite phones to talk. This should never have happened between two gifted politicians. Equally, Special Representative Richard Holbrooke has become persona non grata in Kabul. John Kerry, the powerful chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who did the famous arms-twisting act on Mr. Karzai two weeks ago has also become a burnt-out case. Afghanistan is living up to its reputation as the graveyard of foreigners.


On balance, Mr. Obama's dependence on the Pentagon has increased. U.S. Secretary of Defence Robert Gates kept his nails clean. Enormously experienced in the business of statecraft and bureaucratic dogfight alike, he could make out from 10,000 miles away that he should steer clear of the sordid skirmishes in the Hindu Kush that Washington was pitting against the obstinate Afghan leader. He knew such things could only end up messily and, more important, there would be a critical need for Mr. Obama to still deal with Mr. Karzai in the aftermath of the foul-up.


The tumultuous phase of the past few months, centred around the Afghan presidential election, will peter off sooner than most people in the West might have thought. Actually, too much was made — quite needlessly — of the "legitimacy" factor of the Afghan election. Legitimacy was never an issue insofar as the Afghan people's real concerns at this juncture lie elsewhere — peace and security, livelihood and predictability in day-to-day life. As for the international community, that is, the non-western world, it was quite used to dealing with Mr. Karzai and it never mixed that up with the state of democracy in Afghanistan. The broad perception in the world community was that a few motivated western capitals were deliberately making an issue of the "legitimacy" of the election to "soften up" Mr. Karzai politically and if he still resisted, to get rid of him from power. Thus the world community mutely watched when the West began chanting in unison that there should be a runoff and that Mr. Karzai's shortfall by 0.3 per cent votes in the first round made him "illegitimate" in the eyes of the Afghan people. It has turned out to be a first-rate farce.


Mr. Abdullah's abdication from the political arena is not going to set the Kabul River on fire. There isn't going to be any war between the Pashtuns and Tajiks, either. In overall terms, Afghanistan's neighbouring countries (except Pakistan perhaps, to an extent) will find Mr. Karzai's new team easy to work with. The new set-up will include personalities who are familiar figures to key regional capitals such as Moscow, Tehran, Tashkent and Dushanbe. The emergence of such a pan-Afghan team in Kabul will be reassuring for these regional capitals. Arguably, with a regime shaping up in Kabul that is high on its "Afghan-ness," the U.S. will also come under greater pressure to evolve a consensus approach to the war strategy and the search for a settlement.


Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov summed up the paradigm when he said last week: "The Bush administration sinned by a lopsided interpretation of collective efforts … Obama has announced a different philosophy — that of collective action, which calls for joint analysis, decision-making and implementation … So far, inertia lingers at the implementers' level in the U.S. who still follow the well-trodden track, trying to decide anything and everything beforehand for others. But as we felt during the contacts, President Obama has an absolutely clear understanding that it is necessary to enlist intellectual resources from all the states that can contribute to devising a strategy."


The big question, however, is how the Taliban will view the Afghan political developments. A complex picture is emerging. The U.S. is inching closer to discussing a modus vivendi with the Taliban, while Mr. Karzai has partners who have dealings with the Taliban. (Ironically, Mr. Wali Karzai is one such skilled politician who is deeply immersed in the Taliban folklore.) It will not be surprising if a political accommodation is reached with the powerful Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. It is foolhardy to assess that old war horses of the North Alliance have a closed mind on the Taliban — or, for that matter, on Pakistan. Simply put, that is not how the Afghan political culture works. What the outside world — including neighbouring capitals like New Delhi — often fails to realise is that the battle lines are never really clear-cut in the Hindu Kush. In fact, they never were. This is only to be expected in a civil war that is essentially rooted in a fratricidal strife.


If Mr. Hekmatyar walks over, a virtual polarisation of the Mujahideen will have taken place. We will then find ourselves in a priori history, lodged somewhere in the early 1990s after the famous U.N. diplomat Diego Cordovez and the Red Army had departed from the Hindu Kush and before the Taliban poured out of the Pakistani madrasas to fill in the power vacuum. If Mr. Hekmatyar chooses politics to war, a major hurdle will also have been crossed in isolating the hardline elements within the Taliban — the so-called Quetta shura and the Haqqani network.


(The writer is a former diplomat.)









Silence is golden. But this may not be entirely true for the heart, especially in the case of diabetics. Around 10 to 12 per cent of all heart attacks come silently, without any premonitory symptoms. And double this level is noted in the case of diabetics. There are around 160 million people across the globe suffering from diabetes mellitus (DM). Approximately 40 per cent of them have coronary atherosclerosis, which is fat deposition in the arteries supplying the heart muscle. These are the patients who are prone to having heart attacks. The epidemic of DM has left cardiologists with the challenge of identifying those diabetics who are at high risk of silent heart attacks.


Why are heart attacks silent in diabetics? Diabetics have an altered pain threshold owing to damage that has occurred to nerves that convey the pain sensation. Some of them may experience unexplained sweating, extreme fatigue or breathlessness. Sometimes premonitory symptoms may be underplayed because of psychological denial. Many diabetics have non-critical (less than 50 per cent blocks) diffuse fatty plaques in blood vessels without significant obstruction to blood flow. Since the blood flow is still maintained, they may not have any symptoms. But the plaque can suddenly rupture, making the vessel prone to clot-formation. The super-added clot can completely block blood flow and result in a heart attack. The first symptom in some diabetics can be a massive heart attack, or even sudden death before they can seek any medical help.


Why are diabetics prone to having such heart attacks? Abnormal glucose metabolism results in altered fat metabolism, causing high levels of bad cholesterol. Usually there is a clustering of risk factors such as obesity and high blood pressure. These factors result in early deposition of fat on the walls of the arteries supplying the heart: this is atherosclerosis. In diabetics, atherosclerosis occurs early in life and progresses to advanced forms. This condition affects blood supply to many territories such as brain, heart, limbs and kidneys. Moreover, in diabetics the fatty plaques have thin caps. These rupture easily, making them prone to heart attacks.


In the case of most diabetics, blood vessel, or vascular, damage has already begun by the time it is detected. The root cause of vascular damage is insulin resistance. (Insulin is the hormone that controls blood sugar levels.) This happens years before DM manifests itself. In the case of many diabetics, by the time coronary artery disease (CAD) is detected it is in an advanced stage, with the pumping function of the heart impaired. Many of them may not even be ideal candidates for balloon angioplasty (PTCA) or coronary artery bypass graft surgery (CABG), which are the procedures that are carried out to improve blood flow to the heart.


Early diagnosis is the key to preventing silent heart attacks. There are non-invasive tests such as stress electrocardiography (the treadmill test) or stress echocardiography which can help detect CAD early. Routine screening of carotid artery (the blood vessel supplying the brain) intimal medial thickness may provide an indirect assessment of vascular damage. There are some special tests like stress nuclear perfusion scans for use in selected cases.


The availability of CT coronary angiography in the last five years has made it possible to diagnose non-invasively the nature and extent of blocks. It also provides information on the characteristics of fatty plaque, such as soft, hard or calcific (soft plaque being more prone to rupture). Initially 64-slice and now 320-slice CT coronary angiography is available, which gives better-resolution images within a few seconds with reduced exposure to radiation. This is the best non-invasive modality for the detection of pre-clinical atherosclerosis.



The saying that a stitch in time saves nine could be adapted to read: a test in time saves thine (your heart).


Once a high-risk individual is identified, aggressive preventive measures are advised. To quote from Shakespeare in Hamlet: "Where the offence is, let the great axe fall." The offence here constitutes fatty plaque, and the axe is a triad comprising lifestyle changes, strict control of DM and control of other risk factors.


Lifestyle modification includes dietary discipline with the consumption of fresh vegetables, a low carbohydrate and high-fibre diet, weight reduction, stoppage of smoking, moderation in alcohol consumption and regular exercises. Yoga and meditation help reduce stress levels.


Proper blood sugar control is essential. Recent studies have revealed that coronary events are more common during hypoglycemic attacks (where the blood sugar level drops). Strict supervision by a diabetologist is mandatory.


The control of other risk factors is equally important. Blood pressure should be well under control, with the target level being 130/80 mmhg, to prevent vascular and renal complications. Diabetics are prone to having high bad cholesterol levels (LDL&TGL) and low good cholesterol (HDL) levels. In addition to a low-fat diet and regular exercise, they need cholesterol-lowering drugs such as statins. Blood thinners such as aspirin and drugs to prevent vascular complications are also routinely prescribed. Once asymptomatic CAD is diagnosed, aggressive treatment will ensure prevention and help postpone the onset of any complications.


The intention here is not to create fear in the minds of diabetics, but give a wake up call. Diabetics: wake up, it is never too late.


(Dr. I. Sathyamurthy is an interventional cardiologist who is the director of the Department of Cardiology at Apollo Hospitals in Chennai. He received the Padma Shri in 2000, the Dr. B.C. Roy National Award in 2001 and a D.Sc (Honoris Causa) conferred by the Dr.M.G.R. Medical University in 2008.)








A long-running legal battle over whether to evict a colony of harbour seals that inexplicably took over a popular beach in San Diego like a gaggle of tourists overstaying their welcome appeared closer than ever to ending on Friday when a judge ruled that they can stay put.


For more than a decade, the seals, dozens of them lounging and lollygagging on a La Jolla beach, have delighted tourists and animal lovers. But they have also irked swimmers and others who are concerned about the waste they produce.


People on both sides of the issue battled in the State and the federal court, winning at one point conflicting rulings, over whether the city should be forced to shoo them away because their chosen spot, a cove known as Children's Pool, was set aside in 1931 for young beachgoers under the terms of a trust that deeded the land to the city.


But a State law that takes effect on January 1 gives the city broad discretion to maintain the beach as it sees fit, and the City Council has indicated that it favours keeping the seals. Judge Timothy B. Taylor of Superior Court, overruling a previous order by a predecessor in the case to disperse the seals, ruled that given the new law, there was no point in kicking the seals out now. Bryan W. Pease, a lawyer for the Animal Protection and Rescue League, said: "This is the final conclusion of a battle that has raged for several years."


The seals basked on the beach, oblivious as usual to the fuss.


 © 2009 The New York Times News Service









Not long after he was rousted from bed and seized in a pre-dawn raid in Pakistan in March 2003, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed gave his captors two demands: He wanted a lawyer, and he wanted to be taken to New York.


After a nearly seven-year odyssey that took him to secret Central Intelligence Agency jails in Europe and a United States military prison in Cuba, Mohammed is likely to get his wishes.


He will be the most senior leader of the al-Qaeda to date held to account for the mass murder of nearly 3,000 Americans, standing trial in Lower Manhattan while his boss, Osama bin Laden, continues to elude a worldwide dragnet.


Yet the boastful, calculating and fiercely independent Mohammed has never neatly fit the mould of an al-Qaeda chieftain. He has little use for the high-minded moralising of some of his associates, and for years before the September 11 attacks, he refused to swear an oath of loyalty to bin Laden — figuring that if the Qaeda leader cancelled the September 11 plot, he would not have to obey the order.


A detailed portrait of the life and worldview of Mohammed, 44, has emerged in the years since his capture, filled in by declassified CIA documents, interrogation transcripts, the report of the September 11 commission and his own testimony at a military tribunal. And the most significant terrorism trial in American history will be a grand stage for a man who describes himself as a "jackal," consumed with a zeal for perpetual battle against the United States.


"The trial will be more than just a soapbox for him," said Jarret Brachman, author of Global Jihadism and a terrorism consultant to several government agencies. "It will be a chance for him to indict the entire system. I'm sure he's been waiting for this for a very long time."


The last time Mohammed had such a platform was at a military hearing at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he delivered an often rambling exposition on a number of topics, including American history, citing Manifest Destiny and the Revolutionary War.


"Because [in a] war, for sure, there will be victims," he said through a translator, explaining that he had some remorse for the children killed on September 11, 2001. "I said I'm not happy that 3,000 people been killed in America. I feel sorry even. I don't like to kill children and the kids."


But, he added: "This is why the language of any war in the world is killing. I mean the language of the war is victims."


A Pakistani raised in Kuwait, Mohammed became important to the al-Qaeda's mission in large part because of his background: He had an engineering degree from an American university, spoke passable English and had a deeper understanding of the West than any of bin Laden's other lieutenants.


As Pakistanis in Kuwait, his relatives would have been considered second-class citizens, but they had the means to send him to the U.S. for his education. After attending secondary school in Kuwait, Mohammed was accepted at Chowan College, a small Baptist college in rural North Carolina where many foreign students came to improve their English. He later transferred to North Carolina A&T in Greensboro, where he graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1986.


Not long after graduation, he travelled to Pakistan and Afghanistan to join the mujahideen fighters, who at the time were the beneficiaries of millions of dollars from the CIA in the fight against Soviet troops. Mohammed's experience in Afghanistan gave him a first taste of the battle against the West that would come to consume his life.


Over the next decade, he plotted dozens of attacks against western targets. At his military tribunal in 2007, Mohammed recited a litany of conspiracies he said he had had a hand in, including assassination plots against President Bill Clinton and Pope John Paul II, and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.


But demonstrating his tendency toward grandiosity, he overstated his role in many of the attacks, most terrorism experts believe, although they do not dispute his central role in planning the September 11 attacks.


It was not until the mid-1990s that U.S. counterterrorism experts began to understand Mohammed's significance to the cause of global jihad, after a thwarted plot to blow up 12 U.S. commercial aircraft in flight. The so-called Bojinka plot, hatched in a Manila apartment with his nephew, the World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef, was Mohammed's first inspiration for using airlines as missiles against civilian targets, according to the 9/11 commission report and recently declassified CIA documents.


In 1996, Mohammed travelled to Afghanistan to sell bin Laden on an idea: simultaneously hijacking 10 aircraft and flying them into different high-profile civilian targets in the U.S. He would be on the one plane not to crash, and after the plane landed would emerge and deliver a speech condemning U.S. policy on Israel. Bin Laden dismissed the idea as impractical, but three years later he changed his mind and summoned Mohammed to Kandahar to begin planning a scaled-down version of the plot, which would eventually become the 9/11 attacks.


Some terrorism experts said bin Laden and Mohammed had as much a rivalry as a partnership. For instance, Mohammed dismissed the training bin Laden oversaw at Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, believing that climbing on jungle gyms and taking target practice with AK-47s was impractical. And like a rebellious employee, Mohammed bristled at being micromanaged by the Qaeda leader.


Yet the two men's personalities complemented each other. "You need the charismatic dreamers like bin Laden to make a movement successful," said Daniel Byman, a former intelligence analyst now at Georgetown University. "But you also need operators like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who can actually get the job done."


The purpose of the September 11 attacks, Mohammed told his captors years later, was to "wake the American people up." By hitting civilian targets, he said, he would shock Americans into recognising the impact of their government's actions abroad, including supporting Israel in its fight against Palestinian militants.


Mohammed zealously guarded the details of the plot, telling only bin Laden, one of his advisers and a few of the senior hijackers. Even as he planned the attacks, he never committed himself to the al-Qaeda by pledging an oath, called "bayat," to bin Laden. He was determined to keep his independence from the Qaeda leader, and he later bragged to his CIA captors that he had disobeyed bin Laden on several occasions.


He resisted constant pressure from bin Laden to launch the attacks early, and twice in 2001 told him the hijacking teams were not ready when bin Laden ordered that the attacks begin. Yet for all his professed wisdom about the U.S., Mohammed later admitted that he had completely misjudged what the American response to the September 11 attacks would be. He did not expect the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan, and he did not anticipate the relentless hunt for al-Qaeda leaders throughout South Asia and the Middle East.


He even misjudged his own fate. When he was captured in Rawalpindi, he thought he would soon be travelling to New York, where he would stand trial under his indictment for the Bojinka plot. Instead, he was hooded and spirited out of Pakistan by CIA operatives, who took him first to Afghanistan and eventually to a former Soviet military base in northern Poland.


Mohammed's initial defiance toward his captors set off an interrogation plan that would turn him into the central figure in the roiling debate over the CIA's interrogation methods. He was subjected 183 times to the near-drowning technique called waterboarding, treatment that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has called torture. But advocates of the CIA's methods, including former Vice-President Dick Cheney, have said that the interrogation methods produced a trove of information that helped dismantle the al-Qaeda and disrupt potential terrorism attacks.


Until the attorney general announced on Friday that Mohammed would be tried alongside four accused September 11 co-conspirators in a Manhattan federal court "just blocks away" from ground zero, his fate was far from certain. Indeed, the defence might yet seek a change of venue.


In September 2006, along with the other CIA prisoners in secret overseas jails, Mohammed was moved to the military prison at Guantanamo Bay. By then, he had grown a long beard and had begun dressing in traditional Arabic clothing, cultivating a pious image far different than his dishevelled appearance after his capture in March 2003.


But even as the U.S. prepares to try him for the al-Qaeda's most successful operation, Mohammed is still considered somewhat of an outsider in the terrorist network, rarely if ever mentioned in public pronouncements by bin Laden or his deputy, Ayman al Zawahri.


Some terrorism experts believe that Mohammed will always be considered too secular — and too practical — to be completely accepted by the terrorist network's senior leaders.


"As opposed to the rest of these guys who sit around and talk, KSM actually got the job done," said Mr. Brachman. "That's what set him apart, and that's what made him so scary."


— © 2009 The New York Times News Service








Ruling parties usually prefer to advance election dates when they think the pitch is to their liking. The idea is to strike when the iron is hot, rather than wait to complete the full term and lose the promise of a start a favourable mid-term political moment may confer. So it is understandable that the CPI (M), which leads the Left Front government in West Bengal, is not keen to go to the people at this stage in spite of mounting pressures from the Opposition as well as from sections within. After all, does the party have anything new to say to win back the confidence of the people? It has been in power 32 long years, and yet it has lost every single election — to panchayats, Parliament, and more recently a string of Assembly byelections — after the state Assembly polls in 2006, which it had won handsomely. This is what's called being in a block-hole, alas one of its own making. The state secretariat of the CPI(M) appears to have taken the view that it loses nothing by staying on till 2011 when Assembly elections are constitutionally due, and may actually surprise itself and others by retrieving some ground in a year and a half (possibly on account of political errors that its opponents might commit).


No party can be faulted for embracing such pragmatism, but the Communists claim they are not just another party. Seeing themselves as self-conscious agents of change of a particular type, they understand well the meaning of deep tactical setbacks and the wavering of strategy. If the CPI(M) is objective about the process of self-criticism which occupies a place of privilege in Leninist literature, it will recognise that it had built its sturdy base in West Bengal on the backs of agricultural workers and the poor peasantry, and is about to lose it on the basis of that very constituency withholding consent — descending from the crest to the valley floor in the same territorial space. Nandigram made that abundantly clear. If the Communists had been a working class party (which they acknowledge in their organisational reports they are not) which they traditionally aspired to be, the CPI(M) might still have a strong ghetto to fall back on. But it has always been the party of the Bengali middle class, sullied by "establishment" lumpens at various point in its career. That middle class has come to believe that the party's ideas are not in tune with its dreams. This makes the CPI(M) today doubly bereft of a base. Throw in sectarianism and gross opportunism for good measure, and you have the witch's brew. Indeed, history has reached a turning point, and may not appear shy to take the turn.


On losing the political capital accumulated over decades, it is hard to see how the Left Front government can cater to the needs of the people of West Bengal. Leave alone fulfilling its socio-economic agenda, Writers' Buildings finds it hard at this juncture even to marshal its resources to meet the security challenge being posed by Maoist insurgents. If the state is not to sink into stasis, the CPI(M) may be well advised to show the way by permitting a reconfiguration of forces and restoration of the legitimacy and élan of the state government by advancing election dates. This is indeed a delicate time for West Bengal. To pull the state back from a precipitous slide, it is also incumbent on the Trinamul Congress, the CPI(M)'s principal challenger, to end its dalliance with the Maoists who represent explosive chaos. The leading parties of the state need to put their best foot forward.









Mamata Banerjee has emerged now as an extraordinary leader in West Bengal. The situation there is very precarious and without effective leadership controlling the developments, protecting democracy and law and order, it can degenerate into anarchy, mutual killing of cadres and the paralysis of all development activities. The people of West Bengal are now looking up to Ms Banerjee to provide that leadership. She has almost single-handedly brought out this wave against the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) rule. Now only she can steer the course of West Bengal history towards restoration of democracy and development. She cannot afford to be any longer a rabble-rouser confrontationist. She has to rise above that and arrest the spread of violence and restore development.


No other political force in West Bengal today is capable of providing the leadership. The Congress which has been a champion of democracy and development has lost all organisational base. It cannot afford to be seen as playing at cross purposes with Ms Banerjee even in areas of its influence.


The CPI(M) on the other hand is literally on the run. The wave that has come up in West Bengal will sweep it out of power in 2012 if not earlier. It has lost touch with people and is unable to enthuse its cadres to face the situation. The only consideration that the CPI(M) leadership should have today is how to resist the rise of fascism and its retribution on its cadre. In recent history in Indonesia, with the rise of Suharto's dictatorship millions of Communists were butchered not by the military but by organised people's squads, although the Communist Party of Indonesia at that time was one of the largest parties in the world.


I am putting all these in its starkness form because once fascist retribution starts it becomes almost uncontrollable and I am not sure if my CPI(M) friends are facing up to that situation. The reasons for this debacle of the CPI(M) have to be analysed carefully. The party has isolated itself from the people, the common man's aspirations, broke away from its alliance with the Congress and other democratic forces which had given them an enormous opportunity of influencing the course of Indian politics. It did so in the name of opposing the nuclear deal which was of practically no concern to the common man.


There were many issues which they themselves had championed such as rural employment, social security, tribal development and farmers welfare. The government had initiated measures under pressure but there were many gaps in their performance and practice which needed active intervention and campaign by the CPI(M) and other progressive forces. But instead the CPI(M) chose to snap its ties with the government, not on these issues but on something that in theory suited the leadership's anti-Americanism. A historical opportunity was lost and instead of influencing the government it became a marginal force which was trying its best to maintain some political toe-hold by aligning with all kinds of reactionary forces.


But more proximate reasons for the debacle of the CPI(M) in West Bengal is the way the party has organised its functions with the help of the Mastans, the so called Lumpens, who are footloose goons, wargon-breakers, smugglers and black-marketers, who hang around in all urban cities in the less developed countries as they did in West Bengal. They joined the CPI(M) when its influence was rising and have now started jumping the boat at the first sight of its possible loss of power. Mastans were always around but they were first systematically used by the Congress in the late '60s. But then the CPI(M) with its organised ideological cadre captured power with a massive support of the people. In the initial years, they had many achievements in land reforms, rights of landless labourers and the poor informal workers with the help of the dedicated and ideologically enthused party cadres. But quite soon they were overwhelmed by the Mastans who proved to be very useful to the party leadership for maintaining its votebanks, capturing booths, rigging elections and using strong-arm methods in suppressing the Opposition. The electoral politics took over from ideology with election at all levels, Parliament, state Assembly, panchayats and other local bodies. The Mastans threw up their leaders who became MPs and MLAs who knew how to retain power in electoral politics. They became a Frankenstein's monster for the CPI(M). As a result, in more than 30 years' rule, the CPI(M)'s principled politics were pushed aside very soon and the whole party machinery came to depend upon the Mastans and their strong-arm ways.


The people of West Bengal tolerated it as they had no option. But equitable and inclusive development came to a halt in the countryside and in the urban areas. There was of course some economic growth in terms of the state gross domestic product and in agriculture particularly during the last 20 years, following a purely capitalist path, with little human development. Huge public resentment built up in suppressed fury. Corruption was rampant at all levels of the government and at all levels of political organisations.


The credit must go to Ms Banerjee to change the situation when she took the path of confrontation with the CPI(M) where it could mobilise some strength.


At that time Singur and Nandigram happened. In one stroke the Trinamul Congress got an ideology of mass struggle which soon snow-balled into a major political movement supported by wide sections of the Bengali population.


As these Mastans realised that the CPI(M) power can be effectively challenged, they started changing sides. This spread over in fighting and killing of the CPI(M)'s cadre. Even the state police started prevaricating in fighting these elements.


Hopefully, Ms Banerjee will be able to control the situation. She must openly ask her cadres to stop taking revenge, even if the CPI(M) keeps attacking them. She must insist on the police administration to control the situation. At the same time, she has to build up a new movement of popular participation in development through formation of local groups and communities and open public discussions on all policy choices.


If she succeeds she would emerge as the most successful West Bengal politician after Dr B.C. Roy and take over the mantle of leadership that the Congress had inherited from its national movement. Ms Banerjee must measure up to this great historic challenge.


Dr Arjun Sengupta is a Member of Parliament and former economic adviser to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi








I do not know Mahesh Bhatt. I bumped into him once in a seminar and he seemed a curious, intelligent and a forthright man committed to ideas as experiments. One realised that here was a likeable man, someone you could enjoy a drink and a quarrel with.


Recently I saw him and his daughter Pooja Bhatt on TV answering questions about Rahul Bhatt. They were quieter, not quite their spontaneous selves, trying to reason, being careful with words. A quieter silence substituted for their visual spontaneity or their candidness.


What one watched was a kind of experience that was saddening. The two of them were defending Rahul Bhatt whose name occurred frequently in messages recorded by the terrorist David Headley. Rahul appears to have met Headley and has been mentioned frequently in email exchanges recorded by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.


The logic of these events worries me. When a person is connected even inadvertently with a terrorist, a pall of suspicion envelopes the individual and his friends. A barrage of accusations and questions hammer the family. It turns defensive explaining events, ideas and conversations, one would have not thought of. Freedom after all is the Freedom from suspicion. But as you watch a family run a gauntlet of question marks, you begin to reflect on certain things.


Terror at a collective level is anonymous. You do not know who it is going to hit. But terror creates an ambience of suspicion around people. Many innocent people get marked as suspects. They are haunted by the stigma of question marks. It is a symbolic branding which can destroy friendships or even the taken for granted world you have lived so happily in.


Terror dissolves the everydayness of the world. It destroys it twice: once for the suspect and also more poignantly for his family and friends. Let me explain through an analogy. Many people talk of the suffering of patients but few deal with the suffering and burden of those who take care of the patient. I think, sometimes, the heroism of a patient palls before the efforts of those who take care of him. The everydayness of caring for someone close can eat into you. It corrodes deeply.


Scandal and suspicion have a similar impact. Suspicion creates a tacit ostracism. When scandal combines with the shadow of terrorism, the word turns grey. You become the other varna, marked for questioning. The courage a family needs to show is demanding. Not only does one have to stand up for the person's innocence, one needs to stand up for oneself, one's values, a way of life. One has to do this all patiently and unapologetically. The questions which people ask make you want to scream. Instead you have to answer patiently and with dignity.


Watching Mahesh Bhatt on TV reminded me of all this. Father and daughter performed with enormous dignity. No question was too demeaning to answer. What impressed one was the honesty, the readiness to confront one's vulnerability in public.


Here are two people who are quite bindaas as the slang word goes. They often flaunt their freedom, the way others flaunt their BMWs. They are proud of the way they live, open about their mistakes, loyal to their worlds. Suddenly, the world turns murky and questions hurt.


The minute Mahesh Bhatt learns that Headley is a suspect. He reports to the police himself. His daughter explains they have been upfront prompt about the Headley intervention into their lives. But the press watches them with different eyes. The pauses are uneasy, even silence creates a fresh ripple of doubts.


Suddenly, it is not only Rahul who is in question, but also Mahesh Bhatt who has stood up for rights, fought against censorship and been open about his mistakes. His earlier admissions about his search for meaning or freedom now acquire a new burden in this obsession with patriotism. Terror or suspicions of terrorism challenge a way of life.


The question of Rahul Bhatt will follow its own long and tedious career. The law takes its time and justice is absent minded about clearing the innocent. I realise the process of investigation is important. I respect the need for it. But what I wish to ask in my bumbling way is who protects families, friends and associates of someone who falls under suspicion. The blanket of suspicion becomes like a Delhi fog; it dirties you, chokes your sense of freedom.

I want to end with two reflections. I want to ask first whether the public or the press can treat such people as easy game. Is there a right to interrogate in public? Does transparency demand the inquisition? Often when I watch TV and I wonder if I could stand such humiliating rituals. TV has a long memory. It makes you account for previous mistakes and apologise for earlier arrogances.


As the media casts its hungry eyes at the scandal, it ironically humanises Rahul Bhatt in a pathetic way by talking of his attempts at fitness. It is almost as if gaining weight is greater problem than terror. It becomes the everyday terror of the six pack anorexic world. Scandal and humiliation almost seem negligible in his universe. Courage and dignity become ephemeral languages before the grit and determinism of the weight loss obsessive.


The second thought was about friendship. There is something about middle-class India which makes friendship an ephemeral affair in these moments. People you have known and cared for, students, neighbours and fans suddenly turn iffy and hostile. Investigation exploits these moments to pin you. The trauma of ephemeral friendship haunts you.


But this much I must say, openly and quietly.


Mahesh and Pooja Bhatt showed courage and composure. They talked reasonably and showed reasonableness about the law. It was courage of quiet kind. One must salute that because I sometimes, put myself in their place and wonder how I will perform. Doubt sneaks in like a deadly fog.


Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist







It is said that whenever newspapers run out of good ideas to sell weekend editions of their publications, their editors or proprietors fall back on one of two hoary alternatives. Either they commission a survey about sexual habits or they start drawing up lists — "ten best", "ten worst", "five most beautiful", "six worst-dressed" and so on. A survey (not about sex, but about economic and political ideology) and a list (by a venerable magazine about the powerful) are noted in this column that may surprise some.


We all know by now that two decades have passed since the Berlin Wall collapsed, just before the erstwhile Soviet Union broke up to triumphant cheers about the victory of free market capitalism, the demise of state-controlled Communism and the beginning of a unipolar world led by the United States. It now transpires that dissatisfaction with capitalism is rather widespread across the globe.


If a recent opinion poll conducted by the BBC World Service is to be believed, only 11 per cent of more than 29,000 adults spread across 27 countries, whose opinions were ascertained, were of the view that capitalism works well and that greater regulation was not a good idea.


The poll was conducted by international firm GlobeScan together with the Programme on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, US. The former coordinated the field work between June 19 and October 13 this year.


What is interesting is that in only two out of the 27 countries did more than one out of five persons whose opinions were solicited express a view that capitalism was working well as it stands. One of these two countries was the US (where 25 per cent said capitalism was working well) which is not much of a surprise. The second country was (surprisingly) Pakistan where 21 per cent of the respondents polled said capitalism was working well.


Whereas just over half (51 per cent) those surveyed said the problems of free market capitalism could be addressed through regulation and reform, an average of 23 per cent of the respondents felt that capitalism is fatally flawed and that a new economic system was necessary. Countries where this opinion was significant included France (43 per cent), Mexico (38 per cent), Brazil (35 per cent) and Ukraine (31 per cent).


In 15 out of the 27 countries in which the opinion poll was conducted, a majority of those whose views was solicited said their respective governments should be more active in owning or directly controlling major industries. The proportion was 77 per cent in Russia, 75 per cent in Ukraine, 64 per cent in Brazil, 65 per cent in Indonesia and 57 per cent in France.


In 22 out of the 27 countries, majorities supported governments distributing wealth more evenly — on an average two out of three (67 per cent) respondents across all countries. In 17 out of the 27 countries, most wanted their governments to do more to regulate business — an average of 56 per cent across the sample polled.


Latin Americans were particularly enthusiastic about the government playing a more active role in the economy, with nine in 10 supporting more redistribution of wealth: 92 per cent in Mexico, 91 per cent in Chile and 89 per cent in Brazil.


The opinion poll asked a question as to whether the break-up of the Soviet Union was good or not. An average of 54 per cent said it was a good thing. However, this majority view held in only 15 out of the 27 countries. An average of 22 per cent said the USSR falling apart was mainly a bad thing, while 24 per cent did not know either way.


Outside the West, the consensus on this issue was not strong. Seven out of 10 (69 per cent) Egyptians said the disintegration of the Soviet Union was bad, while views were divided in India, Kenya and Indonesia with many also saying they did not know.


GlobeScan chairman Doug Miller has been quoted as saying: "It appears that the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 may not have been the crushing victory for free-market capitalism that it seemed at the time — particularly after the events of the last 12 months".


From the survey, we now come to the list, this one prepared by Forbes magazine that loves calculating the wealth of the world's richest individuals and is generally a torch-bearer for capitalism. For the first time, the magazine has compiled a list of the most powerful individuals on the planet.


The editors of the publication said they used four parameters to define "power". These were whether the person concerned had influence over many, whether they controlled substantial financial resources, whether they were powerful in multiple spheres and whether they actively used their power.


Predictably, US President Barack Obama tops the list followed by Chinese Premier Hu Jintao and Vladimir Putin of Russia. George Bush does not make it to the list while Bill Clinton does (at position number 31) and the Pope is pipped to the raced by Bill Gates (number 10).


The list of Indians on the list would raise a few eyebrows. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is at number 36 (just one notch above Osama bin Laden). Industrialists who are listed include Mukesh Ambani (44), Lakshmi Mittal (55) and Ratan Tata (55). But wait.


Your favourite mafia don Dawood Ibrahim is said to be the 50th most powerful individual on the planet. And yes, Sonia Gandhi is nowhere in the list! The editors of Forbes need to get their heads checked. Or is list journalism just lazy journalism?


Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator









Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapakse managed to do what his predecessors couldn't — he finally defeated the separatist organisation the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and ended the bloody 20-year-old civil war in his country. Now he faces another possible threat, this time from the army chief who led the forces to victory, General Sarath Fonseka.

It is an ironical twist of fate. Fonseka reported to Rajapakse but as the war decisively turned in favour of the army, he emerged as much a hero as the president. They both were on the same side. Until recently, when stories of Fonseka's political ambitions began doing the rounds. Now, with Fonseka handing in his resignation and being asked to go immediately, this speculation has assumed frenzied proportions.

Further fuel has been added to the fire by Fonseka's resignation letter in which he has listed a series of failings on the part of the president and his government. Probably the most incendiary claim is Fonseka's allegation that the government had requested India to keep its troops on stand by because there was a fear that Fonseka would mount a military coup. This is sensational stuff and no doubt will deeply embarrass India.

But their internal rivalry apart, Fonseka makes a valid point when he says that after winning the war Rajapakse has failed to win the peace with the Tamils of the island. The LTTE's defeat was not followed up with sufficient efforts to reach out to the Tamils who are feeling nervous about the emergent truimphalism in the Sinhala majority. Large numbers of refugees are living in camps in poor conditions but the government has rejected allegations by international NGOs and aid organisations to that effect. Harsh realities now stare the Sri Lankans in the face. The heavy cost of the war is now being calculated and international criticism about human rights abuses has to be addressed. The suppression of media and the killings of journalists have angered civil society. Rajapakse remains popular but the emergence of another pole, one with no political baggage and a heroic image, can spell danger to the president.

India has to watch developments carefully. The very suggestion of a coup in a country that has remained a democracy — with all its flaws — in the neighbourhood is a risk India can ill afford. The next few months, till the presidential elections are held by April 2010, will be a tumultuous political period.







We have perhaps not heard the end of the Marathi manoos versus the rest of India story, but in Sachin Tendulkar we have heard a definitive argument. The batting maestro's remark, that Mumbai belongs to the whole of India and not just to Maharashtra, speaks of an inclusive world view and a more nuanced understanding of the spirit of Mumbai than that demonstrated by power-hungry politicos. Tendulkar went on to reaffirm his idea of India: he was a proud Maharashtrian he said, but he was an Indian first.

It is a simple enough remark but it puts into stark contrast the hollowness of the chauvinism and parochialism which the shrill Marathi manoos campaign endorses. It may make sense for the votaries of that idea to pay some attention to Tendulkar. The cricketer has just celebrated the 20th anniversary of his debut in international cricket and the world has been pouring encomiums on him. He has been for most of those 20 years an icon the world over, a title he has worn lightly and modestly, letting his bat do the talking. Therefore, when Sachin Tendulkar speaks, it is worth paying attention to him. After all, he represents the country to the world and in that sense, like all international sportspersons, he is an ambassador for India. At those times, regionalism, surely, does not enter the picture.

And what he is says is no different from what any right-thinking person would say. It is easily understood that Raj Thackeray and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena's idea is to look for immediate political gains, to dislodge the Shiv Sena and teach his cousin Uddhav a lesson. But unfortunately, such a hate-filled and potentially violent campaign has serious ramifications for society at large. It is has to be tackled by the government at the law and order level but there is another battle to fought, of hearts, minds and good sense and here Tendulkar has fired a mighty salvo.

Is it necessary to repeat that Tendulkar is a man who can bring this country and cricket lovers across the world to a standstill? That when he goes out to bat the whole of India prays? That his towering achievements have already placed him among the all-time greats? He is truly an international figure and he has made it clear that he will not be curtailed or contained by a limited vision. With this declaration, the Master Blaster has hit parochialism for another six.








Statements continue galore. The prime minister has identified the Naxalites as constituting the most important threat to Indian security. Several meetings of home ministers, chief secretaries and directors-general of police have issued firm statements of resolve. But the Naxalite influence now extends to 20 states where the writ of the State no longer runs in those affected areas. Recurrent attacks by the Naxalites on police stations, killings of security personnel and suspected informers, lootings of arms, ammunition and explosives and disruption of communications delineates an insurrection; this is no longer an insurgency. 

The New York Times on November 1 opined that the Naxalites want to gain control of the State. Is this an over-statement? It is arguable that the Naxalites will over time get subverted like the other insurgents and take to making easy money through kidnappings for ransom and by running protection rackets. This may or may not happen, but the commitment of the Naxalites to Marxism-Leninism provides strong ideological underpinnings. The NYT report further notes that killings by the Naxalites has reached 900 over the last four years, while the coalition forces in Afghanistan have lost 1100 lives over this period.  Clearly, the obsessive concern of official India with the security threats from Pakistan and China has deflected attention from the more urgent and growing dangers to internal integrity and national security. 

Now, at last, a massive operation with some 80,000 to 1,00,000 security personnel (largely state police and the Central Reserve Police Force) is to be launched against the Naxalite  strongholds in Chhatisgarh, Orissa and Maharashtra. Presumably these areas would be encircled, the local inhabitants screened and suspects taken away for further questioning. A degree of violence is inevitable, since the hardcore Naxalites will fight rather than be captured to spend years languishing in jails awaiting the tedious Indian judicial system processes to unfold. Encounters and encounter deaths on both sides can be reasonably expected and a media policy should be evolved before the operation commences. Will the print and electronic media be left to develop copy through handouts or by accompanying the security forces as "embedded" journalists? And, will this policy apply to the tribe of human rights and peace activists who are greatly exercised over the privileges of the insurgents? Obviously, no easy decisions are possible, but an imperfect media policy is preferable to no policy, as the blunders after the Mumbai attacks instruct.

Some basic questions regarding the politico-military strategy underlying these operations arise, for which no answers are now available.

First, it is unarguable that Naxalism is an idea premised on seeking justice through violence. It cannot be solely defeated by military means. But hard blows must be inflicted on the Naxalites to bring them in for negotiations. Commencing these negotiations, however, is not an end in itself. Credible efforts must simultaneously be made to mitigate the centuries-old neglect of these areas and the alienation of their largely tribal population. Socio-economic reforms are urgently needed to address the deprivation, exploitation, and injustices heaped on them over the ages. A clearer vision is therefore required as to how the development process will be initiated or strengthened, appreciating the ground situation.

Second, it is equally unarguable that socio-economic development cannot proceed unless the law and order situation improves significantly, and a degree of normalcy is restored. It is unrealistic to believe that the State could establish and run schools and health centres in areas under Naxalite control. In theory, two models of counter-insurgency operations are available. The strategy of "swat the mole" can be pursued, implying that the security forces acquire a firm base, and attack the insurgents in their locations whenever firm intelligence becomes available. The purpose is to inflict attrition losses until a milieu is created for a larger clearing operation. The other model is that of the "inkblot." Like ink spreading on a blotter the areas coming under the control of the security forces are expanded from a firm base. Civil administration moves into the cleared areas, but functions under the protection of the security forces till no longer required. So, which model India will adopt?

Third, are the security forces earmarked for these operations trained adequately? Are they physically fit enough for jungle operations? Are they conversant with the terrain, language and customs of the local population? Otherwise, huge casualties without commensurate gains can be expected. It will be very demoralising for the security forces. It may also become necessary to seek a larger role for the armed forces. Has all this been thought through?

These seminal issues must be brought into the public domain before the operations
commence. Ex post facto explanations will be suspect as being either hype or self-exculpatory justifications.







Some are born to it, some acquire it, and some run screaming in the opposite direction when confronted with it. I'm referring of course to MT, or for those who have been single-mindedly focused elsewhere, "multitasking."

Leading the first category is my sister-in-law, an inveterate multitasker. She will be having tea with her parents, chatting on the phone, directing the housekeeper and asking her husband in the next room what he's up to.

My daughter has acquired the trait. She's developed to a stage in which, like many 8th graders, she does homework with one eye on Facebook and one ear on her mobile phone.

I fall firmly into the last category: I cannot walk and chew gum at the same time. A sign of a dull mind? A sheltered childhood? An introverted personality? One question at a time please.

Over the years there have been many studies on MT and they all say the same thing: MT reduces efficiency. MT is actually the switching of attention between tasks. When we do it, we require time to refocus and reengage in each different task. And more importantly, we don't retain information as well from any of them.

Many experts have expressed concern over how MT may be adversely affecting our children and their education. But an education expert, Ken Robinson, does not agree. He says intelligence and creativity are interactive and multidisciplinary, and goes further to link them to the trait of MT. He also says that women are better at MT because their corpus callosum — the band of nerves that connects the two halves of the brain — is thicker. You don't need to look at any working mother's corpus callosum to realise that MT is her strength, as she juggles work, kids and home.

So there seems an elemental divide between the haves and have-nots. We talk of MT as though it's a new menace but I wonder if that is really so. The trait for MT could have evolved. The cave woman who survived was the one who could watch the fire, forage for food, and ensure her offspring didn't get eaten. The lady of the court who thrived was the one who could walk without getting her multiple petticoats in a knot, make scintillating conversation, and keep an ear on the castle intrigue. A classic but somewhat more modern case is of the Indian civil servant, although this calls the concept of progressive evolution into question. He'll politely invite you into his office and there you will wait indefinitely to get one stamp on one form, while he has his tea, takes phone calls, and talks to the two others who have jumped the line because they are his wife's brother's doctor's neighbours. MT may be fine when you're doing it, but when you're having it done to you, it's just MI: mucho irritating.

And today, we continue to MT, doing the same tasks but with more technology. The teen girl of yesteryear used to daydream about the cute guy in math class and wonder what was on TV that evening, while doing her science homework. The teen girl of today pokes the guy on Facebook and watches Ugly Betty on the Internet, while doing her science homework. I watch with concern as my daughter and her generation MT their way into their future.

Instead of fearing or fighting MT, we need to accept that it's a trait of the future and it's here to stay. We need to figure out how to work with it.

Academics are also shifting their focus and taking a more proactive view. One study published earlier this year showed that training can improve our ability to MT. We also need to learn to MT in ways that don't reduce our learning or our efficiency: We need strategies for effective MT. These may be the next lines of research. And ones that may be quite hopeful and useful for those of us currently standing on the sidelines, green with corpus callosum envy. —NYT






There are many spiritual Masters of the highest order who do not have kundalini power because they have not followed that path, but they have spiritual power, which is much stronger. The real power, spiritual power, comes to the seeker in the process of his inner growth.

Again, if God is pleased with a seeker who is following a different path, He can give the seeker a little bit of kundalini power. If He feels that the seeker may need kundalini power in the future in order to manifest Him in a specific way, then God sends some messenger who is working in kundalini to give that person power. All the different spiritual qualities are in God's room. If you enter into God's room, here you will see one box marked Peace, and other boxes marked Light, Love, Delight and Power. Now you are only caring for Peace, but God feels that you may also need a little bit of Power. The world is such that if you don't show a little bit of power, people don't believe. So if God feels the necessity for Power in your life, even though you don't want kundalini power, God will give it. But if God does not feel any necessity, then even if you cry for kundalini power, He will not give it to you.

People start their spiritual journey with a good attitude: they care only for God, Truth, Light. But after walking for two or three or six months, they find that the path is very dry. They see that they are not getting name and fame or that they are not getting any miraculous power; so they give up and follow another path like kundalini. On that path, as soon as you get something, you can show all your miraculous power to the world and feel that you are something. But this power will never give you even an iota of peace of mind.

The use of occult power in no way elevates anybody's consciousness. Once you get Truth, Light and Bliss you won't care for kundalini power.

From Kundalini Yoga: The Mother Power by Sri Chinmoy






On the subject of climate change, there appears to be plenty of people who have discovered a hobbit. The poll in The Times today reveals that only 41 per cent of respondents believe that climate change is happening and that human causation is an established fact. A third of the public believes in the fact of climate change but remains unpersuaded that it is the work of human hands. Nearly one in ten people believes that climate change is a purely natural phenomenon and blaming humans is propaganda put about by environmentalists. Fifteen per cent of the country simply do not accept that climate change is happening at all.

There has clearly been a serious failure of political communication but the last group at least should be easy to convince. The decade from 1998 to 2007 is the warmest on record. Of the top ten warmest years in this country, eight have happened since 1997. If the concentrations of greenhouse gases and aerosols stabilised at the levels found at the turn of the century, we would still expect global temperatures to reach 1.4C above pre-industrial levels by 2100. The sea is rising at an accelerated rate. In some parts of the world there have been statistically significant increases in precipitation and rainfall and Asia and Africa have seen an increased frequency and intensity of droughts. Mountain glaciers in non-polar regions have retreated significantly.

Sophisticated critics deny not climate change but human causation, suggesting instead that global warming is due, variously, to the Sun, volcanoes and el Niño. Fifty-nine per cent of the respondents to this newspaper's poll do not, for one reason or another, believe that human action is responsible for climate change.


The Times (UK)








India must consider itself fortunate that the arrest of US citizen David Coleman Headley and his Canadian associate Tahawwur Hussain Rana by the American FBI has unravelled the huge dimensions of the conspiracy against this country with active Pakistani involvement. That the Indian investigating agencies were until recently unaware of the possible role of these two operatives of the Lashkar-e-Toiba in plotting the 26/11 terror strikes in Mumbai a year ago is cause for concern. It now emerges that Headley had checked in at least twice into Mumbai's Taj Mahal Hotel more than a year before it was targeted by the Lashkar's attackers and Rana, who is of Pakistani origin, had left Mumbai five days ahead of last year's audacious strikes by the LeT. It is also clear to the investigators now that instructions to the duo were coming from Pakistan as they were making regular calls to that country.


It is shocking indeed that Headley ran a visa facilitation agency in Mumbai for three years without even a routine inquiry by a policeman. His antecedents were not verified even when he rented a place. In Delhi, Kochi, Pune, Lucknow and Ahmedabad which Headley visited, he stayed in hotels but the policemen on beat duty did not collect details from the hotels which they are supposed to do in regard to foreign nationals. The conclusion is inescapable that being a US national, he managed to indulge in sleazy activities without arousing suspicion. All this exposes the chinks in our intelligence armour and shows how gullible our sleuths have been.


There are useful leads to be followed and it is to be hoped that FBI investigators will co-operate with India in unmasking the whole gamut of the actions of Headley and Rana. Besides going deeper into the conspiracy at the Pakistani end, the Indian connection in the activities of these two LeT operatives needs to be probed thoroughly. At the same time, the intelligence-gathering mechanism should be strengthened and the mandated checks on foreign nationals must be made more thorough. There are lessons to be learnt which we can ignore only at our peril.








Twenty years ago, a 16-year-old Sachin Tendulkar tiptoed into the international cricket arena and the heart of everyone. Since then his place in both has been growing bigger and bigger. He has made runs like a machine, broken every record that was there for the asking and has yet remained the quintessential neighbourhood boy whom everybody loves to love. His batting is as copybook as his conduct on and off the field. Surviving in the rough and tumble of the highly competitive cricket world for two decades is in itself an achievement; being there right at the top for so long is even more so. Not letting this success and adulation go to one's head is simply phenomenal. To that extent, one has to pinch oneself to believe that he is for real. However, his dream run is indeed true and that is why the whole country — nay the world — is united in toasting him on the completion of these two magnificent decades.


For Indians, he is all the more special because he lit the fire of becoming the world beaters in millions of hearts. In him, everyone has found an ideal role model, who makes his exploits seem so easy that they appear doable. The way he has been encouraging youngsters makes one hopeful that many of these will be emulated. Not only that, he has played a tremendous role in making cricket a gentlemen's game again.


At a time when some misguided people from his home state Maharashtra are talking in narrow regional terms, he stands tall as a world-class Colossus, proud of his roots and even more proud of his being an Indian. If the country has to pick one brand ambassador, he may well be a unanimous choice, not only for his talent but also for his exemplary behaviour. Such legends are born once in a century. Australia had its Bradman. We have our Sachin. It is a privilege to be seeing him in flesh and blood. 








Though the Akali Dal-BJP coalition had voted against the Indo-US nuclear deal in Parliament, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has now favoured a nuclear power plant in Punjab. The UPA had vigorously pursued the nuclear deal and projected it as a major achievement. However, Congress leaders in Punjab are divided on the issue. Capt Amarinder Singh is opposed to the location of a nuclear plant in the fertile, densely populated border state of Punjab. Their contradictory statements may again create misgivings and confusion among the public about the suitability of such a plant in Punjab as it did in 2001 when the proposal to set up a plant of this kind at Patran was dropped by Mr Badal as Chief Minister after villagers had campaigned against it.


The location of a nuclear plant is the critical issue as doubts about safety standards are natural, especially after the Chernobyl accident. Some suggest the plant site near the border as a deterrent to Pakistan. The world over nuclear power has regained acceptance because of its being cleaner and cheaper than coal-generated power. India had lobbied hard for having US nuclear cooperation and now nuclear power plants are being set up in various states. Haryana is also pushing its case for a nuclear plant. If it is suitable for Haryana, it cannot be that harmful for Punjab.


However, the final decision should rest with atomic energy experts, who should look into all aspects and address public fears. Punjab's power crisis has only worsened as the gap between demand and supply has reached 2,379 MW and the cash-strapped state is forced to buy power at exorbitant rates every year. Given the rising cost of transportation, unreliability of coal supplies and its being environmentally unfriendly, thermal power is not the answer to Punjab's needs. Ideally, the state should collaborate with Himachal Pradesh to tap the hill state's potential for hydroelectric power. 









Caste and community-oriented politics is slowly but surely losing its appeal in Uttar Pradesh, which has given eight of the 14 Prime Ministers the country has had since Independence. There is renewed interest in the Congress, the party that had ruled UP for decades before it was rendered irrelevant in the wake of the regional outfits like the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) occupying the centrestage.


Look at the Firozabad parliamentary constituency from where Mr Raj Babbar of the Congress was elected to the Lok Sabha in the November 7 byelections. It is not just one seat the SP has lost to the Congress. A deeper study of what has happened makes it clear that people are losing interest in the regional parties. These parties cannot feel comfortable with the emerging political scenario. Firozabad has a large concentration of Yadav and Muslim voters, considered SP supporters, yet the party has been rejected.


In the April-May Lok Sabha elections this year SP candidate Akhilesh Yadav, son of Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, had won the Firozabad seat with little difficulty. The Congress could get only a little more than 6,000 votes. But in the latest byelection its candidate has inflicted a crushing defeat on the SP candidate, Mr Mulayam Singh's daughter-in-law Dimple Yadav, by over 85, 000 votes.


The Congress has snatched away from the BJP the prestigious Lucknow-West Assembly seat, too, which has been going to the saffron party for a long time. The vote share of the Congress in seven of the 10 other Assembly constituencies, which went to the polls on November 7, has also gone up considerably. That its candidates have lost their deposits in some of the constituencies is understandable in the view of the fact that the Congress organisational structure has weakened over the years. Strengthening its district units requires concerted efforts to enable it to emerge as a replacement for the ruling BSP.


 In any case, the spectacular performance of the Congress in the April-May parliamentary polls and the November 7 byelections shows that the party is on the way to becoming a major force in UP again. It is not difficult to notice the beginning of a large section of the voters shifting their loyalties to the oldest party of the country. The Congress is gradually regaining the support of its former vote banks, those who have given strength to the BSP and the SP — particularly the Dalits, the Muslims and the OBCs. The efforts of the young general secretary of the Congress, Mr Rahul Gandhi, are bearing fruit. There is enough proof of Congress revival in the state.


 The BSP, the SP and the BJP — the three parties occupying the centrestage in UP for many years — have to suffer with the Congress revival, as can be seen today. If the SP has lost the Firozabad seat, the BJP is down in the dumps in Lucknow-West with the Congress being the gainer.


It is not correct to see in the BSP's victory in nine of the 11 Assembly constituencies which went to the polls on November 7 an improvement in the party's position after the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. The BSP has, no doubt, won even the seats considered SP bastions. One of the reasons is that those Muslim and OBC voters who wanted to express their disappointment with the SP's style of functioning had no better alternative than the BSP. These voters showed pragmatism and resorted to tactical voting. The party in power in the state is bound to be favoured when the people are fully aware of the implications of rejecting its candidates. This helped the BSP in both the August and November Assembly byelections when Ms Mayawati's party did unexpectedly well.


 It is true that the BSP leader has been concentrating more on her core vote bank — the Dalits — than others after the reverses her party experienced in this year's Lok Sabha polls. Yet she was not sure that the BSP would get two of the four seats for which the byelections were held in August and nine of the 11 seats contested during the November polls. That is why she could not gather courage to go to any of the 11 constituencies to campaign for her party candidates. She did not want it to be interpreted as a decline in her following in case the results went against the BSP.


 Ms Mayawati assigned the job of ensuring her party's victory to 40 of her ministers. They were clearly told to get ready for losing their ministerial berths if they failed to produce the desired results. The strategy has worked to her satisfaction. And she, being the party leader, is hogging the limelight.


This, however, does not mean that people are happy with the functioning of the BSP government. There are clear signs of erosion in the following of both the SP and the BSP. Many of those who have been voting for them now have no love lost for these two regional parties. The ranks of those disenchanted with the SP and the BSP may swell in the coming months and years, benefiting the Congress if it continues to focus on UP as it has been doing for some time.


The SP has suffered mainly because it has been taking its supporters for granted. Mr Mulayam Singh did not bother about the sentiments of his Muslim supporters when he began to be seen in the company of discredited former BJP Chief Minister Kalyan Singh. The SP chief gave a senior position in his party to Mr Kalyan Singh's son, Mr Rajvir Singh. As a result, the Muslims have been punishing the SP in every election for some time. Mr Mulayam Singh admitted his mistake on Saturday in Lucknow when he declared that he had nothing to do with Mr Kalyan Singh, who headed the government when the Babari Masjid was demolished on December 6, 1992, by vandals. The revolt by Mr Azam Khan, one of the SP founders, against Mr Mulayam Singh added to the party's declining popularity among the Muslims.


The BJP, too, which ruled UP for some time, is having the worst kind of experience because of the follies of the party leadership. It has suffered the most humiliating defeat in the just concluded byelections, with all its candidates losing their deposits. It had performed equally hopelessly in this year's Lok Sabha polls. But this is not surprising, as BJP senior leaders could not spare time for campaigning in the November 7 byelections. They were busy in the unending squabble in the party which threatens to destroy it from within.


Again, it is the Congress that is gaining from the BJP's shrinking base in UP. The BJP has virtually compelled a big chunk of its upper caste supporters like the Brahmins to shift their patronage to the Congress. Enough proof of this can be found in the Firozabad parliamentary constituency. The Brahmins no longer detest the company of the Dalits and the Muslims, and this is true in the case of the latter groups too. This may be one reason why the Congress is reportedly thinking of projecting its state unit chief Reeta Bahuguna-Joshi as the party's chief ministerial candidate in the coming Assembly elections. If the Congress is successful in realising its dream of emerging as the largest party in UP after the 2012 Assembly polls the state may have a Brahmin Chief Minister again.








I think it does everyone good to come to a halt sometimes, to have no further aim at the moment than to just sit still.


That was exactly what I was doing the other evening as I sat on a bench in the park near my house. I was admiring the lawn, fresh and green, after a shower and a few flowers, taking new life as a prelude to another winter.


But peace is for the birds, not for the likes of us. I had hardly been there five minutes before a couple came and sat down beside me on what was left of the bench.


There would have been nothing wrong in that if they, like me, had been content to gaze at the pastoral scene before us.


But they were having a heated argument in which the husband seemed to be getting the worst of the deal.


They spoke a South Indian language, breaking every now and again into English so that I could get a hang of what was going on.


The dispute concerned the forthcoming marriage of their daughter on which, it seemed, the husband was not prepared to spend more than what was absolutely necessary.


This being a purely domestic affair, perhaps I should have left the place. But the couple didn't seem to notice my presence and I found the arguments on both sides so intriguing that I decided to stay put.


"How can you call me a miser?" said the man, "you have forgotten how much we spent on Nalini's wedding. I have hardly recovered from that."


"Not my fault," parried the wife, "if we have two daughters instead of two sons. Think of the disgrace in the community if Sharda doesn't have sufficient clothes and jewellery to take with her. Look at the Iyengers. Their daughter's marriage was the talk of the town for months."


"Bah, Iyenger!" said the man. "Don't talk to me about the man. Everyone knows that he lives beyond his means. I wouldn't be surprised if he takes bribes. Do you want people to say that about me?" "You have no right to make such an accusation," said the wife, "just because the man saved every paisa he could to give his daughters a decent wedding instead of squandering money on changing cars and buying fashionable clothes for himself like you have done." "So now you have appointed yourself his guardian," said the man. "And who rode in the cars and encouraged me to go to the best tailors?"


The retort to this was in Tamil, or may be Telugu. Suddenly, the couple turned round and looked at me. I felt embarrassed but I have no doubt that they felt more so. They quickly got up and walked away leaving me in contemplation of my surroundings but without the peace with which I had begun it.








Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh's letter to the Prime Minister last month seeking a reversal of India's stand on carbon emission norms has galvanised opinion seeking the maintenance of the status quo.


Non government organisations and activists with a clear backing from influential sections of the establishment are lobbying the government to stand up to the developed countries when negotiations on carbon emission norms get under way at Copenhagen next month.


Fears that the IMF-World Bank axis in the echelons of power may come out of hibernation to unhitch India from its long bond with the G-77 countries into an unequal relationship with the Group of 20 are raising old shibboleths dating back to the Indira Gandhi era.


Suddenly the carefully cultivated mirage of India as a super power woven by the proponents of globalisation is losing its sheen as reality strikes about the impact of India succumbing to pressure from the developed nations.


The old ghosts of the imperialist forces donning the climate agreement garb to hobble a resurgent India are beginning to look life-like.


The argument in India's favour is that the per capita carbon emissions by the world's second largest nation are microscopic as compared to the Western countries. Not only have carbon emissions by the developed nations curbed as envisaged in the Kyoto protocol of 1997, these have actually increased. This has thrown up new terminology in the green lexicon: Climate injustice.


The data painstakingly put together is aimed to cobble a winning coalition of the country's left and the right meeting at the middle.


"The current per capita emissions of the US is almost 20 times higher than India's," says Sunita Narain of the Centre for Science and Environment, who is a strong proponent of tough talk by New Delhi at Copenhagen.


Emissions by one US citizen equal that of 107 Bangladeshis, 134 Bhutanese, 19 Indians and 269 Nepalese, says Narain in a presentation ahead of the summit.


Among the Indians, the feeling is getting around that carbon emissions in the developing world would increase as they follow the Western model of getting rich by pollution followed by a mechanism to clean up.


"But such (cleanup) technologies are expensive and that's why even the rich world have still not made the transition," says Narain.


The Indian argument is that poverty and lack of capital resources have already forced the adoption of renewable energy resources. "The way the Indian society is structured results in lower energy use. (For instance) Indians use public transport more than people of countries like the US. We have 12 vehicles per 1000 people as against 800 vehicles in the US. A large section of the Indian population still uses chulhas which is a renewable energy resource," says Girish Sant, who heads the Pune-based NGO called Prayaas.


Data from the International Energy Agency which states that India accounted for just 4 per cent of the global energy emissions even with a population share of 17 per cent is being used to shore up the country's argument.


Of particular concern is the US which is seen as a major mover to force India into an unequal climate agreement even as it makes little effort to provide free access to clean mitigation technologies.


Attempts by that country to portray us as a global obstructionist could only harden nationalist sentiments here as the feeling gains ground that the climate talks were only a tool to prevent India's economy from catching up with the West.


But the economic argument still does not take away the fact that countries like India, Brazil, South Africa and Mexico would emerge as the major emitters of carbon emissions and thus the major cause of global warming as they get richer.


"Black carbon from diesel and burning of biomass emitted by developing nations like India would have a negative impact on climate change," says V Ramanathan of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, who has studied the subject for more than 30 years.


The issue then simply boils down to who will pick the tab for the economic development of countries like India. "The rich have to reduce their emissions so the rest of the world can grow," says Sunita Narain of CSE.








On July 27, 2006, Fidel Castro nearly died during emergency intestinal surgery to stem internal bleeding caused by chronic diverticulitis. Since then, Cuba-watchers and obituary writers have been on high alert awaiting his demise.


Yet, more than three years later, Castro soldiers on, approaching his mortal end with the same zeal he lavished on his life. The 83-year-old appears to have adjusted to his medically mandated retirement, enduring various surgeries and their attendant complications.


A state-of-the art convalescent suite has been installed in his principal residence, Punto Cero, where he is surrounded by family and Cuba's finest doctors. On his good days, he entertains well-wishers -- among them, Harry Belafonte and Oliver Stone. And he continues to intervene in the thorny politics of Cuba.


In 2007, while still hospitalized, Castro began a transition from being Cuba's commander in chief to its pundit in chief, penning columns he calls "Reflections" in the state-run newspaper, Granma. Late last year, he offered some personal introspection. "I have had the rare privilege of observing events for a very long time," he wrote. He then acknowledged the gravity of his illness. "I do not expect I shall enjoy such a privilege four years from now – when President (Barack) Obama's first term has concluded."


But until Castro is in the grave, we will be hearing from him. While his brother Raul and the Cuban army are running the day-to-day affairs of the country, Castro retains and exercises veto power. And Cubans continue to feel the strongman's sting.


In March, more than a dozen of the most senior members of the Cuban regime were purged from the government. While Raul Castro had initiated the internal coup, Fidel was quick to weigh in and assail its casualties, all former members of his inner circle. The men had succumbed to "the honey of power," he wrote in his column. Their replacements have dodged the limelight and tread far more carefully.


Castro's reluctant leave-taking – with its periodic near-finales – fits into a long tradition of Hispanic "caudillos" or dictators. Consider, for example, the life – and death – of Francisco Franco, Spain's dictator of almost 40 years. Both Castro's father and Franco hailed from the rugged northern countryside of Spain, a region renowned for its fierce and stubborn citizenry.


And notwithstanding divergent political ideologies – Franco was a zealous anti-communist – the two men had a good deal in common. Both were willing to forge unpalatable and unpopular alliances with totalitarian states to shore up their power – Franco with Nazi Germany and Castro with the Soviet Union.


And Franco's shrouded last days neatly foreshadowed Castro's. Franco became grievously ill in 1974 and was forced to turn over his rule – "temporarily," he insisted – to Prince Juan Carlos. Castro also initially ceded control to his brother only "temporarily." Like Castro, Franco had an unexpected recovery, although his lasted only a year before he died at 82.


Although it is generally believed that Franco died days earlier, his death was announced on Nov. 20, 1975, the same day on which Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, the founder of Franco's fascist Falange party, died 40 years earlier.

Some people assert doctors kept Franco alive under orders from the dictator that he would live until the ordained date. But Franco's scheming to die with gravity and splendor backfired, and his protracted departure became a joke that would long outlive him. "Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead," Chevy Chase would intone with mock solemnity on "Saturday Night Live" as a running gag for nearly two years.


Castro's long goodbye is proving equally irresistible for late-night comedians. "He ran Cuba for almost 50 years," began Jay Leno in one riff. "And political analysts are now debating what kind of changes the Cuban people will hope for. I'm gonna guess: term limits."


Castro's untidy leaving also has kept the news media in an indefinite state of high alert, as they formulate and reformulate coverage and obituaries. The veteran Spanish Civil War reporter Martha Gellhorn found herself in a similar pickle three decades ago.


In 1975, she accepted an assignment from New York magazine to write about post-Franco Spain. "This thrills me, the sort of journalism I love," she wrote her son. "I am waiting for the old swine to die; but obviously he is being kept breathing (no more) while the right tightens its hold on the country."


When I asked Castro in a 1994 interview when he would retire, he snapped: "My vocation is the revolution. I am a revolutionary, and revolutionaries do not retire."


^Bardach is the author of "Without Fidel: A Death Foretold in Miami, Havana, and Washington" and "Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana."n


By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post








10 Janpath, they say, can work wonders. One recent example is Congress MP Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy, son of the late Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy. Before his visit to 10 Janpath he was the problem child and his supporters impetuously tried to hoist him to the CM's chair.


After his visit to the Congress President's residence, it is a mellowed Jagan. He is now willing to do exactly what the High Command would expect from its soldiers in the field. Even the MLAs who opposed Hooda in Haryana and Ashok Chavan in Mumbai are sitting very quiet after their visit to No. 10. Looking at these transformations someone said "Ajit Pawar should also be sent to 10 Janpath."



Udhav Thackeray has asked Shiv Sainiks to patrol Mumbai's parks and streets to protect morning-walkers. This will not only help him win the people's hearts, but also reduce the bloated waistline of the Sainiks. They have been reduced to couch potatoes ever since Raj Thackeray's men took over the streets to clean up the malaise afflicting Maharashtra.


But Udhav Thackeray now has five years to prove himself once again. Even though his brother, Raj, is supposedly the charismatic one, Udhav is hopeful of a comeback. After a long wait, no doubt! Raj Thackeray wants all MLAs in Maharashtra to now converse in Marathi keeping in view the slogan of "Marathi Manus".



Narendra Modi is a perturbed man nowadays. Only because he is so angry with his staff. The swine flu had grounded him but he wants to know how the press got to know of it? If the buzz is to be believed, Gujarat's "mard mukhyamantri" did not want the world to know that he could be confined to bed, which doesn't go well with his tough image.


In fact, when it was suspected that he could have the bug, his swab samples were sent under pseudonym to a laboratory. A furious Modi ordered that cell phone records of his officials be checked to pinpoint the "culprit", who leaked out the secret to the media.



Have you ever wondered how Delhi college students always manage to be so impeccably turned out – without ever repeating clothes? Odds are they might be "renting" clothes from a neighbourhood dhobi or presswalah or even the dry cleaner.


It's amazing! For regular kids, and those with "right contacts", the colony's dhobi is a limitless source of funky new clothes. And if he lives in an area infested with paying guest accommodation, he's a girl's dream come true.


A dhobi "rents" out clothes for anywhere between Rs 20 and Rs 100 for a few hours, but may even work out a monthly rental. Students build personal equations with their dhobis. Most often girls borrow trendy tops, denims and T-shirts and are careful to ensure that they are returned unharmed. For those who want wear-n-return options for parties or weddings, the source is often a small-time dry cleaner. Girls ask for renting lehengas or saris for their freshers' party or farewell. They deposit security money that is returned only after the dress is returned stain-free and intact. So, it works wonderfully.







Assam and eight other States have signed an agreement with the Centre for developing highways. The novel part of the pact is that it is mandatory on the part of the States to acquire land for getting the Central fund. The new arrangement is expected to facilitate faster completion of highway projects, as land acquisition has invariably been a stumbling block in timely completion of any road in Assam. The entire process of land acquisition being long and cumbersome, the customary delay and the resultant cost-escalation has been a nagging irritant. The State Government too often displays a lackadaisical attitude towards expediting the land acquisition process because it has already secured the Central fund. But now the situation can change for the better, as the State will get the funds only after it completes the land acquisition formalities. The abysmally slow progress of the East-West Corridor in Assam exemplifies the lacunae constraining road projects. Land acquisition apart, uncalled-for delays stem from the absence of coordination among various government departments. Even simple works such as shifting of electricity posts are kept in abeyance which not only causes delay but also effectively raises the cost.

Poor road connectivity has been a perennial bane for Assam and other parts of the North-East dominated by remote and rugged landscapes. Lack of sufficient road linkage is one of the biggest impediments to progress in the region. Inadequate road connectivity apart, the quality of the existing road network also leaves a lot to be desired. A large number of villages continue to languish for want of all-weather surface linkage. The situation has retarded agricultural and industrial growth. All this calls for according top priority to the road sector. Along with road construction, equal stress has to be given on ensuring quality – something that is often compromised with. The average availability of roads in Assam is still well below the national average, and the scenario is even worse regarding blacktopped roads. In recent times, there has been some progress in road construction in Guwahati and other towns, with funds coming from agencies like World Bank and ADB. But to achieve all-round progress, the process of development must not be allowed to remain city-centric. Rural road connectivity under the PMGSY must be expedited with thrust on timely completion of projects. While the Centre has now been liberal in providing finance worth thousands of crores for infrastructure development in the North-East, the situation warrants strict monitoring and surveillance.







Even as a stunned nation is coming to terms over the attack on a Maharashtra MLA for taking oath in Hindi by overzealous MNS legislators, the fascination of the Arunachalis for Hindi has served to rebuff the repeated Chinese claim over Arunachal Pradesh. All along the people of this state have been refuting the Chinese overtures. In spite of the changing times the people of this Himalayan state are not only preserving but promoting their own distinct culture as well. Along with their own culture, the people of this strategic state are known for their love for Hindi – the national language. They are passionate over Hindi and most of the people can fluently converse in the national language. Unlike in the other north-eastern states, where spoken Hindi is not very popular, in Arunachal Pradesh, a visitor can easily communicate in Hindi. Along with the language, Hindi music and Bollywood movies are very popular in this part of the country. The new generation is an avid fan of Hindi music and adores the Bollywood stars. The video cassettes of Hindi movies are a craze and are always in high demand. Entertainment apart, the Hindi language has gone a long way in rotating the wheels of progress and development in this remote corner of the country which for long was cocooned in a time wrap.

The common refrain in the state is that the love for Hindi among the people has become more pronounced after China's repeated claim over the region. Languages if not imposed helps in building bridges of unity and harmony among the different groups. And precisely that's the role Hindi is playing in Arunachal Pradesh. Hindi has become a convenient medium for the people having different dialects to communicate amongst themselves. Along with communication, Hindi has also helped the people to keep themselves abreast with the latest happenings and developments taking place elsewhere. Now though English is fast gaining popularity, yet the importance of Hindi in nation building in this region cannot be negated. The spontaneous acceptance of Hindi by the people of the region has flummoxed the Chinese who are trying their best to impose themselves against the very will of the people of this state. Now the overwhelming response by the people to the visit of the fourteenth Dalai Lama to the state has driven home the message loud and clear. The people of the state have asserted once again that they are Indians to the core and won't brook any outside interference on their sovereignty.








One of the foremost scholars of the last century, Dr Kakati was a versatile genius who made immense contribution in the field of literature, linguistics, cultural anthropology and comparative religion. In Purani Asamiya Sahitya he laid the foundation for the study of medieval Assamese literature Assamese: Its Formation and Development inaugurated the study of Assamese language on scientific lines. Kalita Jatir Itibritta pioneered the socio-historical study of the community. Mother Goddess Kamakhya is a pioneering study of the evolution of the religious and social life of Assam. The Vaishnavite Myths and Legends is a highly suggestive work on Indian myths in a folk-lore setting.

From his boyhood days, Kakati had an earnest desire to become a scholar. Legend has it that he had committed to memory the whole of Panini in his school days and that his Sanskrit teacher awarded him 105 marks out of 100. When he fell seriously ill in 1924, after taking his MA examination in English in the 13 group, he told his life-long friend Ambikagiri Raichowdhury, that he had wanted to become scholar, but his ambition would remain unfulfilled at his death. Ambikagiri nursed him assiduously, and he survived the ordeal to fulfil his ambition. After passing the Matriculation examination, Kakati got admitted into the Cotton College, Guwahati and this uncouth lad in a shabby dress wrapped in endi caught the attention of the most renowned professor of English of his time, by the absolutely correct transcription of a passage given for dictation. Since that time, Prof Roy became his mentor throughout his life.

Kakati stood first in the IA examination of the Calcutta University in 1913 and proceeded to Calcutta for higher studies in the Presidency College. He is reported to have worked harder than any inmate of the hostel, over the years and his lamp was kept burning, far into the night with the profile of Dr Kakati stooping over books. Our beloved Professor KB Roy, in the Calcutta University, who was a class friend of Kakati in the Presidency College, told me that Kakati was a voracious reader on various subjects and that his encyclopaedic range had an adverse effect on his result, for he missed first class. He passed his MA examination in English (A group) in 1918 and joined Cotton College as lecturer in English. Cotton College offered MA classes in English since 1914. Professor PC Roy reminisces about his teaching career in Cotton College:

"I was pained to see that his potentialities as a teacher were not exploited by authority or student. Had it been Oxford or Cambridge, his learning would have been utilised for the advancement of knowledge, heedless of examination results produced by efficient teachers."

As he himself declared to Professor PD Goswami, Kakati's life can be divided into various stages. Soon after entering Cotton College as a lecturer in 1918, he took up the study of Sankardev and old Assamese literature. He was drawn into a controversy between two rival schools of Assam Vaishnavism. His erudite exposition of scriptural lore in the various issues of the Banhi under the pseudonym of Babananda Pathak, in defence of the values represented by the teachings of Sankardev still makes fruitful reading. Kakatis's powerful arguments clinched the issue. He wrote a monograph on Sankardev for GA Natesan, Madras who published it in 1923. Kakati appeared in the MA examination in English (Group B) in 1923 and stood first in the first class. Dr Suniti Kumar Chatterjee had returned from Europe, after completing his studies and Dr Kakati had the privilege to study old English and the history of the English language under him. Dr Suniti Kumar Chatterjee's thesis – Origin and Development of the Bengali Language – was published in 1926. Kakati decided to do for Assamese what Dr Chatterjee had already done for his mother tongue Bengali. He obtained his doctorate for his thesis – Assamese : Its Formation and Development in 1935. The publication of the thesis in 1941 was a god-send for the Assamese people who had been frantically struggling to establish the identity and provenance of their mother tongue. Kakati had to work far from the great centres of learning, in a place where even Leonard Bloomfields' Language (1833) could not be made available. Yet the work was acclaimed by no lesser an authority than Dr Emeneau who found it 'ground-breaking in many ways.'

Kakati's interest in language proliferated over the years, but meanwhile, his mind started straying into other fields and pastures new. He made an intensive study of the Kalita caste and incorporated his findings in Kalita Jatir Itibritta (1941), Mother Goddess Kamakhya (1948) deals with socio-religious issues prevalent in Ancient Kamrupa. Finally he turned his attention to Indian mythology and his Vaishnavite Myths and Legends has been acclaimed as 'one of the very few studies of the religious scene in India, produced by our scholars, that deserve reading and pondering over.'

Dr Kakati was one of the greatest critics that the country has produced. His Purani Asomiya Sahitya provides the axes for the appreciation of Vaishnavite literature of medieval Assam. He was certainly the most capable interpreter of religious mysticism in the poetry of the Nam Ghosha. He also raised the perennial issue of a possible tension between poetry and belief. Himself a scion of the Romantic age, he sketched the critical background for the Twentieth Century Assamese Romantics. The post-war decade in Assam is a decade of disenchantment. In this decade also Dr Kakati wrote on the contemporary situation which seemed to show that a great age was over and another was yet to be born. He died too early to see the achievements of the ensuing age.

A great teacher, Dr Kakati was comfortable only in smaller classes of advanced students. He retired from Cotton College in 1948 and joined the newly established Gauhati University as the head of the Assamese department. This was a glorious chapter in his academic life. A scholar's scholar, who could enthuse the next generation to emulate his endeavour. Meanwhile he had been burning the candle of his life at both ends. He did not survive long after the demise of his beloved wife Kanaklata in 1952 and died in the same year, in November 15, the date of his birth.

Dr Kakati modelled his life on Dr Johnson, but though nonchalant about his dress, he was firm as an administrator and was capable of leading the university to great heights as its vice-chancellor, as KK Handique had hoped. He was, however, unwilling to abandon the mantle of a professor. He had already refused many lucrative offers and was about to resign from the post of the principal when told that an order was being sent from Shillong transferring him as the Director of Public Instruction.

Dr Kakati had an astounding personality which shone through his unassuming dress and he wielded spontaneous respect from one and all. One could address him and say:

'A privacy of glorious light is thine."

(Published on the occasion of the memorial function organised by Sobita Sabha, Guwahati.)








Bijoy Chandra Bhagawati, the veteran trade union leader, later conferred with the "Padma Bhushan" by the Union Government, founded the Assam Cha Karmachari Sangha, a union of the tea garden karmacharis, in the year 1946. This even preceded the formation of the Indian National Trade Union Congress. These karmacharis along with other units of INTUC, are now, celebrating his 105th birth anniversary on 14th and 15th of November, 2009.

Bhagawati is generally known as a political leader of eminence and a person of impeccable integrity. But if his contribution towards the cause of the oppressed labourers in India is ignored, this impression of political leader would be highly partial. Rather his role as a trade unionist bears no less weight.

Immediately before India attained independence, Assam had a Government led by veteran Congress leaders like Gopinath Bordoloi, Bishnuram Medhi, Basanta Kumar Das, Arun Kumar Chanda to name a few. These leaders, and the Assam Pradesh Congress Committee felt that under the foreign rule, workers in the tea gardens, oil fields, electricity departments, railways, cement factories, printing press and agricultural fields were so oppressed, for such a long time that they deserved greater attention of the Congress. They therefore decided to organise the workers of these sectors.

Accordingly, dedicated Congress leaders were chosen for this job. Omeo Kumar Das, Bijoy Chandra Bhagawati, Bimala Prasad Chaliha, Robin Kakoty were amongst them. They immediately swung into action with Bhagawati, organising plantation workers, particularly in the North Bank. This was the period, when Bhagawati faced not only a lot of humiliations but also physical assaults in the British owned tea gardens like Pratapgarh, Sakomato, Monabarie, etc. Bhagawati did not back out. He expanded his mission instead. He increased his presence in industries like match factories, cement, oil, etc. Bhagawati by then had become the main man in INTUC.

He never craved for any power or position, although he could not deny the request of Pt Nehru to join his Government as a Dy. Minister twice. He was very popular both in the political and trade union circles of Assam. In fact, these segments regarded him as their father figure. He represented Indian Labour in ILO twice. People in the trade union area in Assam still remember him, when he invited the INTUC to hold its convention in Dibrugarh in Assam in 1959 when several thousand delegates from all over the country attended besides, a number of foreign delegates as observers. The convention was also attended by National leaders like VK Krishna Menon, Ramanujam, etc. It was not an easy task to hold such a conference in Assam in those days. Credit also goes to "Late Mahendra Nath Sarma, a close associate of Bhagawati for sharing this huge responsibility with him. Bhagawati also wears with pride his associations with the freedom struggle of the Indian Union. His several tenures in jail for the national cause, and his mission to Mahatma Gandhi in 1946 accompanied by Mahendra Mohan Chou-dhury to protest against the infamous grouping system propounded by the British are still remembered gratefully by the people of Assam.

Bhagawati did not believe in trade unionism as a part of political ideology. To him, it is the workers who dominate politics and not politics which dominates the workers, Bhagawati was elected as the president of INTUC in its Nagpur Session in 1973. At such time, there was an impression that INTUC is a part of Indian National Congress. During this session presided over by Bhagawati a resolution was passed reiterating that INTUC and National Congress were different entities. He was then the president of the Assam Pradesh Congress and a member of the working Committee of Indian National Congress. Bhagawati continued as the president of INTUC for a period of 15 long years, an honour so rare that it has not been repeated ever since.

(The writer is a senior trade unionist)








It's make-believe passing off as public policy. The Centre's latest bailout package for so-called national carrier Air India (AI) lacks credibility.


The proposal is that the government would infuse Rs 2,000 crore as additional equity, and that AI would save a like amount this fiscal year. It seems very much like another stop-gap solution for the cash-strapped carrier in dire need of managerial turnaround.

Worse, the formula is perverse incentive for AI to dress up its accounts  and show some cost savings in the next five months up to March 31. The next fiscal, perhaps, would be another opportune time to think up yet another financial plan to keep AI afloat. And so on and so forth. Such policy pussy-footing may appear par for the course if the idea is to remote-pilot AI, with constant interference and all. But the better policy solution by far is to bring about real change. It would make sense to privatise the airline, with a special purpose vehicle owned by the airline's employees being given a price preference of, say, 5%.

The fact of the matter is that AI's working capital liabilities have quadrupled to Rs 16,000 crore in under three years. Worse, its latest annual results show a 12% drop in revenues to Rs 13,479 crore. Besides, last year alone, its losses added up to a whopping Rs 5,548 crore. It's a related matter that till recently, AI was on an aircraft-buying spree despite being thoroughly in the red. Reports say that AI plans to reduce its fleet size to 100-105 from the current 132. There are also moves afoot to lower performance-linked incentives to prune the wage bill.

But these are a series of half-measures. What's instead required is for the Centre to make way for AI to be both employee-owned and controlled for the greater good. The point is that AI pilots and executives do need to be in charge and deliver results. Note that AI's
fund requirements are a staggering Rs 25,000 crore; in a poor country, there's no rationale whatsoever for the exchequer to continue to bankroll a perennially loss-making asset, used exclusively by the well-heeled. To make AI really soar, the state clearly needs to let go. About time, surely.







What could happen between now and 2012 that could portend the end of the world? The heat up the earth's core to the point where the crust will begin to shift and disintegrate.


What could happen between now and 2012 that could portend the end of the world? The Hollywood version avers that flares from the sun will suddenly heat up the earth's core to the point where the crust will begin to shift and disintegrate. Interestingly — for a Hollywood movie, where all crucial events usually feature a doughty American — that impending calamity is discovered by an Indian scientist, but this point is incidental.

More importantly, this planetary indigestion causes most of the world's recognised monuments to crumble, explode, splinter or be washed away in a manner suited for widescreens.

Little wonder then that 'the master of disaster', Roland Emmerich preferred sunflares to the already worn theme of an asteroid colliding with our earth. Predictably, Nasa is miffed about this 'end of the world' speculation and the Mayans' scaremongering, insisting on its website that "credible scientists worldwide know of no threat associated with 2012". But if the ancient Mayan calendar (from which this movie gets a fix on the year), is to be believed and our date with doom fixed, we should search for a few more suspects who can set off such cataclysmic events, in case Hollywood gets it wrong.

The Large Hadron Collider has long been in the crosshairs of doomsayers, who see any attempt to create the 'God particle' as a surefire recipe for a cosmic annihilation. But since it has a propensity to get gummed up even by a piece of baguette, its ability to generate a black hole before 2012 is in serious doubt. Neither Sarah Palin's candidature for the White House in 2012 nor Mamata Banerjee at the helm of affairs in West Bengal would cause such seismic shifts.

Glaciers melting (denied by the New Delhi) and Pak nukes getting into the wrong hands (denied by Washington) are possibilities, but if Hollywood finally gets the doomsday (if not the cause) right, we won't be there to congratulate them.







Some states have suggested that purchase tax, a significant source of revenue, should not be subsumed into the goods and services tax (GST). Neither the Centre nor the empowered committee of state finance ministers that has been spearheading the country's transition to a rational indirect tax system should accept this idea. The tax must simply be scrapped.


Purchase tax is just another form of sales tax at the state level, but levied on the buyer rather than the seller of specified list of items such as foodgrain when the goods are not resold in state. The list varies from state to state. It covers foodgrain, cotton, jute and sugar among other primary products. Punjab and Haryana lead the group of states opposed to subsuming of the tax into GST as they collect about Rs 1,000 crore and Rs 600 crore, respectively, from this levy on foodgrain.

Apart from being an indirect tax that would cascade and work against producers, there is another very good reason why this levy should go. Purchase tax on the Food Corporation of India when it procures grain from farmers amounts to diversion of the Centre's budget allocation for food subsidy towards these states' coffers. And that is truly scandalous. To illustrate: say, Food Corporation of India had procured 20.3 million tonnes of wheat last Rabi at Rs 1,080 per quintal.

Purchase tax at the rate of 4% on MSP works out to Rs 879.50 crore. Procurement of rice was thrice as much. So, a few thousand crore rupees of food subsidy ended up in these state treasuries, for the service of procuring grain from their farmers. Leaving purchase tax intact when the country moves to GST would only embolden other states to introduce the levy, pleading fiscal autonomy. That defeats the whole purpose of introducing GST. And it is proving to be a concern for the Centre.


Exemptions from GST must be kept to the minimum. Keeping alcoholic beverages and petroleum products outside the purview of GST is bad enough. Likewise, certain local levies such as octroi that create barriers for seamless movement of goods and services should also be scrapped. Also, the threshold for levying the tax must be kept low. That alone would ensure that the overall rates of state GST can be kept low. The tax rate is a function of the size of the tax base — the larger the base, the lower the rate.







Over the last 12 months, India's banking sector has been through a sharp adjustment in credit cycle after a big boom during 2004-07. Credit demand has decelerated significantly to a 12-year low of 9.7% year-on-year as of October 23, 2009, compared with close to 30% year-on-year 12 months ago. Nominal bank credit growth is expected to be close to nominal GDP growth during the quarter ending December 31, 2009 — a position similar to what we saw prior to the start of the previous credit growth cycle in 2003.


Similarly, from being the country with the highest credit growth in the region, India's bank credit growth is now largely in line with the regional average. Incremental credit to GDP has collapsed too. After reaching the peak of 11.6% of GDP in October 2008, incremental (12-month trailing) bank credit to GDP should drop to below 4% in November 2009, as per our estimates.

Banks balance sheets are beginning to heal. We believe that the underlying impaired loans have also peaked. A quick revival in global risk appetite also meant that Indian corporate sector could access risk capital from international capital markets easily. This helped the corporate sector to repair their balance sheets faster, thus reducing the risk of vicious feedback of large non-performing loans in the banking system, increased risk aversion and slower growth. While the reported gross non-performing loans (NPLs) may continue to rise over the next two quarters, we believe the underlying impaired loan ratio — reported NPLs plus restructured loan portfolio — is likely to have peaked.

Also, banks are now more careful with pricing in the risk, given the experience in the last cycle, as reflected in a substantially higher spreads — gap between lending rates and deposit costs — for riskier loan segments such as two-wheeler loans. At the peak of the last cycle, the banks were not fully pricing in the risk inherent in certain products. As a result, there was some poor underwriting that resulted in a sharp rise in NPLs — and, hence, credit costs — especially on the retail side. However, bulk of the adjustment in the banking sector is now behind us.

