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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

EDITORIAL 17.11.09

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

 

media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

 

Editorial

month november 17, edition 000352, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

http://editorialsamarth.blogspot.com

 

THE PIONEER

  1. NEXT STEP FOR KALYAN
  2. TRULY A ROLE MODEL
  3. GOING BACK TO SQUARE ONE - A SURYA PRAKASH
  4. PUB-CRAWLING ON PAROLE - KHIMI THAPA
  5. CLUES WERE THERE, BUT... - SHASHI SHEKHAR
  6. THE JIHAD FACTOR - BARRY RUBIN
  7. UNIFORMLY BAD ACROSS STATES - CP BHAMBHRI
  8. BAD POLICIES, NOT WEATHER, TO BLAME FOR FAMINE - JULIAN MORRIS & KAROL OUDREAUX

MAIL TODAY

  1. FOLLOW THE RULES IN LUTYENS ZONE, AT LEAST
  2. END OF THE ROAD
  3. PAK MAKES AFGHAN SOLUTION ELUSIVE - BY KANWAL SIBAL
  4. BYPOLLS ROUT SCUTTLES GOVT MOVE FOR LAND REFORMS - GIRIDHAR JHA

 TIMES OF INDIA

  1. DILLI CHALO
  2. LONG WAY TO GO
  3. CONSENSUS CAN'T BE FORCED -
  4. DAHIGHBROW BIAS AGAINST BLYTON
  5. NO DENYING SHE'S SHALLOW -
  6. I BELIEVE I CAN'T FLY -
  7. WELCOME TO THE AGE OF EXCESS - PRITISH NANDY 

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. THE BRIDGE NOT TOO FAR
  2. DIETING NATION
  3. WALLPAPERED OVER - SITARAM YECHURY
  4. GO WITH THE FLOW?
  5. Farm to fork - Rice has a price problem - Avijit Ghoshal and B. Vijay Murty
  6. Strong case - Seeking conflict resolution - Nagendar Sharma

INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. THE HEAT'S ON
  2. PRICE OF LOYALTY
  3. OPEN DOMAINS
  4. DEGREES OF HALF MEASURES - PRATAP BHANU MEHTA
  5. ALL-WEATHER FRIENDS - S. VIJAY KUMAR
  6. OVERLOADED AND UNSAFE - SARABJITSINGH
  7. GOD TV - SHAILAJA BAJPAI
  8. SLAYING THE CHIMERA CALLED CHIMERICA
  9. PROBLEMS WITH PAROLE - SANKAR SEN

FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. COMPETITIVE COMMISSION
  2. WHO'S IN CHARGE?
  3. STATS OF THE NATION: GOOD, BAD & UGLY - MAHESH VYAS
  4. HOW TO PAY FOR ROADS AND AIRPORTS - SHYAMALA SHUKLA
  5. BONDED BY INTEREST, NOT AFFECTION - ALEXANDRA RICE
  6. REPORT CARD

THE HINDU

  1. COMING CLEAN AT COPENHAGEN
  2. STIMULUS-DRIVEN RECOVERY
  3. TORY BLUES FOR EUROPEAN UNION - HASAN SUROOR
  4. ON PATROL IN MEXICO'S MOST DANGEROUS CITY - IAN SHERWOOD
  5. FRENCH AMBASSADOR'S RESPONSE TO REPORT ON AREVA'S REACTOR - JEROME BONNAFONT,
  6. 'IRAN HOPES PRESIDENT OBAMA CAN DELIVER ON HIS PROMISES' - SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. YESTERDAY'S MEN OUT OF TUNE IN UP
  2. WHERE ARE THE HAWKERS? - JAYATI GHOSH
  3. FIGHT NAXALS THE WAY US WAGES TALIBAN WAR - SHANKAR ROYCHOWDHURY

DNA

  1. MASTERLY SHOT
  2. IN TURMOIL
  3. RED TERROR CHALLENGE - PR CHARI 
  4. LAUREL & HARDY ARE PASSÉ - SIDHARTH BHATIA

THE TRIBUNE

  1. MAMATA ON THE MOVE
  2. CURSE OF MALNUTRITION
  3. FALLING APART
  4. BJP IN TURMOIL - BY S. NIHAL SINGH
  5. LEAN DAYS AHEAD - BY DONA SURI
  6. BJP – ADRIFT IN CHOPPY WATERS - BY SWATI CHATURVEDI
  7. COMPUTERS NEED TO LEARN GRAMMAR - BY PHILIP HENSHER
  8. BSP TAKES UP ASSAULT ISSUE

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. CRICKETERS, CAREERS & CARRIERS
  2. THE WHOLE THING COULD CRACK
  3. SMALL SAVINGS, BIG COSTS
  4. THROUGH THE THIRD EYE
  5. THE REAL SOLUTION FOR NAXALISM - ABHEEK BARMAN
  6. JUST IMAGINE, ALL THIS FOR NOTHING! - MUKUL SHARMA
  7. MFS HAVE SERVED BOTH SMALL AND LARGE INVESTORS WELL
  8. MFS HAVE EFFECTUALLY BEEN HIJACKED BY CORPORATE
  9. 'THE POWER OF CONSULTANTS IS NOW PRETTY DIMINISHED' - VIKAS KUMAR

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. YESTERDAY'S MEN OUT OF TUNE IN UP
  2. FIGHT NAXALS THE WAY US WAGES TALIBAN WAR - BY SHANKAR ROYCHOWDHURY
  3. CHINA'S CURRENCY GAMES TIP THE SCALES - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
  4. WHERE ARE THE HAWKERS? - BY JAYATI GHOSH
  5. WORLD'S LARGEST TRASH CAN - BY LINDSEY HOSHAW
  6. STIGMA OF THE QUESTION MARK HAUNTS AND HURTS - BY SHIV VISVANATHAN

the statesman

  1. HUNGER
  2. JOLT IN THE NORTH
  3. SHAME RECONFIRMED
  4. VILLAINS AND SAINTS~I - BY SAROJ KUMAR MEHERA

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. REAL CONTESTS
  2. THREE AND OVER
  3. A NOVICE RAPIDS RIDER - ASHOK V. DESAI
  4. HAVEN FOR CHILDREN  - MALVIKA SINGH
  5. BATTLE AGAINST A BROTHER  
  6. SIMPLE, ELEGANT, AND BRILLIANT

DECCAN HERALD

  1. MOCKERY OF JUSTICE
  2. SPEED UP GST
  3. THE BULLIES' RAJ - BY B G VERGHESE
  4. RECESSION LEADS TO UNCERTAIN RETIREMENT - BY MARK SOMMER,IPS
  5. POLE STAR AND CO-STAR - BY D K HAVANOOR

THE JERUSALEM POST

  1. THE GROUNDWORK FOR A THIRD INTIFADA IS ALREADY LAID - DROR BAR-YOSEF
  2. BORDERLINE VIEWS: STUDYING ISRAEL ON CAMPUS - DAVID NEWMAN
  3. NO HOLDS BARRED: REJECTING FATE AND CHOOSING DESTINY - SHMULEY BOTEACH

HAARETZ

  1. END THE FANATIC VIOLENCE
  2. THE RETURN OF THE ILLUSIONIST - BY YOEL MARCUS
  3. THE EUROPEAN STING  - BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER
  4. LAST CALL FOR THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY - BY SHAUL ARIELI
  5. BE A BETTER NEIGHBOR, BIBI - BY BATYA SHEFFI

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. THEIR FUTURE IS OURS
  2. THE HUMAN MOON
  3. OBAMA'S JUDICIAL NOMINATIONS
  4. PUPPETS IN CONGRESS
  5. IN THE WILDERNESS, A NEW FRONTIER - BY MICHAEL CAREY
  6. INVENTING A BETTER PATENT SYSTEM - BY ROBERT C. POZEN
  7. WHAT THE FUTURE MAY HOLD - BY BOB HERBERT
  8. THE NATION OF FUTURITY - BY DAVID BROOKS

I.THE NEWS

  1. CURBING MILITANCY
  2. RIGGING ALLEGATIONS
  3. WOMEN'S HEALTH
  4. PESHAWAR IS PESHAWAR - RAHIMULLAH YUSUFZAI
  5. THE TRUTH OF THIS CONFLICT - MOSHARRAF ZAIDI
  6. THE TRUTH OF THIS CONFLICT - MOSHARRAF ZAIDI
  7. TALKING THE WALK - AKBAR NASIR KHAN
  8. DEALING WITH THE PAKISTAN-INDIA IMPASSE - DR MALEEHA LODHI
  9. PROCLAIMED LIAR - MIR JAMILUR RAHMAN

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. US SHOULD TAKE PAKISTAN ON-BOARD
  2. KASHMIRIS REALISING INDIAN GAME PLAN
  3. PLIGHT OF PAKISTANI HAJJ PILGRIMS
  4. LOOMING THREAT OF MAOISTS - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
  5. CAMPAIGN AGAINST PAK NUKES  - LT COL ZAHEERUL HASSAN (R)
  6. KARKARE REWARDED FOR HONESTY - ALI SUKHANVER
  7. LEGACIES TO BE DECIDED - SHAIMA SUMAYA
  8. NO MAKEOVER FOR THE MLA..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS

THE INDEPENDENT

  1. REVAMPED SECURITY
  2. ARSENIC SOLUTION
  3. COOOOO! NO ENGINE DRIVER...!
  4. DEGRADING ENVIRONMENT: MITIGATION MEASURES - DR MIR MUHAMMAD HASSAN
  5. JUSTICE IN ISLAM - ASGHAR ALI ENGINEER
  6. BIODIVERSITY ESSENTIAL FOR CITIES - KHALID MD BAHAUDDIN

THE HIMALAYAN

  1. PRECEDENCE SET
  2. BE ON GUARD
  3. VALUE OF TRADE PREFERENCES TO LDCS NEPAL SHOULD PONDER ABOUT IT - BIJENDRA MAN SHAKYA
  4. WHEN TATTOOS INTEREST YOU - SAMIR PRASAD TIMALSINA
  5. TEK NATH RIJAL RECOUNTS TALE OFTORTURE IN BHUTAN JAIL - PRAKASH ACHARYA/KAMAL DEV BHATTARAI

THE AUSTRALIAN

  1. WILL CHINA PLAY BALL?
  2. WE NEED MORE THAN WORDS TO RIGHT THE WRONGS
  3. APOLOGY JUST THE START

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. FORGOTTEN NO LONGER
  2. A DAM, OR A SMOKESCREEN
  3. TEMPORARY VISAS PROTECT NO ONE
  4. RACE PUTS CHILDREN IN THE DOCK

THE GURDIAN

  1. IN PRAISE OF… CHANNEL 69
  2. PUBLIC APOLOGIES: GROWN UP DOWN UNDER
  3. FINANCE: BANKING ON THE STATE

THE KOREA HERALD

  1. ASSESSING APEC
  2. BACKWARD SAFETY
  3. THE CURE TO THE PROTECTIONISM VIRUS - LEE JAE-MIN
  4. GOLDSTONE REPORT AND CHANGED RULES - SHLOMO BEN-AMI

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. STRENGTHEN BUDGET SCRUTINY
  2. ENHANCING THE DIET'S PERFORMANCE
  3. OBAMA, DALAI LAMA FIGURE IN INDO-CHINA RIFT - BY GAUTAMAN BHASKARAN
  4. UNHOLY HUNT FOR AN EU PRESIDENT SHOWS THE HYPOCRISY OF STATES - BY KEVIN RAFFERTY
  5. ASIA BENEFITED MOST FROM FALL OF BERLIN WALL - BY BRAHMA CHELLANEY

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. LIVE BROADCAST LIMITATIONS ARE OFTEN NECESSARY - SIRIKIT SYAH
  2. REMOVING THE CLOGS
  3. JAKARTA IS ASIA'S MOST PRESSING CLIMATE CHANGE RISKS - URSULA SCHAEFER-PREUSS
  4. ENDOGENOUS INSTITUTIONS IN DECENTRALIZED RI - MARIA MONICA WIHARDJA

CHINA DAILY

  1. ALLEVIATE POVERTY
  2. LAW IS NOT JUSTICE
  3. THINK ABOUT THE HUNGRY BEFORE WASTING FOOD
  4. TIE-UP IN CARBON USE TECHNOLOGY

THE MOSCOW TIMES

  1. MY LOVE-HATE AFFAIR WITH STATE TV - BY ALEXEI PANKIN
  2. POLITICAL UPSET REQUIRED FOR BIG ECONOMIC SHIFT - BY KONSTANTIN SONIN
  3. ARMY'S NEED FOR ENEMA BAG - BY ALEXANDER GOLTS
  4. A' FOR RHETORIC, 'D' FOR ACTION - BY NIKOLAI PETROV

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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

NEXT STEP FOR KALYAN

HE SHOULD ALIGN WITH UMA, JOIN NDA


It is ironical that Mr Kalyan Singh should have discovered so soon that it was a mistake on his part to leave the BJP and join the Samajwadi Party, which he did on the eve of last summer's general election. This is not the first time that Mr Kalyan Singh has been forced to regret his departure from the BJP; on a previous occasion, too, he had parted company and aligned himself with Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, although without formally joining the SP. Chastened by his failure to carve out space for himself in Uttar Pradesh, he had expressed his desire to return to the BJP and the party was sufficiently gracious to welcome him back into its fold. It was then hoped he had realised that it's difficult for a politician, especially from an ideology-driven party like the BJP, to strike out on his own without an elaborate organisation backing him. Obviously, no lessons were learned from that episode and Mr Kalyan Singh repeated his folly, placing the interests of himself and his son above those of the BJP. Strangely, he believed, as did Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, that he could seamlessly fit into the SP despite his political background and unwavering belief in Hindutva. The SP thought he would fetch incremental support for the party, but that proved to be an illusion. Any doubts that may have lingered after the SP's poor performance in the Lok Sabha poll were quickly dispelled by its rout in the recent by-elections. By denouncing Mr Kalyan Singh, the SP leadership has done what is politically expedient. The tit-for-tat response of Mr Kalyan Singh and his son is no less cynical. His rediscovery of his roots — he has recalled his lifelong association with the RSS and reiterated his commitment to Hindutva — do not, however, qualify him for regaining his membership of the BJP. He should accept this reality, as has another former BJP leader, Ms Uma Bharati: Neither can any longer fit into the organisational hierarchy of the party.


However, this does not necessarily mean they have nothing to contribute to Opposition politics and, more importantly, to the larger Hindutva movement. Both remain committed to the political, social and cultural goals of the Sangh Parivar; both have pockets of influence; and, both are politically active. Ms Uma Bharati has done the correct thing by seeking membership for her Bharatiya Janashakti Party in the NDA. She has also let it be known that Mr Kalyan Singh is welcome to join her party and lead from the front. This is an opportunity for Mr Kalyan Singh to demonstrate that he still matters in the Hindi heartland and that he is above cynical politics of the variety espoused by the SP. He should join forces with Ms Uma Bharati and the two together could then align themselves with the BJP and its allies in the NDA. Any accretion of strength would surely be welcomed by the NDA, especially since their entry into the alliance would not ruffle feathers in the BJP. Although she has spoken bitterly at times, Ms Uma Bharati has not done anything as yet to harm the BJP's electoral prospects — she did not put up candidates against the BJP and had even campaigned for the NDA during the Lok Sabha poll in Bundelkhand where she has some influence. Now that she has written to the NDA, it should favourably consider her request. And Mr Kalyan Singh should look for rehabilitation outside the BJP but within the NDA by doing the most sensible thing — joining Ms Uma Bharati's party.

 

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THE PIONEER

TRULY A ROLE MODEL

INDIA STANDS BY SACHIN


No one can argue that Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray's criticism of Sachin Tendulkar's remark at a media session on the eve of his completion of 20 years in international cricket that though he is proud to be a Maharashtrian he is an Indian first, and that Mumbai being a part of India belongs to all Indians deserves to be thoroughly lambasted. The Sena patriarch has hit out at the iconic cricketer in an editorial article in the party mouthpiece Saamna by saying that he has hurt Marathi sentiments with his comment and that he would do well in future to abstain from making such remarks. First, there is absolutely nothing wrong with what Tendulkar has said. If anything, it is commendable. His take on how he is an Indian first and a Maharashtrian later is something that most of us can identify with. It is true that for every Indian there exists a sub-national identity — Bengali, Gujarati, Tamil, etc — that he or she is proud of. But this is secondary to the person's Indian identity. Hence, it is perfectly normal for someone to be Indian and yet be proud of his or her ethno-cultural heritage. Tendulkar could not have articulated this position any better. He is a proud Maharashtrian, of this there is no doubt. But he plays for India and wears his national identity on his sleeve.