The sector is now ready for new cycle.

As we have been arguing in the past, capital inflows tend to be a key factor influencing India's economic growth and credit cycle. While the collapse in capital inflows affected GDP growth trend and credit demand till mid-2009, a revival in inflow of risk capital and industrial production growth will now support the recovery. Total capital inflows into India have increased to about $10 billion (annualised rate of $40 billion) during the quarter ended September 30, 2009, as per our estimates, compared with inflow of $6.7 billion during the quarter ended June 30, 2009, and outflow of $5.3 billion during the quarter ended March 31, 2009.

We expect the total capital flows to rise to $46 billion in 2009-10 from just $9 billion in 2008-09. Revival in capital inflows, liquidity support measures from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and slowdown in credit demand has resulted in a sharp collapse in borrowing costs.

Indeed, excess liquidity within the banking system remains high. Surplus liquidity as measured by funds parked in reverse repo, market stabilisation bonds (MSS) and central government's surplus with the RBI is estimated to be over $30 billion. In addition, they have also invested surplus funds with liquid mutual funds. While bank credit is growing at 9.7% year-on-year, the deposits are growing at 19% year-on-year as of the fortnight ended October 23, 2009, resulting in increase in excess liquidity. Incremental credit-deposit ratio at 38% is currently close to 2001 lows. We believe there is ample liquidity in the banking system implying that the lending rates are unlikely to rise in the next 4-6 months unless credit demand shoots above expectations.

Further, we are not concerned about government borrowing crowding out private credit demand. For the financial year ending March 31, 2010, the central government has already completed about 82% of the full-year borrowing plan. With recovery in growth, government's tax revenue collection is likely to improve. Moreover, we believe the government's expenditure growth will decelerate sharply over the next 12 months resulting in lower fiscal deficit and borrowing demand. We expect the consolidated fiscal deficit, including off-budget items, to reduce to 9% of GDP in 2010-11 from 10.7% of GDP in 2009-10.

We expect credit growth to start recovering from December 2009 to reach 16% by March 2010 and further to 22% by end-2010. Indeed, credit growth has begun to recover on a sequential basis. The year-on-year on data remains a bit distorted. Last year, credit crisis had resulted in a shift in borrowing from fixed income mutual funds and non-banking financial companies to banks pushing credit growth to close to 30% year-on-year as of November 28, 2008, up four percentage points from September. This high base effect will distort year-on-year credit growth data till the end of November 2009.

What will drive the credit demand? Typically, credit growth lags the industrial production (IP) growth recovery. With IP growth having already accelerated sharply over the last four months, we expect the credit growth to recover over the next three months. We also expect the WPI non-food inflation rate to rise sharply to 4.7% year-on-year by March 31, 2010, compared with –2.9% year-on-year during the week ended October 17, 2009. Moreover, with rising oil prices, the working capital demand of oil companies is also likely to pick up to the extent the government refrains from increasing domestic fuel prices. Recovery in corporate capital expenditure will also support the credit demand over the next 12 months.

Early signs from fund-raising activity of the corporate sector indicate that capital expenditure is about the bottom. With industrial production growth likely to remain, increased capacity utilisation will mean higher investments by the corporate sector supporting the recovery in credit growth.

(The author is managing director of Morgan Stanley Research)








Perhaps the most poignant present-day paradox is that even as medical knowledge advances and global wealth grows, health inequity between the rich and the poor is widening. It is easy to get overwhelmed when faced with numbing statistics and depressing reports on global access to healthcare — from numbers that indicate escalating infant mortality, to lists of preventable diseases that remain unaddressed, and reports on ineffectual healthcare systems.


Clearly, it is time to create a new paradigm to address the escalating crisis in global healthcare, to ensure that those who need access to healthcare get it, at all times and in all places. Affordability is the key to accessibility. In the economic reality of a developing country, cheaper drugs and low-priced healthcare infrastructure models can work wonders. We need only a look at the hope that cheaper generics have brought to Africa's AIDS victims to realise the amazing transformative potential of affordability.

However, affordability is not simple to implement — it requires creative, out-of-the-box thinking. Thus, to deliver affordability, we require innovation — innovation in discovering drugs, developing therapeutics and delivering healthcare. It is only by creating innovation in technology, strategies, practices and policies that we can take on global healthcare challenges.

As an entrepreneur in a developing country, I have pursued a business strategy that has adopted innovation and affordability as the mantra from the beginning. In the quest for affordable innovation, our company has deliberately steered clear of the inherent inequities of business models followed by wealthy countries wherein a new drug is initially accessible only to a small affluent section of the society. Cheaper generic versions become available to a larger patient base after patents expire, thus eventually delivering affordability but having denied access to those who are in need for many years.

Over the years, our company has adopted an effective strategy for innovation that involves forming symbiotic partnerships with companies around the world to create value. I started my biotech business with an Irish partner, a genesis that has engrained in me the importance of leveraging partnerships to share risks, costs and skill sets to augment and expedite development. Since then, I have consciously built research and marketing partnerships to lower costs and gain global market access. Our collaborations have always ensured a complementary relationship where each partner helps the other fill gaps to accelerate the pace of development.

Our collaborative innovation model is also driven by an underlying ethos of developing and delivering affordable drugs for patients the world over, and we have tended to forge partnerships with companies that embrace this philosophy. After all, what good is innovation if it cannot reach those who need it?

Take, for example, our partnership with the Centre for Molecular Immunology (CIM) in Cuba to develop and commercialise a monoclonal antibody for the treatment of head and neck cancers in India. India has an annual incidence of nearly a million such tumours linked to tobacco consumption, largely afflicting poorer sections of the population. The affordable profile of this product has allowed thousands to benefit from a therapy that would otherwise have been out of reach. A second monoclonal antibody is being developed as an affordable alternative to address auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and multiple sclerosis and is already showing immense promise. Cuba is an embargo-hit country with high value innovation capacity. Our partnership with CIM has been truly symbiotic and has had profound impact on each partner.

We have also developed unique collaborations with several highly innovative US biotech companies with unique platform technologies that did not have the capabilities to take their innovations to the market. For example, we have applied a proprietary technology developed by a small biotech company in North Carolina's Research Triangle Park to develop the world's first oral insulin in a tablet form. Because we are conducting most of the development work in India, we believe this product will have affordability built in.

Today, the global drug industry is struggling to bring new drugs to the market. The regulatory environment has become increasingly difficult, and insurers and governments are challenged with rising healthcare costs. Affordability is now recognised as a critical factor to build sustainable models for healthcare in the context of ageing populations and the need for universal coverage. For example, new drugs for Malaria, Tuberculosis, AIDS and other neglected diseases will have to be developed in developing countries if they are to reach the patients that need them. Affordable innovation is the only way forward, and India has a unique opportunity to deliver it to global markets by building excellence across the innovation chain from discovery to product and clinical development.

As a traditionally risk-averse nation, India has rarely been at the forefront of innovation. Trailblazing innovation was always something someone else did; India imitated and became very good at it. Even in the biotech sector, most companies operate in the low-risk services and generic diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics space. It is time for biotechnology companies, especially in India and other developing countries, to re-orient their efforts to aggressively harness innovation through partnerships and collaborations to attain the dream of ensuring healthcare for all.

(The author is CMD of the Biocon Group)








Over the past three decades — leading up to the recent global economic downturn — the trend was clear. The world's capital markets were undergoing tremendous expansion, diversification and integration. Between 1980 and 2007, the volume of global capital flows increased dramatically. Meanwhile, according to various reports, the world's financial assets — a combination of bank deposits, private and public debt, and equity — almost quadrupled in relation to global GDP.


This surge in global capital has been fuelled, in part, by worldwide financial market liberalisation coupled with the rapid-fire economic growth and burgeoning global influence of India and other emerging economies. Because the free flow of capital is the life-blood of sustainable economic growth and expanding prosperity, the world community at large — especially the G20 nations — needs to continue to facilitate and safeguard the flow of capital across borders. And India has a pivotal role to play in this regard.

Recent statistics from the World Federation of Exchanges reveal a dramatic shift in global markets. Between 2002 and 2007, the number of listed companies on the Nasdaq stock market and New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) dropped by 16% and 3% respectively, while the Asian markets increased significantly, with India growing 47%, South Korea 157% and Singapore 62%.

A similar eastward swing has occurred with regard to market capitalisation of the world's stock exchanges. Between 2003 and 2008, the Nasdaq and NYSE decreased by 16% and 19% respectively, while the Asian markets enjoyed significant increases. India surged 132%, Shanghai 296%, and Hong Kong 86%.

Another noteworthy change has been taking place in the global economy. Many economists believe the recovery will be driven by a new phenomenon: growing consumer spending in emerging markets, with India in the forefront. This shift towards consumer-led growth in emerging countries will transform these areas into important import markets for the world's manufacturers.

What's behind this economic power shift towards India and other emerging economies? In a word: capital. A great deal of the eastward tilt stems from the escalating flow of capital across borders in recent years.

Since the introduction of the reform process in the early 1990s, India has witnessed a significant increase in capital inflows — in the form of foreign direct investment, foreign portfolio investment, external commercial borrowing and non-resident Indians' inward remittances. The size of net capital inflows to India rose from $7.1 billion in 1990-91 to $108 billion in 2007-08. Today, India has one of the highest net capital inflows among the emerging market economies of Asia.

Important reform milestones that have contributed materially to India's economic growth and its ability to attract capital include the following:

Abolishing the import licensing policy in the early 1990s, which opened the doors to a free trade regime.

Gradual and systemic rationalisation of the country's tariff and Customs duty structure with the highest rate coming down from 400% to less than 25% on an average.

Convertibility of the country's current account, allowing greater availability of foreign exchange into and out of the country to meet business requirements.

Gradual deregulation of several sectors, allowing foreign investment capital to flow into India combined with continuous financial sector reforms leading to both financial deepening and widening.

Slow and steady progress in privatising public sector enterprises.

And the general improvement in strengthening intellectual property rights by joining General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

Reforms like these encouraged the flow of investment capital into India and helped stimulate the recent era of dramatic economic growth. Indeed, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development rates India as the most attractive emerging market economy for long-term investors. While there was an overall decline in foreign direct investment (FDI) in India in the depths of the recession last year, Indian FDI flows both in and out of the country have remained buoyant, defying global trends. Inbound FDI increased by over 40% to $3.26 billion in August 2009 alone.

Meanwhile, because capital, like traffic, flows in two directions, Indian firms have pushed forward on the path to more international investments. India's international merger and acquisition activities have increased markedly over the past 20 years, and the trend is likely to accelerate. Indian firms are making billion-dollar-plus deals in industries as diverse as automotive, steel and tea. Indian outbound deals — valued at $0.7 billion in 2000 — jumped to $4.3 billion in 2005 and then swelled to $35 billion in 2007. Investments have been made in a wide variety of industries, including metals, pharmaceuticals, industrial goods, automotive components, beverages, energy, mobile communications, software and financial services. Indian IT companies have been buying smaller IT outfits in Europe, Latin America and Asia to gain global customers.

Surprisingly enough, the value of outbound deals from India actually recorded a modest increase in 2008, despite the challenging economic realities of the world today. Another sign that India is emerging from the global downturn with greater resilience than many other countries is its GDP growth. For 2008, it was an impressive 6.7%, and the economy is expected to grow by another 6.5% in 2009.

According to the World Bank Governance Indicators, macroeconomic corporate governance has a significant effect on inward FDI flows, suggesting host country governments and authorities should shape policy in this area to maximise such flows. The impact of transparency in corporate governance on FDI and firm performance is well documented.

How do corporate governance and risk management in India stack up against other emerging markets? The New York consulting firm Governance Metrics International (GMI) placed India 19th out of 38 countries on its list. Importantly, India ranks well above average among emerging markets. But more can be done to enhance corporate governance, not only in India but also in many other markets.

The enactment of Clause 49 — which increased the responsibilities of corporate boards, required the appointment of independent directors, consolidated the role of the audit committee and generally made management more accountable — seems to have had a reassuring effect on investors. Also reassuring to investors were the easing of overseas borrowing rules and the establishment of dedicated stock exchanges for small enterprises to enable them to access funds.

Still, more work needs to be done. What we hear from our clients suggests the following:

Continue the process of liberalising the investment norms into sectors that are still closed to foreign direct investment, such as retail and insurance.

Encourage even greater trade openness, which is important to improve absorption of capital inflows in the short run and to develop foreign exchange earning capacity that will enable an appropriate return on invested capital.

Move toward convertibility of the country's capital account to facilitate smoother flow of foreign capital into and out of the country.

Push ahead with financial sector reforms already under way to enhance India's role as a major hub for global finance.

Establish land reform policies to enable industrial development.

Reform education to provide access for skill development to broaden the participation in India's growth.

Seize the strategic advantage — through technological and other innovations — to become a global leader in environmental sustainability.

Build on changes in tax policy, industrial policy and general economic policy by further reducing red tape and bureaucratic hurdles that remain an important concern that discourages foreign investment.


Embrace innovative technologies and strengthen intellectual property protection in India through convergence with international standards.

Building on liberalisation policies dating back to the early 1990s, the country has differentiated itself as a dynamic recipient and source of global capital. India's prospects are brighter now than ever to be a leading magnet for cross-border capital investments in the years ahead. The power shift is on. Global capital is on the move. India's time is now.

(The author is CEO of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu)








Sadly, particular concepts, phrases and quotes originating from religious texts or scriptures are frowned upon by those who profess a 'modern' outlook. These are summarily dismissed as outdated, inapplicable or superstitious. In this regard, it is necessary to recognise that all concepts should be welcomed and worked upon, as long as these can stand scientific and rational scrutiny, for obtaining tangible and practical benefits.


Atmasuddhi is one such concept, meaning clarity of the self within. This is obtained through stress release, cleansing of related physical and mental toxins and, consequently, resolution of contradictions and conflicts — Bhagavad Gita concepts as in 2,45; 5,3 and 5,25. In this state, every aspect of the personality works in joyful partnership with the other. This also is the allegory of the Gita — the chariot of life with the jeevatma (Arjuna) moving truly forward, guided by his own evolved and integrated self within, the paramatma (Krishna), skillfully regulating and directing the reins and horses (the human senses, perceptions and actions). It is in this state of clarity that one attains 'flow' with no 'single slip' or militating forces within, undoing the benefits of all previous efforts.

This state of true atmasuddhi also presupposes dissolution and cleansing of all past impressions, scars, trauma and withholds upon the psyche. This naturally is effectively living in the present — instinctively thus making up for all past bad karma by present good karma.

More easily talked of than accomplished, the beginning is through observance and following those basics, on which one has control and which he can implement through some simple discipline and watchfulness. Restraints or applications (yama and niyama), right physical exercises rooted in awareness and elegant comfort (the concept of asana), simple breathing regulations and exercises, healthful habits and lifestyle, inspiring company (satsang), well-suited pursuits, consciously being brisk and avoiding drag and drift, also giving expression to the calls of the spirit within — all these would go a long way to cleanse retarding forces and negative impressions within.

Other processes, as per individual need, would naturally follow, in pursuit of atmasuddhi, leading naturally also to realisation of one's pet dreams, aspirations and objectives.

Indeed, atmasuddhi would, thus, have much to offer to modern times and the modern man!







There are two parts to the question of whether EPFO should outsource record-keeping to the NPS central record-keeping agency (CRA, currently National Securities Depository). The first is whether the record-keeping function should be outsourced. The second is whether it should be the NPS-CRA.


The main justification for introducing CRA in the design of NPS was that keeping records centrally would be cost-efficient. Part of the benefits came from lower costs of fund management. Asset management companies (AMCs) maintain records at the level of the customer. Typically, cost of fund management includes costs of systems to track customer accounts and changes to the account. By separating the record-keeping function from fund management, AMCs could focus on managing the funds to give the best returns. Without variable costs of record-keeping, customers could more readily compare performance across AMCs. Moreover, a specialist firm maintaining and tracking client accounts would mean efficiency in the record-keeping service itself. One central CRA would mean benefits from economies of scale in having the same infrastructure being used for larger and larger number of accounts. Lastly, the accountability for accuracy in the record-keeping function becomes clear.

These issues for the NPS play out the same way in the context of EPFO. EPFO runs an individual account, defined contribution pension scheme. Traditionally, EPFO has faced severe criticism in having done a poor job in maintaining good records at the individual level. A good way to address this glaring flaw is to outsource record-keeping as opposed to improving the in-house system. Outsourcing has the advantage of speed to implement, and clear accountability if a problem arises in the record management function. This will be even more beneficial now that EPFO has multiple AMCs to manage EPFO funds. A CRA would mean a smoother transition to enabling distribution of funds to multiple fund managers.

The best part of this story is that today, the NPS CRA is already experienced in how to provide this service. Another step in the right direction for better pension services in India.

(*Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research)







The EPFO faces three important questions: is it essential for its members to have central record-keeping and administration? Is portability between the NPS and EPFO in public interest? And should it reinvent the wheel or simply harness existing capacity?


EPFOs' current decentralised system inhibits labour portability. Without central record-keeping, it is practically impossible for EPFO members to transfer their EPF and EPS accounts and past savings when they change employers or move to new locations. It is relatively, though not always, easier for them to close the account with their last employer, withdraw and consume their accumulated savings, and open a fresh account with the new employer. This is an even more serious problem for contract labourers and other low income workers who form around 80% of EPFO's membership. These workers face short work contracts, frequent employer changes and, therefore, probably start saving afresh for their old age every few months. Its not surprising that the average EPF member faces nearly two decades of retirement at age 60 with barely Rs 25,000 in her PF account even after saving nearly a quarter of her income under EPF and EPS.

Going forward, self-employed workers covered by NPS may often opt for salaried employment and vice versa. It is essential for these workers to be able to seamlessly move their savings across both systems. This cannot be achieved without compatible, central administration and rules governing exit and entry between NPS and EPFO. Even if EPFO does not proactively address this issue, the tax administration under the proposed EET framework for NPS and EPFO will in any case force the EPFO in this direction.

Obviously, it would be much simpler, faster and cheaper for EPFO to harness the existing central record-keeping and administrative capacity through TIN or the CRA. By using TIN, EPFO could use the same plumbing that reaches employers and achieves tax compliance to obtain similar compliance on PF contributions from individual employers. Its other option, of course, is to use the CRA established by PFRDA. This would automatically deliver inter-employer and inter-system portability between NPS and EPFO.








Last Monday, the Invest India Economic Foundation, the New-Delhi-based think-tank that has done yeoman's work for pension reform in the country, held its annual conference. In the nine years since the first conference was held, we've come a long way. The New Pension Scheme (NPS) has been in existence for little over five years and fears of a large, and growing, hole in government finances have abated somewhat.


The pension bill is still huge. But beginning January 2004, all entrants are part of the NPS, so the problem will become progressively more manageable. Had the past trend of 21% compounded annual rate of growth continued, in about a decade from now, close to 50% of government's budget would have been spent on salaries and pensions, an unsustainable scenario. So, as far as containing the pension bill is concerned, the NPS has delivered.

But pension reform was never meant to be only about reducing the government's burden. It was also meant to extend the coverage of a formal pension scheme to the vast majority outside the privileged class of government employees. And for them, the NPS opened a new option; especially after it was opened to the non-government (albeit organised) sector as well earlier this year.

In a country where close to 85% of the working population has no formal pension scheme and changing cultural norms combined with job insecurity have made old-age security a critical issue, it was expected there would be a rush to join the NPS. But surprise, surprise! Six months later, the NPS has only 3,000 voluntary subscribers (contribution is mandatory for civil servants). Why?

The usual answers range from lack of awareness to inertia to poor marketing, to competition from other products. Most speakers at the conference seemed to echo this view — virtually none was willing to concede that there is a basic flaw in how the NPS has been positioned.

Consider. Any good pension system is based on three pillars: a universal Pillar 1 that is a flat, subsistence pension, a Pillar 2 that is earnings-related, and a Pillar 3 that consists of voluntary retirement savings. In India, the National Old Age Pension Scheme — the traditional tax-funded pillar 1 — covers only those below the poverty line and is a paltry Rs 400 per month. Consequently, any pension scheme must have two attributes: certainty and survival benefit.

The NPS, unfortunately, does not offer either. The weighted average return of about 14% claimed by the NPS last year may flatter vis-à-vis 8.5% offered by its rival, the Employees Provident Fund (EPF), but it flatters to deceive. For one, there is a tax disadvantage as the corpus is taxed at maturity (NPS is subject to the EET — exempt, exempt, taxed — regime). But more important, as the experience with 401K schemes in the US has shown, NPS is subject to market volatility. Even if over the long term, equity does give you a higher return than debt — try asking the Japanese that though! — what happens if you retire when the market has tanked?

This is where schemes run by the Employees Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) have an advantage. The EPF offers a fixed rate of return and the EPS (Employees' Pension Scheme) offers survival benefit. With NPS, if a subscriber dies before retirement, the family gets only the accumulated corpus; with EPS, the wife is entitled to 50% of the pension amount with minor children (a maximum of two) entitled to another 25%.

In the rarefied atmosphere of a five-star hotel where such conferences are usually held, few, perhaps, grasped the significance of these two distinctions. But in the real world where we are talking of income levels of less than Rs 5,000 a month — assuming a per-capita income of $1,000 per annum — these are critical enough to make NPS inferior to a scheme like the EPFO's to the vast majority of the population.

This is not to say that there is nothing wrong with the EPFO. Beginning with its shoddy house-keeping, high administrative costs and, of course, rampant corruption, the EPFO needs to do a great deal to set its house in order. Computerisation should help as should a concerted attempt to rid the organisation of corrupt elements, if necessary by outsourcing settlement of claims.

There is also a case for linking the rate of interest to the market, pruning withdrawal facilities and, possibly, the benefits as well keeping in mind the long-term sustainability of the schemes. Unfortunately, in the high decibel attack on the EPFO and the equally vociferous push by those interested in pushing more funds into the stock market, these issues are often lost sight of.

True, we are a heterogeneous society. So, there may be a case for selling differentiated products to different sections of the population. But there is an even more pressing case to be transparent about what we are selling. For the non-government sector, NPS is at best a third pillar with EPFO schemes being the second pillar. Junking the latter for the former will be a big mistake. Let both flowers bloom!








Visitors to London over the past few weeks, especially from India, are usually puzzled as to why everyone, from CEOs to secretaries, are wearing a strange, red paper blotch on their lapels. If you happened to be around at about 11:00 a.m. on November 11, you'd wonder why the whole country came to a standstill. Those odd badges are red poppies — everyone wears them for almost a month before and after November 11, which is variously called Armistice Day, Veterans Day or Remembrance Day around the world. The tradition goes back to the end of the WWI, to the ubiquitous red poppies that insisted on blooming in the killing fields of Flanders, according to a Canadian medical poet.


Now it's more or less a generic day honouring any soldiers who've died in battle, in every Commonwealth country, Europe and the US. And no, we're not just indulging in one of those sentimental British things — the origin of the artificial red poppy was to raise funds for soldiers' charities, and even now we all drop a few coins in the charity box to buy our funny red lapel badges. It helps. India is perhaps the only Commonwealth country that doesn't mark this occasion in a big way. And, umm, if South Africa can, after what they've been through, the argument that it's a symbol of white, colonial rule seems a bit weak. And if Europe and Germany can do it together, the argument that remembrance breeds division is even weaker.

Sometimes, hapless tourists from India, who happen to be at my mercy, get dragged off to trudge around Hyde Park Corner — not, as they'd like, on the way to Harrods but in the opposite direction, up Constitution Hill. It's usually when I'm in a cranky mood, and insist on making them look at the World War memorial for soldiers from the Indian subcontinent, Africa, and Caribbean — an estimated 5 million — and crane their necks to read the names of all those from the erstwhile British Indian army to get the Victoria Cross — the highest bravery award then.

I was once told, can't vouch for it, on a cold foggy November morning, to the accompaniment of Gurkha bagpipers and a smattering of octogenarian British Indian Army veterans in wheelchairs, that the British Indian army has the highest tally of VCs from the World Wars. Something to be proud of, I'd think, but it never made my history books in school.

Usually, my traumatised victims are more than glad to escape and run off to shop on Oxford Street. As Baroness Sheila Flather, one of Britain's leading diaspora luminaries and an architect of the memorial, once told me rather sternly, it's almost impossible to get anyone in India interested in these things. But British Indians make the effort, every year. So if you had a grandfather in North Africa, Burma, or Japan, well, someone cares.

I've recently taken to wondering why India doesn't do memorials as a cultural thing. One of the first things that strikes one in Europe is the number of war memorials. These are not, like Emperor Constantine's arches or Nelson's column, odes to military victory. These are plain, simple memorials for mortal souls, a name etched in stone, metal, bronze, plastic. Non-denominational, non-communal, non-political, remembering the boys (and girls) who died so you and I could live.

I've walked up a hill in an Enid Blytonish village in rural England, and under the moss and heather, there's a weathered stone plaque with names of long-dead village boys who gave their lives in various wars. It's a bit of history, a bit of local pride, a bit of sentimentality. And usually, there will be a few funny paper poppies lying around. Someone cares.

And then, I remember flying back to Delhi from Leh, very touristy, generally peeved about the hyper security... until I saw the flag-covered coffin sharing airplane space with me. Who was that boy? Dunno, but I don't think I'll forget him. It isn't as if Indians aren't patriotic. We celebrate Independence Day, Republic Day et al with extreme zeal. We teach our school children how wonderful our armed forces are, to revere war heroes. We weep buckets in Bollywood war movies, or when Lata Mangeshkar sings Ae mere watan ke logon. But we simply refuse to remember our soldiers who've died, consistently, in every war or engagement since 1914. We have national holidays for mythical superheroes from 2000 BC, but we cannot set aside a single day to remember our war heroes from the last century? Maybe sociologists, anthropologists and psychologists who study these things can tell me why we Indians insist on having mass amnesia.

As we come up to another anniversary, 26/11, how many memorials have you ever seen in India? There's a 7/7 memorial in Hyde Park Corner — with names of all those who died in the tube bombings in London. Who will remember Tukaram Omble, 90 years from now, so a transient tourist could stumble on a plaque and know how and what he died for? Me, I've got my red poppy. In the absence of any Indian symbol, I wear it for all of them. The bodies I've seen, the heroes whose names I've forgotten, the martyrs whose names I never knew. That coffin I came home from holiday with. Someone cares. Jai Hind.








When Domino's entered India in 1995, Pizza was quite low on the taste palate of Indians. Fourteen years and 274 stores later, brand Dominos seems to be on a roll, having not only made pizzas popular with the country's burgeoning middle class, but also the brand omnipresent. In an interview with ET Bureau, Domino's Pizza India VP, marketing, Dev Amritesh, shares the brand's India journey and the company's plans for India. Excerpts:


From being a foreign snack to being a meal option, how has Domino's shaped Indian consumers' perception of the pizza?

We have constantly focused on consumer-centric areas such as product innovation, taste, pricing and customer service. Our several products innovations such as Double Cheese Crunch Pizza, Kebab Pizzas, Cheese Burst Pizza, Domino's Calzone, Chicken Wings amongst others, and most recently Pasta, have gone down well with the consumers. As the result, we have been able to get quick product acceptance from them and often that is the first and most important bridge that a foreign food category has to cross.

On the other hand, offers like, Pizza Mania at Rs 35/- per Pizza and Fun Meal for 4 has helped us drive value-for-money proposition allowing access to the brand. We have realised that value for money is an extremely important need for Indian consumers, especially in the context of the food services market. Then our 30 minutes or free service guarantee gives a differentiated edge to our brand amongst the Indian consumers.

Where does the brand Domino's stand in India and what is the strategy to take it to the next level?

Domino's Pizza has a widespread presence through a network of 274 stores, spread across 55 cities in 20 states. Further, our thirty minutes or free promise helps us reinforce our position within the delivery market. It's no surprise then, we are the leaders in the organised pizza home delivery segment, with a market share of 65%, according to the Food Franchising Report 2009.

Now, we seek to increase our penetration through new store openings in existing cities where we operate stores. The Technopak Report 2009 estimates that only 2% of the monthly expenditure on food bought from outside or ordered-in by households in India is spent on pizzas and pastas on a monthly basis. We see that as a opportunity to capitalise on low penetration.

How much of a challenge has it been to market a pizza brand in India?

Over the last two years, our sales revenue has grown by more than 100%. Also, the average same store growth in the last three fiscals has been around 16%. Our initiatives in the area of brand building, product innovation and penetration coupled with the changing demographics in the country have helped. Some of the factors that have driven growths and perception of Pizzas as a meal option have been changing lifestyles, rising incomes, especially amongst youth, growing middle class and nuclear families and increase in working women population. So, while there are challenges in every market, the manner in which brands overcome them is what matters.

How different are Indian consumers from their Western counterparts? How has Domino's faced the challenges in food home delivery to the Indian consumer?

With global exposure and changing demographics, Indian consumers are not very different in terms of their expectations from service brands. The key for us is to have an engaged, trained and motivated team that can help us overcome any day-to-day challenges that might arise. Our operations have been ranked number 1 in the Domino's Global Operations amongst countries with 100 or more stores in 2006 and 2007 and amongst top 3 in 2008. One of the reasons for this has been our robust training programme, which covers every aspect of our store operations. We are developing new training mechanisms and practices such as automated video training manual for our employees to further improve our training efficacy.

Most food & beverages MNCs are increasingly looking at affordability plank to push their brands? How has Domino's reacted to it?

Affordability is one of the important pillars for the Dominos brand. It goes aptly with the functional benefits that we provide our consumers. Affordability apart, great taste and world class customer service are the other important pillars of our brand. In India, for a brand that has aspiration to cut across consumer segments, affordability is critical. That said, it is still one of the aspects of brand building, not the most important tool to create a strong brand.








Corporate India is likely to face strong headwinds over the next 9-12 months, says Nilesh Shah , deputy managing director and chief investment officer (CIO), ICICI Prudential Asset Management. How corporates manage to deliver in such an environment will decide the valuations of the market, which is right now at the higher range of its fair value. In an interview with ET , he says that he is bullish on infrastructure and telecom stocks, and cautions investors against subscribing to IPOs for short-term gains. Excerpts:


How do you see the market playing out over the 2-3 months? What are the key challenges ahead?

At current levels, the market is trading at the higher range of its fair value at 16 times (estimated FY10 earnings). There are no big triggers for the next couple of months at least, which could affect prices significantly. Foreign institutional investors (FIIs) are likely to book profits before the close of the calendar.

So, we could see a lacklustre market till the start of the next calendar, when FIIs start drawing up their allocations for India. A lot will depend on how the economy develops and how corporate India manages to tackle the headwinds over the next few months. For the past nine months, liquidity has been good, interest rates were low, there was the government stimulus package, and inflation was dipping. In the coming months, the situation will reverse — you will have the government withdrawing its stimulus package, inflation rising and interest rates could firm up. It remains to be seen how companies manage to deliver in such an environment. The market has already priced in growth, better corporate governance and fiscal prudence. Any disappointment on these fronts could trigger a sharp reaction.

Do you share the general view that interest rates are set to rise shortly?

The market appears to be pricing in a hike in CRR as well as repo rates. Inflation has been rising, of late. So, there are concerns that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) could tighten rates soon. We expect interest rates to remain stable at least till February. The government appears serious to keep the fiscal deficit under check, and this may reflect in its borrowing targets for the next year. A clear picture is likely to emerge only after the government outlines its borrowing programme in the Budget.

Which are the sectors that you expect will outperform the broader market over the next 8-12 months?

We are positive on the infrastructure sector now that capital formation activities have resumed after a brief lull. The companies in the sector have begun getting fresh orders, and many stocks are available at good valuations.

Telecom looks pretty attractive after the recent decline. Right now, the market appears to be taking a view that the ongoing tariff war could go on forever. Price war is not something unique to the telecom sector. Other sectors have seen it in the past. But there is a limit to how long that (price war) can go on. For instance, we had seen it in the detergent sector when P&G dropped prices sharply. But the price war lasted only for one-and-a-half years. Similarly, in the telecom sector, too, the price war can't be sustained for long.


Will the poor performance of the recent public issues hurt the prospects of upcoming issues?

If you look at the recent public issues, all the companies are into sound businesses. Only, there issues were priced to perfection, leaving little scope for disappointment. Investors will now become cautious, and companies will have to price their issues more reasonably. Some of the smaller IPOs could be deferred. An investor should look at putting in money in upcoming issues only if he has an investment horizon of a year or more. Short-term gains look difficult for some time.

We have not seen many instances of shareholder activism by mutual funds, barring a couple. Why are fund houses passive investors, especially when they collectively have the power to enforce good corporate governance?

In 2000, most fund managers had got the business (of the companies they invested in) itself wrong. You couldn't blame the subsequent underperformance of the schemes to corporate governance issues. This time around, fund managers have managed to get the business right, though they may not necessarily have got the valuations right. But it is a misconception that mutual funds are passive investors. We have taken up the matter with managements whenever we felt minority investors were being short-changed. But not all battles are fought under the glare of the media. If you notice today, by and large, portfolios of most funds are skewed towards companies with good corporate governance track record.

What would be your advice to a salaried individual on the break up of his long-term investments across asset classes?

I would ask him to put 25% of his money in the real estate sector (in funds dedicated to the sector), 25% in fixed income schemes, 40% in equity schemes, and the remaining 10% in commodities like bullion.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




Ruling parties usually prefer to advance election dates when they think the pitch is to their liking. The idea is to strike when the iron is hot, rather than wait to complete the full term and lose the promise of a start a favourable mid-term political moment may confer. So it is understandable that the CPI (M), which leads the Left Front government in West Bengal, is not keen to go to the people at this stage in spite of mounting pressures from the Opposition as well as from sections within. After all, does the party have anything new to say to win back the confidence of the people? It has been in power 32 long years, and yet it has lost every single election — to panchayats, Parliament, and more recently a string of Assembly byelections — after the state Assembly polls in 2006, which it had won handsomely. This is what's called being in a block-hole, alas one of its own making. The state secretariat of the CPI(M) appears to have taken the view that it loses nothing by staying on till 2011 when Assembly elections are constitutionally due, and may actually surprise itself and others by retrieving some ground in a year and a half (possibly on account of political errors that its opponents might commit). No party can be faulted for embracing such pragmatism, but the Communists claim they are not just another party. Seeing themselves as self-conscious agents of change of a particular type, they understand well the meaning of deep tactical setbacks and the wavering of strategy. If the CPI(M) is objective about the process of self-criticism which occupies a place of privilege in Leninist literature, it will recognise that it had built its sturdy base in West Bengal on the backs of agricultural workers and the poor peasantry, and is about to lose it on the basis of that very constituency withholding consent — descending from the crest to the valley floor in the same territorial space. Nandigram made that abundantly clear. If the Communists had been a working class party (which they acknowledge in their organisational reports they are not) which they traditionally aspired to be, the CPI(M) might still have a strong ghetto to fall back on. But it has always been the party of the Bengali middle class, sullied by "establishment" lumpens at various point in its career. That middle class has come to believe that the party's ideas are not in tune with its dreams. This makes the CPI(M) today doubly bereft of a base. Throw in sectarianism and gross opportunism for good measure, and you have the witch's brew. Indeed, history has reached a turning point, and may not appear shy to take the turn. On losing the political capital accumulated over decades, it is hard to see how the Left Front government can cater to the needs of the people of West Bengal. Leave alone fulfilling its socio-economic agenda, Writers' Buildings finds it hard at this juncture even to marshal its resources to meet the security challenge being posed by Maoist insurgents. If the state is not to sink into stasis, the CPI(M) may be well advised to show the way by permitting a reconfiguration of forces and restoration of the legitimacy and élan of the state government by advancing election dates. This is indeed a delicate time for West Bengal. To pull the state back from a precipitous slide, it is also incumbent on the Trinamul Congress, the CPI(M)'s principal challenger, to end its dalliance with the Maoists who represent explosive chaos. The leading parties of the state need to put their best foot forward.








Ms Mamata Banerjee has emerged now as an extraordinary leader in West Bengal. The situation there is very precarious and without effective leadership controlling the developments, protecting democracy and law and order, it can degenerate into anarchy, mutual killing of cadres and the paralysis of all development activities. The people of West Bengal are now looking up to Ms Banerjee to provide that leadership. She has almost single-handedly brought out this wave against the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) rule. Now only she can steer the course of West Bengal history towards restoration of democracy and development. She cannot afford to be any longer a rabble-rouser confrontationist. She has to rise above that and arrest the spread of violence and restore development.

No other political force in West Bengal today is capable of providing the leadership. The Congress which has been a champion of democracy and development has lost all organisational base. It cannot afford to be seen as playing at cross purposes with Ms Banerjee even in areas of its influence.

The CPI(M) on the other hand is literally on the run. The wave that has come up in West Bengal will sweep it out of power in 2012 if not earlier. It has lost touch with people and is unable to enthuse its cadres to face the situation. The only consideration that the CPI(M) leadership should have today is how to resist the rise of fascism and its retribution on its cadre. In recent history in Indonesia, with the rise of Suharto's dictatorship millions of Communists were butchered not by the military but by organised people's squads, although the Communist Party of Indonesia at that time was one of the largest parties in the world.

I am putting all these in its starkness form because once fascist retribution starts it becomes almost uncontrollable and I am not sure if my CPI(M) friends are facing up to that situation. The reasons for this debacle of the CPI(M) have to be analysed carefully. The party has isolated itself from the people, the common man's aspirations, broke away from its alliance with the Congress and other democratic forces which had given them an enormous opportunity of influencing the course of Indian politics. It did so in the name of opposing the nuclear deal which was of practically no concern to the common man.

There were many issues which they themselves had championed such as rural employment, social security, tribal development and farmers welfare. The government had initiated measures under pressure but there were many gaps in their performance and practice which needed active intervention and campaign by the CPI(M) and other progressive forces. But instead the CPI(M) chose to snap its ties with the government, not on these issues but on something that in theory suited the leadership's anti-Americanism. A historical opportunity was lost and instead of influencing the government it became a marginal force which was trying its best to maintain some political toe-hold by aligning with all kinds of reactionary forces.

But more proximate reasons for the debacle of the CPI(M) in West Bengal is the way the party has organised its functions with the help of the Mastans, the so called Lumpens, who are footloose goons, wargon-breakers, smugglers and black-marketers, who hang around in all urban cities in the less developed countries as they did in West Bengal. They joined the CPI(M) when its influence was rising and have now started jumping the boat at the first sight of its possible loss of power. Mastans were always around but they were first systematically used by the Congress in the late '60s. But then the CPI(M) with its organised ideological cadre captured power with a massive support of the people. In the initial years, they had many achievements in land reforms, rights of landless labourers and the poor informal workers with the help of the dedicated and ideologically enthused party cadres. But quite soon they were overwhelmed by the Mastans who proved to be very useful to the party leadership for maintaining its votebanks, capturing booths, rigging elections and using strong-arm methods in suppressing the Opposition. The electoral politics took over from ideology with election at all levels, Parliament, state Assembly, panchayats and other local bodies. The Mastans threw up their leaders who became MPs and MLAs who knew how to retain power in electoral politics. They became a Frankenstein's monster for the CPI(M). As a result, in more than 30 years' rule, the CPI(M)'s principled politics were pushed aside very soon and the whole party machinery came to depend upon the Mastans and their strong-arm ways.
The people of West Bengal tolerated it as they had no option. But equitable and inclusive development came to a halt in the countryside and in the urban areas. There was of course some economic growth in terms of the state gross domestic product and in agriculture particularly during the last 20 years, following a purely capitalist path, with little human development. Huge public resentment built up in suppressed fury. Corruption was rampant at all levels of the government and at all levels of political organisations.

The credit must go to Ms Banerjee to change the situation when she took the path of confrontation with the CPI(M) where it could mobilise some strength.

At that time Singur and Nandigram happened. In one stroke the Trinamul Congress got an ideology of mass struggle which soon snow-balled into a major political movement supported by wide sections of the Bengali population.
As these Mastans realised that the CPI(M) power can be effectively challenged, they started changing sides. This spread over in fighting and killing of the CPI(M)'s cadre. Even the state police started prevaricating in fighting these elements.

Hopefully, Ms Banerjee will be able to control the situation. She must openly ask her cadres to stop taking revenge, even if the CPI(M) keeps attacking them. She must insist on the police administration to control the situation. At the same time, she has to build up a new movement of popular participation in development through formation of local groups and communities and open public discussions on all policy choices.
If she succeeds she would emerge as the most successful West Bengal politician after Dr B.C. Roy and take over the mantle of leadership that the Congress had inherited from its national movement. Ms Banerjee must measure up to this great historic challenge. andformer economic adviser to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi








 "One million dollars?"

The question was asked with eyes wide and a voice of incredulity. The person asking was Mr Antonio Waldez Goes da Silva, the governor of the Amazonian state of Amapa, which has the biggest national park in the world. I had just shared with Mr Waldez Goes a recent news article in the Hill, the congressional newspaper, which said the total cost of stationing one US soldier in Afghanistan for one year is $1 million.

What if we kept just one soldier back from Afghanistan and gave you the money, I asked the governor? What would it buy you? Mr Waldez Goes mulled that over: "If you kept three soldiers back, that would be enough for me to keep the State University of Amapa running for one year, so 1,400 students could take different courses on sustainable development for the Amazon".

Ok, I know. It is a bit misleading to take a war budget and assume that if it weren't spent on combat, it would all go to schools or parks. And we do have real enemies. Some wars have to be fought, no matter the cost. But such comparisons are still a useful reminder that our debate about Afghanistan is not taking place in a vacuum. We will have to make trade-offs, and there are other hugely important projects today crying out for funding, as my colleague Mr Nick Kristof has pointed out regarding healthcare.

Well, if America is going to assume the primary burden of fixing Central Asia, maybe, say, China, could help pick up the tab for saving what is left of the Amazon and the world's other great tropical forests. Could the US President, Mr Barack Obama, raise that idea in Beijing?

An intergovernmental working group for saving the rainforests estimates that for about $30 billion we could reduce deforestation in places like Brazil, Indonesia and the Congo by 25 per cent by 2015. After that, financing from global carbon markets, plus these countries' own resources, could save much of the rest. China now has $2.2 trillion in reserves. How about it, Beijing? Why don't you step up and provide some public goods for the world for once — not because you get a direct benefit, but just because it would make the world a better place for everyone?

Sure, America should still lead such efforts. But China's days as a global free-rider should be over. China should pay its fair share — and more — since it will benefit every bit as much as the US, Europe and Japan. Indeed, the UN Foundation estimates that because living tropical forests are such huge storehouses of carbon — which gets released when we chop the trees down — if we just stop deforestation, we get a big chunk of the carbon-emissions reductions the world needs between now and 2020.

"And forest-rich developing countries, like Brazil, are now ready to do their part because they depend on the water that the rainforests provide for energy and agriculture, and because they see a new model for growth based on their natural capital", said Mr Glenn Pric-kett, a senior vice-president with Conservation International and my travelling companion here. "Brazil has developed the science, political will and basic rules and institutions for preserving its rainforests. What Brazil and other rainforest nations like Indonesia lack, though, are the funds to take this new economic model to scale".

I was struck by how many of the building blocks for "natural capitalism" that Mr Waldez Goes is putting in place, so that he can have an economy based on preserving the rainforest rather than stripping it. He's building on the three Ps — creating protected forest areas, improving productivity on lands that have already been cleared so farmers there will not need more, and establishing property rights for Amazonian lands, which are a legal mess, inviting Wild West land grabs and scaring off investors in sustainable agriculture.

Mr Waldez Goes has already protected 75 per cent of his state as rainforest and has enacted the laws and created a technical college to provide for sustainable logging and eco-tourism and for developing medicinal and cosmetic products from rainforest plants. But he needs funds to implement and monitor at scale and prove that "natural capitalism" can deliver more than the extractive version.

"I am the son of a rubber tapper", he explains. "I was born and raised in the jungle, so even before becoming a politician I had a strong connection to nature". The world is facing this relentless "development path that brings pollution and degradation and deforestation", he added. He and other Brazilians want to prove you can do better by bringing "conservation and development together".

Tropical forests represent some five per cent of the earth's surface but harbour 50 per cent of all living species. Conservation International has a motto: "What is lost there is felt here". If we lose what is left of the Amazon, we'll all feel the climate effects, changing rainfall and loss of biodiversity that enriches our world. Brazil seems ready to do its part. Are we? What about you, China?








I do not know Mahesh Bhatt. I bumped into him once in a seminar and he seemed a curious, intelligent and a forthright man committed to ideas as experiments. One realised that here was a likeable man, someone you could enjoy a drink and a quarrel with.

Recently I saw him and his daughter Pooja Bhatt on TV answering questions about Rahul Bhatt. They were quieter, not quite their spontaneous selves, trying to reason, being careful with words. A quieter silence substituted for their visual spontaneity or their candidness.

What one watched was a kind of experience that was saddening. The two of them were defending Rahul Bhatt whose name occurred frequently in messages recorded by the terrorist David Headley. Rahul appears to have met Headley and has been mentioned frequently in email exchanges recorded by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The logic of these events worries me. When a person is connected even inadvertently with a terrorist, a pall of suspicion envelopes the individual and his friends. A barrage of accusations and questions hammer the family. It turns defensive explaining events, ideas and conversations, one would have not thought of. Freedom after all is the Freedom from suspicion. But as you watch a family run a gauntlet of question marks, you begin to reflect on certain things.

Terror at a collective level is anonymous. You do not know who it is going to hit. But terror creates an ambience of suspicion around people. Many innocent people get marked as suspects. They are haunted by the stigma of question marks. It is a symbolic branding which can destroy friendships or even the taken for granted world you have lived so happily in.

Terror dissolves the everydayness of the world. It destroys it twice: once for the suspect and also more poignantly for his family and friends. Let me explain through an analogy. Many people talk of the suffering of patients but few deal with the suffering and burden of those who take care of the patient. I think, sometimes, the heroism of a patient palls before the efforts of those who take care of him. The everydayness of caring for someone close can eat into you. It corrodes deeply.

Scandal and suspicion have a similar impact. Suspicion creates a tacit ostracism. When scandal combines with the shadow of terrorism, the word turns grey. You become the other varna, marked for questioning. The courage a family needs to show is demanding. Not only does one have to stand up for the person's innocence, one needs to stand up for oneself, one's values, a way of life. One has to do this all patiently and unapologetically. The questions which people ask make you want to scream. Instead you have to answer patiently and with dignity.
Watching Mahesh Bhatt on TV reminded me of all this. Father and daughter performed with enormous dignity. No question was too demeaning to answer. What impressed one was the honesty, the readiness to confront one's vulnerability in public.

Here are two people who are quite bindaas as the slang word goes. They often flaunt their freedom, the way others flaunt their BMWs. They are proud of the way they live, open about their mistakes, loyal to their worlds. Suddenly, the world turns murky and questions hurt.

The minute Mahesh Bhatt learns that Headley is a suspect. He reports to the police himself. His daughter explains they have been upfront prompt about the Headley intervention into their lives. But the press watches them with different eyes. The pauses are uneasy, even silence creates a fresh ripple of doubts.

Suddenly, it is not only Rahul who is in question, but also Mahesh Bhatt who has stood up for rights, fought against censorship and been open about his mistakes. His earlier admissions about his search for meaning or freedom now acquire a new burden in this obsession with patriotism. Terror or suspicions of terrorism challenge a way of life.

The question of Rahul Bhatt will follow its own long and tedious career. The law takes its time and justice is absent minded about clearing the innocent. I realise the process of investigation is important. I respect the need for it. But what I wish to ask in my bumbling way is who protects families, friends and associates of someone who falls under suspicion. The blanket of suspicion becomes like a Delhi fog; it dirties you, chokes your sense of freedom.

I want to end with two reflections. I want to ask first whether the public or the press can treat such people as easy game. Is there a right to interrogate in public? Does transparency demand the inquisition? Often when I watch TV and I wonder if I could stand such humiliating rituals. TV has a long memory. It makes you account for previous mistakes and apologise for earlier arrogances.

As the media casts its hungry eyes at the scandal, it ironically humanises Rahul Bhatt in a pathetic way by talking of his attempts at fitness. It is almost as if gaining weight is greater problem than terror. It becomes the everyday terror of the six pack anorexic world. Scandal and humiliation almost seem negligible in his universe. Courage and dignity become ephemeral languages before the grit and determinism of the weight loss obsessive.
The second thought was about friendship. There is something about middle-class India which makes friendship an ephemeral affair in these moments. People you have known and cared for, students, neighbours and fans suddenly turn iffy and hostile. Investigation exploits these moments to pin you. The trauma of ephemeral friendship haunts you.

But this much I must say, openly and quietly.

Mahesh and Pooja Bhatt showed courage and composure. They talked reasonably and showed reasonableness about the law. It was courage of quiet kind. One must salute that because I sometimes, put myself in their place and wonder how I will perform. Doubt sneaks in like a deadly fog.


Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist








The dead at Fort Hood had not even been laid to rest when their massacre became yet another political battle cry for the self-proclaimed patriots of the American right.

Their verdict was unambiguous: Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, an American-born psychiatrist of Palestinian parentage who sent email to a radical imam, was a terrorist. And he did not act alone. His co-conspirators included our military brass, the Defence Department, the FBI, the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the Joint Terrorism Task Force and, of course, the liberal media and the Obama administration. All these institutions had failed to heed the warning signs raised by Hasan's behaviour and activities because they are blinded by political correctness toward Muslims, too eager to portray criminals as sympathetic victims of social injustice, and too cowardly to call out evil when it strikes 42 innocents in cold blood.

The invective aimed at these heinous PC pantywaists nearly matched that aimed at Hasan. Joe Lieberman announced hearings to investigate the Army for its dereliction of duty on homeland security. Peter Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, vowed to unmask cover-ups in the White House and at the CIA. The Weekly Standard blog published a broadside damning the FBI for neglecting the "broader terrorist plot" of which Hasan was only one of the connected dots. Jerome Corsi, the major-domo of the successful Swift-boating of John Kerry, unearthed what he said was proof that Hasan had advised President Barack Obama during the transition.

William Bennett excoriated soft military leaders like Gen. George Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff, who had stood up for diversity and fretted openly about a backlash against Muslim soldiers in his ranks. "Blind diversity" that embraces Islam "equals death", wrote Michelle Malkin. "There is a powerful case to be made that Islamic extremism is not some fringe phenomenon but part of the mainstream of Islamic life around the world," wrote the columnist Jonah Goldberg. Islam is "not a religion," declared the irrepressible Pat Robertson, but "a violent political system bent on the overthrow of the governments of the world".

As a snapshot of where a chunk of the country stands right now, these reactions to the Fort Hood bloodbath could not be more definitive. And it's quite possible that some of what this crowd says is right – not about Islam in general, but about the systemic failure to stop a homicidal maniac like Hasan in particular. Whether he was an actual terrorist or an unfathomable mass murderer merely dabbling in jihadist ideas, the repeated red flags during his Army career illuminate a pattern of lapses in America's national security. Yet the mass murder at Fort Hood didn't happen in isolation. It unfolded against the backdrop of Obama's final lap of decision-making about Afghanistan. For all the right's jeremiads, its own brand of political correctness kept it from connecting two crucial dots: how our failing war against terrorists in Afghanistan might relate to our failure to stop a supposed terrorist attack at home. Most of those who decried the Army's blindness to Hasan's threat are strong proponents of sending more troops into our longest war. That they didn't mention Afghanistan while attacking the entire American intelligence and defence apparatus in charge of that war may be the most telling revelation of this whole debate.

The reason they didn't is obvious enough. Their screeds about the Hasan case are completely at odds with both the Afghanistan policy they endorse and the leadership that must execute that policy, including Gen. Stanley McChrystal. These hawks, all demanding that Obama act on McChrystal's proposals immediately, do not seem to have read his strategy assessment for Afghanistan or the many press interviews he gave as it leaked out. If they had, they'd discover that the whole thrust of his counterinsurgency pitch is to befriend and win the support of the Afghan population – i.e., Muslims. The "key to success," the general wrote in his brief to the president, will be "strong personal relationships forged between security forces and local populations."
McChrystal thinks we might even jolly up those Muslims who historically and openly hate America. "I don't think much of the Taliban are ideologically driven," he told Dexter Filkins of The New York Times. "In my view their past is not important. Some people say, 'Well, they have blood on their hands.' I'd say, 'So do a lot of people.' I think we focus on future behaviour." Whether we could win those hearts and minds is, arguably, an open question – though it's an objective that would require a partner other than Hamid Karzai and many more troops than even McChrystal is asking for (or America presently has). But to say that McChrystal's optimistic – dare one say politically correct? – view of Muslim pliability doesn't square with that of America's hawks is the understatement of the decade.

As their Fort Hood rhetoric made clear, McChrystal's most vehement partisans don't trust American Muslims, let alone those of the Taliban, no matter how earnestly the general may argue that they can be won over by our troops' friendliness (or bribes). If, as the right has it, our Army cannot be trusted to recognise a Hasan in its own ranks, then how will it figure out who the "good" Muslims will be as we try to build a "stable" state (whatever "stable" means) in a country that has never had a functioning central government? If our troops can't be protected from seemingly friendly Muslim American brethren in Killeen, Texas, what are the odds of survival for the 40,000 more troops the hawks want to deploy to Kabul and sinkholes beyond?

About the only prominent voice among the liberal-bashing, Obama-loathing right who has noted this gaping contradiction is Mark Steyn of National Review. "Members of the best trained, best equipped fighting force on the planet" were "gunned down by a guy who said a few goofy things no one took seriously," he wrote. "And that's the problem: America has the best troops and fiercest firepower, but no strategy for throttling the ideology that drives the enemy – in Afghanistan and in Texas." You have to applaud Steyn's rare intellectual consistency within his camp.

One imagines that he does not buy the notion that our Army, however brilliant, has a shot at building "strong personal relationships" with a population that often regards us as occupiers and infidels.


By arrangement with theNew York Times








November will go down in our history as the saddest month of the year because of what happened in November 1984. Mrs Gandhi was murdered a day earlier.

All hell broke loose on Sikhs who had nothing to do whatsoever to do with her dastardly murder: Upwards of 5,000 were slaughtered across northern India down to Karnataka. On its heels came the Bhopal gas tragedy in which over 1,000 were cooked to death and thousands were maimed for life.

Have these tragedies lessons to teach? I believe they have and tell us how to avoid their recurrence. First let us take a closer look at the assassination of Mrs Gandhi. I have good reasons to believe that she was averse to deploying the army to clear the Golden Temple to rid it of Bindranwale and his goons entrenched in the Akal Takht. She was persuaded to do so by her advisors who knew very little about the Sikhs, their history and what the Golden Temple meant to them.

She was assured that the operation will be over in couple of hours as Bindranwale would lay down arms as soon as he realised he had to face armoured tanks and aircraft. As it transpired, the battle lasted two nights and days with heavy casualties of life and sacred property. When Mrs Gandhi visited the Temple two days later, she was shocked by the sight. There were dead bodies still floating in the sacred tank and the Akal Takht was in ruins. Mark Tully has rightly described it as 'The Fatal Miscalculation'. Mrs Gandhi herself should have known that her life was in peril.

Another aspect of the tragedy which is rarely mentioned is the cowardly silence maintained by the leaders of the Sikh community, both Akalis and the Congress men against the hateful utterances of Bindranwale against the Hindus and his gangsters pulling out Hindus from buses and shooting them. They were scared of losing their lives because Bindranwale only knew one way of dealing with critics — kill them. I know because I was on his list for many years. This created a lot of ill-will against the Sikhs and is the main reason why so few people came to their help when they were attacked. It has not yet got into the skulls of Sikhs living abroad.
Many gurdwaras overseas have Bindrenwale's photographs on display and speakers refer to him as a Sant and a martyr.

All that is now past history. What remains is to punish those who took part in the anti-Sikh pogrom of November 1984.

Hundreds have been named by eye-witnesses. Barely 20 have been brought to justice. As if I keep repeating ad nauseam, crimes unpunished breed criminals. You can be sure that if these criminals are not brought to justice soon, many of those who suffered will take to crime.

About the Bhopal tragedy, all I can say is that it was caused by criminal neglect of safety measures. We continue to use sub-standard materials laying roads, building houses and factories. We pay the price for doing so.



Early morning on Monday, November 2, my phone rings. Since I am hard of hearing, I ask my servant Bahadur to take the call and tell me who it is and what he or she wants from me.

He listens dutifully and tells me: "It is from Karachi." I take over the phone and yell, "I am deaf. Why don't you write to me?" He tells me to hand the phone back to my servant. Bahadur informs me, "It is someone called Raza. He wants to wish you a Happy Gurpurb."

Then it dawns on me that it is Guru Nanak's birth anniversary. I was charmed: A Muslim from Pakistan, reminding a Sikh in India that it is his Guru's birthday. It is the kind of gesture that would have been fully endorsed by Nanak because he preached love and understanding between people of different faiths.
His first disciple, the minstrel Bhai Mardana, who put his hymns to music, remained a Muslim all through his life because there were no conversions to Sikhism at that time.

My caller from Karachi is Raza Pervez, divorced husband of Sadia Dehlavi and father of his son Armaan; both mother and child continue living in Delhi. It is ironic that Raza is reluctant to go to a mosque to pray as I am of going to a gurdwaras. Nevertheless, I looked for an appropriate hymn of Guru Nanak to send to Raza.


I found one entitled Punj Nijaian Vakht Punj:
There are five prayers
Each with a time and name of its own
First, truthfulness
Second, to take away only what is your due;
Third, goodwill towards all
Fourth, your intentions;
And praise of God, fifth.
Let good acts be your creed; persevere with them
They proclaim you are a Muslim,
O Nanak, more false the man
The more evil his power.

Up in smoke


During Premier Krushchev's visit to America, as goodwill gesture, he presented a box of world famous Havana cigars to President Kennedy, who relished smoking cigars. though Kennedy accepted the cigars as a diplomatic nicety, he later directed his ADC to destroy them as they came from Fidel Castro's Cuba, a hostile neighbour with whom relations were strained.