There is no doubt that Mr Bal Thackeray and the Shiv Sena have attempted to gain some political mileage by targeting Tendulkar in this manner. Witnessing a loss of its traditional support base to the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, perhaps the Shiv Sena was looking to re-position itself as the true champion of the Marathi manoos by lashing out at Tendulkar. Nonetheless, it must be asked what prompted the cricketer to make the comment in the first place? What did the excited journalist present at the media interaction session ask Tendulkar that forced him to reply in such a way? And more important, why did he/she pose Tendulkar such a question in the first place? Surely, the cricketer would not have voluntarily made the remark. Also, anyone in Tendulkar's shoes would have said exactly what he did if he or she were to be pressed on the subject. Thus, what was the journalist in question trying to achieve apart from a possible controversy? It reflects poorly on the media to be seen actively generating sensationalist news out of nothing. For, when last checked, politics was the last thing on Tendulkar's mind. To force a sportsman of his stature to say something political and then go to town with it is shoddy journalism. If Mr Bal Thackeray is to be criticised for his over-the-top editorial piece, the journalist responsible for starting the controversy in the first place should not be spared either.


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            THE PIONEER

COLUMN

GOING BACK TO SQUARE ONE

A SURYA PRAKASH


The resolution adopted by Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind at its annual conference at Deoband endorsing the fatwa of the Darul Uloom Islamic Seminary that Muslims should not recite Vande Mataram because it is against the religious principles of Islam, has once again reminded us of how some people can disturb the secular rhythm of India by raking up issues which were settled long years ago when we adopted our Constitution and chose to become a democratic republic.


Even more annoying is the fact that the arguments that are now being advanced against the National Song by Muslim leaders, is a rehash of the arguments that were put forth by the Muslim League when it demanded the country's partition. Mohammed Ali Jinnah raised a dispute over the National Flag, Vande Mataram and Hindi while addressing delegates at the Muslim League Conference in 1937. He argued that the flag, the song and the language were all Hindu symbols and that, therefore, they were unacceptable to the Muslims. Anxious to avert partition, India's political leaders offered to treat only the first two stanzas of Vande Mataram — which describes the bounteous gifts that nature has showered on India — as the National Song. But, despite this and many other concessions offered to him, Jinnah achieved his ambition of vivisecting the country and carving out an Islamic state a decade after he announced his opposition to Vande Mataram, the tricolour and Hindi.


However, despite the partition and the creation of a separate Muslim state, secular India's political leadership, in deference to the religious sensitivities of the Muslims who chose to stay back in India, decided to retain only the first two stanzas of Vande Mataram as the National Song. It is therefore sad to see present day Muslim clerics — all citizens of secular, democratic India — echoing the views of Jinnah, who wanted the communal division of India.


We need to ask those who oppose Vande Mataram as to what their objection is. Here is Sri Aurobindo's translation of the first two stanzas: Mother, I bow to thee!


Rich with thy hurrying streams, bright with orchard gleams, cool with thy hands of delight, dark fields waving Mother of might, Mother free; Glory of moonlight dreams, Over thy branches and lordly streams, Clad in thy blossoming trees, Mother, giver of ease, laughing bow and sweet!; Mother, I kiss thy feet, Speaker sweet and low!

Mother, to thee I bow.


Pray, what is the problem with this song? This is an ode to our motherland which talks of the abundant riches that nature has showered on her including the many rivers, the lush fields and the trees in full bloom. Poets in hundreds of languages have, over many centuries, paid such eulogies to nature and to their lands of birth. Shall we all now begin to view the work of every poet through the prism of religion and expurgate much of the poetry that is taught in our schools?


India's founding fathers and Constitution makers had no doubt in their minds about the exalted status that the people accorded to Vande Mataram. Just take a look at what transpired in the Constituent Assembly on the day India became independent and on the day its members signed the first copies of the Constitution. The Constituent Assembly met at 11 pm on August 14, 1947. This historic session, which marked the transfer of power from Britain at the stroke of midnight, began with the signing of the first verse of Vande Mataram by Sucheta Kripalani. The session concluded with Kripalani singing the first lines of Sare Jahan Se Accha and the first verse of Jana Gana Mana. The Constituent Assembly met for the last time on January 24, 1950. This meeting began with a statement by its President, Rajendra Prasad on the National Anthem. Prasad said: "The composition consisting of the words and music known as Jana Gana Mana is the National Anthem of India …………and the song Vande Mataram, which has played a historic part in the struggle for Indian freedom, shall be honoured equally with Jana Gana Mana and shall have equal status with it. I hope this will satisfy the members".

The meeting ended with members signing the English and Hindi copies of the Constitution. After the signing ceremony was over, Purnima Banerji and other members sang Jana Gana Mana. This was followed by Vande Mataram sung by Pandit Lakshmi Kanta Maitra and other members, after which the Assembly adjourned sine die. Thus, the Constituent Assembly, which wrote the Constitution, declared that Vande Mataram "shall be honoured equally with Jana Gana Mana and shall have equal status with it". This is non-negotiable. Nobody can now be allowed to re-open this issue or to show disrespect to the National Song.


Jamait Ulama e-Hind's stand may be compatible with an Islamic state, but it is certainly against the fundamental tenets of a democracy like India. The Preamble to the Constitution expects all citizens to promote fraternity. Further, the chapter on Fundamental Duties says it is the duty of every citizen "to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities".


National symbols offer a point of convergence in a democracy whose citizens belong to different races, cultures, languages and religious persuasions. When the polity is so diverse, as in India, the national flag and the national songs constitute the focal point of unity and act as the secular adhesive that holds the mosaic together.

It is through these devices that fraternity and common brotherhood are achieved. What prevents those who question Vande Mataram from raising a dispute tomorrow about Jana Gana Mana or the National Flag? If Vande Mataram is 'un-Islamic', is Jana Gana Mana compatible with tenets of that religion? What about the Asoka Chakra inside the National Flag and the tricolour itself? Shall we now await the verdict of the mullahs on the Ashoka Chakra and on the colours of the flag? We just cannot grant this veto power to Muslim clerics in a secular, democratic country. Nor can we take minority rights to such lofty heights that they begin to dwarf the few secular symbols that unite us all.

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

PUB-CRAWLING ON PAROLE

KHIMI THAPA


All people are equal but some are more equal than others. That's why among 12,000 prisoners in Tihar Jail, Manu Sharma, son of Congress leader and Haryana MLA Venod Sharma, serving life sentence for the murder of model Jessica Lall, was one of the 11 convicts who were granted parole recently. Not only this, his parole was extended by a month. Isn't that too much of luck?


Vikas Yadav, son of politician DP Yadav, serving life sentence in the Nitish Katara murder case, who has also been convicted in the Jessica Lall murder case, was granted a 10-hour parole that too under police custody, to attend his sister's wedding. But a special favour was granted to the main culprit. Others who lack financial and political clout are waiting for approval of their parole applications.


This decision of the Delhi Government makes it clear that 'certain' convicts are to be treated differently from others. Although Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit tried her best to defend the decision to recommend the parole of Manu Sharma by saying she acted within the "legal purview", the question is not about the legality of parole but the flimsy grounds on which it was approved.


Tending to a 'not-so-ailing' mother and family business on parole completely undermines the purpose of punishment for a man who killed someone's daughter. Ajit Lall, whose daughter's life was cut short by Manu Sharma, died without seeing those guilty brought to book. Besides, Manu Sharma is not the only breadwinner of his family without whom the homefire cannot be kept burning.


It needs to be realised that the whole idea behind punishment for a crime is not about pub-crawling while on parole. It took a late night brawl at a Delhi pub for the media to learn about Manu Sharma's parole. Had the incident not occurred — fortunately it did — he would have enjoyed his freedom and gone back to jail without anyone getting a whiff of it. Possibly, his parole would have been further extended. Although Manu Sharma has returned where he belongs, it's time we need to check such blatant misuse of political clout. Loopholes that allow the law to be misused need to be plugged.


The formulation of new parole guidelines by the Delhi Government is a welcome move. But this alone won't suffice unless those in authority stick to the guidelines instead of subverting them.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

CLUES WERE THERE, BUT...

WHILE MUCH HAS BEEN REPORTED ON HOW THE TWO MEN ARRESTED IN CONNECTION WITH THE FIDAYEEN ATTACK ON THE CRPF CAMP IN RAMPUR FACILITATED 26/11, LITTLE HAS BEEN SAID OF THE REFERENCE IN THE FIRST INDIAN MUJAHIDEEN E-MAIL TO AN IMPENDING FIDAYEEN ATTACK ON POLICE IN UTTAR PRADESH

SHASHI SHEKHAR


While many of the Indian Mujahideen foot soldiers are behind bars its main Indian origin leaders remain at large. It's also puzzling that to date we remain in the dark on the chain of command of the Indian Mujahideen leading up to its ultimate sponsors and controllers.


Syed Saleem Shahzad in his Asian Times article in December 2008, while detailing how Al Qaeda hijacked the 26/11 plot also makes another curious remark. Shahzad while alluding to the several low profile Indian Mujahideen attacks carried out in various parts of India as a rehearsal by Al Qaeda explains that this followed a decision by Al Qaeda in 2007 to utilise Islamic structures within India as a bulwark against growing Indo-US strategic engagement.

While no direct link has been established to date between the alleged Indian Mujahideen controllers in Pakistan and Ilyas Kashmiri's 313 Brigade, the fact that some foot soldiers of the Indian Mujahideen contacted David Headley after the Batla House encounter through a cellular phone traced by the Uttar Pradesh ATS gives us reason enough to ask if other smoke signals were ignored. After all David Headley had made several trips to India between 2006 and 2008.


The many e-mails sent by the Indian Mujahideen had forewarnings of a major fidayeen attack targeting tourist facilties, but there was one intriguing reference in the e-mail sent after the Jaipur blasts that could have possibly pointed us in the direction of the 313 Brigade.


While describing how the Indian Mujahideen had organised themselves in India the e-mail referred to three brigades that had been formed. The first two Brigades it said were named after historical Islamist figures known for attacking India — Ghouri and Ghaznvi.


The third brigade listed in the e-mail was described as having been created to carry out suicide attacks. The reality is after the Rajiv Gandhi assassination and a suspected suicide bomb in Hyderabad, there have been no suicide attacks. The reference to 'suicide attacks' must be taken to mean 'suicidal attackers' or fidayeen of which we have seen plenty in India.


While the first two brigades were named after historical figures with an Indian connection the fidayeen brigade the last was named after a contemporary figure with no known Indian connection — Al-Zarqawi, the slain leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq.


On the surface the reference to Zarqawi might not appear to be of much consequence but if we factor the fiercely anti-Shia sectarian origins and conduct of Zarqawi we are lead in a different direction.


In May of 2004 Karachi witnessed the worst sectarian violence with a suicide bombing of a Shia mosque resulting in a revenge assassination of Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai. On May 31, 2004 the Daily Times a leading newspaper in Pakistan in its lead editorial on Shamzai's assassination makes one observation and another revelation both of which are germane to this analysis. The first was an observation that the grand Deobandi consensus borne out of jihad in Afghanistan and Kashmir had an undeniable anti-Shia sectarian creed to it. The second revelation was that this consensus manifested in a coalition linked to Al Qaeda of five jihadi outfits that included Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Tayyeba amongst others.


That coalition, the editorial revealed, was called Brigade 313.


Few months later on September 11, 2004 the Boston Globe reported that Newsline a Karach-based Magazine had also confirmed a new jihadi alliance called Brigade 313 had been formed.


While the Indian Mujahideen e-mails starting with the Jaipur blasts have received much public scrutiny the first e-mail sent in November 2007 after the series of blasts in courthouses in Uttar Pradesh has mostly been ignored. Noted terrorism expert B Raman writing in his blog back in January 2008 had made an important connection back then that with hindsight makes a second connection between the Indian Mujahideen and the fidayeen groups behind the 26/11.


Analysing the first Indian Mujahideen e-mail on November 26, 2007 in his blog Raman observed that their next target would be the Indian police. Interestingly, news channel TimesNow in a report on November 27, 2007 quoted the Intelligence Bureau warning of a fidayeen attack on Police Recruitment rallies in Uttar Pradesh. That IB warning was based on an intercept of phone in Western Uttar Pradesh. On January 1, 2008 after the fidayeen attack on CRPF in Rampur, TimesNow in another report referred to its November 27 report to claim that the IB advisory in Uttar Prasesh was quite specific. B Raman again writing in his blog on January 1, 2008 makes the connection between the first Indian Mujahideen e-mail and the CRPF attack in Rampur.


While much has been reported on how Fahim Ansari and Sabahuddin Sheikh, the two arrested in connection with the fidayeen attack on CRPF in Rampur, had facilitated the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, little has been said of the reference in the first Indian Mujahideen e-mail to an impending fidayeen attack on police in Uttar Pradesh.


We can delve into many other references in other Indian Mujahideen e-mails as clues to the 26/11 attacks but as has been rightly said by a NIA official this not be merely be about a post-mortem of the past.
As the Headley case unravels more details this should be about the future — uncovering sleeper cells to avert the next strike.


The dossier made public by the Indian Government on the Mumbai 26/11 attacks had contained transcripts of phone intercepts of conversations between the terrorists in Mumbai and their Pakistan-based handlers.


One transcript of an intercept between the terrorists in Taj Mahal Palace and their handlers in Pakistan dated November 27, 01:37 am is of particular interest for its reference to a Baba.


While the 26/11 chargesheets are silent on this Baba, an investigation on the identity of Baba leads us to a cyber trail that may hold clues to the sleeper cells David Headley and his associate Rana may have been in touch with.

To Be Concluded

 

 The writer tracks terrorism in South Asia

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

THE JIHAD FACTOR

IT DROVE MAJ HASSAN TO KILL FELLOW SOLDIERS

BARRY RUBIN


How do we know the attack at Fort Hood was an Islamist terrorist act? Simple, Maj Nidal Hassan told us. He gave a number of clues but nothing's more impressive than this one: Maj Hassan is the first terrorist to give an academic lecture explaining why he was about to attack. Yet that still isn't enough for too many people — including the US President — to understand that the murderous assault was a jihadi attack. Maj Hassan also told us how the tragedy could have been avoided. But no one seems to be paying attention.


Instead of speaking about a medical topic, Maj Hassan's lecture was: 'The Quranic World View as it Relates to Muslims in the US Military'. He used 50 power-point slides.


Maj Hassan is very logical. This is clearly not the work of a mad man or someone confused about what he was doing. Three topics are covered: What Islam teaches Muslims, how Muslims view the wars in Afghanistan and Iran, and how this might affect Muslims in the US military. Maj Hassan defines jihad as holy war, of course.


Now here's Maj Hassan's central theme. God forbids Muslims to fight against other Muslims in an infidel army. He quotes the Quran extensively to prove the point. Allah will punish anyone who kills a Muslim. A believer must obey Allah. Those who do enjoy great delights; those who don't suffer torments in hell.


Next, Maj Hassan introduces the concept of 'defensive jihad', a core element in radical Islamist thinking. If others attack and oppress Muslims, then it is the duty of all Muslims to fight them, quoting the Quran he explains, "Allah forbids you…from dealing kindly and justly" with those who fight Muslims."


Consequently, Maj Hassan understood his situation perfectly. To be a proper Muslim given his beliefs, he had to pick up a gun and join the jihad, Muslim side. He was not shooting Americans because he caught battle fatigue from soldiers he treated but because he believed that these soldiers must die at his hands.


The choice to act was forced on him when he received orders to ship out to Iran or Afghanistan. Would he choose the side of Allah and the Muslims, to be rewarded in heaven? Or would he join with the infidels, to be punished with hell? He made his decision.