A few days later, Kennedy desired to smoke good-quality cigars and he enquired from his ADC, "Have you done away with the cigars?"

The ADC, who too enjoyed smoking choicest of coronas, very faithfully replied to the President, "Yes, sir, they have all been burnt, one by one."


(Courtesy: Colonel Trilok Mehrotra, Noida)








IN a situation where the party finds itself in a state of enforced introspection, the last word on the prospect of an early election in West Bengal may not have been spoken by the state industries minister. Going by the logic offered by Nirupam Sen, the Left Front chairman should have been pronouncing on the policies of the ruling coalition. Strangely, Biman Bose has moved into a shell since the ritual declaration that the election results are being examined. In the event of a Left Front comeback, he would probably have arranged a triumphant briefing with all facts and figures at his disposal. This time he pretended that the result was not all that shattering ~ until there were dissenting voices from within the government. That the industries minister acted as his proxy suggested that the door may have been left open for a reassessment of positions in the wake of sustained pressures. Nothing suggests that the Left Front is ready for the dangerous gamble of a snap poll but the signals are more than ominous. The misadventure of getting Jyoti Basu to make a pathetic appeal to Congress voters to part ways with Trinamul has been compounded by the stunning margins of defeat in prestige seats like East Belgachia and Rajganj which had always been Left bastions. Biman Bose knows when and how to talk. He is now learning how to wriggle out of awkward situations.

Essentially, the CPI-M is obliged to remove the impression that it is acting under pressure. There may yet come a time when it finds that all options have been exhausted. There is also the prospect of throwing its cadres into utter confusion even though the change of guard, if and when it happens, may be peaceful. To add to its distress, the Union home minister has made a damning statement that the Marxists and Maoists have been sailing in the same boat, thus putting the lid on all claims by the chief minister and Left leaders that Trinamul has been pulling the strings from behind. This suggests that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's recent meetings with the Union home minister have not worked in his favour and that the Centre's position in regard to West Bengal is becoming abundantly clear. The fact that Chidambaram concedes the Left's point that the joint action forces are to stay does not mean he has any illusions about why the tribal belt is in flames. The chief minister is expected to perform judiciously on the law and order, social development and policy fronts if the state is to be saved from sliding into chaos. The industries minister can at best save the Left Front chairman some embarrassment. He cannot justify the government lapsing into inertia.







NOTHING has been more misused by politicians and officials than the "security" government provided them. From status symbols to personal aides is the range of activities to which bodyguards have been steadily reduced, so much so that they now lack the professionalism and commitment the job requires. Hence there is every reason to laud P Chidambaram for having the guts to set about drastically pruning the numbers protected or reducing the level of cover ~ though some sacred cows remain above/ beyond that exercise. At the very least it will decrease the burden on the exchequer, free up personnel for other pressing duties. Simultaneously, there is also very valid reason to deprecate officials of the home ministry going out of their way, not for the first time, to seek inexpensive brownie points by disclosing to the media the names of the persons from whom security has been whittled down or withdrawn. All the gory details are now available on newsprint. This is not transparency, it is stupidity: at some point in time there was a threat of sorts to each of the persons just named, and in going public the ministry has actually flashed an inviting signal to those who had posed the threat ~ their target was now vulnerable. And nobody's security, not even those who had never merited protection, should be treated in such cavalier fashion.

The greater revelation is the lack of seriousness with which the ministry appears to have taken issues of personal security. It would seem that the approach has been unimaginatively sarkari ~ a person in category A gets two PSOs and one escort car, someone in category B is entitled to four PSOs and two cars, so on and so forth. Little effort is made to assess the nature of the threat, seek inputs from intelligence services or the local police in the area where the VIP lives and functions. Like the cops who have to do the dirty work, the ministry officials treat everything most routinely. Admittedly the home minister has a lot on his plate, police reform/upgrade is a massive, complex task. Yet he cannot back off from instructing his subordinates in North Block that the success of the security-reduction exercise will not be determined by the column-centimetres it attracts in the newspapers.






THE midday meal scheme has been a failure across the nation for factors that are not quite related to the pattern of funding. The union HRD ministry may be justified in its demand for increased funds in view of the widening gap between the finance ministry's allotment and the booming food prices. But only partly, only very partly. Overwhelming has been the human failure. The GoI's Expenditure Finance Committee has turned down the ministry's demand to link the cost of the scheme to fluctuating prices. In other words, a graph would indicate that while prices boom, the allotment remains a static factor. This is bad economics though the academic exercise must be of little or no relevance to the school authorities, let alone the children who cry out for nutrition at the learning stage of their lives. It would be terribly unfortunate if the scheme gets hobbled in bureaucratic wrangling. If the two indices of the total cost and rising prices can't be linked for whatever reason, it would be reasonable to expect an increase in the annual allotment to beat the rising food costs. Although inflation has been contained, there has been a sharp increase in the prices of three essential commodities ~ rice, sugar and lentils.

The funding gap, which may persist for some time yet, ought not to hold up a revamp of the midday meal scheme, packaged as the world's largest school lunch programme that has theoretically catered to 120 million children thus far. The fact remains that the increasing dropout rate in almost every state is directly attributed to the failure of the scheme, a reality that has compounded the lack of infrastructure in primary schools. To an extent, the scheme has encountered the problem that plagues the rationing network ~ the diversion of food stocks to the open market. In many if not most of the primary schools, there is actually no food to cook for which both the supplier and the recipient school may be equally culpable. To address such irregularities is direly imperative, as urgent as the need to link prices with the allocation. The fiscal factor ought not to obfuscate the overwhelming malaise.







PARIS, 15 NOV: Researchers have pinpointed the source of what is probably the worst mass poisoning in history, according to a study published today.

For nearly three decades scientists have struggled to figure out exactly how arsenic was getting into the drinking water of millions of people in rural Bangladesh.
The culprit, says the new study, are tens of thousands of man-made ponds excavated to provide soil for flood protection.
An estimated two million people in Bangladesh suffer from arsenic poisoning, and health experts suspect the toxic, metal-like element has caused and will continue to cause many deaths as well.

Symptoms include violent stomach pains and vomiting, diarrhoea, convulsions and cramps. A large dose can kill outright, while chronic ingestion of small doses has been linked to a large range of cancers.

It has long been known that the arsenic comes from water drawn from millions of low-tech "tube wells"


scattered across the country.

Ironically, the wells were dug often with the help of international aid agencies to protect villages from unclean and disease-ridden surface water.

Tragically, millions of people continue to knowingly poison themselves for lack of an alternative source of water.AFP







Tribal communities in India have historically existed as parceled out sovereignties. This has strengthened ethnicity and made the tribals more self-conscious and politically competitive. State boundaries have had to be redrawn, leading to the creation of Meghalaya, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh. 

However, what makes Lalgarh exceptional is that the local tribals have not demanded the right to self-determination. Nor for that matter have they sought a redrawn map of Bengal, like the Gorkhas in the Hills. The movement in Lalgarh began as a discourse on moral ethnicity when the tribals were attacked by the police last November. The movement has now been linked to that of the Maoists. The line that differentiates the tribal from the Maoist is getting increasingly blurred.

The present scenario in the tribal belt is somewhat reminiscent of British India. The colonial ruler in league with the upper caste landlords and zamindars would forcefully usurp the tribal land and resources and evacuate them from their hearth and home ~ the Rajmahal hills. The process, criminalised by the money-lenders and the sexual exploitation of women, eventually culminated in the Santhal rebellion.

India of the 21st century has not substantially altered the colonial policy. Indeed, the lack of development reflects the colonial mindset. Besides, tribal land and resources have been plundered. The Special Economic Zones have been planned on inalienable tribal land without the distribution of economic benefits.


CIVIL society has been largely indifferent to the economic plight of the tribals. It has even been argued that the governmental model of development might simply misfire, even threaten the subaltern perception of "development". This view has provided a comfortable escape route for the government.

The question of tribal welfare now occupies the centrestage in Bengal. The gradual loosening of state power has opened up the space for democratisation in the form of discord, protest and rebellion. What used to be a shadow line of the Maoist movement has become more prominent. It is becoming progressively difficult to separate the militia from the tribal population. No wonder the state treads nervously.

The political class generally has tried to link tribal disaffection with that of the Maoist militia. The idea is to run down both in the public perception. The other method, resorted to by the administration, is to invoke such stringent legislation as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act to curb what it calls the state of internal terrorism. This is a puerile perception Maoism historically has its roots in the agrarian and tribal societies in India. Its revival need not be sought in its ideology ~ of the reluctance of the Left radical to join the political mainstream. A close look is necessary to determine what exactly sustains these movements at the popular and grassroot level and why it is able to extract support from the human rights activists and the radical section of civil society.

The obsessive concern with investments in industry is dangerous. Even the West has begun to question what the German sociologist, Ulrich Beck, has called "The Risk Society" ~ a product of the industrial society. "Just as modernisation dissolved the structure of feudal society in the 19th century, modernisation today is dissolving industrial society and a new modernity is coming into being." By linking up the critique of industrialisation with the cause of the poor and the marginalised, the ideology of the Maoists has been significantly recast.
The contradiction of Indian politics lies in its espousal of a development model that is anachronistic in nature. The paradox of a developing society is that it borrows from a model that has outgrown itself in the West, but is parceled out to the East. Just as under-development in the Third World was once perceived to have been created. The emergence of what can be called the civil society movement in India is largely linked to this new brand of modernity that is beyond the pale of its classical industrial design.


THE paradox of this model of development makes both the economic and political solution an extremely complex and elusive process. There may be hope yet if the State jettisons its absolutist stance. It must realise that thoughtless industrialisation can be hazardous for the climate. It can even destroy the natural habitat that had traditionally sheltered man, both physically and psychologically. In this quest for a safe society based on distributive justice and the protection of man's basic needs, the government must function as a partner of the people. Instead of focusing on markets and breeding consumerism, the government must interact with its impoverished citizens and meet their fundamental needs ~ food, water, medicine and sanitation. Development doesn't mean only the construction of sprawling industrial townships, multistoried apartments and luxury resorts.

Thus far, the government has not been able to delink development from industrialisation, urbanisation and market-driven resource generation, one that is based on outdated Western models. And if the question of welfare is swept under the carpet by according increased priority to security and terror, the appropriate development model will be relegated. The State can do so at its own peril.

The Maoist ideology is of lesser moment than the material structure that sustains such ideology. What Jean Francois Bayart famously described as "the politics of the belly" sustains Maoism. This happens when the state is impervious to the needs of the subaltern, most importantly his subsistence level. The government has attempted an economic overdrive long after the 19th century industrial development model outlived its utility.
Instead of silencing a people's movement, the Government of India must be sensitive to the development paradigm. The establishment must reflect on its policies if it wants to silence the subaltern gun.








The government has announced plans to sell shares of 60 public enterprises to the public. It could not do so earlier on account of the support the Congress needed from the communists to rule. The planned disinvestment is the first use of its liberation from the leftist shackles that the Congress has made. It is not a revolutionary measure; the Congress has been disinvesting since 1992, when the present prime minister was finance minister. There is a modest element of radicalism in the first sale of shares to the public in an enterprise fully owned by the government. If it has all the shares, the government can do what it likes with the enterprise. If it sells some to private shareholders, they will expect that the enterprise is well managed, and that some of its profits would be paid to shareholders as dividends. The government does not have to meet those expectations; if it mismanages an enterprise or uses it for its own purposes, all that will happen is that the price of the company's shares will collapse. So the government does not lose any of its freedom just because it sells a minority stake. It may have some pangs of conscience if it treats minority shareholders badly; but the inconvenience is not major.


Even that inconvenience does not arise if the government has already sold a minority stake and sells some more shares without letting its own share sink below 51 per cent. Doing so is an extremely convenient operation because the government gets some money out of private shareholders without ceding anything. It cannot, of course, go on doing so, for at some point its share must get so close to 50 per cent that if it sold more, it might run the risk of losing control. The risk is not great, and it can be reduced by placing the shares in such a way that the private shareholders will not unite or will not want to share in control. So the government would be serving its own interests at little cost to itself by selling small stakes. It has decided to do so now because the budget season is on; it is at budget time that finance ministers think of raising money by fair means or foul. The government has also announced that it will spend the proceeds on social services. This is pure eyewash. The government has one big treasury; all the money it receives pours into it, and all the money it spends goes out of it. There are no names written on the money; it is quite impossible to say that money received from disinvestment went to some particular landless worker. This point is so elementary that it cannot be beyond the finance minister, let alone the prime minister. There is no mileage in hoodwinking the public; it is best avoided.







Soon after Mamata Banerjee presented the rail budget for 2009-10, The Telegraph noted that her budget, though aimed at pleasing the people, lacked vision. It was especially alarming that Ms Banerjee had left the issues of safety and maintenance unaddressed. Quite expectedly, neither Ms Banerjee's threat to produce a 'white paper' on her predecessor nor her slew of sops could save the Indian Railways from going down the tracks. In the last six weeks, around 30 passengers have been killed and close to 100 injured in five major accidents across the country. The latest involves the Delhi-bound Mandore Express that got derailed near Jaipur, killing at least seven and leaving many hurt. As usual, the blame has been squarely put on the ground staff. The tracks in the area were 'fractured', a seasonal phenomenon caused by the contraction and expansion of metal because of temperature change. A common occurrence like this should not have escaped the notice of the maintenance staff. The driver has been faulted for applying the brakes too hard, and perhaps not minding the speed limits as well.


It is always convenient to point fingers at those on the lowest rung of the pecking order whenever something goes horribly wrong. Railways ministers in India have made a habit of this strategy. While it is indisputable that tragedies are mostly caused by technical incompetence, it is impossible to deny that the Indian Railways has not moved with the times when it comes to passenger safety. Advanced signalling systems, regular surveillance of tracks and automated safety controls are yet to be implemented across the railway network. If the ground staff, who are often barely literate and unaware of accountability, are not performing up to the mark, senior officials must ensure that they do so — by making surprise on-the-spot inspections and punishing laggards. It is equally important that the railways minister spends less time wooing voters in her home state, and pays closer attention to what is ailing her own ministry. It is not for nothing that the prime minister himself has forwarded her a note — based on findings by the Planning Commission — on possible ways to improve the Indian Railways.









The states reorganization commission in 1955 gave a blueprint for the formation of states on linguistic lines. I was a student in Delhi in 1955, and K.M. Panikkar, a member of the commission, noted historian and later ambassador to China, came to talk to us on the same day after signing the report. He told us of the two major problems the commission faced in deciding what to do about Bombay and Bangalore. The former was the commercial capital of India and populated by many linguistic communities. The latter was not a majority Kannada-speaking city.


The SRC recommended that Bombay should be a separate state, and not part of Maharashtra or Gujarat. The Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti agitated and succeeded in persuading the Central government to keep Bombay in the new linguistic state of Maharashtra. In the case of Bangalore, the SRC could not conceive of giving the city to Andhra, surrounded as it was by Kannada-speaking areas and the major city in the old princely state of Mysore. The commission recommended keeping it in Karnataka. As compensation, the SRC suggested that Hindupur, a small town on the border of the two states, go to the new state of Andhra Pradesh.


Soon after, the Shiv Sena started an agitation against 'outsiders', targeting people whose mother tongue was Malayalam or Kannada. The agitations firmly established Bal Thackeray, till then a newspaper cartoonist with the Free Press Journal, and his Shiv Sena as the protector of Marathi interests.


After a few years, the Shiv Sena transformed itself to become the protector of Hindu as well as Marathi interests. The Sena had no compunction about using violence to make its presence felt. Bombay saw frequent Sena-led violence. The ruling Congress governments did not fight the Sena but appeared to tolerate it. The Sena's record of violence, the laxity of the Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena government in the Nineties, and the ineffective subsequent nine years of the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party government led to Bombay's decline as the commercial capital of India.


It also prepared the ground for Raj Thackeray, after he lost to his cousin, Uddhav, as successor to Bal Thackeray. He quickly achieved national prominence by targeting the many migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar who had flocked to Mumbai for employment. He said they were taking away jobs from the Marathi manoos.


No other city in India has witnessed so far a chauvinistic movement to parallel the Shiv Sena. Bangalore is less the city of Kannada speakers than it was in 1955. Much of the property is owned by people from other states, especially from Andhra. Despite a local Kannada chauvinistic movement that uses violence to make its views known, it has not developed a political constituency as has the Sena. There is little agitation to keep local jobs for the Kannadigas.


There are reports of violence against migrant farm labour from Bihar in Punjab and Haryana. With the introduction of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, states like Tamil Nadu, which are experiencing a shortage of farm labour and high wages, are getting labour from Orissa. On the Bombay parallel, some local political leader might also fast-track himself by subjecting these migrants to similar treatment that the Shiv Sena and Raj Thackeray have meted out to Malayalam- and Kannada-speakers and to Biharis in Bombay.


The Centre has been invisible in moving against state governments — and glaringly against Maharashtra, run by the two parties which are allies at the Centre — that allow such movements to take root. It also speaks badly of the quality of governance in such Indian states where political parties get away with abuse of migrants from other states. Freedom of movement is a right enshrined in the Constitution. It is the duty of local governments to prevent this kind of abuse, and of the Centre to ensure that such abuse does not take place.


Chief ministers like Vilasrao Deshmukh had sound political reasons for not interfering when local passions

were being aroused in this way. The Maharashtra government did not interfere to stop the Raj Thackeray-led agitation to compel Karan Johar to apologize for using the name, "Bombay", in a film and remove that objectionable name. There is no legal bar on the use of the name. Law was allowed to be replaced by violence to theatres and audiences. No filmmaker (and even a columnist!) is comfortable writing about "Bombay".


The state government also did not prevent the agitation last year against North Indians celebrating the karva chauth festival. Clearly, the state government under Deshmukh thought it could reap some brownie points with the Marathi manoos, without directly participating in agitations against migrants from other states. The Central government has not condemned the agitation, let alone act to protect migrant workers. Lalu Prasad made some noises, but they were soon forgotten. There has been no effective action to stop such illegal and unconstitutional blackmail.


Problems of local populations resisting migrants are not new. The return of Jews in thousands to Israel after World War II and the subsequent eviction of Palestinians from what had been their homeland for at least 2,000 years is an example of complex migration. The influx of an estimated 20 million Bangladeshis into Assam, without any resistance from Indian governments, led to the rise of violent militancy among local Assamese that continues to this day. These were migrations from one country to another. The British government's support for the Jewish occupation of Palestine and the eviction of locals, or Indira Gandhi's wooing of her Muslim vote-bank by allowing unfettered entry to Bangladeshi Muslims, created the problems of today.


But problems with local populations for internal migrants within the Indian Union should be unacceptable. Assam not only had to suffer Bangladeshi migration, but it has also had an influx of Indian Bengalis in large numbers. They were more enterprising than the local Assamese and soon dominated trade and professions. This also evoked hostility and militant movements in Assam.


Assam, Bombay, Punjab and Haryana are examples of internal migrations resulting in resistance by locals. But these migrants have every right to move to any part of India. Identity cards to control migration into overcrowded cities like Bombay would balkanize the country, and require amendments to the Constitution. Every government must safeguard this right of free movement and settlement. Unfortunately, governments have not enforced this freedom.


Countries like France and the United Kingdom now insist that foreign migrants learn the local language, abjure external signs of religious identity, and adapt to the local culture. This is something that internal migrants should do voluntarily. When they move to another part of India, they must learn the local language and respect and even follow local culture. However, this happens rarely. In a largely backward and illiterate country, this leads to clashes, as the locals resent these intruders who take away jobs, do well, and do not even pay lip-service to the state that has given them so much.


Even this attempt to conform may not stop such linguistic chauvinism. For example, my father moved from the South to Bombay when he was 17 and lived and worked there for 55 years. He insisted that all of his family be fluent in Marathi. My mother followed Maharashtrian festivals as well. Yet, the Shiv Sena targeted people like us whose mother tongue was not Marathi and who were migrants.


Linguistic states are here to stay. Neither Central not state governments must allow them to become linguistic chauvinists and throttle internal migration. It is the duty of the Central and state governments to protect all Indians anywhere in India and punish such chauvinism. If they do not begin doing so now, India's unity will be fragile.


The author is former director-general, National Council for Applied Economic Research








Barack Obama's Asian trip has been on the political calendar for many months. So has the climate summit at Copenhagen. I suspect that Obama's people originally planned to announce a US-Chinese deal on climate during his visit to China, so he could take it with him to Copenhagen as the template for a broader deal between all the "old rich" countries and the rapidly developing ones.


The Chinese leadership is ready for this deal, because it is frightened by the prospect of climate change. China gets hit harder and earlier than most countries by global warming, and the risk of political destabilization is real. All Beijing needed was a serious commitment to emission cuts by the United States of America and the deal would have been done.


It would have been a bold deal in which the US acknowledged that the old industrialized countries have to take deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions because they are the ones who created the current crisis. Rapidly developing countries have only recently begun to pump out carbon dioxide on a large scale. So they would only be required to cap their emissions at the present level or somewhere close to it.


Since the developing countries are not willing to stay poor, they must be allowed to grow their economies even after they agree to cap their emissions. That means they will need a lot more energy, but none of it can come from fossil fuels if they are to stay under the cap. It must come from wind farms or solar arrays or nuclear plants, all of which are more expensive than coal-fired power plants. So who pays the difference? The rich countries do, or at least they pay for a lot of the difference, because it is they who created the conditions in which newly industrializing countries must install expensive clean power rather than the dirty power that the rich countries themselves used to climb the ladder.


If the US and China had gone to Copenhagen next month with that deal in hand, everybody else might have climbed aboard, but that's not going to happen. The political timetable in the US got in the way. After eight years of denial and obstruction on climate issues under the Bush administration, even the Chinese need a solid US commitment on emission cuts before they sign a climate deal, and Obama cannot yet deliver that.



The Congress will not pass legislation imposing cuts on greenhouse gas emissions in the US this year, so Obama goes to Beijing empty-handed. The Chinese will not deliver on their part of the deal until they are sure that Obama can deliver on his part. So the world's two largest emitters, the US and China, will arrive in Copenhagen without having made any official commitment to curb their emissions.


With no bilateral US-Chinese deal to serve as a framework for a wider agreement, the Copenhagen conference is very unlikely to succeed. If failure this December means permanent failure, then we should be very upset indeed, but the problem is one of scheduling, not of bad intentions. Given another six months or so, Obama will probably succeed in getting the Congress to agree to serious cuts in US greenhouse gas emissions.


The best thing to do now would be to postpone the Copenhagen meeting for a year, but it has become a diplomatic juggernaut that cannot be stopped. The next best thing is to ensure that it fails now, leaving the way open for a follow-on conference that revisits the issue later with a much better chance of success. Patching together an inadequate climate treaty just to avoid the stigma of failure would repeat the mistake of 1997, when the botched Kyoto accord locked the world into an unambitious climate policy. If the problem lies in the political timetable in the US, then just change the international schedule to deal with that reality.








The RSS has come out of the closet to lay down a fairly clear road map for the BJP in the near future with open declaration of its preferences for leadership and a time table for effecting organisational changes. Though the BJP is connected by the umbilical cord to the RSS, the top Nagpur leadership has often tried to keep a distance of convenience from the party claiming that it is a cultural organisation. But the recent announcements of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and senior leader Ram Madhav have left no doubt about not only the linkage but also about the extent of its control on the party. Ram Madhav has said that L K Advani should retire in February next year after a new president takes over from Rajnath Singh in December. Mohan Bhagwat made it also clear that the new president will not be from Delhi, thus ruling out the chances of present second rung leaders like Sushma Swaraj or Arun Jaitely who are considered to be aspirants.

In a party-based democracy it is difficult to imagine that the decisions of a political party are taken outside its organisational set-up. The BJP had, under Atal Behari Vajpayee and debatably under L K Advani, had tried to come out of the tutelage of the RSS and experimented with mass politics. It had expanded its support base from the hard core Hindutva constituency, won friends and allies from a broad political spectrum and formed a winning coalition which took it to power. But successive election defeats have debilitated the party and left the leadership confused and wrangling. There were even calls to call in the RSS for control and that is what has finally happened.

A party president picked and chosen by the RSS will be beholden to it and will be dictated to by Nagpur. The fact that it is looking for a leader with no great visibility strengthens that idea. The BJP has claimed that its internal democracy is strong and its leaders at all levels are elected by party bodies. The imposition of a leader by the RSS will belie that claim. Along with organisational control, the RSS will also increase its ideological grip on the party. When the party's affairs are managed in such great detail by others what remains of its autonomy and independence? Will it be accountable to the people whose support it will seek or the masters who dictate to it?








India's poor performance in ensuring equality between women and men has put it at the bottom of a global gender equity index. India stands at the 114th rung out of 134 nations, according to the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Index. Its ranking has in fact slipped by a rung over the past year. India ranks 125th with regard to provision of economic opportunities for women, 116th in the case of educational attainment and 128th in ensuring health and survival of women. It is only on the issue of women's political empowerment that the country is higher up on the ladder — at the 25th rung. It does seem that reservation of seats for women in Panchayat Raj institutions has contributed to improved participation of women in the political arena. India's low ranking on gender equity is not surprising given the deeply entrenched prejudice against women in the country. Indian women are discriminated against from the womb to the tomb. The survival of a female foetus is itself a miracle as female foeticide is widely practiced in this country. The girl child is less likely to be fed or sent to school. She is more likely to be married off early, less likely to inherit property. At the workplace, women get lower salaries for the same work and are more vulnerable to getting sacked.

Indian women have taken giant strides in education and employment. They do better than boys in exams and have stormed male bastions at work. There are women at the forefront of counter-insurgency operations and guarding the country's borders today. They hold top posts in corporates and have thus shattered the glass ceiling. However, their achievements must be credited to their individual effort and perseverance. Rarely is it because society provided them the support. This has to change.

India's attitude to women is full of paradoxes. We claim to worship women, yet have few qualms in aborting female foetuses or burning women who don't satisfy dowry demands. We deify motherhood, yet deny pregnant women the nutrition and medical attention they need. We claim to be a modern nation, yet proudly flaunt our feudal and medieval mindsets vis-à-vis women. How can a country that continues to allow violence against women in the name of protecting honour qualify to be a modern country? India's low ranking on the gender equity index is shameful. It is time we acted to ensure equality between the sexes.









At 11 am on 11.11 a cannon boomed in London. For the uninitiated it was a puzzle edged with apprehension. For the British the moment was 91 years old. It marked the end of the bloodiest — till then — conflict in history. The last soldier died only seconds before truce as officers continued to waste 'inferior' lives till the last gasp. War can become an addiction.

Enemies change; war never seems to end. The British this week mourned past and present, as coffins arrived from the opium fields of Afghanistan. This Afghan war had nothing to do with the British Raj. Empire had dribbled away after 1945, for the Second World War exhausted victor as surely as it obliterated the vanquished. But the victors barely paused before investing blood and treasure on a cold war which also ended in November, the 9th, two decades ago, when a popular uprising brought down the hated Berlin Wall.

The Afghan war of 2001 has been a war in search of an enemy. It began as a legitimate hunt for Osama bin Laden. When the combined skills of the Pentagon, the CIA and satellite science failed to find a six-foot-plus terrorist with a two-foot beard, the focus moved a few degrees. The Taliban, who had spread into nationalist space by challenging the foreign military presence, became the new reason for the military occupation of a rugged nation. Since the Taliban has refused to keel over, a supplementary logic is being disseminated in a bid to shore up ebbing public support: Pakistan's nuclear arsenal (estimated at between 80 to 100 bombs) must be protected from capture by 'Islamists'. The proposition begs an obvious question: can a state which cannot protect its nuclear weapons be trusted to keep them?

The fog of war is being compounded by a mist of confusion over its rationale and finale. 'The Guardian' warns, in a page-wide headline, that it could degenerate into a fiasco of Suez 1956 proportions. President Barack Obama seems keener on an exit strategy than an arrival plan. He dithers about whether to send 36,000 more troops or 40,000, as if 4,000 will convert potential humiliation into a historic victory. The US ambassador to Afghanistan, General Karl Eikenberry, cables the state department that he wants no extra troops until Hamid Karzai has ended corruption. The officer-diplomat has a powerful friend in Washington, for his secret missive is leaked to the Washington Post. We soon know who the friend is, for a jet-lagged Hillary Clinton echoes this view during an ASEAN summit in Singapore.

If America is waiting for corruption to end, these troops will arrive in 2109 or Judgement Day, whichever comes first.


I have no idea whether Obama and Hillary have managed to instil some fresh fighting spirit into the Afghan armed forces, but they have certainly aroused the warrior in Hamid Karzai, who seems to have launched a vigorous offensive against Washington. Karzai publicly accused Britain of ferrying Taliban elements by helicopter from their base in the south to the northern provinces of Baghlan, Kunduz and Samangan, attributing this knowledge to his intelligence agencies. The fecund tribe of conspiracy theorists in Kabul, and elsewhere, eagerly linked this to the good-Taliban-bad-Taliban manoeuvre floated by no less a personage than Obama, near the start of his presidency. Obama refuses to fight a war which George Bush knew how to begin but no one knows how to end.