In practical terms, if not in religious ones, his analysis misses an obvious and important issue: What if two groups of Muslims are fighting, cannot one side with one group, even if it has non-Muslim allies? After all, Americans don't go to Iraq or Afghanistan simply to 'kill Muslims' but to defend Muslims from being killed. The Saudis, Kuwaitis, and Egyptians had no problem with using Western troops to save them from Saddam Hussein's Iraq in 1991, for example. The Iraqi and Afghan Governments, made up of pious Muslims, do the same thing.


Arab nationalists who are Muslims can take this position more easily. But Islamists are fighting to seize control of all Muslim-majority states and perhaps of the entire world.


The true problem, then, is not that some Muslims help infidels kill Muslims, but that some Muslims help infidels kill Islamists. Maj Hassan never considered this point, in part and ironically, because he was a native-born American and real Middle East issues were abstractions for him.


But Maj Hassan tells us the possible ways out of his paradox, using quotes from the Quran. First, if the Americans ended the wars, then Muslims wouldn't have to kill them. Second, it would be okay to be in the US Army if the Americans accepted Islam or agreed to become subservient to Muslim rulers (dhimmis).


Third, if the Muslim messiah came, he'd destroy Christianity as a false religion and set off the post-history utopia. He didn't mention that this also involved murdering all Jews.


This brings up a valuable insight into Maj Hassan's character. Although a Palestinian, he never verbally attacked Israel or the Jews. He considers himself American by nationality, neither Palestinian nor Arab. But he has a religion that directs his thinking. That's why he is an Islamist and supports Al Qaeda, not Hamas.


As one moderate Muslim from Canada pointed out, the clothes he wore the day before committing his jihadi attack was not (as some sources put it in a silly manner) some martyr or even Arab garb but the clothing of Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is an Al Qaeda jihadi, having changed sides in the war on terror.


His conclusion takes on tremendous significance in light of what would happen at Fort Hood. He writes: "If Muslim groups can convince Muslims that they are fighting for god against injustices of the 'infidels'; ie, the enemies of Islam, then Muslims can become a potent adversary ie: Suicide bombing, etc."


And of course, these groups did so convince Maj Hassan. Why? Maj Hassan tells us: "God expects full loyalty. Promises heaven and threatens with hell. Muslims may seem moderate (compromising) but god is not."

And at the very end, he proposes what might have been his own escape route: "Recommendation: Department of Defence should allow Muslim soldiers the option of being released as 'conscientious objectors' to increase troop morale and decrease adverse events."


The fact that Maj Hassan's lecture has not been the centerpiece of the whole post-massacre debate is a true example of how impoverished are the 'experts,' journalists, and politicians at dealing with these issues.


The writer is director of the GLORIA Centre, Tel Aviv, and editor of the MERIA Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle-East.


*************************************

THE PIONEER

OPED

THE JIHAD FACTOR

IT DROVE MAJ HASSAN TO KILL FELLOW SOLDIERS

BARRY RUBIN


How do we know the attack at Fort Hood was an Islamist terrorist act? Simple, Maj Nidal Hassan told us. He gave a number of clues but nothing's more impressive than this one: Maj Hassan is the first terrorist to give an academic lecture explaining why he was about to attack. Yet that still isn't enough for too many people — including the US President — to understand that the murderous assault was a jihadi attack. Maj Hassan also told us how the tragedy could have been avoided. But no one seems to be paying attention.


Instead of speaking about a medical topic, Maj Hassan's lecture was: 'The Quranic World View as it Relates to Muslims in the US Military'. He used 50 power-point slides.


Maj Hassan is very logical. This is clearly not the work of a mad man or someone confused about what he was doing. Three topics are covered: What Islam teaches Muslims, how Muslims view the wars in Afghanistan and Iran, and how this might affect Muslims in the US military. Maj Hassan defines jihad as holy war, of course.

Now here's Maj Hassan's central theme. God forbids Muslims to fight against other Muslims in an infidel army. He quotes the Quran extensively to prove the point. Allah will punish anyone who kills a Muslim. A believer must obey Allah. Those who do enjoy great delights; those who don't suffer torments in hell.

Next, Maj Hassan introduces the concept of 'defensive jihad', a core element in radical Islamist thinking. If others attack and oppress Muslims, then it is the duty of all Muslims to fight them, quoting the Quran he explains, "Allah forbids you…from dealing kindly and justly" with those who fight Muslims."


Consequently, Maj Hassan understood his situation perfectly. To be a proper Muslim given his beliefs, he had to pick up a gun and join the jihad, Muslim side. He was not shooting Americans because he caught battle fatigue from soldiers he treated but because he believed that these soldiers must die at his hands.

 

The choice to act was forced on him when he received orders to ship out to Iran or Afghanistan. Would he choose the side of Allah and the Muslims, to be rewarded in heaven? Or would he join with the infidels, to be punished with hell? He made his decision.


In practical terms, if not in religious ones, his analysis misses an obvious and important issue: What if two groups of Muslims are fighting, cannot one side with one group, even if it has non-Muslim allies? After all, Americans don't go to Iraq or Afghanistan simply to 'kill Muslims' but to defend Muslims from being killed. The Saudis, Kuwaitis, and Egyptians had no problem with using Western troops to save them from Saddam Hussein's Iraq in 1991, for example. The Iraqi and Afghan Governments, made up of pious Muslims, do the same thing.


Arab nationalists who are Muslims can take this position more easily. But Islamists are fighting to seize control of all Muslim-majority states and perhaps of the entire world.

 

The true problem, then, is not that some Muslims help infidels kill Muslims, but that some Muslims help infidels kill Islamists. Maj Hassan never considered this point, in part and ironically, because he was a native-born American and real Middle East issues were abstractions for him.


But Maj Hassan tells us the possible ways out of his paradox, using quotes from the Quran. First, if the Americans ended the wars, then Muslims wouldn't have to kill them. Second, it would be okay to be in the US Army if the Americans accepted Islam or agreed to become subservient to Muslim rulers (dhimmis).


Third, if the Muslim messiah came, he'd destroy Christianity as a false religion and set off the post-history utopia. He didn't mention that this also involved murdering all Jews.


This brings up a valuable insight into Maj Hassan's character. Although a Palestinian, he never verbally attacked Israel or the Jews. He considers himself American by nationality, neither Palestinian nor Arab. But he has a religion that directs his thinking. That's why he is an Islamist and supports Al Qaeda, not Hamas.

As one moderate Muslim from Canada pointed out, the clothes he wore the day before committing his jihadi attack was not (as some sources put it in a silly manner) some martyr or even Arab garb but the clothing of Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is an Al Qaeda jihadi, having changed sides in the war on terror.


His conclusion takes on tremendous significance in light of what would happen at Fort Hood. He writes: "If Muslim groups can convince Muslims that they are fighting for god against injustices of the 'infidels'; ie, the enemies of Islam, then Muslims can become a potent adversary ie: Suicide bombing, etc."


And of course, these groups did so convince Maj Hassan. Why? Maj Hassan tells us: "God expects full loyalty. Promises heaven and threatens with hell. Muslims may seem moderate (compromising) but god is not."


And at the very end, he proposes what might have been his own escape route: "Recommendation: Department of Defence should allow Muslim soldiers the option of being released as 'conscientious objectors' to increase troop morale and decrease adverse events."


The fact that Maj Hassan's lecture has not been the centerpiece of the whole post-massacre debate is a true example of how impoverished are the 'experts,' journalists, and politicians at dealing with these issues.


 The writer is director of the GLORIA Centre, Tel Aviv, and editor of the MERIA Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle-East.

 

**************************************


THE PIONEER

OPED

UNIFORMLY BAD ACROSS STATES

THOUGH NORTH INDIAN STATES ARE ROUTINELY CRITICISED FOR BEING UNDERDEVELOPED, STATES IN SOUTH INDIA ARE NO BETTER. THE LATTER WOULD DO WELL TO REALISE THIS FACT

CP BHAMBHRI


The epithet of BIMARU States is reserved for Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand because each of these States sorely lag behind others in most of the development indices. These north Indian States are guilty of misgovernance and non-governance which have led to their underdevelopment and backwardness. North Indians in general have had a lion's share in power at the Centre and except PV Narasimha Rao and a short stint by Mr HD Deve Gowda, all Prime Ministers in post-independence India have been from north India. And these Prime Ministers have been generous in dealing with the fiscal requirements of north India. Hence, if some north Indian States have earned the title of BIMARU States while south Indian States have been highlighting their economic success stories, it is because the latter have escaped critical scrutiny, since the media has always focussed on the former.


Politics in south Indian States is as good or bad as that in north Indian States. A few facts may be mentioned to substantiate this argument. First, south Indian States are no exceptions to dynastic politics which is a nationwide problem. Mr M Karunanidhi, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and a senior patron of Dravidian politics, is not shy of promoting his extended family members in politics of his State. Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, whether they are under Congress-led or BJP-led State Governments, still suffer from the 'Reddy effect'. The unfortunate death of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Rajsekhara Reddy led to a ruckus within the Congress because the late Reddy's son, a green horse in politics, mobilised party supporters to acquire the top political office in the State. It created a major problem for the central Congress leadership until it chose Mr K Rosaiah to head the State Government.


The impact of the powerful Reddy's of Andhra Pradesh was felt recently in neighbouring Karnataka where the bone of contention was the way in which the Yeddyurappa-led State Government was dealing with Janardhana Reddy and his brother's companies like Obula Puram Mining Company. Incidentally, the Reddy brothers have vast business interests not only in Karnataka but also in Andhra Pradesh. They exercise great clout over both State Governments.


The Karnataka Chief Minister had imposed a cess of Rs 1,000 on every truck load of iron ore. This had hit the business interests of the Reddy brothers adversely. In retaliation they compelled the Chief Minister to withdraw this cess and appoint only those bureaucrats in their areas of operation whom the brothers wanted.


Political power for personal profits has become an all-India phenomenon. The south Indian State Governments are openly practicing and following this national norm. Hence, South India is no different from other States like Jharkhand where the Koda scandal has surfaced. Every State Government in the country has politicised the bureaucracy and political favourites are routinely picked from the group of obliging bureaucrats. Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa was made to eat humble pie by the Reddy brothers because he had transferred obliging civil servants from the latter's area of operation.


Therefore, it is uncharitable to suggest that the BIMARU States of north India are guilty of misgovernance and non-governance, whereas, south Indian States are shining examples.


If Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand had to be created because these regions felt neglected in the large underdeveloped States of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar respectively, the Telangana region of so-called developed Andhra Pradesh is also fighting for separate Statehood.

If Andhra Pradesh is truly so developed, why can't it take care of all its sub-regions? Further, every large federal country has relatively more developed and less developed regions. India is no exception to this rule. A responsive, democratic Union Government is expected to evolve special policies and programmes for backward States and regions. India will develop only if every State has reached a reasonable level of development. The States of South India, instead of basking in their achievements, should realise that in many essential ways they are no different from the BIMARU States. The States of south India are not free from the disease of dynastic politics or the corrupting role of money in politics. The politics of unity in diversity can succeed only if all regions have mutual respect, and disparaging remarks are not used against Hindi-wallah States.

 

**************************************


THE PIONEER

OPED

BAD POLICIES, NOT WEATHER, TO BLAME FOR FAMINE

HUNGER IN ETHIOPIA PROVES GOVERNMENTS ARE TO BLAME FOR MOST DISASTERS, WRITE JULIAN MORRIS & KAROL OUDREAUX


A familiar story of looming famine is filtering out of East Africa. Again, a World Summit on Food Security this week is addressing the symptoms but not the causes. Part of the cause is years of poor rains: Few African farmers have irrigation and in Ethiopia 90 per cent of agriculture is rain-dependent. But farmers in other parts of the world, such as India, routinely face droughts yet now avoid famine.


Before 1800, however, famine was a common cause of death around the world. Most people everywhere were subsistence farmers. When conditions were good, they produced enough to eat and a little more. When conditions were bad, they consumed their savings. If bad conditions persisted, they died.


This cycle changed slowly in Western Europe as urbanisation increased and people specialised in making certain goods that they traded with others who also specialised. Output increased and competition drove innovation, further increasing output. Agricultural production rose dramatically and famine declined.


Two European famines of the 19 century stand out as exceptions: Ireland from 1845 to 1852 and Finland from 1866 to 1868. Both were caused by oppressive Governments restricting the rights of individuals to own land and to trade: Subsistence farming, combined with disease and bad weather, killed hundreds of thousands.


Since the 1920s, global deaths from drought-related famines have fallen by 99.9 per cent. The reason? Continued specialisation and trade, which have multiplied the amount of food produced per capita and have enabled people in drought-prone regions to diversify and become less vulnerable.


But where Governments in Africa prevent the free movement of goods and people and where land rights are limited or insecure, people have few opportunities other than eke out a meagre living. Ethiopia is a prime example: Government is mainly responsible for the repeating disasters.

 

 In 1975, the socialist dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam nationalised all rural land in Ethiopia, disrupting complex and troubled imperial tenure as well as evolved customary land tenure. The stated aim was to seize land from exploitative owners, provide farmers with rights to use land, create agricultural cooperatives to feed the country, and keep people out of cities.


It failed. Exploitation was traded for oppression. Without incentives to improve the land, output fell sharply and trade was outlawed. Under Mengistu, farmers were not allowed to put crops aside for the bad times, nor money from their sales. Entrepreneurs were not allowed to move food to areas where it was most needed. These were all considered anti-social capitalist practices. When drought struck in 1983, as it does periodically, millions were unable to get enough food and hundreds of thousands died.


Has the Government of Mr Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia's Prime Minister since 1991, learnt the lessons of 1983?


Mr Meles's Government has hardly changed the Mengistu policy of Government ownership of land. Under the 1995 Constitution, farmers continue to have use rights but not ownership rights. They cannot therefore mortgage their land, so they cannot securitise loans for inputs to raise yields (seed, fertiliser, pesticides, irrigation, etc.), hence the interest they are charged is much higher.

Nor are they able sell their land to move in search of greater economic opportunity. Instead, families have no choice but to subdivide the land they use into smaller and smaller plots for their adult children. A host of ill consequences follow: Families must deplete their limited savings or sell other property in order to survive; continuous subdivision leads directly to environmental degradation and lower crop yields which, of course, worsen hunger. And, finally, efficient farmers are not allowed to buy property and build larger and more productive farms.


Worse, the Government purposely limits migration to cities. Why? The Government claims it is concerned about "chaotic" urban growth. But the real fear is that more people in Addis Ababa might make it harder for the Government to squelch protest and retain political power. However, when country people are prohibited from moving to towns they are also prohibited from seeking economic opportunities and using their entrepreneurial talents — the very thing people need when they can no longer support themselves and their families by farming.


Forcing people to remain smallholder farmers, denying them opportunities in cities, compelling them to migrate and making them ruin the land through subdivision are bad government policies, not bad weather.


This year's tragedy could have been avoided by different policies, transferring Government-owned land to those who till it and eliminating restrictions on trade and migration. Now is the time to empower the poor and prevent future tragedies.


Julian Morris is Executive Director of International Policy Network and Karol Boudreaux is Senior Research Fellow and lead researcher of the Enterprise Africa! project at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

 

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MAIL TODAY

 COMMENT

FOLLOW THE RULES IN LUTYENS ZONE, AT LEAST

 

QUERIES under the Right to Information Act have thrown up some startling facts regarding the Lutyens Zone in the capital. It has come to light that at a time of housing shortage for ministers and MPs and when austerity is in fashion, Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar and Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad have two official addresses to boast of in the capital. Though she stays at the Speaker's official residence on Akbar Road, Ms Kumar holds on to another premises on Krishna Menon Road where she stayed in her previous stint as Union Minister. This place she wants converted as a memorial for her late father Jagjivan Ram on the grounds that it had been his official residence.

 

Even if we were to keep aside the question whether the departed leader deserves a memorial of that sort, this practice of building memorials to former leaders in the Lutyens Zone is a somewhat ominous one. Given that dynasticism is very much the order of the day in our politics, the day is not far off when half the bungalows in the area would have been turned into memorials.

 

There is also the problem of former MPs and ministers not vacating their accommodation long after their tenures have ended. At last count nine such former ministers continue to occupy their ' official' accommodation. Also, despite a government order that offices of political parties should be shifted out of the Lutyens Zone, nine bungalows have been occupied this way, with the ruling Congress being the biggest violator.

 

The flip side of the issue is that those who actually need accommodation are put up in state bhavans, and, what is worse, fivestar hotels, with the government having to foot the bills. This is the case with 72 of our MPs. To accommodate them in hotels the government has paid Rs 3.7 crore between May and July this year.

 

The time has come to ask the question as to whether our elected representatives deserve official accommodation in the form of colonial era bungalows. The salaries, perks and privileges, of our parliamentarians are substantial.

 

There is no reason why they should not live in rented accommodation like parliamentarians do in other democracies. Staying in rented accommodation outside the green Lutyens Zone will also give our leaders a taste of the far from satisfactory civic amenities that common citizens have to put up with.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

END OF THE ROAD

 

THERE is a limit to where cynicism can get you in politics. Former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh has clearly reached his and it's downhill all the way now. Mr Singh was the poster- boy of the Hindutva movement because he also happened to belong to an influential Other Backward Castes community.

 

In the eyes of the Bharatiya Janata Party he combined the best of the Mandal and Mandir movements. He was therefore chosen to spearhead its movement for building a temple for Lord Ram on the site of the 16th century Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. He was the head of the government when Hindutva mobs broke through the police cordon and razed the Babri Masjid, notwithstanding Mr Singh's promise to the Supreme Court that he would prevent the Masjid from being harmed in any way.

 

His innings as the two time chief minister of the state, as well as the leader of the Opposition was one of double- cross and defections, taking the state to its nadir. It is not surprising then that earlier this year he abandoned the BJP of which he was a Vice- President and declared that he would henceforth campaign for the Samajwadi Party. His son Rajvir, actually joined the SP as a national general secretary. Mr Singh campaigned for the SP in the 15th general elections in which the party's performance was disastrous — its tally slipped from 35 to 23 seats.

 

Of course, this episode tells us a great deal about that other great cynic — Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav. To tie up with the man who bears a heavy responsibility for the destruction of the Babri Masjid and the subsequent violence that took the lives of hundreds of Muslims was an act of supreme opportunism. But as it often happens, it was an act of self- destruction as well.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COLUMN

PAK MAKES AFGHAN SOLUTION ELUSIVE

BY KANWAL SIBAL

 

Aregional dialogue is the best means to protect India's interests

 

PRESIDENT Obama's Afghanistan policy is marked with "dilemmas" and confusion". The "Af- Pak" policy has not worked, to the point that the term itself has been discarded by the US Administration in the face of Pakistani resentment at being equated with Afghanistan, and more importantly, Pakistan's own instability becoming an upfront concern.

 

Holbrooke has lost visibility. General McChrystal's report to the Pentagon acknowledges that the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating, the Taliban have the initiative, victory cannot be achieved militarily alone, the hearts and minds of the Afghan people have to be won, the US must not be seen as an occupying power etc. He has recommended the deployment of an additional 40,000 troops to stem the Taliban tide and create an enabling environment for the more broadbased people oriented strategy to work. President Obama, fearing getting bogged down in an unwinnable war, is dithering over the demand for additional troops.

 

The earlier optimism about successfully replicating General Petraeus's Iraq strategy in Afghanistan — that prompted the initial despatch of 21,000 troops — has evaporated. Meanwhile, the war is becoming increasingly unpopular at home as US casualties mount.

 

Some powerful right-wing Americans are advocating US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Others, including senior Democratic leaders, recommend moving away from counter-insurgency to counterterrorism, involving withdrawal of troops from the countryside and regrouping them in tightly controlled urban areas.

 

Such a strategy would mean abandoning the goals of good governance, economic development thought necesssary to wean away the local population from the allurements of the Taliban, and democracy building. The aim would then be not to win the war but to deny victory to the Taliban.

 

The already exorbitant economic cost of the war is becoming more burdensome with the US reeling under a severe economic recession. US allies are facing strong domestic opposition to any increased military deployments in Afghanistan. This makes the US's own decision to deploy additional troops more problematic as any refusal by its allies to share the burden would generate serious strains within the western alliance.

 

NEIGHBOURS

The Obama Administration's earlier talk of a regional solution to the Afghan problem has become muted. That would have meant that Russia, China, Iran, Central Asian countries, India, Pakistan, along with US/ ISAF countries, would jointly examine the ground situation, reach a common understanding of the problem, agree on a common action plan, and most importantly, on the final outcome in Afghanistan. This is easier said than done.

 

The US has made the major military effort so far.

 

Even if it would want others to share the military burden, would it be willing to give up its leadership in conducting the war? Would the US accept real restraints on its autonomy of military action and command? How would the conflicting interests of regional countries be reconciled? Can a collective view be forged on dealing with the Taliban? If it is agreed that military action should be accompanied by political steps, what would be their nature? Other countries face their own dilemmas. Russia, recognising that the US is partly fighting the Russian battle against religious extremism, may make logistical gestures to NATO, but US success would consolidate its geo- political position in Central Asia to Russia's disadvantage. The Central Asian states, threatened by Islamic extremists, would see their interests being served by US drive against such forces in Afghanistan, but their authoritarian regimes could feel vulnerable to a renewed US zeal for promoting democracy in the region once it entrenches itself successfully there. Iran's interests are served by US combat against the Al Qaida/ Taliban combine that draws strength from Wahabist Sunni ideology, but Iran's encirclement increases with the consolidation of a hostile US presence in Afghanistan.

 

China may have mounting concerns about the forces of religious extremism in the Afghanistan- Pakistan region promoting instability in Sinkiang, but bolstering US/ NATO's efforts to combat them would have to be weighed against the consolidation of the US position in the region leaving China less room to dominate it and control its resources.

 

Pakistan's dilemmas are particularly acute. While all other countries would want stability in Afghanistan — not necessarily under US tutelage — Pakistan has a vested interest in a Talibaninduced instability in Afghanistan. For it the Taliban are a passport to strategic influence in Afghanistan.

 

In its calculation, US failure in Afghanistan would mean the collapse of the pro- Indian Karzai government and the erosion of the Indian position there. The US, on the other hand, expects Pakistan to curb the Al Qaida/ Taliban duo and is lavishly rewarding it for its cooperation. Pakistan has been forced to act against the Pakistani Taliban causing terrorist mayhem domestically, but evades action against the Afghan Taliban causing similar mayhem in Afghanistan.

 

By acting against the former — a source of worry to the US because of the threat they pose to Pakistan's internal stability and the security of its nuclear arsenal — Pakistan can seek to delay action against the latter on the plea that it is seriously fighting terror.

 

But as US pressure on it to act against the Afghan Taliban grows with the situation in Afghanistan deteriorating, Pakistan will be caught between a stone and a hard place. It would be hoping that, in the meantime, as part of the search by western powers for an " exit strategy", the UK promoted idea of striking a deal with the " soft core" Taliban elements would progress.

 

INDIA

India too finds itself in a quandary. A political deal with the Taliban would legitimise their extremist religious ideology and broaden its geographical base in our neighbourhood.

 

For India the central issue is not whether such an ideology is anti- West or not; it is, instead, its destabilising effect within South Asia. Its capacity to prevent a potential deal that President Karzai has also advocated as part of an intra- Afghan solution, is, however, limited.

 

India backs the US presence in Afghanistan as it has gained influence there under its cover, but the US also prefers India to limit its profile in deference to Pakistan's sensitivities.

 

Building a bigger, well trained Afghan National Army( ANA) is critical to stabilising the situation sufficiently to permit the US to " exit", but India's assistance in training the ANA, important for securing its future position in Afghanistan, is not favoured by the US, again with Pakistani concerns in mind.

 

PROBLEM

President Karzai, well disposed towards India, has India's support, but his position has been undermined by western attacks on him for conducting a fraudulent election, rampant corruption and poor governance, even as no alternative Pashtun leader is available. India has to decide how much it could expand its existing $ 1.2 billion development programme in the increasingly fragile situation in Afghanistan.

 

Should India hedge against a premature US withdrawal from Afghanistan by reviving the Russia- Iran- India nexus with members of the erstwhile Northern Alliance to counter the Taliban's return? A regional dialogue, despite all the difficulties, would be a better framework for protecting India's interests more durably. But, improved strategies to deal with the Afghanistan morass will falter unless US's soft and uncertain handling of Pakistan, whose self- destructive cynical role and calculations are at the core of the problem ends.

 

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

 

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MAIL TODAY

PATNA DURBAR

BYPOLLS ROUT SCUTTLES GOVT MOVE FOR LAND REFORMS

GIRIDHAR JHA

 

A well- intentioned move of the Bihar government to bring about sweeping land reforms in the state appears to have gone awry with chief minister Nitish Kumar announcing that there are no plans to enact a legislation to protect sharecroppers.

 

Forced to go on the backfoot over the issue in face of mounting criticism by the leaders of the ruling coalition parties, Nitish made a categorical statement recently that it was not binding on the government to accept the recommendations of the D Bandyopadhyay Commission that had submitted its report on land reforms. " Nobody is going to lose his ownership over land," Nitish reassured.

 

Ironically, Nitish himself had set up the commission to look into the thorny issue. Like many others, Nitish also believed that the root cause of a majority of Bihar's problems like Naxalism and caste conflict was the failure of the successive state governments to implement land reforms which resulted in increasing the rich- poor divide and helped the feudal forces to hold sway.

 

But the submission of its report by the commission opened the proverbial Pandora's box for the state government.

 

Even before it could study the commission's recommendations, speculation about the contents of the report started flying thick and fast. It was said that the government was about to implement the commission's report which had recommended proprietary rights over land to sharecroppers.

 

The government sought to allay the fears of the landed class by distributing copies of the report among legislators but this did not dispel the doubts and misgivings. Its first impact was felt during the by- elections to 18 Bihar assembly seats this year.

 

The ruling coalition of the Janata Dal( United)- Bharatiya Janata Party, which was widely expected to romp home, faced a drubbing at the hustings. It set the alarm bells ringing within the National Democratic Alliance ( NDA). Many of its senior leaders said that the confusion over the land reforms bill led to the rout in the bypolls.

 

These leaders argued that the landed class had been the traditional supporters of NDA in recent years but the government's proposed bill on the commission's recommendations had made them apprehensive about their rights over their land. In fact, a senior JD- U minister in the Nitish Kumar cabinet, Ramashray Prasad Singh, publicly denounced Bandyopadhyay for his recommendations.

 

The BJP leaders were angry as well. When their senior party leader and deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi talked about providing Kisan credit cards worth up to Rs 5,00,00 to sharecroppers simply on the basis of an affidavit, some party legislators unsheathed their swords and called for Modi's removal as the leader of the party in Bihar assembly. Modi had to hastily reassure them that he was merely quoting the Reserve Bank of India guidelines and in no way did it reflect the government's intention to give ownership rights to sharecroppers.

 

The government's stand has given an issue to the Opposition which has accused Nitish of playing into the hands of feudal forces.

 

The CPI- ML has given a call for Bihar bandh on November 24, the day the Nitish government completes four years in office, in protest against the government's stand on the issue.

 

The controversy over the bill has left Nitish in an unenviable position.

 

On one hand, he would have liked to introduce a legislation on land reforms in his bid to tackle key issues but, on the other, he also has to see to it that the NDA's traditional supporters do not turn against the government. He, therefore, has to tread very carefully on the double- edged sword that is the land reforms bill from now on.

 

ACTRESS SAYS NO TO POLITICS

NEETU Chandra, Bollywood actress from Bihar, seems to be in demand back home.

 

Bihar's deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi, during his recent visit to Mumbai, reportedly said that Neetu was the pride of Bihar and she would win any election from her home state if she contested. Modi was in Mumbai to inaugurate Bihar Foundation, an umbrella organisation to protect the interests of Biharis in Maharashtra.

 

But with seven new movies under her belt, the actress, who made her mark in Traffic Signal , Garam Masala and 13B , apparently does not have time. She can consider joining politics ten years later, she says.

Meanwhile, she has other things to do.

 

LITERACY AWARD FOR A ROYAL

ERSTWHILE princely rulers in Bihar are not known for working for the underprivileged sections. This is why it came as a surprise when the Nitish Kumar government chose a " royal" woman for the prestigious Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Literacy Award this year. The prize, constituted by the state government last year, which carries a cash award of Rs 2 lakh, went to Prema Shah from the " royal" family of Ramnagar estate in West Champaran district.

 

Prema said she had not expected the government to acknowledge her contribution in the field of education.

Prema, wife of Manohar Bikram Shah, the eldest son of the then king of Ramnagar, has been motivating children and women from poor tribal families to study and know about their rights and duties since 1986. " I don't run a non- governmental organisation ( NGO) nor do I seek funds to pursue my mission," she said.

 

" I do all I can do by myself. It is a small contribution, nothing big."

 

ASSOCHAM CHIEF BOWLED

OVER BY ' GANGA KELA'

 

BIHAR'S tiny, yellow banana, popularly known as " chinia kela" because of its sweetness, has a new brand ambassador in Swati Piramal, president of the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India ( ASSOCHAM). Piramal, who was in Patna last week to release a vision document on the state, happened to taste the banana during her visit. She found it so delicious that she got dozens of them packed for her mother- in- law. She felt that the typically Bihari banana had several qualities that could make it popular across the country. " It is sweet and is grown organically," she stated. " Moreover, it is irrigated with the natural water of the holy Ganga." Piramal even had a new name for the banana that is mostly grown by farmers along the banks of the Ganga in Hajipur.

 

Referring to it as " Ganga kela", she said there could be other organic food items from Bihar like " Ganga cauliflower" that could capture the imagination of healthconscious people if they were marketed properly. " What Bihar lacks is proper branding," she said.

 

The first- ever Assocham president to visit the state, Piramal said that she was carrying back good impressions about the state and would tell potential investors that Bihar was a good destination for them.

 

giridhar. jha@ mailtoday. in

 

BIHAR may have been at the bottom of the literacy rate table for long but it is also a goldmine for book publishers. All the book fairs organised in the state draw huge crowds. This year, it was no different at the eight- day- long 35th National Book Fair at Gandhi Maidan in Patna, which concluded on Sunday. According to an estimate, books worth Rs 2 crore were sold at the 250 stalls during the fair, with Jaswant Singh's controversial book on Jinnah and Chetan Bhagat's 2 States selling like hot cakes.

 

One of the main attractions of the book fairs in Patna is that they enable the book lovers to interact with their favourite authors during " meet- the- writer" and other programmes. Famous cartoonist- writer Abid Surti, creator of characters like Dabbuji , made an appearance this year, much to the delight of his fans in Bihar.

 

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MAIL TODAY

INTERACTIVE

BEST WISHES ON SECOND ANNIVERSARY

 

I WOULD like to wish a hearty congratulations to all the M AIL T ODAY team members on the newspaper's second anniversary.

 

It's time to wish all of you success for future endeavours too.

Pankaj Sahni via email

 

IT WAS a pleasant surprise this morning to receive a rather ' thick' MAIL TODAY . I've been a regular reader of your paper since the day it was born but today, when I held the second anniversary edition in my hands, I felt surprised that this paper is only two years old — the way my family has got addicted to it makes us believe that we've been reading it for ages now! I would like to congratulate the M AIL T ODAY team for bringing out a comprehensive anniversary package, which covered every conceivable topic under the sun.

The articles were well- informed and make for a good souvenir copy too.

Best wishes for many more milestones.

Arun Rawat via email

 

KODA'S HOUSES TELL A STUNNING TALE

FORMER JHARKHAND chief minister Madhu Koda's saga is being played out on television channels and newspapers these days.

However, one of the most telling pictures of this tale is the set that was published in your newspaper today, accompanying a story by Amandeep Shukla in Patahatu ( Jharkhand). The nondescript hut, which has been identified as Koda's old house in Patahatu village is in shocking contrast to his new house — the pictures say it all.

We don't know yet what will happen to Koda's fortunes after the enquiry into the origins of his preposterous assets gets completed.

However, one can't deny the fact that this politician's career will be long remembered for the fantastic turns it took.

Kunal Shankar via emai

 

YET ANOTHER MANWORTHY EXCUSE!

THE STORY on how electrical gadgets can damage sperms ( Perfect excuse for lazy hubby , MAIL TODAY , November 16), is interesting indeed, but so hilarious that it almost sounds like a secret project undertaken by some united men's association to prove to their wives why they should not be expected to help in household chores.

 

Come on, men! You are hardly of much help in the house anyway and now you have a valid reason to stay that way till eternity.