The perfect end from the Pakistani perspective is the replacement of Karzai by a non-Mullah Omar Taliban, which could declare peace through a bearded mutter and let America leave Kabul at a stately pace rather than via the rooftop helicopters of Saigon. In the absence of any other proposal, this must seem to have some merit. The 'good Taliban' would send Afghan women back centuries and the country into puritan coma, but they would be allies of Islamabad and, by implication, its mentors in Washington and London. At least, that would be the theory. Of course Islamabad might have sounded more persuasive if a domestic Taliban had not been detonating its backyard.

Let us leave the last word to a warlord who has never been disturbed by sentiment. I have met the Uzbeg General Abdul Rashid Dostum once, in Mazar-e-Sharif; his views are always forthright even if they are not necessarily right. But he had valid points to make in an interview with Dean Nelson and Ben Farmer of the 'Daily Telegraph' (published on November 13):

1) Not one Afghan officer of the rank of captain or major has been killed in battle in six years, since Afghans do not consider this their war;

2) Western leaders are mistaken if they believe that Taliban soldiers will defect, or betray Osama;

3) Western aid has not touched poverty, but only killed local initiative and enriched the political elite;

4) Taliban can only be defeated by a pragmatic military strategy that avoids categories like 'good' and 'bad' and involves local communities.

Dostum dismissed the anti-corruption sanctimoniousness in a classic sentence: "They are demanding unicorns in Kabul." Touché.









The entry of Saudi Arabian ground and air forces into Yemen's tribal war has projected this local conflict onto both the regional and international levels. Saudi war planes and artillery became engaged on Nov 4 after Yemeni rebels killed a Saudi soldier near the border between the two countries. The Saudis have also imposed a naval blockade on ports along northern Yemen's Red Sea coast to prevent arms smuggling to Shia clansmen fighting the secular Sanaa government. Yemeni and Saudi authorities accuse Iran of arming the rebels, known as 'Believing Youth', or 'Houthis' due to the name of the clan leading the revolt. The US, an ally of Saudi Arabia and Yemen and antagonist of Iran, just concluded an agreement to provide military training and intelligence to the Yemeni armed forces.

This is not the first time Yemeni tribal warfare has drawn in powerful outsiders. During the civil war of 1962-70, the Arab nationalist government, backed by Russia's ally Egypt, fought northern Shia monarchists supported by Saudi Arabia and Jordan, stalwarts of the US camp. External powers feel they cannot afford to stay out of Yemen's conflicts because of the country's strategic location on the trade routes linking the Indian sub-continent, West Asia and East Africa.


The Houthis, who belong to the Zaidi heterodox Shia sect, took up arms in 2004 against the government, claiming discrimination and marginalisation. The government responded by accusing the Houthis of trying to re-establish Zaidi rule in the strategic Saada province. In addition to a 1,000 km border with Saudi Arabia, Saada lies directly across the Red Sea from troublesome Eretrea and failed state Somalia. Ships carrying oil exports from the Gulf to the world sail along these treacherous shores.

Yemen's mountainous terrain prevents the central government from exercising control over the country while Yemen's location on the smuggling routes between Africa and Arabia makes it impossible to interdict weapons supplies of Yemeni dissidents.

Houthis now contend that President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is a Zaidi, has allowed the strict Saudi Sunni brand of Islam to enter Yemen and has employed 'al-Qaeda mercenaries' in the offensive. This is unlikely since Sanaa is also battling Sunni insurgents, al-Qaeda, and southern secessionists. The extent of Iran's involvement is exaggerated by the government and the Saudis. It is not clear if the Houthis do receive arms from Iran. But since the Houthis have apparently adopted Iran's mainstream form of Shiism, they have Tehran's moral and spiritual support. Some rebels may have had training in Iran from the Revolutionary Guards.
Yemen has been a troubled country since the Ottoman Empire collapsed after World War I. The north emerged in 1918 as an independent Zaidi monarchy. Secular Arab nationalist military officers overthrew the ruler in 1962 and battled his rebellious followers for another eight years. The south, occupied by Britain since 1839, remained a colonial protectorate until 1967. North and south formed an uneasy union in 1990. Since then Yemen has been at war with itself.

The main cause of Yemen's unrest is poverty. The country is the poorest in the Arab world.  Yemen's  3.6 per cent birth rate is among the highest on earth. The number of Yemenis increased by 400 per cent to 24 million over the past 50 years and is expected to rise to 60 million by 2060. Most Yemenis live in deprived rural areas.

More than half of Yemeni children are stunted by malnourishment. Yemen's oil exports, its chief source of income, are falling and are expected to end by 2017. Scarce local resources have come under growing pressure from 1,75,000 northerners displaced by the Houthi rebellion and thousands of refugees who fled to Yemen from conflicts and privation in the Horn of Africa. The global economic crisis has shrunk remittances from family members working abroad.

Drought, exacerbated by climate change, is killing off the country's food crops while more than half of available water is used to grow qat, a plant yielding mildly narcotic leaves chewed on a daily basis by most Yemeni men. Qat drains the energy of those who use it and induces somnolence during the middle of the day, the traditional time for chewing the leaf. Instead of trying to stamp out qat cultivation, distribution and sale, the government subsidises it at every stage. Qat growing is expanding rather than shrinking and a powerful 'qat mafia' has taken control of the trade.

President Saleh has repeatedly warned that a 'regional solution' has to be found for Yemen before it is transformed into a 'failed state' like neighbouring Somalia.









The technological and scientific advances made by the western countries are undoubtedly awesome. Especially in the field of medical science, their contribution has helped humanity to conquer many life threatening conditions. Reading about the research conducted in laboratories and universities abroad makes one marvel at the amount of time, energy and funds invested in these endeavours. At the same time, some of the reports make for confusing, if not amusing reading. Invariably, these extracts are couched in ambiguous terms like 'may', 'seem to', 'likely to' and 'probably'.

Sample this. Curd 'seems to' encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria in the intestine, which aid in the production of digestive enzymes according to a study conducted in the ... state university. A few weeks later, an extract of a report published in some medical journal says "researchers in the ..laboratories say that curds contain saturated fats which are 'likely to' raise cardiovascular risk in humans and skimmed buttermilk would be a better option". Here's some news for coffee addicts.

"Some studies" have found coffee drinkers have lower rates of colon and rectal cancers and are 50 per cent 'less likely' to get liver cancer. Heavy coffee drinkers 'may be' half as likely to get diabetes because coffee 'is thought' to contain chemicals that lower blood sugar. Coffee 'may' also raise metabolic rate, which prevents diabetes. Coffee 'seems to' help protect men from Parkinson's disease. Admittedly though, some reports do mention that the studies are only preliminary and not conclusive in nature. But then, why release them for public reading? Imagine a man soaking up on coffee to outwit Parkinson's and ending up with hyperacidity!
Here's another one. Older adults who walk slowly are 'about three times' more likely to die from cardiovascular disease. The same report says walking pace is linked to increased incidence of hospitalisation due to falls in older adults. So 'it seems' older adults have to choose between dying of heart problems and breaking their hip and pelvic bones! In the face of such contradictory reports, moderation in everything 'seems to' be the right thing to do.








How do you say "chutzpah" in Arabic? Because PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat showed unbelievable gall in telling Army Radio: "We're fed up with your time-wasting. We don't believe that you really want a two-state solution."


Talk about the kettle calling the pot black.


The Palestinian idea of negotiations goes something like this: Agree to our position in its entirety and then we can talk about the modalities of implementation. Lo and behold, this approach has not borne fruit so a frustrated PLO may turn to the UN Security Council to ask it to impose Palestinian demands on Israel.


To give Erekat and Mahmoud Abbas their due, today's Palestinian demands sound positively reasonable compared to those of PLO founder Ahmad Shukeiry, who in the days leading up to the 1967 war - when the West Bank and Gaza were in Arab hands - declared: "The Arab people's decision is unfaltering: to wipe Israel off the face of the map…"


And they're an improvement over what Yasser Arafat, post-Oslo, reportedly told a gathering of Arab diplomats in Europe: "We plan to eliminate... Israel and establish a Palestinian state. We will make life unbearable for Jews by psychological warfare…"


NOW Erekat and Abbas are wasting time and torpedoing a two-state solution with their intransigence.


Successive Israeli governments have offered to recognize a Palestinian state in the West Bank and in Gaza. But Abbas rejected Ehud Olmert's offer of 93 percent of the West Bank, plus additional lands from Israel proper to make up the difference, all of Gaza, and a free passage scheme between the Strip and West Bank. Under Olmert's proposal, Israel would retain its strategic settlement blocs - but all other settlements and outposts on the "Palestine" side of the border would be uprooted.


Ehud Barak made slightly less generous offers to Yasser Arafat at Camp David in July 2000 and at Taba in January 2001.


Barak, like Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in his June 2009 Bar-Ilan address, asked that Palestine be demilitarized so that it does not again become a launching pad for fedayeen attacks or a base for Iranian aggression - a real worry if Palestine falls to the Islamists.


Israel is also asking that Palestine absorb any "returning" Arab refugees within its territory.


Finally, Israel wants the Arabs to recognize it as the homeland of the Jewish people just as Palestine would be recognized as the homeland of the Palestinian people.


Any fair-minded observer would acknowledge that the Israeli position is not unreasonable, especially given our awful experience after the Gaza disengagement.


As for Jerusalem, the city cannot simply be divided by UN fiat, because north, south, east and west, Jerusalem is an organic whole. It will take tremendous goodwill to come up with a livable compromise.


Today's publication by Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi in cooperation with Al-Quds University of Where Heaven and Earth Meet: Jerusalem's Sacred Esplanade, might have suggested a modicum of helpfulness on the Palestinian side. Unfortunately, that Arab institution is now joining a PLO boycott of Israeli academic institutions.


BACK TO Erekat's chutzpah. The Palestinians created an artificial deadlock by suddenly insisting that they would not negotiate without a settlement freeze. Now Erekat's self-inflicted stalemate supposedly compels him to lobby the UN Security Council to, in effect, junk Resolution 242 - the edifice upon which the entire peacemaking process is constructed - and give its imprimatur to a new Palestinian declaration of independence claiming 100 percent of the West Bank and Gaza (though the Strip is under Hamas suzerainty) plus all of east Jerusalem including the Jewish holy sites. As it happens, Tuesday is the 21st anniversary of the PLO's unilateral declaration of statehood issued in Algiers.


It's clear why Erekat wants to abandon 242. The resolution's masterfully crafted language insists on an exchange of land for peace using the formula - "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict" - that deliberately does not call for a pullback from all territories.


So rather than bargain in good faith to build a viable accord, Erekat and Abbas are betting on an outside imposed solution. Their way will not bring reconciliation, mutual security and peace, but doom yet another generation of Israelis and Palestinians to more bloodshed.


Would it not be better if the Palestinians returned to the bargaining table and the sooner the better?








Just as Menachem Begin once famously declared: "There are judges in Jerusalem," so too must we now declare, "There are judges in Nazareth." In a striking ruling last week, Nazareth Magistrate's Court Judge Yuval Shadmi refused a prosecution demand to jail an Arab teenager charged with assaulting a police vehicle near Nazareth at the time of Operation Cast Lead, saying the state discriminated against teenage Arabs.


"Israel operates on two fundamentally different levels of enforcement for ideological offenses committed by Arab and Jewish minors," Shadmi wrote in his judgment, although he still sentenced the youth to 200 hours of community service for his actions.


Comparing the state's treatment of Arab teens who attack the police or security forces with that of young Jews violently protesting the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, or teenage haredi demonstrators in Jerusalem, the judge noted that while legal proceedings against the Jewish lawbreakers were usually canceled or frozen before an indictment was served, the Arab minors were regularly convicted and sent to prison.


"This sectoral discrimination can no longer be tolerated," Shadmi wrote. "If the state believes that 'ideological' offenses by youngsters justify lenient enforcement, it should apply this policy to all youngsters, regardless of their nationality or religion."


Judge Shadmi's ruling was limited to the particular instance in front of him, but the "sectoral discrimination" he referred to tarnishes all aspects of the life of the country's Arab citizens. As Labor MK Ofir Pines-Paz told a conference last month, as reported in this paper, "The Arab minority in Israel is structurally discriminated against and has been since the day the state was founded."


DRAWING ON his past experience as interior minister Pines-Paz gave as an example the equalization grants worth billions of shekels that are given to local authorities according to a complicated equation that determines how much each local authority should receive.


"I quickly learned that if you took an Arab village and a Jewish village with roughly the same amount of people, you'd see that Jewish towns would usually receive more. When I examined why this happened, it turned out that the equation held a number of components that don't apply to Arab villages, for example, points given for immigrant absorption. It's a collection of little things, but it doesn't take much for big gaps to grow when you're talking about such huge sums."


But this is hardly news. As the Or Commission into the events of October 2000, when 12 Israeli Arabs and one Gazan were killed while protesting Israel's response to the outbreak of the second intifada, reported: "The Arab citizens of Israel live in a reality in which they experience discrimination as Arabs."


The commission then went on to note that "this inequality has been documented in a large number of professional surveys and studies, has been confirmed in court judgments and government resolutions, and has also found expression in reports by the state comptroller and in other official documents."


And yet little progress has been made over the past decade in solving this problem. Ariel Sharon's government, for example, decided to set a goal of ensuring that 10 percent of all government employees would be Arabs by the end of 2008. The deadline for achieving this aim has since been pushed back to 2010 because by 2008, only 6% of civil servants were Arabs. What should catch the eye here is that the original 10% target was not particularly high, given that Arabs constitute 20% of the population.


As a result of discrimination, poverty is also significantly higher in the Israeli-Arab sector as compared to the Jewish sector, although anti-Arab discrimination is not the only reason for this state of affairs. As Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz pointed out last week, the low workforce participation rate of Arab women, due to their decision to stay at home, also plays a significant role.


With only one wage-earner in the family, a vicious cycle of poverty takes root, and the inequality between Jewish and Arab towns, as outlined by Pines-Paz, is further enhanced by the widespread non-payment of municipal taxes in the Arab sector, which in turn leads to reduced municipal services, primarily affecting the poor.


Indeed, the difference in municipal tax collection rate between the Arab and Jewish populations is staggering: The collection rate in the Arab sector stands at 18.6% as opposed to 53.7% in the Jewish. Interestingly, according to a recent Ben-Gurion University doctoral study, the low responsiveness of Arabs to municipal tax payment is not related to anti-Israeli sentiment or lack of enforcement, but rather stems from the Arab sector's low socioeconomic status and an inability to pay - property tax amounts to 6.9% of an average Arab family's income as opposed to 4.6% of an average Jewish family's - and residents' dissatisfaction with the level of integrity of their municipal authorities.


Such a situation, of institutional discrimination on the one hand, and poverty on the other, is a recipe for disaster. No country, least of all one facing Israel's challenges, can afford to allow one in five of its citizens, who comprise a distinct national minority, to suffer in this way, particularly given the increasing radicalization of the Israel-Arab sector.


In his ruling, Judge Shadmi wrote that anti-Arab discrimination in the courts was "common knowledge," adding that "this sectorial discrimination can no longer be tolerated."


He then acted on his words, setting an example for the rest of us to follow.


The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.







I can't say I was distraught last week by the navy's capture of the ship loaded with arms that were evidently sent by Iran, headed for Syria and destined to end up with Hizbullah. If Hizbullah lost out on 3,000 rockets and has to make do with only the 40,000 it's got, I'm not going to cry. Nobody got hurt in the raid; all in all, this was not an immoral act that Israel committed.


But it was, I think, a reckless one, the kind that Israel has been carrying out repeatedly in recent years, and even getting away with - so far. We allegedly destroyed an embryonic Syrian nuclear reactor and the Syrians didn't hit back. It is widely assumed that Israel was behind the assassination of Hizbullah military chief Imad Mugniyeh in Damascus - again, no payback. There have been hints published in themedia about all sorts of acts of sabotage we've pulled against Iran, and no retribution has come. Now we've intercepted the Francop arms ship, life remains quiet and everyone around here is applauding.


Call me an old worrywart, but I'm afraid we're learning a very wrong and dangerous lesson from these incidents - that we can attack our enemies with impunity. That we can manufacture, import and export all the arms we want, while forcibly denying our enemies the same freedom - and they won't hit back because they're afraid of our power.


There's a bit of a contradiction here. On the one hand, we've launched these operations against Hizbullah and Syria (and possibly Iran) because we're convinced they're so crazed with hatred for Israel that they'll wage war on us at the first opportunity, no matter how much death and destruction they'll suffer. They're jihadists; they're happy to die for the honor of killing Jews, we believe.


Yet at the same time, we believe that if we hit Hizbullah, Syria or Iran first - if we intercept their arms, if we bomb their reactor, if we sabotage their military operations - they won't do anything because they're afraid of what we'll do to them in return.


In other words, we believe that these jihadists love life - theirs and their countrymen's - too much to risk hitting us back.


It would be suicide, right? They'd have to be crazy, wouldn't they? So rest easy, Mr. and Mrs. Israel, we're going to go on using our big weapons to destroy their little ones, and we're going to keep on getting away with it because, you see, Hizbullah, Syria and Iran value their peace and quiet too much to challenge us.


This is Israel's policy, and it's pure recklessness. We're tempting fate. We're playing Russian roulette.


I WOULD have agreed with the Francop raid if we were in a hot war with Hizbullah, Syria or Iran. I would have agreed if we'd done something like this during the Second Lebanon War, which was started by Hizbullah and in which Israel fought in self-defense (even though I think Israel fought much longer than necessary).


But we're not in a hot war now with Hizbullah, Syria or Iran, we're in a cold war with them. Yes, they send arms to Hamas, but all sorts of countries send arms to Israel and we send arms to about half the warring parties in the world; if every country were to start raiding ships that carried arms to their enemies, the seas would become awfully rough.


Neither Hizbullah, Syria nor Iran are raiding our arms ships, bombing our nuclear reactors, shooting at us or sabotaging our installations - not because they like our country, but because we're too much strong for them to want to pick a fight with us.


Instead, we're picking fights with them.


All the justifications Israel has come up with for the Francop raid are phony. They were violating UN Resolution 1701! (As if we're not in violation of all sorts of UN resolutions, including 1701 with our spy planes flying over Lebanon. And as if we have anything but contempt for UN resolutions.)


Hizbullah isn't a sovereign state, it's a terrorist organization! (As if Hizbullah isn't Lebanon's unofficial army in the south, and as if Israel would have left the ship alone if only Lebanon would outfit Hizbullah with Lebanese army uniforms.)


Those rockets were meant to kill civilians in Israeli cities, just having them is a war crime! (And what are Israel's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons for? Surgical military attacks? And were Israel's conventional weapons never used on civilian targets - say in Lebanon or Gaza?)


We've got this idea that the only reason Hizbullah, Syria and Iran want weapons at all is to destroy us, so this gives us the right to destroy their weapons (while they, of course, have no right to destroy ours, because we only keep weapons for self-defense, and anyone who suggests otherwise just wants to destroy us.)


Actually, I think the main reason Hizbullah, Syria and Iran want weapons is because every country and every nationalist movement in the world wants weapons. Even good nations like Israel and the US want weapons; it's human nature. For our enemies to build armies doesn't necessarily mean they plan to destroy us - all it necessarily means is that they're not pacifists, no more than we are.


BEYOND THIS, I think another reason Hizbullah, Syria and Iran want weapons is to deter their enemies - e.g. Israel - from attacking them. Yes, we had it right the first time - they are afraid of us. And if you look at the results of all our armed confrontations with them - the ones they started, along with the ones we did - they're right to be afraid.


It's true - our enemies would run us out of this country if they could. But they can't and they know it because we've proved it to them over and over and over. That's the reason they're not attacking us - because we've deterred them militarily from doing so.


But we cannot deter Hizbullah, Syria and Iran from simply having weapons, from simply having an army, from simply having the power that comes with sovereignty - especially when Israel has so much more of all this than they'll ever dream of.


It's one thing to tell our enemies that we won't attack them if they don't attack us, and that if they do, we'll attack back. That's an equitable arrangement and we can expect them to live by it because our power is such that it's not worth their while to violate it.


But telling our enemies that we can have unlimited arms while they can't is an inequitable arrangement, and when we enforce it, we humiliate them. We rub their noses in their weakness.


And there are just so many times they're going to take it.


I try not to be a saint, especially when it comes to the unappealing likes of Hizbullah, Syria and Iran. If I thought the Francop raid was the end of this business, I'd say, well, we got away with it, good for us.


But I don't think it's the end. Whatever payback our enemies may be planning, I think the "success" of this latest operation has given Israel's leaders the taste for more. I think we've moved one step closer to launching a "preemptive" war against Hizbullah or, even worse, against Iran.


If we pull a stunt like that, if we grow reckless and arrogant to that degree, 3,000 rockets more or less aren't going to make that much of a difference.


In retrospect, we should have just let that ship go on its way. With our awesome military power, we can live with a cold war indefinitely.


It's the hot wars we should try to steer around.








Recent debates surrounding politics at university have usually juxtaposed two different political viewpoints against one another. The Right argues that the academy is overflowing with extreme-leftist professors who work to undermine the existence of the state at home and abroad. The Left argues that its freedom of expression is being threatened by the Right and that its campaigns for "justice" or "human rights" are part of making the state more humane.


The Left believes that if a few of its extremist voices call for boycotts of their own universities then that might be "misplaced," but it is part and parcel of a democratic society. Perhaps both sides are right. The academy is at the forefront of anti-Israel intellectual extremism. It is also a bastion of freedom of expression in a free society.


But what both sides are missing is a third view of the academy, namely one that sees it as enshrining certain values, three of which should be responsibility, decency and maturity. The extreme-leftist antics of some faculty members should not be curtailed by laws or by dismissal from the academy. Instead there should be an inculcation of self-control.


Instead of crying "Nazi" every time the IDF does something an academic disagrees with, one could hold his tongue. Instead of requesting the boycott of one's own university, one could have some restraint. Instead of signing petitions encouraging soldiers to desert their units or calling on European powers to immediately intervene to "save" the Palestinians from a "genocide," one could show some self-control.


It is apparent that the central problem with too many of Israel's academics is that they are unsure of their place in society, they misunderstand their relevance and they are embittered and hysterical in their pronouncements to the point of having a childlike "crying wolf" mentality when discussing the conflict in the Middle East.


Consider a few examples. Prof. Ada Yonath, fresh after receiving a Nobel Prize, instead of saying a few words of praise for a society that gave her the opportunities to succeed and excel, immediately launched into a barrage of opinions about Gilad Schalit. She declared that Israel should release all its Palestinian prisoners and that holding them was the real source of all Palestinian attacks on Israel.


Prof. Ze'ev Sternhell, in the midst of the second intifada, when his own students were being massacred on buses, declared that Palestinians should "concentrate their struggle against the settlements." Students live in those very settlements that make up the outskirts of greater Jerusalem. Yet the professor felt confident that his role as a scholar of fascism meant he was endowed with the ability to decide who should die and who should live.


Dr. Anat Matar of Tel Aviv University, Dr. Neve Gordon of Ben-Gurion University and Dr. Ilan Pappe who was once of the University of Haifa have all supported boycotts of their own universities.


THERE WAS a time in history when academics understood that their role in society, shaping its culture, encouraging it along a proper course, developing the national narrative. The academy knew that its life was intricately linked to that of the society it lived in. It was the highest level of that society and had a responsibility to it. Israeli academics who call on European powers to invade the country to "save it from itself," those who call the country "Nazi," those who call for boycotts of their own country, those who go into "exile" abroad or those who encourage the murder of citizens in the country simply do not view themselves as responsible for the country at large. They are so disconnected from the society that they no longer feel any responsibility to be decent and mature in their rhetoric toward it.


This behavior represents a fundamental breakdown between the academy and the state. Prof. Gad Yair of Hebrew University's Sociology Department has summed up this relationship as follows: "The state without social sciences is ruthless, social sciences without the state are useless." Too many of Israel's academics view themselves as living in a bubble and in that bubble they see no reason not to challenge the very existence of the state.


Whether it is Shlomo Sand denying the existence of the Jewish people or Prof. Yoav Peled calling for a "one-state solution," they place themselves outside the state. Some of them even create a perception of the state that exists only in their mind. Prof. Oren Yiftachel called the state a "white... pure settlement colonial society."


Pure white? Yiftachel changed the ethnicity of 90 percent of Israelis to create a myth of whiteness so that he could irresponsibly act out his fantasy of opposing a new colonialistic apartheid.


A proper relationship between the academy and the state is one in which the academy is part of the state and, as part of it, serves its interests. It is understandable that many academics feel alienated from the state and its activities. They feel the occupation is morally repugnant, that the state isn't living up to their ideals.


But when children don't behave correctly, it is the parents' responsibility to correct this, not scream hysterically that the children are "little Nazis" and leave the house.


Irresponsible parents encourage lawless behavior, their hysterical reactions and bipolar passive aggressive behavior undermine the morality of the children, instead of raising them by setting an example and behaving quietly, decently and with self-control. The Israeli academy is like a parent to the citizenry of the state, but the behavior of some of its members has come to resemble that of spoiled children.


The writer is a researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.








Parliamentary by-elections in Britain are usually the last thing on the mind of citizens of this country, but Israelis should be cheered by the news that the Labor Party, led by Gordon Brown, has beaten back the Scottish National Party (SNP) in a crucial contest in the commercial city of Glasgow.


The SNP is mounting the most serious challenge to the Union of Scotland and England in three centuries. The next British general election will be a battle for Britain, and the outcome could matter immensely to Israel.


Gordon Brown is probably the most pro-Israeli British premier ever. As he recounted in an emotional address to the Knesset shortly after taking office, he has had a deep affection and respect for Israel dating back to his boyhood. His father was a minister of the Church of Scotland who learned Hebrew and travelled back and forth to the Holy Land at least twice every year, as chairman of the Israel committee. After each trip, he would roll out an old film projector and regale young Gordon with favorable images of Israel.


"There was never a time as I was growing up that I did not hear about, read about or was not surrounded by stories of the struggles, sacrifices, tribulation and triumphs as the Israeli people built their new state," Brown told the Knesset. "And I am proud to say that for the whole of my life, I have counted myself a friend of Israel. To those who mistakenly and outrageously call for the end of Israel let the message be: Britain will always stand firmly by Israel's side."


But Brown has been struggling to save his own premiership almost from the moment he took over from Tony Blair and Britain got battered in the global economic storm. He isn't out of the woods yet just because Labor held a seat in its heartlands. Few pundits would bet against David Cameron ousting him from Downing Street by next May, the date by which the Labor leader must meet his fate by calling a general election.


If Cameron leads the Conservatives back to power in London, a constitutional crisis could swiftly ensue. From the days when they were led by Margaret Thatcher the Tories have been totally detested by most Scots, who view them as right-wing Little Englanders.


Forget about Braveheart (in which the English were demonized as much as the Jews in The Passion of the Christ). Scotland's nationalists these days are spearheaded today not by a kilted warrior but by a besuited former bank economist.


Alex Salmond is a calculating clan chieftain who would slyly channel Scottish fear and loathing of a Tory government in London into support for separation.


SO WHY, you might still be asking, should any of this matter to Israelis? Why should anyone in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv give a fig whether Britain loses a large chunk of its northern territories?


Israelis should buck up because, if Britain breaks up, it would become a much weaker player on the world stage and almost certainly be stripped of its permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Citizens of this state should be uneasy about that because Britain has been a staunch ally of Israel - usually.


Lamentably, in sad contrast to the US, the UK shirked its responsibilities recently when some of the most repugnant regimes on the planet called for Israel to be referred to the Security Council over its conduct in Gaza. Still, leaving aside that lapse of geopolitical judgement, it would surely be better for Israel to have Britain on than off that powerful body.


Israelis certainly have nothing to gain from the creation of an independent Scotland led by Salmond. As proven

by its careless handling of the Lockerbie bomber case, Edinburgh's nationalist administration is, at best, extremely naïve about the mendacity of certain Middle East regimes or, at worst, prepared to curry favor across the Arab world for its own narrow objective.


Some analysts suspect that the Scottish Government (as it now calls itself) is keen to cultivate popularity with desert sheikhs in the hope that they might invest in the Scottish independence project and thus make it more economically viable (though there is little direct evidence of this).


Salmond has certainly snuggled up to politically motivated local Muslims. One of his first actions upon becoming Scotland's First Minister was to give a massive public grant to a murky organization called the Scottish Islamic Foundation, established by a young Muslim named Osama Saeed who campaigns in the industrial city of Glasgow for the restoration of Scottish statehood - when he isn't working for the restoration of the Caliphate.


The SNP leader has schmoozed with Scotland's Muslims for the same reason he has courted his country's Roman Catholic hierarchy: to get the big ethnic blocs behind independence. There are far more chapels and mosques than there are synagogues in this small northern nation. Scotland has always had a tiny Jewish population, which is why Salmond will never take any sort of stand for Israel.


An independent Scotland led by this man wouldn't care if Israel were wiped off the map, which is why Israelis should care about Britain being wiped off the map by his band of anything but bravehearts.