 

I'm sure men must have cut this story out and pasted on their bedroom walls to remind their wives of this scary truth each night. Advanced research!

Kajal Dheeraj Sharma Vasant Kunj

 

FORMER PRESIDENT KALAM'S HUMILIATION

AS A common Indian, I'm still hurt at the fact that one of the most loved Indian presidents, former prez APJ Abdul Kalam, was humiliated in his very own national capital in April this year at the Indira Gandhi International Airport when the security of an American airlines frisked him and even asked him to take off his footwear.

 

What hurts me more, a good seven months after the incident happened, that no action has been taken by the Indian government in the matter yet ( No action against US airline for humiliating Kalam , MAIL TODAY , November 16).

 

No one can deny the fact he is one of the most respected presidents we've had and also one of the most celebrated scientists of our times. And this is how we let a foreign airline treat him when he is out of office? And this is how we sit on the issue so many months after it occured? I'm forced to wonder what would have happened if a president of a western nation had been humiliated like this in an Asian country. We all know the answer very well.

Avanti Ghosh C. R. Park

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TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

DILLI CHALO

 

The emergence of Nitin Gadkari as the front-runner to replace Rajnath Singh as the BJP's national president says a lot about the state of affairs in that party. Gadkari, presently the party's Maharashtra chief, doesn't have a pan-Indian profile. Neither has he revealed exemplary leadership skills so far. To be fair to him, he didn't seek a national role. So, why is the country's main opposition party considering a provincial leader to lead the outfit in these trying times? Does the BJP seriously think that Gadkari is the right choice to rebuild the party chastened by a string of electoral defeats and divided by factionalism? Or is he merely a stopgap arrangement?


Gadkari does meet the qualifications that the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat laid out when he outlined his vision for the BJP. The RSS, according to reports, wanted a young person who was not based in Delhi to lead the party. At 52, Gadkari is younger than most of the BJP's so-called GenNext leaders. He is a provincial leader based in Nagpur. But he lacks a mass base, organisational experience and a political profile to be his own man at the top. He may take orders from the RSS, which is getting increasingly assertive in BJP affairs these days. His elevation would be a strong message to more leaders with national ambitions that the RSS doesn't approve of factionalism. But are these moves sufficient to help the BJP in the long run? Is the RSS stamp of approval sufficient to make the new leadership acceptable across the party?


The BJP has walked this path before as well. Rajnath Singh himself was a provincial leader with some grass-roots experience. The experiment failed. He didn't have a vision for the party and his leadership wasn't acceptable to senior colleagues and state satraps. When Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L K Advani dominated the BJP, it didn't matter whether the party president had a national profile or not. Now it does, given the mess the BJP is in.


What the RSS and its friends consider as positives could turn out to be a liability for the new party chief. Whoever replaces Rajnath Singh has his task cut out. A string of electoral defeats has dented the morale of the cadre. The leadership is divided and there is utter confusion over the party's ideology. It would help if the BJP could undergo a liberal makeover and refashion itself as a 21st century centre-right party, making itself attractive to emergent forces in today's India and filling a gaping vacuum in Indian politics. But for that to happen, the RSS needs to get out of the way rather than foist its chosen candidates on the BJP.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

LONG WAY TO GO

 

Just like last year, India has ranked abysmally low in the 2009 gender gap survey conducted by the World Economic Forum. Indeed, India slipped one position to 114 out of 134 countries, with most indicators, suggesting that conditions for women have worsened rather than improved over the past year. High economic growth and an increased level of development is expected to improve conditions for women. But on the contrary, India ranks at the absolute bottom in the health and survival section. The educational attainment sub-index makes for equally depressing reading, with almost a quarter of a billion Indian women lacking the basic capacity to read and write.


Nor are women afforded enough opportunities to enter the economic sphere. Women's participation in the labour force is a paltry 36 per cent, which is less than half the labour force participation rate of men. For a fast-growing economy like India, this score is particularly bad. Women do, after all, make up about half the available labour force in an economy, and gender equality has a long-term impact on an economy's competitiveness.

But there could be a light at the end of this tunnel. India ranks remarkably high in the political empowerment sub-index, a result, perhaps, of a record number of women politicians having been elected to the current Lok Sabha. And while the report doesn't take into account indicators on women's participation in local levels of government, the mandatory reservation for women in village panchayats has been successful in building women's capacity and bringing over a million women into the political system. Which brings up the million dollar question: Why isn't political empowerment translating into improved conditions for women?


While it is incorrect to assume that female politicians will necessarily implement policies beneficial to women, it is undeniable that one way to close the gender gap is to encourage the political participation of women. That will, in the long run, foster a change in social attitudes and lead to women's empowerment in the workplace, better education for girls and health care for women. Education has been proven to positively influence other social indicators such as infant mortality and fertility rates. These are cumulative impacts that take time to work their way through society. Concerted action is still needed to speed up these impacts.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

CONSENSUS CAN'T BE FORCED

 

If some of the popular writing in the western media is to be believed, India's intransigent approach to climate change is all that stands between apocalypse and a happy global consensus on the biggest problem facing mankind. Be that as it may, various stratagems have been deployed to make India shun its highly reactive stance. While some try (coquettishly) to get a rise out of India by seducing it with its self-image as an emerging global power, the less charitable accuse it of "hiding behind its poor". At one end is the seductive charm of India being assigned a seat at the high table; at the other lies the danger of it being relegated to the role of insensitive party spoiler.


As the global community plods on to Copenhagen and beyond, the blame game about who should shoulder the responsibility for failure is already in evidence. The hard facts, however, paint a very different picture from what appears in popular writing. A recent World Bank study shows that, in the 10 years preceding 2006, India was one of the 20 countries in which CO2 emissions intensity (per unit of GDP on a PPP basis) declined for both halves of this period. Moreover, this decline was more for the latter half than for the first. This happened despite the fact that the share of both industry and services in the GDP rose at the expense of agriculture. Both industry and services actually reduced energy intensity significantly. While traditional biomass consumption remained more or less the same, increase in use of fossil fuels was accompanied by the decreased carbon intensity of such use for both industry and the services sector.


Now compare this taking the world at large. Increase in CO2 emissions globally has been more in the second half of the decade. Of greater concern is the fact that the carbon emissions intensity of fossil fuels which declined in the first half actually rose in the second.


In this background, it seems that much of the current blame assigned to emerging economies like India stems from the failure of developed nations to square up past responsibilities accepted as part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It also signals the uncomfortable yet inadmissible realisation that it is well-nigh impossible for the developed world to meet the stringent and deep emission cuts that would be required if global CO2 emission levels are to be contained below 400 ppm. As Jim Giles pointed out recently in New Scientist, any fair allocation of carbon would literally leave the developed nations with no carbon quotas.


Even as international agencies castigate India's energy subsidies for promoting energy inefficiency, these complex cross-subsidies ensure that industrial consumers in India, on a PPP basis, pay the highest power tariffs anywhere in the world. The same holds true for liquid fuel prices where taxes ensure that prices of transport fuels in India are matched by few other countries. While these subsidies may distort the overall energy market, they do create their own pressures for economy of use (it surprises no one that small cars remain the preferred option in India). At the same time, however ham-handedly, they ensure some measure of distributive justice. What they can be faulted for is the extremely inefficient way in which they square things up for the poorest of the poor, and skew fuel choices irrationally. Should the need to impose greater carbon costs on energy be the result of global consensus, these subsidies will certainly have to be raised and unaffordably so. We have already seen this happen with the runaway oil prices of 2008 and market forces once again point in the same direction.


Countries like India, whose per capita emissions are below even the most stringent stabilisation targets considered by international bodies, cannot be expected to follow a development path in which their emissions from energy use would decline or even stabilise in the near term. Emissions from such countries will necessarily increase in the foreseeable future even as they decrease the carbon intensity of their growth by greater energy efficiency and by moving towards low-carbon energy sources without inordinately increasing the costs of energy for their poor. Even if hypothetically India with 17 per cent of the world's people were to freeze its 4 per cent share of the planet's emissions at current levels, its contribution in preventing the apocalypse being foretold would continue to remain insignificant.


For the global commons to be protected, the world community has to agree to work on a path that eventually leads to a convergence of societies and lifestyles across the world. Targets foisted within any alternative are bound to fail and lead to conflicts. Unless development and action on climate change are addressed simultaneously on common accepted principles of global justice and equity, we will continue to be faced with the current dualism resulting in unresolvable conflicts. The only sustainable consensus remains one that has no room for high and low tables, rather than one that serves to insidiously maintain the status quo.


The writer is with the Observer Research Foundation.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

TIMES VIEW

DAHIGHBROW BIAS AGAINST BLYTON

BBC BANNED ENID BLYTON FOR NEARLY 30 YEARS, DUBBING HER €˜SECOND RATE€™


Generations of children have grown up reading and loving a range of books written by Enid Blyton. It's almost staple growing-up material in many English-speaking societies. Such is the wild popularity of the British children's writer that her books have sold in excess of 500 million copies around the world and continue to line bookshelves more than 40 years after she passed away in 1968. But the BBC did not think it was worth putting her, or her works, on air for three decades. Internal office memos, which have now been published, reveal that programming executives thought she was 'small beer' and that her books did not have any literary value.


These revelations bring back the debate over how literary merit is judged. What is it that makes some works and authors highbrow and others lowbrow? Is there some formula to classify literary works as they come off the printing presses? The parameters that are often employed to evaluate literature include durability, academic approval, peer endorsements etc. Literary value is for highbrow critics to judge. But they have no right to impose what's worth reading and what's not on the rest of us. One shouldn't make the mistake of assuming that those who don't make it into the literary canon are, by that token, second-rate.


The popularity of Enid Blyton, and other writers like P G Wodehouse, is a testimony to the fact that there are millions of people out there who think that their books are worth reading. Lowbrow and highbrow are malleable categories in the marketplace of ideas, art, music and cinema. And a great premium is placed - often inexplicably so - on what is considered to be highbrow. It can't be made the sole yardstick to judge cultural value.

If so many readers like Blyton, that makes her a cultural phenomenon which can't be disregarded. It's a delicious irony that the very same BBC is now set to air a series on the life and times of Enid Blyton.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

COUNTER VIEW

NO DENYING SHE'S SHALLOW

BBC banned Enid Blyton for nearly 30 years, dubbing her ‘second rate’


Even posthumously, Enid Blyton is a household name. Her books, including the Noddy and Famous Five series, remain part of youngsters' formative years the world over. As a writer of children's books as prolific as popular, Blyton is a brand with enormous staying power. Her work has undergone a revival in recent times, with books written in her "style" as a tribute. Given all this, the disclosure that BBC banned Blyton for almost 30 years, dubbing her work "second rate", will provoke an outcry. But the problem with die-hard fans of best-selling writers is that they seem blind to the distinction between popularity and merit.


For starters, if BBC found Blyton's work mediocre, it's entitled to its opinion. A company can justifiably refuse to promote an artiste, based on its own judgement. Or are we to believe success should open all doors, with no other entry rules mattering including choice? It so happens BBC's assessment of Blyton is sound. Children's books, an important genre, are as subject to critical scrutiny as anything else. Blyton's work is entertainment; it isn't literature. In terms of aesthetic and pedagogic merit, her texts fail. With sexist and xenophobic strains, they're marked by shallow moralising. Plus, there's little in them to sharpen a young reader's critical faculties. In contrast, consider Antoine de Saint-Exupery's infinitely supple text, The Little Prince. It provokes reflection - in adults as well! - in ways Blyton's assembly-line goods can't.


There are criteria for judging cultural products, be they books, films or anything else. James Hadley Chase and Harold Robbins sell even today. The Rush Hour or Lara Croft films set cash registers ringing. There may even be some writers - Le Carre, some would say - or film-makers who haven't got their full due. Does that mean we should demolish literary and cinematic canons that include Shakespeare and Joyce, Bergman and Fellini? Popular culture has as much right to exist as high art. But let's not equate Flaubert's Madame Bovary with a Mills & Boon dime novel, or a Van Gogh canvas with roadside graffiti. Let's stop shoving lack of discernment down unwilling throats.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

AIR BORNE

I BELIEVE I CAN'T FLY

 

The first time one rode a bicycle as a kid, it was a nerve-wracking experience. However, the more one kept at it, the easier it got. The same rule, however, works in reverse when it comes to flying. I have travelled by airplane a number of times, but that doesn't work to my advantage when it comes to maintaining my composure during flying. I cling on for dear life from boarding to landing. From the long walk to my seat, being judged and appraised by already seated passengers, to squeezing my way behind co-passengers who believe even a single budge is beneath them, everything about flying unnerves me. The very journey starts off with the strange ritual where the airhostesses hand over a wet, scented towel. I still haven't figured out the purpose of the wet, scented towel, even after all these years. Do i slap it against my face or clean my hands with it?


I don't blame stewardesses for not even bothering to plaster a fake smile these days. Airplane passengers are easily one of the most annoying groups of people, second only to reality show judges. Chattering away on the phone despite repeated announcements, kneeling on their seats and talking to relatives behind them midflight, hijacking both armrests, spraying food while eating, unsolicited socialising, leaning from the aisle seat to the window seat to get a good close-up view of clouds and not bothering to check if they are smothering the guy in the middle seat: the list can be made into a 20-volume encyclopedia of obnoxiousness. Some people believe that landing is the scariest part of flying. To me, it's the taking off. The 10 seconds that follow the moment the aircraft leaves the earth is easily the most terrifying feeling. I'm reminded of this ambitious young human who jumps off a cliff and gains a good three or four seconds of escalation and flight before plummeting rapidly and corroborating Newton. Flying is unnatural and we humans were clearly not meant to fly. Otherwise, we'd have big fluffy wings sticking out of our backs. That's why the concept of space tourism is flabbergasting. A four-hour flight journey is excruciatingly chilling, but imagine being stuck for over a year in outer space with a craft full of sociopaths? If you wish to embark on a space journey, it's totally up to you. I'll just catch up with you on my bicycle.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

SUBVERSE

WELCOME TO THE AGE OF EXCESS

PRITISH NANDY 

 

We live in the Age of Excess and no one knows this better than the Americans. The Recession may have hurt them and toned down their extravagance a bit, but they are still a nation that consumes more and lives a richer, more flamboyant lifestyle than any other nation in the world. As any environmentalist or social scientist will tell you disapprovingly, the world simply can't afford another America. It will simply collapse.


But even though no one can quite match America's excess, the world aspires to it. They see it as Development, Growth, Progress. That's why every nation, including us and our neighbours, the Chinese, frugal by history and instinct, now want to become modern by emulating the Great American Dream. You see it in all that we do these days. We are raising 100 storey towers kissing the skies even though we know how unreliable our builders are in terms of the right building material and technology to ensure their safety and security. We wouldn't even know how to rescue people on the higher floors if a fire broke out or an earthquake. In fact, wherever you look, new vertical townships are coming up without adequate infrastructure like electricity, roads, water, public transport to support them. The idea is simply to build, build, build. In the hope people and prosperity will grow at a fast enough pace to buy into them. That's why we measure our success and well being in terms of GDP growth without worrying about the price we pay for it.


Look at simple things and you will know exactly what I mean. The humble pizza has grown more fanciful with newer and newer toppings. The even humbler dosa, once the vegetarian's favourite, is now sporting an incredible number of variants, from meat to oysters and snails. The poor man's rolls are becoming bigger, fatter, more bizarre in their fillings. Nothing's what it once was. It's not just food. Look at the interiors of homes, offices. Look at the amount of marble and granite we use when we do our interiors. If you recall, Poonam Chambers in Worli came crashing down under the dead weight of the stuff its occupants used.


Have you seen how Indian weddings have grown in recent times? Have you noticed how much people have begun to spend on them, even in the smaller towns of India? Bollywood movies flaunt their budgets. Fashion designers show off their price tags. Malls, till recently, were parading luxury retail brands till the economic slowdown forced many of them to downsize or shut down. Even magazines have become fatter than they ever were. Computers and cell phones are offering so much memory and so many more features that you can spend a decade learning how to use all of them. Even the amazing iPod, once considered a marvel of simplicity, is fighting competition by being many things to many more people. Just as software variants are becoming so complex that every new version offers more glitches than conveniences.


Airports are increasingly looking like townships, offering everything from hotel rooms to spas to movie theatres to hundreds of dining options. Movie theatres offer you anything from dinner to a bed with warm blankets. Offices are no longer just workplaces. They have gyms, pool tables, basketball courts, libraries, auditoriums to watch movies, crèches for working mothers. Even mutual funds have become so many and so complex that they obfuscate buyers. Choice is the argument proffered for excess. But does excess really help you make a better choice or does it make it tougher, so much tougher that we have to hire middlemen for assistance? How many of us can file our income tax returns on our own or see our assessment through? How many can any more take a simple OTC drug and hope to cure a flu attack? How many can decide which life insurance plan to buy?
 
What's the result? Even our most basic needs are getting more complex. Our expectations are rising and we are killing ourselves to meet these expectations. Pavements are disappearing because roads are widening, flyovers are multiplying. Pedestrians don't matter any more. Even those who once cycled to work are now buying cars and killing themselves to afford petrol and maintenance. Everyone's learning to multi-task and simple jobs have simply vanished because running companies is no longer what it once was. Even owning a bank account is no longer what it was. You spend more time trying to protect your savings from eroding or disappearing than managing costs.


Excess is taking over our lives. Look at the kids on TV. Look at models on the ramps. Look at clothes on the racks, fine dining menu cards, bathroom accessories, jewellery shop displays. Bookshops no longer sell just books. Cake shops no longer just sell cakes. Music shops no longer sell music. Just as life is no longer only about living and marriage is no longer just about love. That would sound terribly boring, wouldn't it in today's larger than life world?

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE BRIDGE NOT TOO FAR

 

Sri Lanka is a nation trying to live in peace after a generation-long war. If it fails to make the transition, the island runs two risks: a resumption of the civil strife that has wracked the country, and the contamination of its democracy with poisonous strains of Sinhala nationalism. Either would be detrimental to Indian interests, given the threat they pose to Sri Lanka's Tamil minority amid instability in South Asia. Sri Lanka is also a test case for India's larger aspirations, where the international community has allowed New Delhi to take the lead. If India cannot find a modus operandi for a country of 21 million, less than 50 kilometres from its coast, it cannot credibly ask to have a say in global affairs.

 

The present political confrontation between the Mahinda Rajapaksa government and its former army chief, Sarath Fonseka, reflects the civil war's legacy of militarisation and ethnic friction. In proportion to its size, Sri Lanka's 230,000-strong armed forces and $1.5 billion military budget are among the world's largest. Re-scaling these to a peacetime size would be difficult even if Sri Lankan politics were calm. To win the civil war, Colombo mobilised militant forms of Sinhalese nationalism. The Fonseka crisis pits two nationalist factions against each other. The second Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) insurrection is a reminder of the dangers such nationalism poses to Colombo.

 

The JVP insurrection is also a warning to India of the tightrope it walks if it's seen to be interfering in Sri Lankan politics — and that of any neighbour. Small countries like the Maldives and Bhutan have no qualms in placing themselves under an Indian security umbrella. But in bigger regional States, like Nepal and Bangladesh, a large chunk of the political establishment defines itself by opposing India. This is not the case in Sri Lanka where a political consensus has evolved that sees India as the final guarantor of the country's unity and democracy. Thus the Rajapaksa government can publicly call India its 'closest ally' or ask New Delhi for help when faced with coup rumours. Even Fonseka has, so far, avoided criticising India. Sri Lanka is a model neighbour: a fully sovereign nation that has learnt to go beyond fears of India's sheer size. Which makes it all the more important that New Delhi does not put a foot wrong as it assists Sri Lanka beat its swords into ploughshares.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

DIETING NATION

 

When the times get tough, the fatties should start dieting. But what about the rest of us happy folks who have our three quadrilateral meals a day punctuated by sumptuous snacks? Even if we're as fit as a Stradivarius and have — the gods be praised! — enough money to get more than our daily bread, wouldn't it be wise to go easy on the meals and munchies while food prices are rising? Wholesale price numbers for last month showed a sharp increase in food prices from last year. They are likely to go farther northwards taking the prices of other items and services with them.

 

So while we don't have to really worry about those who are scrounging for their next meal — scrounging prices remaining pretty much the same — or those wondering whether zero-calorie gateaux sprinkled with truffles will taste as good as the well-caloried ones, it's us, the middle-class, who can use rising food prices as an opportunity. Without having to enroll in one of those wallet-reducing gyms a.k.a. fitness centres a.k.a. fat burning halls, one can do a bit of that 'austere living' made fashionable by the Mahatma and the Gandhis of our own. Not only will it save us the humiliation of haggling ("Humiliation? What humiliation?") in wholesale markets, but it will also, after some large-scale dieting inspired to save the country from spiraling inflation, make us lean, mean non-obese machines.

 

But as some never-satisfied economists are bound to point out: will this mass cutdown on food intake really help those who really need our help? If prices start sliding, thanks to our eating less, food may become a little more affordable to some people, but at the cost of farmers who'll be making less money out of the same output. But then, as always, we middle-class folks with upper-class reading habits can always tell them to grow cakes.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

 

WALLPAPERED OVER

SITARAM YECHURY

 

I witnessed the euphoric celebrations in Europe marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I was attending the Congress of the Spanish Communist Party and addressing the Communist University in London during the first weekend of November.


Amidst declarations of a future for 'liberty and freedom', the real history that led to the division of Berlin post-World War II is obfuscated — a classic case of the victor scripting history. The defeat of fascism was symbolised by the hoisting of the Red Flag over Hitler's Reichstag, not the flag of the United States, France or Britain. Following the war, the four allied powers decided to jointly administer the city of Berlin. While East Berlin was under the Soviet Red Army administration, West Berlin was jointly administered by the US, France and Britain. All appeals by the Soviet Union for a joint administration of Berlin as a whole were rejected by the Western powers fearing the absorption of the city in the newly formed socialist German Democratic Republic.

 

For decades, Berlin was kept divided and West Berlin remained an entity, separate and distinct, from both East

and West Germany. This territory was used by the Western powers as the fountainhead of the Cold War attacks against socialism. It was only in August 1961, after 16 years of continuous attempts to subvert socialism that the Warsaw Pact countries decided to erect the Wall to protect themselves against such insidious attacks. There was no Berlin Wall in the first 16 years of the Cold War. This history is now being distorted to project the Soviet Union and socialism as responsible for the division of Berlin.

 

Surely, sometime in the future, real history will be put back on its feet instead of standing on its head. However, the need to distort this history is important for the Western powers in the current conjuncture where its impregnable wall — Wall Street — has collapsed. It has not collapsed because of any external assault. It has collapsed because of the very internal dynamics of capitalism that have brought about the current phase of imperialist globalisation which was simply unsustainable.

 

For the vast majority of the world's people, it is the collapse of global capitalism's Wall Street that is impacting grievously on their lives. During this year, since the current global recession has begun, not only has the world's gross domestic product (GDP) seen an absolute decline, but for the first time since World War II, the largest number of people have been pushed into hunger and destitution all across the world. The number of people suffering from hunger has crossed 1.02 billion — one among every six persons on earth is suffering from hunger. During this period of recession alone, 102 million additional people have joined the ranks of the
hungry.

 

For the former socialist countries in Eastern Europe and the Soviet republics, the situation is much worse. For their
people, such euphoric celebrations must be sounding weird and surreal given their growing misery. According to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the fall in the GDP of these countries averages -6.2 per cent in 2009. This ranges from a decline of 18.4 per cent in Lithuania, 16 per cent in Latvia, 14 per cent in Ukraine, 13.2 per cent in Estonia, 7.8 per cent in Slovenia, 6.5 per cent in Hungary, 6 per cent in Slovakia to a decline of 4.3 per cent in the Czech Republic. So much for the 'prosperity' of the 'free market'.

 

Notwithstanding this stark reality, these euphoric celebrations also seek to conceal the manner in which capitalism is seeking to emerge from this crisis at the expense of imposing greater burdens on the people. The massive bailout packages — according to one estimate, totalling over $14 trillion — have helped the financial corporates as per the admission of two major banks bailed out with public money, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase. They have declared billions of dollars of profits in the last quarter and are 'celebrating' it by doling out 'bonuses' to their executives. This is a clear case of how capitalism acts, putting profits before people.

 

Contrast this with the growing unemployment worldwide. An Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report states that more than 57 million people have joined the ranks of the unemployed during this period. The unemployment rate in the US has officially touched double-digits — 10.2 per cent. Unofficially, this is estimated to be around 20 per cent, as the official statistics do not take into consideration those people who have stopped looking for jobs in the past three months as they have lost all hope of finding one. The poverty rate in the US is standing at 13.2 per cent, which represents 40 million people suffering from poverty.

 

Such euphoric celebrations of the fall of the Berlin Wall are aimed at diverting the people's attention away from the existing realities. These  cannot stem growing popular protests against the imposition of additional burdens by which capitalism is seeking to emerge from its current recession.

 

Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP.The views expressed by the author are personal.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

GO WITH THE FLOW?

 

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.

 

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

Farm to fork - Rice has a price problem

In paddy cultivation have gone up. Farmers are not releasing stocks because of the drought scare, and traders too might be hoarding

Avijit Ghoshal and B. Vijay Murty letters@hindustantimes.com

 

Sheet, 67, a farmer from Nutangarh village in Jharkhand's East Singhbhum district, is comfortable these days.

 

At a time when crops have failed due to poor rainfall, he has at least 600 kg of surplus rice at home.

 

"I will not sell it this year," he said, packing his bags to leave for Mumbai to join his son, who works for a small company.

 

Farmers from Nutangarh, 180 km south-east of Ranchi, and adjoining villages have migrated to bigger towns and cities for livelihood as the rains failed.

 

A 23 per cent deficiency in monsoon rain -- the worst since 1972 -- is expected to keep the output of rice grown in the June-September period at 69 million tonnes, down 18 per cent from 84 million tonnes.

 

The government claims it has enough rice in buffer stock to tide over the shortage but that hasn't helped curb speculation and hoarding. "Prices may well have peaked because there is bound to be speculative urge, considering the shortage and drought," said Abhijit Sen, member (agriculture), Planning Commission.
MANIFESTATIONS OF PROBLEM At around 30 km north-east of Nutangarh, at Chakulia, a place known for rice mills, soap mills and an abandoned air strip used during World War II, Ganesh Prasad Rungta is idling at his rice mill. "Business is bad this year," he said, pointing towards his mill, which has not processed paddy for a month.

 

Farmers in the rice belt stretching from Chakulia-Baharagora in Jharkhand, 225 km south-east of Ranchi, to Jhargram, around 180 km south of Kolkata, in West Bengal, are not releasing their surplus paddy to mills. Thus, the supply chain has been affected. The reasons for this are the delayed monsoon or the prolonged trouble in neighbouring Naxal stronghold Lalgarh, 160 km west of Kolkata.

 

There are 35 small and medium rice mills in Chakulia while Jhargram has around 60 medium and large mills.
Each of these mills processes 10-50 quintals (one quintal = 100 kg) of paddy everyday. They are the main suppliers of rice to the Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal markets.

 

The crop grown abundantly in the belt is identified as swarna rice, consumed locally. It is priced at Rs 15-16 a kg in the local market.

 

The price was Rs 2 less last year.

 

"Farmers are not releasing their stocks. Hence, the supply of rice to the market has gone down," said Rungta.
He said that in May, before the monsoon set in, 100 kg of paddy cost the mill owners Rs 750, and this rose to Rs 925 per quintal by June.

 

"Farmers and rice traders are stocking paddy in their godowns," another mill owner said, adding that late rain had helped the supply network, bringing prices down. However, in late September, 100 kg of rice was available for Rs 850, down by Rs 75 within three months.

A LOSING PROPOSITION A five-bigha (one bigha = 14,400 square feet) fertile paddy field and a couple of tanks to cultivate fish in Mallickpur village of Hooghly district, about 60 km north of Kolkata, should have been enough for Kalipada Patra, 50, to sustain a family of four.

 

"It is difficult to meet the basic needs of my family," said Patra, adding "the return from paddy cultivation has gone down".

 

"Our input costs have risen fast.


Without the supporting income from pisciculture, it would have really been difficult," he adds.

 

Prices of most inputs have gone up.


And the cost of water has gone up by as much as 33 per cent.

 

A few kilometres down the dusty and winding road at Shimagachi village of Dadpur block, we meet Charan Murmu and Basudev Bauldas lazing on a roadside culvert. Both 35-yearold Murmu and 70-year-old Bauldas are landless agricultural labourers.

 

"Due to the dry months there was little work, denying us of our daily wage of Rs 50 and 2.5 kg of rice a day," Murmu said. This monsoon both had to survive on rice they had been saving.

They eat rice and salt, or some local saag (spinach), as potato, the staple, costs Rs 20 a kg, more than double the normal price.

 

"The dry monsoon will hit production but we aren't able to predict the extent at this moment," said Naren Dey, agriculture minister, West Bengal, who is also an MLA from Hooghly district.


POLITICAL ANGLE But in all this, local political parties read signs that agriculture is becomILLUSTRATION: DURGA/GRAPHIC: SANJAY KAPOO ing less remunerative.

 

"All the input prices -- those of water, power, tiller, labour, and fertilisers -- are rising. Groundwater is depleting due to indiscriminate use of mini tubewells. It is difficult to predict the future of agriculture even in fertile stretches," said Sajal Adhikari, 48, state committee member of Communist Party of India (MarxistLeninist).

 

The party Adhikari belongs to is more radical in its socio-economic programme than the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

 

Adhikari has about 2 bighas of family land, which he finds is unable to sustain him. Sharecroppers till his land while he teaches history in a local school and doesn't even know the input costs.

 

Adhikari fights for farmer rights, but cannot afford to be a farmer himself.

 

It is no longer an irony in West Bengal.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

 

Strong case - Seeking conflict resolution

Nagendar Sharma

 

 SEVERAL SENIOR JUDGES have recently opted out of cases citing conflict of interest. But like other major democracies, India needs a law or set of guidelines to define what conflict of interest is ( Judges should have known the principles of judicial life by now, but if that has not happened voluntarily, then a new law seems to be the last resort. JUSTICE V. R . K R I S H N A I YE R ) The proposed Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill will take care of these aspects (relating to account ability and conflict of interest) M . V E E R A P PA M O I LY Union Law Minister

 

nagendar.sharma@hindustantimes.com On November 4, two senior judges of the Supreme Court withdrew from two separate cases involving the Reliance Industries Limited, citing "conflict of interest".

 

In these and other high-profile examples, the judges took a voluntary decision to "recuse themselves" -- in technical parlance -- from the cases they were hearing. While this has largely been welcomed, the lack of clear guidelines on what constitutes conflict of interest is a cause for concern.

 

Unlike the United States and Britain, India does not have a law that defines conflict of interest or that can be used to take action in cases involving it.

 

Non-governmental organisation Transparency International, which tracks and creates public awareness about corruption, has defined conflict of interest "as a situation where an individual or the entity for which they work, whether judiciary, government, business, media outlet or civil society organisation, is confronted with choosing between the duties and demands of their position and their own private interests".

 

Though the debate on conflict of interest has been going on for years, it gathered momentum after senior lawyer and judicial accountability activist, Prashant Bhushan, named several judges -- including former chief justices of the Supreme Court -whom he accused of corruption, in a controversial interview he gave to Tehelka in the newsmagazine's September 5 issue.

 

Bhushan also raised the question of conflict of interest against Justice Kapadia for having heard and decided a case related to Vedanta, despite having invested in shares of its sister company, Sterlite.

 

Bhushan's allegations earned him a contempt of court (showing disrespect to the court) notice from the Supreme Court on November 6.

 

"I will fight the proceedings," Bhushan said. "But the important point is that the 1997 judges code of conduct, which says that if a judge has shares in a company he needs to only disclose them and thereafter if the lawyers do not object he can continue hearing that case, in my view, is not a correct principle and needs to be modified."

 

Former Supreme Court judge P.B.Sawant said the United Nations' sponsored "Bangalore Declaration" was now the internationally accepted norm for conflict of interest cases.

 

"A judge shall disqualify himself or herself from participating in any proceedings in which the judge is unable to decide the matter impartially, since the judge, or a member of the judge's family, has an economic interest in the outcome of the matter in controversy," the declaration said.