The writer is a Scottish journalist and academic now based in Dublin.








"Scarcely believable," "shocking story," "mind-boggling," "astonishing," "unbelievable infringement." These are just a selection of the phrases incorporated by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach into his literary onslaught ( "The British determine who is a Jew?!," November 10) against the British judicial system following last summer's ruling by the Court of Appeal in London in the case of the child known as "M."


Boteach may be learned in Orthodox Jewish law. But his diatribe, while exuding a great deal of heat, shed very little light on the issues involved and did, I regret to say, reveal an inability - or perhaps unwillingness - to interpret these issues correctly and in context.


"M" is the child of an halachicly Jewish father and a mother who had undergone a non-Orthodox conversion. The father applied for his son to be admitted to the Jews' Free School (JFS), an extremely prestigious and heavily oversubscribed taxpayer-aided "faith" school in north London. The United Synagogue's chief rabbi, Lord Sacks, refused the application on the ground that he - Jonathan Sacks - did not regard the mother as Jewish.


The Court of Appeal ruled that, in so doing, he and the school breached the 1976 Race Relations Act, the protection of which Jews enjoy by virtue of having long ago been categorized as an ethnic group entitled to its protection. Quite simply, in refusing "M" a place at the school, Sacks (said the Court of Appeal) relied on an investigation of "M's" parental descent, rather than on a judgment of his - or his parents' - religious practice. "M" was, therefore, the victim of ethnic (and not religious) prejudice.


The 1976 Race Relations Act has been of immense benefit to Britain's Jewish communities, enabling British Jews to bring successful actions against, for example, employers who refuse for whatever reason to employ persons of Jewish identity. But we Jews cannot have it both ways. We cannot say that we will invoke the act when it suits us, but when it doesn't, demand the right to ignore it and to be shielded from the penalties it invokes.


THE CENTRAL question for the Supreme Court (to which the JFS and Sacks have appealed against the Appeal Court's ruling) is whether, in denying "M" a place because of the fact that he is his mother's son, the 1976 act was in fact breached. It may interest Boteach to know that immediately after the Appeal Court had delivered its (entirely predictable) verdict, Sacks issued a statement in which he declared that "the principles underlying membership of the Jewish faith... have nothing to do with race and everything to do with religion. Ethnicity is irrelevant to Jewish identity."


And in a confidential briefing paper for the media, his office insisted that "any person of any ethnic origin can convert to Judaism and, once converted, a person is Jewish."


Boteach may care to ask himself this: If being Jewish has nothing to do with race and everything to do with religion, why was Sacks the slightest bit interested in "M's" mother?


"M" now attends a Masorti synagogue. The lawyer speaking on behalf of Sacks argued before the Supreme Court that although it may well be true (as it certainly is) that the rabbinical authorities of the Assembly of Masorti Synagogues regard "M" as Jewish, the criteria Masorti Judaism chooses to apply are not those of Orthodox Judaism. Indeed the lawyer speaking for the United Synagogue went further, asserting that "the different denominations of Judaism are... separate religions."


But "M's" counsel answered this by presenting to the Supreme Court a document, signed by Sacks personally in 1994, certifying the St. Albans Masorti synagogue as "a congregation of persons professing the Jewish religion." Perhaps Boteach can enlighten us as to why, if Masorti Judaism is a religion "separate" from Orthodox Judaism, such certification was ever given.


Although "M" and his father "E" brought the original action against the JFS and Sacks, they were in fact joined in the action by Mr. and Mrs. David Lightman, who were married in an Orthodox synagogue in New York. Mrs. Lightman - who teaches at the JFS - had been converted under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem. Her children are Jewish in Israel but not - if Lord Sacks has his way - in England, because he refuses to recognize this conversion. Can Boteach explain at what precise point on the flight from Tel Aviv to London Mrs. Lightman ceases to be Jewish, and why?


Boteach writes passionately about the alleged awesome precedent that the verdict of the Appeal Court represents (if not overturned) in terms of the UK government's "unbelievable infringement in the affairs of a religion... a legal assault on the very integrity of the Jewish religion as practiced in Britain." I can assure him that there are numerous such precedents, ranging from state interference with Jewish marriage laws in the 19th century to regulation of (and interference with) the laws pertaining to shechita (slaughter of food animals) in the 20th. British Jewry - British Orthodox Jewry - has survived them all.


Peoplehood may indeed be conveyed via a parent. The Court of Appeal has not said otherwise. It has merely ruled that when considering an applicant for admission to a Jewish faith school, tests can only be applied that relate to religious practice. The haredi schools already do this, of course. Is it too much to ask the "mainstream" Jewish schools to follow suit?


The writer is Michael Gross Professor of Politics and Contemporary History at the University of Buckingham and the author of Modern British Jewry.








The Knesset is expected to pass a bill today that would set up a biometric database for all Israel's residents. The law would require everyone to provide fingerprints and photos for ID cards and passports. The bill, the initiative of former interior minister Meir Sheetrit (Kadima), is designed to address the problem of forgery of official documents, duplicate documents for the same person and so-called identity theft for committing crimes or acts against state security.

The law would give the authorities power to violate certain rights of privacy and human dignity. These are recognized in the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty as fundamental constitutional rights that can only be limited moderately and when necessary. Experts have warned of the risk of data being leaked to enemy states and criminal organizations due to the concentration of information in a biometric database and its irreversible nature. Some observers have suggested that the database be split in two with security improved.

The arguments against the bill were not considered seriously enough. It appears that the legislation's aim could be achieved through available technology that is cheaper, more secure and less intrusive, as is done in Western countries. The production of "smart" ID cards without biometric information could achieve the bill's main purpose by preventing the forgery and duplication of official documents. And these cards could be canceled if necessary, like credit cards.


The bill in its current form is not ready, despite minor changes that tried to answer criticism. Its problematic aspects have not yet been thoroughly aired; aspects that blatantly harm the right to privacy. It's not difficult to imagine that a petition would be filed at the High Court of Justice over the law's constitutionality. The government position promising to fix defects in the law through Interior Ministry regulations is not appropriate. A matter like this, which has ramifications on the freedom of the individual, should clearly outline the solution to the problem, and the law should meticulously protect the right to privacy.

The bill should not be passed today before a thorough debate on its provisions. Additional hearings on the bill should be held to create legislation that would ensure the proper balance between society's interest in fighting lawlessness and its interest in protecting freedom of the individual.








Kadima MK Shaul Mofaz's peace plan is a refreshing change, particularly in light of his past, although no peace agreement will emerge from it. For 21 years and a day, since the Palestine Liberation Organization declared independence in Algiers, its leaders have not lowered their price: recognition of Israel and an end to hostilities in exchange for a Palestinian state within the June 4, 1967 borders with East Jerusalem the capital. The only "discount" that Israel has received since then was Yasser Arafat's concession of 2 percent of the West Bank in exchange for other territory and safe passage between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. That was the only deal that won Arab consensus.

Jordan's King Hussein, considered an especially moderate leader, said that after the Six-Day War he rejected Israeli offers to get back 98 percent of the territories, but not Jerusalem. In Avi Shlaim's book "Lion of Jordan: The Life of King Hussein in War and Peace," the king is quoted as saying that for him it was a matter of getting back every centimeter or nothing. It would be hard to find an expert in Israel's intelligence community who would suggest that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was going to offer Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu one millimeter more.

And yet, perhaps precisely because of this, Netanyahu wants to meet with the Palestinian leader and is worried that Abbas will retire and go home. For 16 years, the soft murmur of the "peace process" that has been leading nowhere has drowned out the roar of the bulldozers that are deepening the occupation. What will the Israeli government do if the day after Abbas resigns the Palestinian Legislative Council in Ramallah decides to disperse and dissolve the Palestinian Authority? What will happen if after this, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad locks the government ministries and stops paying the police's salaries?


Netanyahu knew what he was talking about when he told U.S. President Barack Obama that he needs Abbas and Fayyad. Without them there are no negotiations; without negotiations there are no donor countries; without donor countries there are no salaries; without salaries there is no PA, or as Hamas calls it, "the Dayton government" (named for the American general who oversaw the training and funding of the PA's security forces). No PA, no security forces. Without security, there is either Somalization or Israelization of the West Bank.

What will Israel do if Abbas announces that by a reasonable date, say, December 31, 2010, the option of a state and a half - Israel and alongside it a Palestinian entity - will go the way of the West Bank's "village leagues" of the 1980s? The question therefore is not why Netanyahu needs Abbas and Fayyad, but why they need Netanyahu.

Prof. Sari Nusseibeh, among the most moderate of the Palestinian elite, who long ago gave up on the idea of a two-state solution, proposed that the PA be dissolved more than a year ago. He even urged the European Union to stop funding the PA, claiming that the money was funding the fig leaf of the Israeli occupation.

Nusseibeh suggested that the Europeans condition aid on the establishment of an independent state for the Palestinians or earmark it for their integration into Israeli society. Such a policy would perhaps shake the Israelis and the Palestinians out of their complacency and lack of commitment to a peace agreement, Nusseibeh told Haaretz in August 2008. His position is now being echoed throughout the territories.

Abbas' decision to end his political career brings the end of the PA in Ramallah closer, along with Netanyahu's moment of decision on dividing the land. While Mofaz has not given Netanyahu the magic political formula that will bridge the gap between the Bar-Ilan speech and Abbas' resignation speech, Mofaz took away Netanyahu's political excuse by bypassing Kadima leader Tzipi Livni on the left.

Netanyahu can no longer hide behind the threat that halting construction in the settlements and painful concessions will bring down his government. If Netanyahu is serious about a two-state solution, he has 32 partners at his disposal: the Kadima MKs and the four Labor rebels who will be glad to replace the rejectors of compromise in Likud and its partners to the right.








WASHINGTON - On the stage in the plenum of the United Jewish Communities' annual conference sat three well-tailored and smiling young people, who had immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia, Brazil and Peru. They told their story to the audience of 3,000. One described how far she had come since childhood, when she was excited by the elevator in the absorption center, and the other two focused on their military service and their love for Israel. A significant percentage of their achievements, as expected at an event of this type, were attributed to American Jewry and its support for Israel.

Also as expected, the audience at the General Assembly was moved - but somewhat less so than in the past. The long relationship between Israel and American Jewry has moved on to a new phase. They're not equals yet, but Israel is no longer the unfortunate relative. The enthusiasm is waning, and the news from Israel is eroding what idealism remains.

Participants at the GA sang the anthems of the United States, Canada and Israel, and the White House chief of staff spoke about his personal connection to Israel and the U.S. president's commitment to its security. But Israel is not a top priority, and that is evident in the decline in donations to Israel collected by the federations: less that a third of the approximately $900 million donated in 2008.


One of the serious problems was and remains assimilation (for those who consider it a problem). Because of cutbacks, there were fewer young people at the GA this year. Some said that in spite of the claims that young people are cutting themselves off from community institutions, they actually feel more involved than their parents, in that they aren't just signing checks. In addition, the argument goes, less formal organizations like havurot require greater personal responsibility and investment than more traditional ones.

The Taglit-Birthright Israel project, which offers young Jews a free 10-day visit to Israel, has been a success, and has sent about 220,000 young people to Israel since its establishment a decade ago.

Visits to Masada, encounters with other Jews, and meetings with Israel Defense Forces soldiers and college students create a sense of fun for the young people, and it pays off in the long run. Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky called for all young Diaspora Jews to be brought on trips to Israel.

But beyond preventing assimilation and fostering connections with young people, Israel and American Jewry lack a common agenda. Not surprisingly, the two most recent outpourings of solidarity came during the second intifada and the Second Lebanon War. The American Jewish community lacks reasons for enthusiasm. Although Sharansky the hero still receives a standing ovation, there are no longer mass demonstrations to free Soviet Jewry, and American Jews have come to terms with the "desertion" of hundreds of thousands of Jews from the former Soviet Union to the United States; they are working energetically to integrate "the Russians" into existing institutions so that at least they won't assimilate. Some community activists feel betrayed by the "new yordim" - the growing community of Ethiopian Jews who have wandered from Israel to New York. "We paid to bring you to Israel, and you fled here?" they accuse them.

There were a great many topics on the agenda, from the Iranian threat to Facebook fund-raising to environmental initiatives. What is missing is a unifying and exciting agenda. If Israel wants to continue to be relevant to these young people - and not only because of its problems, the common fears and the free trip - it must do its part to contribute to an egalitarian relationship.

It isn't pleasant to hear a young American Jewish activist, to whom Israel is important, claiming that the country is not interested in him. A Sarah Silverman comedy special on Israel's Channel 2 may be a hit, but it's not enough. Teaching the history and culture of Diaspora Jewry in Israeli schools would be a good start.








Today's scheduled meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of the search committee for a new attorney general is not likely to be particularly significant. The prime minister has not yet exercised his right to propose a candidate in writing, and he will presumably also refrain from doing so orally, thereby making it easier for the committee to weigh professional considerations as it sees fit, without external pressure.

Netanyahu's restraint accords well with the cabinet's August 2000 decision, which stated that the cabinet would choose the attorney general, but only from among a list of candidates forwarded by a search committee whose recommendations are not supposed to be influenced, either positively or negatively, by the fact that a given candidate is seen as having the support of either the prime minister or the justice minister.

Granted, the decision does require the committee to hold "consultations" with the two ministers over "the candidates' suitability for the post," but even so, the panel is not supposed to give any special weight to their views. Were this not so, the public's faith in the person who is supposed to enforce the law impartially might be undermined.


Therefore, the more the prime minister and justice minister distance themselves from any attempt to influence the committee's recommendations, the better it will be.


The purpose of the committee's establishment - created in response to Roni Bar-On's short-lived appointment as attorney general in 1997 and the subsequent recommendations of the Shamgar committee - was to ensure that the attorney general is chosen on the basis of professional legal considerations rather than political ones. The cabinet, which adopted the Shamgar report, agreed that the attorney general would be one of the candidates recommended by a search committee. And the fact that this committee is chaired by a retired Supreme Court justice shows that the choice is supposed to be based on the candidates' qualifications for sitting on the Supreme Court, along with their professional experience and suitability, from both a formal and substantive standpoint.

The cabinet's decision that the consent of at least four of the search committee's five members would be needed to recommend a candidate was meant to ensure that the candidates would be people who enjoyed a broad consensus among the panel's members - all of whom are jurists, though this is not technically necessary. But in practice, this good intention has resulted in any two committee members being able to wield veto power, and has thereby created an opening for all kinds of deals, and for thwarting the majority's preferences.

Thus the reported demand by two current committee members, former Likud justice minister Moshe Nissim and current Likud MK Yariv Levin, that the list of three candidates submitted to the cabinet include at least two of their choices, is inappropriate. The public must be convinced that the committee's decisions are free of any extraneous considerations or "dictates" of any kind.

Menachem Mazuz's appointment as attorney general six years ago was ensured by the fact that he was supported by then-justice minister Yosef Lapid. Lapid's backing contributed both to Mazuz's inclusion in the list of three finalists submitted to the cabinet and to his ultimate selection, even though the other two finalists, then-District Court judges David Cheshin and Uzi Vogelman, were viewed by many experts in the field as more experienced and better qualified.

The appointment of a new attorney general now must be made with the understanding that this position has not yet been split in two. Therefore, the choice must give great weight to the candidates' experience in criminal law. Mazuz's hasty decision not to indict Ariel Sharon in the Greek island case - a decision made almost immediately after his appointment, in defiance of the position of then-state prosecutor Edna Arbel, and which Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer recently termed "scandalous" - attests to just how important it is to appoint an attorney general with experience in criminal law.

If the prime minister were to come out today in favor of appointing a public commission to prepare the professional and theoretical infrastructure for a proper discussion of the highly controversial proposal to split the attorney general's job in two, he would contribute to clarifying this important issue, and also send the search committee the proper message: that it needs to propose candidates suitable for the job in its current multifaceted format. If the job is likely to be split imminently, however, the considerations would be different.

The prime minister could also initiate a move to change the previous cabinet decision, effective immediately, so that the search committee would be able to recommend candidates by a simple majority of its members. He would thereby deprive any two members of veto power and increase the chances of a decision being made pursuant to a debate that, even if sharp, is also substantive.








There are two opposing tendencies in the knitted-skullcap community: Becoming ultra-Orthodox on the one hand (which is dubbed hit'hardelut, becoming a nationalist Haredi), and abandoning religion on the other. Somewhere along the way we have lost the mainstream, the middle way that the majority can follow. This can be seen, for example, in the prohibition against men listening to a woman singing, which is derived from the words of the Talmud: "kol b'isha erva" - "a woman's voice is licentious."

As a singer who moves on the seam line, I repeatedly encounter this prohibition. Most women I perform for experience this prohibition, which is supposed to protect men from a woman's seductive voice. These women heroically refrain from singing in the presence of men so as not to test them.

Yesterday I contacted settlements in Judea and Samaria. In one of them, the cultural coordinator told me that she couldn't invite me to perform in her community because the performance did not suit the "community's spirit." I explained to her that I could perform separately for the the women, but it turned out that this was only the start of the problem. "You have performed in front of men," the coordinator accused me. "True," I admitted. I perform for anyone who wants to hear me, both men and women. "Then I can't invite you." I didn't understand. She couldn't invite me because I performed in another community in front of a mixed audience? "Precisely. You violated the prohibition publicly."


I wondered when the Inquisition had returned, and why I suddenly felt that I was being blamed for no wrongdoing on my part. Moreover, if we continue with this metaphor, the inquisitor in this case was a Jew.

In the past, the prohibition of "kol b'isha erva" was not so fashionable among the knitted-skullcap community. At one time there was more openness, acceptance and tolerance. This prohibition is so remote and ambiguous that many rabbis allow men to listen to a woman sing, with certain restrictions: a suitable atmosphere, unsuggestive words, a non-seductive musical style, modest dress and controlled body language.

Female creativity is blossoming in religious society. There are women who write, compose, play instruments and sing with such concentrated purity, talent and beauty that it's a shame that only half the public hears them. Not only are the women harmed by this folly, the men are also. These restrictions debase men, who are portrayed as puppets lacking choice and strength. People controlled entirely by their instincts.

In certain communities it is the women themselves who lead the public to extremism. A woman has destructive power, and it's better for her to stay home and keep quiet. After all, isn't it true that "the princess' honor is best displayed in private"? Those women, instead of rising and rebelling, instead of adhering to the lenient rabbis, choose to educate those who sing in front of men. They continue to beat the ones being beaten, without understanding that they are actually whipping themselves. Often in the past I have confronted an establishment that prevented me from singing, and it was always clear who was on whose side. Suddenly, an entire group has crossed the barricade to the other side, and instead of supporting me has aimed its weapons at me.

Instead of finding the healthy, sane middle way we are being dragged to the extremes. It's sad and emasculating. In 21st century Israeli society there is room for greater openness, for acceptance and creativity.








Ever since Richard Nixon opened the door in 1972, all presidents have faced a balancing act with China. For President Obama, who arrived in China on Sunday, the challenge is even tougher and more urgent. He needs Beijing's help on a host of hugely important and extremely difficult problems, including stabilizing the global financial system, curbing global warming, prying away North Korea's nuclear weapons, and ensuring that Iran doesn't get to build any.


To do that he needs to encourage China to play an even stronger international role — but also curb some of its darker instincts, including its mistreatment of its own citizens, its less than savory relationships with countries like Sudan and its tendency to bully its neighbors.


Mr. Obama has already acknowledged China's growing clout (and that of other fast-growing economies), when he made the G-20 instead of the G-8 the main forum for global economic issues. We hope that will pay off in more responsible behavior from Beijing.


Still in the search for common ground, Mr. Obama has his work cut out for him. While the two countries have enacted huge stimulus packages, profound tensions remain over China's exchange-rate policy.


On the security side, China joined America and other major powers in imposing tougher nuclear-related sanctions on North Korea. But it is still Pyongyang's main economic benefactor and has shown a willingness to exploit loopholes in the sanctions. Beijing also evinces concern about Iran's nuclear program. But it seems more concerned about its own voracious energy needs, and Iran's ability to satisfy them. Mr. Obama will have to work harder to persuade China of the dangers out there, and of the need for tough United Nations sanctions to curb the nuclear appetites of Tehran and Pyongyang.


China has long and close ties with Pakistan. We hope Mr. Obama will urge China's president, Hu Jintao, to provide more economic assistance for Islamabad and press its leaders to keep fighting the Taliban insurgency. While China-Taiwan relations are improving, Mr. Obama should still press Beijing to remove hundreds of missiles it has aimed at the island.


Some activists worry that the Obama administration has been too muted in its criticism of China's abysmal human rights. Mr. Obama postponed a meeting with the Dalai Lama until after this summit meeting. But trying a less confrontational approach, for a while, isn't unreasonable.


China's success as a modern superpower is not guaranteed. Job shortages and worker malcontent pose a huge challenge, as do separatist movements in Tibet and Xinjiang.


Mr. Obama needs to find a way to subtly remind his hosts of those vulnerabilities — and the fact that they are better dealt with through more political openness rather than more repression. A China that respected its own people and its neighbors would be more stable, economically stronger, have more international influence and be a much better American partner.


From Beijing to Copenhagen

What everyone has suspected for weeks has now been made more or less official by President Obama and other world leaders: no new legally binding climate treaty will emerge at discussions in Copenhagen next month. The continuing differences between industrialized and developing nations over who should bear the burden of stopping global warming mean that at best Copenhagen will be a steppingstone. This does not make the talks between President Obama and President Hu Jintao of China any less important. Even an interim agreement will be impossible without enthusiastic participation by both countries, which together account for 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.


Denmark's prime minister, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, has sketched the outlines of a fallback position that would have all countries commit to achievable, transparent domestic targets while negotiations on a broader treaty continued. This is an honorable proposition that Mr. Obama can easily accept, but getting Mr. Hu to sign on — and bring other developing countries with him — may take some doing.


For years, Washington and Beijing have dodged their own responsibilities by making unreasonable demands of each other. China has insisted that the United States reduce emissions by 40 percent over 10 years, which is politically and technologically unrealistic. Many American lawmakers insist that China commit to binding emission caps now, but China — which regards all caps with suspicion — sees this as infringing on its freedom to manage its own economy.


At the same time, both nations are mindful of the potentially disastrous consequences of unchecked climate change, and both have taken steps to tame their emissions — steps that could build a foundation for a more positive relationship. China has adopted tough fuel economy standards and strict efficiency codes for new buildings. Eager to win the global race for green jobs, it has stepped up investment in solar panels, wind turbines, rapid transit and hybrid electric cars. And while coal still provides 70 percent of its power, it is building fewer coal-fired plants and those it is building are cleaner.


For his part, Mr. Obama has embraced the climate challenge in a way his predecessor did not. He has approved new greenhouse gas standards for vehicles, proposed regulatory controls on power plant emissions and included $80 billion in his stimulus package for greater energy efficiency and cleaner technologies. Congress is halfway toward producing a bill to cap emissions.


The prospects for collaboration on clean energy are promising. An American company will soon build a solar-powered electric utility in China, and China has agreed to help build a wind farm in Texas. But the most important single thing the two countries can do is join in moving a new climate agreement forward.







New York's governor could not have spoken more plainly than he did last week before a joint session of the State Legislature. "Quite frankly, we are running out of money," he said, as he asked members to help cut the budget. The plea has so far gone unanswered, even though, with each week, the fiscal problems get worse.


Assembly members recognize that the deficit is even worse than the governor's estimate. But they won't cut the budget unless the Senate agrees to do so at the same time. That's the Albany system. When it comes to bad news, the idea is to spread the blame around evenly.


Unfortunately, the Democrats running the State Senate seem to think things are not as bad as the governor makes out, and have advanced a plan that is politically palatable but also ludicrous. They would drain rainy-day funds and any other untapped pool of savings to pay the bills until March of next year.


That's like cleaning out your 401(k) to pay the rent. And it leaves open the question of how the state would

really manage once the savings were spent. Senators also want to refinance and extend loans on the tobacco settlement money, a scheme that does two things well — it helps the bond merchants of Wall Street and it forces future taxpayers to pay for today's expenses.


It is time for the Legislature to face facts. New York spends twice the national average on Medicaid at $2,283 per person. That is the highest average in the country, with Rhode Island a distant second at $1,659. Mr. Paterson wants to scale back the health care budget by $471 million. That seems the least the state should do. Education is even more costly. The national average per student is $9,138; New York spends $14,884. Mr. Paterson's plan to cut education costs by about 3 percent, or $686 million, is clearly in line with what's necessary.


The problem for lawmakers is that even when they fix a deficit estimated at up to $4 billion between now and April 1, there will be more deficits estimated at $10 billion next year. Democrats are going to have to say no to the unions, especially those representing health care workers, educators and state employees. It is past time for a less-extravagant pension system that is fairer to taxpayers. It is also time to consider layoffs or furloughs of state employees, as other states have done.


Meanwhile, Republican senators who plan to stand on the sidelines and let the Democrats make unpopular choices should be challenged as do-nothings. Mr. Paterson told legislators at one point that he would "mortgage my political career" to steady the state's finances. Legislators should realize that their political careers are on the line as well.







A creative plan to help wounded veterans and their exhausted families adapt to the strain of long-term home care is on the brink of bipartisan approval — but for the familiar obstructionism of Senator Tom Coburn. This is one of the most deplorable displays by the lawmaker-physician, an Oklahoma Republican who relishes playing the self-styled budget hawk by putting attention-grabbing holds on crucial legislation.


The urgently needed legislation consolidates more than a dozen improvements in veterans' health care — most notably a new assistance program for family members who wind up providing lifelong home nursing to severely disabled veterans. These vital caregivers — who sacrifice careers and put huge strains on their own mental health — assume an obligation "that ultimately belongs to the government," Senator Daniel Akaka, the bill's chief sponsor, properly notes.


The measure also expands benefits for women veterans who suffered sexual trauma on duty, extends veterans' care in rural areas, tightens quality control at V.A. hospitals, and ensures that catastrophically disabled veterans will not be charged for emergency services in community hospitals.


The omnibus legislation drew unanimous committee approval. But Senator Coburn objected to quick floor passage, demanding that the five-year, $3.7 billion cost be offset with immediate budget cuts. The senator's argument rings hollow in the face of veterans' suffering and the world of deficit budgeting brought on by his party's tax cuts and zealous war investments.


Now he is demanding balanced books for wounded vets? Sheer embarrassment should drive the senator into retreat as he trifles with veterans' needs and burnishes his petty role as Dr. No.








International travel by world leaders is mainly about making symbolic gestures. Nobody expects President Obama to come back from China with major new agreements, on economic policy or anything else.


But let's hope that when the cameras aren't rolling Mr. Obama and his hosts engage in some frank talk about currency policy. For the problem of international trade imbalances is about to get substantially worse. And there's a potentially ugly confrontation looming unless China mends its ways.


Some background: Most of the world's major currencies "float" against one another. That is, their relative values move up or down depending on market forces. That doesn't necessarily mean that governments pursue pure hands-off policies: countries sometimes limit capital outflows when there's a run on their currency (as Iceland did last year) or take steps to discourage hot-money inflows when they fear that speculators love their economies not wisely but too well (which is what Brazil is doing right now). But these days most nations try to keep the value of their currency in line with long-term economic fundamentals.


China is the great exception. Despite huge trade surpluses and the desire of many investors to buy into this fast-growing economy — forces that should have strengthened the renminbi, China's currency — Chinese authorities have kept that currency persistently weak. They've done this mainly by trading renminbi for dollars, which they have accumulated in vast quantities.


And in recent months China has carried out what amounts to a beggar-thy-neighbor devaluation, keeping the yuan-dollar exchange rate fixed even as the dollar has fallen sharply against other major currencies. This has given Chinese exporters a growing competitive advantage over their rivals, especially producers in other developing countries.


What makes China's currency policy especially problematic is the depressed state of the world economy. Cheap money and fiscal stimulus seem to have averted a second Great Depression. But policy makers haven't been able to generate enough spending, public or private, to make progress against mass unemployment. And China's weak-currency policy exacerbates the problem, in effect siphoning much-needed demand away from the rest of the world into the pockets of artificially competitive Chinese exporters.


But why do I say that this problem is about to get much worse? Because for the past year the true scale of the China problem has been masked by temporary factors. Looking forward, we can expect to see both China's trade surplus and America's trade deficit surge.


That, at any rate, is the argument made in a new paper by Richard Baldwin and Daria Taglioni of the Graduate Institute, Geneva. As they note, trade imbalances, both China's surplus and America's deficit, have recently been much smaller than they were a few years ago. But, they argue, "these global imbalance improvements are mostly illusory — the transitory side effect of the greatest trade collapse the world has ever seen."


Indeed, the 2008-9 plunge in world trade was one for the record books. What it mainly reflected was the fact that modern trade is dominated by sales of durable manufactured goods — and in the face of severe financial crisis and its attendant uncertainty, both consumers and corporations postponed purchases of anything that wasn't needed immediately. How did this reduce the U.S. trade deficit? Imports of goods like automobiles collapsed; so did some U.S. exports; but because we came into the crisis importing much more than we exported, the net effect was a smaller trade gap.