 

But are voluntary codes and declarations enough? "Perhaps not. All these issues need to be backed up by legislation," said Justice Sawant, adding that it was high time that India had a law to define and draw a line on conflict of interest.

 

Veteran jurist and one of India's most outspoken judges, Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, argues that judges "should have known the principles of judicial life by now, but if that has not happened voluntarily, then a new law seems to be the last resort".

 

But Iyer believes such a law should also apply to elected representatives and bureaucrats.

 

"The proposed Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill will take care of these aspects (relating to accountability and conflict of interest)," Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily said.

 

"I think conflict of interest should be defined and I would favour a law based on consensus to deal with this," said another senior minister, on the condition of anonymity.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

THE HEAT'S ON

 

It eventually fell upon US President Barack Obama to be the messenger of what has for a while now appeared to be the inevitable. Obama was among the leaders who met on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Singapore on Sunday to concede that time was too short to clinch a legally binding deal on climate change at the Copenhagen summit next month. In a frantic effort to nonetheless salvage the Copenhagen meet, the leaders — including an anxious Danish prime minister who had rushed to Singapore — said that for now the aim will be to arrive at a "politically binding" agreement, leaving the detail for another summit next year, perhaps in Mexico or Germany.

 

It could be argued that this admission of Copenhagen's limited potential is in fact realistic. In June, the G-8 and many developing countries agreed on the need to limit the rise in global average temperature to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Negotiations to arrive at a binding agreement that would equitably set targets for developed and developing countries are turning out to be especially tricky. The process has become dispiritingly caught up in petty bargaining. Equally, it has become bound in many countries to domestic politics. This is particularly the case with the US, with the Obama administration unable to announce significant commitments without legislative support. The US is key to a deal on climate change, not just because it is after China the largest producer of greenhouse gases but also because it is integral to any sustainable mechanism for funds and technology transfer to developing countries. Therefore the hope that this improvised two-summit roadmap may be more viable. As the Danish PM said: "We must, in the coming weeks, focus on what is possible and not let ourselves be distracted by what is not possible. The Copenhagen agreement should finally mandate continued legal negotiations and set a deadline for their conclusion."

 

Yet, even if it was inevitable, the abandonment of Copenhagen's grand plan is sobering. In the past few weeks, India, China, Brazil, etc have made bold gestures to push the envelope on their commitments. The block of developed countries responded with neither commensurate proposals for aid nor an assessment of a fair apportioning of the carbon space. As the current development shows, the US is key — and the onus will now be on the Obama administration to avoid being a deal-breaker. And for someone who came to power keen to reverse his predecessor's denial on climate change, Obama will have to find the political capital to deliver.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

PRICE OF LOYALTY

 

There was something royal about Chief Minister Ashok Chavan's gesture to bestow Rs 5 lakh on the three villages in his constituency that gave him the maximum votes in the recent Maharashtra assembly elections. These are the ways of an emperor who knows how to reward his troops after battle. Except that Chavan derives his position of power from a democratic system, and he is chief minister of the whole of Maharashtra, not just those parts of his constituency that elected him. Chavan's gesture is thus cause for extreme disquiet.

 

The link between government allocations and electoral demographics is age-old. The electoral map of India is studded with VIP constituencies, constituencies that derive inordinate attention from local administrations because they are represented by legislators with clout. Amethi, Saifai, Baramati, etc owe not a little to the national heft of the local representative. But where Chavan stands out is in the brazen tenor of his gesture. There is no pretence of addressing the development needs of the villages, there is just a direct connect between votes and reward, such as it is. Publicly targeting not just his own constituency, but those villages where he got the most votes, leaves little doubt as to his intentions. Chavan claims that the funds are meant to lift the region out of severe drought; he also wants to boost employment. These are noble ends, and surely cannot be argued with. But what gives the affair a sordid feel is the political motive that accompanies it. The funds are not being spread across all drought-hit regions; Chavan's supporters are the only chosen ones. A triumphant Chavan appears to have forgotten that he is chief minister of all of Maharashtra, of areas that voted for him and those that did not.

 

Chavan has enough instruments to directly meet the requirements of his constituency, such as the local area development scheme. As chief minister of the state, he is however expected, more than anyone else, to be attentive to administrative and democratic protocols.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

OPEN DOMAINS

 

No matter how Orientalist, condescending and opinionated Max Mueller sounds today, which Indian can resist savouring the German indologist's oft-cited statement of faith in India as the land where "the human mind has most fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered over the greatest problems of life, and has found solutions of some of them"? But where is the Indian who would take pride in the present state of higher learning and research in India, in a land whose state-aided cultural institutions exist for the culture ministry's sport? Research in art and culture enhances and evolves the repository of a people's knowledge, their ability to know and better themselves.

 

Almost invariably, the best such research pertaining to India has long been conducted abroad.

 

But after almost a half century of conceding research on ourselves to the West, the Union government has decided to open up India's premier cultural institutions to scholars and academics from India and abroad. Currently applicable to 17 of the 49 institutions under the culture ministry, this is a firm, progressive step indeed. Independent scholars, provided they are "eminent", will be able to access the resources and artefacts at institutions such as the Archaeological Survey of India, National Archives, National Library, etc and undertake research that could benefit all.

 

Part of the problem with high-quality cultural research in India has precisely been access. The state has always been irrationally, and unconvincingly, over-protective about documents and artefacts, to say nothing of the bureaucratic mesh that would exhaust any scholarly intent. Yet, out of the clutches of "dangerous" hands, these resources have failed their very purpose. But access is only part of the antidote; a sustainable revival of such research in India would need a near-complete overhaul of the administration of its cultural institutions and a revolution in ideas for the ministries of culture and human resource development.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

DEGREES OF HALF MEASURES

PRATAP BHANU MEHTA

 

The proposed reforms in India's premier university, Delhi University, shed interesting light on the institutional challenges of reform in India and offer wider lessons. Many reforms have been on the table. But the switch to a semester system has elicited most discussion and consternation. In principle the idea of a semester system is a good one. But the idea is being fetishised in a way that fundamentally confuses ends and means. As often happens in reform debates in India, the focus is more on the form, rather than the objective of reform. What should have been a reform ensconced in a wider pedagogical debate, has become largely a calendar reform. And the result may be that we have a course structure that is neither fish nor fowl.

 

What is interesting about Delhi University's reform towards a semester system is that it neither takes on board the truly revolutionary elements of a semester system. Nor does it take fully into account the local context, so that there can be adequate preparation for the switch. Ideally, a semester system allows you to achieve the following objectives. It can facilitate the creation of a credit system, and hence allow more choice and flexibility. In institutions where the semester system has real pedagogical bite, it is premised upon one important fact: that the teachers teaching particular classes evaluate their own students. Delhi University's reform does not achieve either of these objectives.

 

On the choice and flexibility front, ostensibly a system of majors and minors has been introduced. So the course requirement in the majors has been reduced to allow for more courses in a minor. But this expansion of choice is relatively illusory. A genuinely intellectually interesting expansion of choice would not be limited by a major-minor structure. Once the requirements of the departments are fulfilled, it would allow wide choices, including the possibility of social science students taking science classes (at the appropriate level). So someone interested in environment majoring in history could, after fulfilling their major, take a relevant course offering in any discipline including the sciences, rather than being confined to the minor. But this would require better basic preparation.

 

A semester system works well when each individual faculty member has substantial freedom to innovate in course offering at his or her level. This is possible only where there is no disjunction between those who set the syllabus, those who teach and those who evaluate. The crisis of undergraduate education has its source, in part, in this disjunction. In some ways, by increasing rather than decreasing the prominence of university-wide exams, the semester system may exacerbate this disjunction. Given our institutional realities, this is not an easy disjunction to fix. But it is disappointing that there is no roadmap that is even trying. The ways in which the major-minor choices have been configured also diminish departmental autonomy. In a good American university, the departments you are majoring in have great autonomy to set the distributional requirements you need to fulfil in your non-major courses, to balance pedagogical objectives and choice. In some ways, it would have been better if this move had also been in the context of a discussion of what kind of autonomy is appropriate at each level of the institution.

 

But the discussion of autonomy really brings out the issue at the heart of the reform: the serious trust deficit within Indian institutions. In some respects Delhi University has more of an administrative identity than an academic one. Delhi University has top-end colleges, but it also has a considerable number of bottom-end ones. And across departments there is great variation. More accomplished departments think taking courses in certain other departments will be a diminution in standards. What this enormous variation produces is several different universities rather than one; yet administrative logic has to operate on the fiction that DU is one academic entity. When reforms try and average across great variation, the result is often odd: it inhibits the good from getting better, and it fuels anxiety at the lower end. One of the reasons a proper discussion of who should have how much autonomy is impossible is because the good departments or colleges don't trust that others will put it to good use; the weak ones don't care if the good ones are being trampled on. Thus you have a very paradoxical outcome: a reform can go through by due process even when many of the top colleges are opposing it.

 

This reform story is also symptomatic of a larger trend in reform. While we are good at picking out the general direction of reform, we do not want to confront difficult questions about putting in the preconditions that would make reform meaningful and successful. In the DU story three elements are missing. First, there needs to be much more thorough conversation about the degree structure as a whole. For instance, can undergraduate degrees give the combination of basic skills and choice in the current three-year format? Or, if we are committed to the three-year format would we be better served by concentrating on the basics rather than the illusion of choice? There has to be a more explicit articulation of the pedagogical tradeoffs we are making. Second, there is a nuts and bolts institutional context of reform. The promise of pedagogical innovation rings hollow when your ability to cater to basics of infrastructure, student-teacher ratios, and the relative supply of teachers are diminishing. Each university needs a long-term strategy map that is more than a statement of objectives, where all the different elements of reform can be placed in relation to the concrete circumstances of that university, not in relation to an abstract template.

 

Finally, most of these reforms are being mandated by the UGC. So the source of reforms is consistent with the logic of bureaucratic centralisation; hence the emphasis of form over substance. Delhi University was right to reject the authority of NAAC; though it would have been better if this had been consistently argued on the grounds of the university's stature, rather than exaggerated fears about commercialisation.

 

Delhi University is also a victim of the best in it. Some exceptions apart, the best teachers have a self-satisfied complacency about the state of their university and react in negative mode to serious proposals for change. Delhi University can set new benchmarks in how to make public universities better. It will be terrific if it can move beyond half-baked reforms and half-baked opposition to a genuine game plan to elevate India's most important university.

 

The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi

express@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

ALL-WEATHER FRIENDS

S. VIJAY KUMAR

 

It seems that the Monsoon Session of Parliament was over only yesterday, and already preparations for the Winter Session have begun. Even as the secretary-general issues the formal summons to the members, the well-oiled machinery of the two Houses will start the sprucing-up process: of the chambers, the inner and the outer lobbies of the two Houses, and of course, Central Hall.

 

Based on the trend of the Monsoon Session, the initial portents were that the sprucing up may well extend to the way business will be conducted in the two Houses. Now even to a non-political observer, it would seem that though the Monsoon Session may be over, clouds are again gathering; beyond a point even the most expert floor management may not be able to achieve the kind of legislative productivity which seemed possible to an optimist when the Monsoon Session concluded.

 

The productivity of individual parliamentarians is often analysed in terms of questions asked or speeches or interventions made in debates on the floor of the House. Parliament as an institution has a number of roles: the two most important of which are policy-making (primarily through legislation) and enforcing accountability on the executive. The latter function is partly discharged in public view by individual parliamentarians, through Question Hour, Calling Attention or other parliamentary devices, and these often attract attention. The equally serious work of policy-making (by legislation or by influencing departmental policy more directly) and of accountability enforcement through committees usually receives far less attention than it deserves, whether it is debate in the House or the deliberations of a parliamentary committee.

 

Historically the purpose of debate was to enable members to make informed decisions while exercising their right to vote. One of the consequences of the 52nd Amendment to the Constitution, which allowed the disqualification of a member for violating a party whip, was that debate no longer influences voting once a whip has been issued, as it generally is in all important matters. The purpose of debate is now, apparently, mainly to place on record the party's justification of its voting decision — and also, because of live TV to articulate that to the nation. To this extent the debate is perhaps equally useful and relevant.

 

It would appear on reflection that an even more useful purpose is served by the reports of committees, which harmoniously combine various points of view in order to bring out recommendations — either endorsing a policy or suggesting changes and improvements. The world over it is the committee system which is the direction for growth for parliamentary institutions — and this is true both when Parliament is working smoothly and when it is not. Nothing exemplifies the advantage of the committee system in India better than the present situation; even as the mood of Parliament is as changeable as hill weather, its committees can still be relied upon to function smoothly, reliably and — though relatively unobtrusively — quite effectively.

 

A matter that has engaged the attention of observers and participants of the parliamentary system is how to fashion a mechanism that preserves the committee system in its non-partisan form while still bringing out before the public the crucial issues they are deliberating. There have been suggestions for televising the committee proceedings (as they are in the US, on C-SPAN), but there is the other view that televising the proceedings will inevitably lead to partisan posturing, destroying the committee system as we know it.

 

A makeover of the system could well start with closer involvement of committees, particularly department-related committees, in examining long-term government policy and ensuring better access to expertise and views and information, both from within government and from outside — including through the process of commissioning studies. Reports and documentation of more lasting value could be thus produced. Currently the rules permit the consideration of national basic long-term policy documents, provided only that these have been presented to the House and referred by the chairman or speaker to the committee for a report.

 

The rules tend to emphasise examination of legislative proposals, demands-for-grants and annual reports of departments; clearly executive policy-making is falling through an accountability gap, which can be best addressed by empowering and equipping parliamentary committees suitably. Possibly, instead of department-related committees, there should be subject-related committees, structured to cover among them the entire realm of public policy, hopefully without too much overlap.

 

But whatever is done should preserve the basic strength of the current committee system, which is its "all-weather" capability of functioning even when Parliament itself is disrupted over matters of "urgent public importance".

 

The writer was joint secretary, Rajya Sabha from 1998 to 2002 express@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

OVERLOADED AND UNSAFE

SARABJITSINGH

 

The Mandor Express mishap and other recent accidents have caused great concern about the safety of Indian Railways. IR, however, insists that it is one of the safest railway systems because incidents per million train kilometres (mtkm) are one of the lowest in the world, and this record is getting better. I don't think many are persuaded by this argument.

 

Indian Railways are not being untruthful when they claim that incidents per mtkm have been decreasing. However, if we ask how many days ago the last accident happened, we are surprised by the answer. I asked this question for accidents where ten or more lives had been lost and the conclusion was that on the average, the gap between successive accidents was decreasing; signifying that such accidents were occurring more often. This is paradoxical because if incidents per mtkm are reducing then fewer accidents are happening. However, if the gap is decreasing then they are happening more frequently.

 

The answer to this contradiction lies in the relationship between safety and number of trains. Let us assume for the sake of illustration that there is one accident per mtkm and the total train kilometres are 10 million. This implies that on the average one would expect 10 accidents in the year. If the train kilometres go up to 11 million then one could expect 11 accidents. The number of accidents can remain at 10 if the index decreases to 0.9. If we want the number of accidents to go lower, then the index must improve faster than building of trains. The answer lies in how the interplay between ability of IR to improve safety while introducing new trains works out. IR has not been able to increase safety faster than traffic build up despite its great emphasis on improving safety.

 

Railways and Railway Board Acts place responsibility on the railway board for making the rules, general managers for safe operation and the Commission of Railway Safety to caution the administration on unsafe conditions. However, the combined efforts of these entities have not been able to enhance safety faster than incremental build up of traffic.

 

The third factor in the safety equation is the political compulsions of the minister of railways. In the railway budget, the minister is expected to announce new trains and not hike fares. There is little if any debate on the capability of the railway system to add additional trains without compromising safety. A probable reason could be the difficulty in establishing a link between more trains and their impact on overall safety. Additional trains may raise the probability of an accident but where the lightening strikes is unpredictable. The minister gains politically when introducing trains and can deflect the responsibility of an accident on railway men.

 

railway board and general managers are legally responsible for working the system safely and should, in theory, resist any attempt to add trains at the cost of safety. In practice, this seldom happens since there is no method to link safety and volume of traffic. IR has, as yet, not adopted risk-modelling. The assumption is accidents happen when rules are not followed, in which case those responsible have to be made an example of. This thinking is fine as long as there is adequate capacity to take care of delays. Trains are planned to move according to a timetable and maintenance slots are provided according to arrival and departure timings. The problem starts when trains arrive late and miss the planned maintenance slot. In case the section is saturated, finding an alternative maintenance slot becomes problematic. At such times maintenance staff is hard pressed to hurry up and may hurry procedures. Such things happen when the number of trains is more than the system can handle comfortably.

 

Why should something like this happen? It happens because there has been inadequate investment in increasing capacity. IR loses 15 paisa on every passenger kilometre and takes care of this by charging freight more than it should. This has left IR short of funds for investments. Trains which should have been added after creating capacities are pushed on to the system because of political compulsions. That IR's financial position was improved during Lalu Prasad Yadav's tenure, is an example of how effects on safety can be ignored. Overloading of wagons beyond designed capacity was the mechanism used for earning more revenue. The issues of long term impact on the safety of bridges and axles and track were brushed aside, enabling IR to earn what others would take away. Railway management had no real way to counter this argument in the absence of a method of assessing the long-term impact of overloading in increasing hazard levels.

 

When trains are added the effect on safety should also be discussed publicly. A Safety Risk Model (SRM) is a known method of improving safety-related decisions. The model is a structured representation of nearly 120 hazardous events that could lead directly to injury or fatality during operations and maintenance of a railway system. SRM collates relevant historical accident data and using expert judgment, provides an estimation of the underlying levels of risk on the railways. The government should establish an autonomous entity, to make underlying risks public.

 

Indian politicians and policy makers must balance the introduction of new trains with matching capital investments to keep risk within tolerable limits. The issue of investments and more trains cannot be de-linked. We therefore need to make a risk assessment model (SRM), which informs the public of risk levels. This will help make Indian Railways a safer system since the demands for more trains will have to be balanced with additional capital investments.

 

The writer is a former general manager of Indian Railways and member of the Central Administrative Tribunal

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

GOD TV

SHAILAJA BAJPAI

 

Last week, Aaj Tak declared that God would descend to earth. Wrong: he is already in our midst. Short with bright eyes, curly hair, an ever-ready smile, he uses a bat to bless all comers. You know he is the chosen one because the normally reticent DD News described him as a "sensation" and Sharad Pawar compared him to Lord Krishna. That would be Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, the "God of cricket".

 

Thus did Virender Sehwag, Headlines Today and several other news channels praise him as they celebrated 20 happy birthdays of Tendulkar's international cricket career. Celebrated is too mild a word: since the middle of last week, television has been on its knees, worshipping at the altar of his talent: "Spectacular Sachin", "20 glorious years" was the CNN-IBN salute. It was "Sachin Nama" on News 24 and Headlines Today had him in Superman's gear. 

 

He is a 'genius' to Bombay's former captain Milind Rege, 'his favorite icon' to cricket historian Boria Mazumdar whose Times Now "exclusive" interview was the first of at least ten other "exclusive" interviews on the air, all with similar questions but each time Tendulkar reacted as if he had been surprised by a bouncer. There's a budding actor in him, for sure. Amitabh Bachchan lauded and applauded him, Aamir Khan praised his magnificent "obsession", Soha Ali Khan lamented her broken heart each time he got out, Sunil Gavaskar couldn't stop retelling the story of how he had predicted that Tendulkar would surpass his 34 test hundreds (if he remained fit) and Shane Warne, Imran Khan, Abdul Qadir, Shastri, Ganguly, Dravid and Bipasha Basu (Bipasha Basu?) shared their thoughts on the god of willow. Lata Mangeshkar congratulated him but she didn't sing for him so Anup Jalota performed a specially-composed ditty for him on Zee News.

 

TV news did not merely sing his praises, they did it all day Sunday. Channels like News 24 or CNN-IBN telecast two-hour long features at a time. It was the lead story everywhere — except on Doordarshan which got to it last. Headlines Today had the clever idea of telecasting Sachin's Sharjah Sandstorm when he blew Australia away and we watched non-stop excerpts from two glorious decades including 1989 footage of Sachin sipping tea, 10 months before the glory began (gotta hand it to India TV, they always go where nobody else dares). Nothing was left out, barring a cake cutting ceremony; perhaps the ever-smiling and obliging Sachin would have wielded the knife had anyone but asked. And how come someone didn't choose the occasion to launch Sachin TV, a 24x7 channel devoted to the little big master?

 

The coverage was excessive. It always is. That's Indian television for you. No half measures for us. Consider our entertainment shows: when it was "saas-bahu", it was all "saas bahu"; now it's all bahut sad as we go from one social disease to another. Occasionally, such excess pays off: the unflagging pursuit of Manu Sharma finally saw his bar-hopping land him back in jail. What's interesting here is that Tendulkar is not given to excess — at least, not in speech. Never once in all the interviews was he anything but brief and simple, playing down his achievements much as he would have done a rising ball. The contrast could not have been more black and white.

 

In this he resembles our prime minister. CNN-IBN had the wonderful idea of commemorating Children's Day with a meeting between young students, Dr Manmohan Singh and his wife, Gursharan Kaur.  The soft-spoken Mr Singh covered many subjects ranging from his childhood pranks (bunking school) and being punished by his father (with a thrashing) to his views on religion, education, his ever-blue turban and challenges facing the country. Isn't it odd for a country that is so extravagant and so loud in so many ways, to have chosen two gentle men as its leading men?

 

shailaja.bajpai@expressindia.com

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

SLAYING THE CHIMERA CALLED CHIMERICA

 

A few years ago we came up with the term "Chimerica" to describe the combination of the Chinese and American economies, which together had become the key driver of the global economy. With a combined 13 per cent of the world's land surface and around a quarter of its population, Chimerica nevertheless accounted for a third of global economic output and two-fifths of worldwide growth from 1998 to 2007.

 

We called it Chimerica for a reason: we believed this relationship was a chimera — a monstrous hybrid like the part-lion, part-goat, part-snake of legend. The question President Obama must consider is whether to slay it or to try to keep it alive.

 

In its heyday, Chimerica consisted largely of the combination of Chinese development, led by exports, and American overconsumption. Thanks to the Chimerican symbiosis, China was able to quadruple its gross domestic product from 2000 to 2008, raise exports by a factor of five, import Western technology and create tens of millions of manufacturing jobs for the rural poor. For America, Chimerica meant being able to consume more and save less even while maintaining low interest rates and a stable rate of investment. Overconsumption meant that from 2000 to 2008 the US consistently outspent its national income.

 

As Chinese exports soared, the authorities in Beijing consistently bought dollars to avoid appreciation of their currency, pegging it at around 8.28 renminbi to the dollar from the mid-1980s to the mid-'90s. They then allowed a modest 17 per cent appreciation in the three years after July 2005, only to restore the dollar peg at 6.83 when the global financial crisis intensified last year.

 

Intervening in the currency market served two goals for China: by keeping the renminbi from rising against the dollar, it promoted the competitiveness of Chinese exports; second, it allowed China to build up foreign currency reserves (primarily in dollars) as a cushion against the risks associated with growing financial integration, painfully illustrated by the experience of other countries in the Asian crisis of the late 1990s. This intervention caused a growing distortion in the global cost of capital, significantly reducing long-term interest rates and helping to inflate the real estate bubble in the United States, with ultimately disastrous consequences. In essence, Chimerica constituted a credit line from the People's Republic to the United States that allowed Americans to save nothing and bet the house on ... well, the house.

 

Nothing like this happened in the 1950s and 1960s. At the height of postwar growth in the 1960s, West Germany and Japan increased their dollar reserves roughly in line with the American gross domestic product, keeping the ratio stable at about 1 per cent before letting it move slightly higher in the early 1970s. By contrast, China's reserves soared from the equivalent of 1 per cent of America's gross domestic product in 2000 to 5 per cent in 2005 and 10 per cent in 2008. By the end of this year, that figure is expected to rise to 12 per cent. The reality, however, is that an end to Chimerica is in the American interest for at least three reasons. First, adjusting the exchange rates between the currencies would help reorient the American economy — primarily by making American exports more competitive in China, the world's fastest-growing economy.

 

Second, an end to Chimerica would lessen the potentially dangerous reliance of American economic policy on measures to stimulate domestic purchasing. American fiscal policy is clearly on an unsustainable path, and the Federal Reserve's negligible interest rates and the printing of dollars are artificially inflating equity prices.

 

Finally, renminbi revaluation would reduce the risk of potentially serious international friction over trade. Unless China's currency is revalued, we can expect an uncoordinated wave of defensive moves by countries on the wrong side of Chimerica's double depreciation. 

 

Right now, Chimerica clearly serves China better than America. Call it the 10:10 deal: the Chinese get 10 per cent growth; America gets 10 per cent unemployment. The deal is even worse for the rest of the world — and that includes some of America's biggest export markets and most loyal allies.

 

The authorities in Beijing must be made to see that any book losses on its reserve assets resulting from changes in the exchange rate will be a modest price to pay for the advantages they reaped from the Chimerica model: the transformation from third-world poverty to superpower status in less than 15 years. In any case, these losses would be more than compensated for by the increase in the dollar value of China's huge stock of renminbi assets.

 

It is also in China's interest to kick its currency-intervention habit. A heavily undervalued renminbi is the key financial distortion in the world economy today. If it persists for much longer, China risks losing the very foundation of its economic success: an open global trading regime. And this is exactly what President Obama can offer in return for a substantial currency revaluation of, say, 20 per cent to 30 per cent over the next 12 months. For as long as the People's Republic has existed, the US has been the principal upholder of a world economic order based on the free movement of goods and, more recently, capital. It has also picked up the tab for policing the oil-rich but unstable Middle East. No country has benefited more from these arrangements than China, and it should now pay for them through a stronger Chinese currency. Chimerica was always a chimera — an economic monster. Revaluing the renminbi will give this monster the peaceful death it deserves.

  

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

PROBLEMS WITH PAROLE

SANKAR SEN

 

Manu Sharma's parole has, understandably, triggered great outrage. He was granted parole by the Delhi government, despite valid objections raised by Delhi Police. He had applied for three months' parole because he wanted to attend the religious rites of his grandmother, take care of his ailing mother and look after the family's business interests.

 

Parole is the supervised release of a prisoner before the completion of his sentence in prison. It differs from amnesty or commutation in sentence in that all parolees are considered to be serving the sentences and may be returned to prison if they violate the conditions of parole. Parole can also be granted on medical or humanitarian grounds to enable the jail inmate to maintain continuity with the family and save him from the evil effects of continuous prison life. Conditions of parole include things such as obeying the law, refraining from use of drugs or alcohol and maintaining contacts with the parole officer.

 

Under the provisions of jail manuals in most states, parole is granted by the head of the prison administration, viz, the IG or DG of prisons after receiving verification reports from the police. But in Delhi as per its jail manual, only the Lt. Governor is entitled to decide on the application. The Delhi High Court, a while back, directed the Central government to empower the senior officers of Tihar jail to grant parole to prisoners to facilitate their quick release. Manu Sharma's application was sent to Delhi police for verification. In a very objective report, Delhi police submitted that Manu Sharma's grandmother had passed away in April and there was no immediate reason for him to attend the rituals. The report also said that his mother was not suffering from any serious ailment and the business interests were not affected by his absence. Sharma was initially granted bail for one month, which was later extended for another month (till November 22, 2009). The parole condition required him to remain in Chandigarh, but Sharma was partying with friends in hotel bars in Delhi.

 

The Delhi government was willing to bend backwards to help the rich and powerful Manu Sharma and his father, an influential Chandigarh-based Congress politician. It sought and got reports from Chandigarh police, which cleared the requests for parole. So, within a week of Delhi police opposing it, he was granted parole by the Home Department of Delhi after obtaining a clearance from the Chandigarh administration.

 

Further, normally parole is not granted when appeal against the conviction is pending in the court. Manu Sharma had appealed to the Supreme Court against the conviction by the Delhi High Court in the Jessica Lal murder case. Indeed there is a decision by the apex court that parole may be granted only when no appeal is pending because "a government and court cannot co-exist". It seems that the Delhi administration, in an affidavit submitted before the Delhi High Court, has stated that it does not entertain parole pleas by prisoners whose appeal is pending before the court. In its hurry to help the son of an influential politician, it appears as if the Delhi administration forgot its affidavit before the court.

 

The Model Prison Manual prepared by the Bureau of Police Research and Development lays down some liberal guidelines for granting parole. Some of these are: 1. All parole petitions will have to be decided within 30 days; 2. Up to two months parole can be granted once a year for prisoners with good record; 3. A parole will come with certain conditions. A prisoner on parole will be bound to observer those conditions and maintain peace. It is a fact that disposal of parole petition takes time because either reports from the police are not received in time or due to bureaucratic sloth. According to newspaper reports, until September 2009 the Delhi government granted 11 paroles to 132 applications. It is a fact that many indigent prisoners do not get parole as their cases are not processed quickly. Manu Sharma's case illustrates how the chips are stacked in our system.

 

Manu Sharma's case also highlights the need for reexamining other wider issues connected with the operation of the parole system. In the US, the decision is vested in a parole board. Before being granted the privilege of parole the inmate is interviewed by this board. While in prison, the inmate signs a parole certificate or contract specifying conditions that the inmate must follow. The conditions require the parolee to meet regularly with his/her parole officer or community correction agent who determines whether the parolee is violating any of his terms of release. According to the US Department of Justice, at least 16 states have now abolished parole entirely and four more have abolished parole for certain violent offenders. Some states (including New York) have abolished parole altogether for violent felons and the federal government abolished, in 1984, for all offenders convicted for a federal crime whether violent or not.

 

In India the Supreme Court has held the view that every convict should be allowed parole for two months in a year to renew family ties to reform. But it has been found by law enforcement officers that the granting of paroles has seldom helped in reformation of the criminals. Most of them almost invariably go back to their old associates and resume illegal activities. In a number of cases, hardened criminals jump parole and never return..

 

One of the conditions provided in some jail manuals (and also in the model manual prepared by Bureau of Police Research and Development) is that the prisoner will report to the probation officer, if any, of the area of his stay during parole. Unfortunately the probation officers are non-functional in most of the states and prisoners seldom report to them. Thus there is normally no check on the activities of the parolees. I know of districts where probation officers are deployed for duties other than those specified for them. The dismal functioning of the probation officers is one of the glaring lacunae of our correctional administration.

 

The writer was formerly National Police Academy's director, andNHRC's director general

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

COMPETITIVE COMMISSION

 

That there is already a controversy surrounding the Competition Commission, as reported by FE yesterday, isn't necessarily a bad thing—at least, after many years in the making, the Competition Commission is at last being noticed. A key feature of advanced capitalist economies is an independent and competent competition regulatory body. And India can be no different. Unsurprisingly, though, the immediate controversy surrounds turf. Apparently, sectoral regulators like RBI (for banks) and Trai (for telecom) are resisting the Competition Commission of India's (CCI's) jurisdiction in their spheres of influence. So, RBI is arguing that the Competition Commission has no right to comment on whether public sector banks have an unfair advantage over private sector banks. Trai in a similar argument says that the CCI cannot recommend how many operators per circle the regulator should grant licences to. Both sides have a point. The CCI cannot and should not pronounce on what are essentially policy decisions for a sector as a whole. That should be left to the government or to the sectoral regulator. However, that is not the same as arguing that the CCI should not have any jurisdiction at all in consolidation/M&A activity in sectors where there are independent regulators in any case.

 

Following global best practices, CCI should consider individual cases (of consolidation, merger or acquisition, or even collusion) from every industry and judge them in the context of maintaining a competitive market. Competition is a complex issue and it isn't always the case that having more players in a particular market is a guarantee for fair competition. The airline industry, in different parts of the world, has often been guilty of cartelisation despite numbers. On the other hand, some heavily concentrated industries can be brutally competitive—look at the fierce competition between the duopoly of Coca-Cola and Pepsi, or the near duopoly of Boeing and Airbus. So, if Coca-Cola acquires a smaller soft drink company other than Pepsi, it need not be an anti-competitive move. Even when Boeing bought out McDonnell Douglas, a competitor, it was allowed to do so as competition was ensured by Airbus. In fact, the aircraft manufacturing industry needed consolidation for economies of scale. Many other industries need that too and consolidation per se isn't necessarily against competition. The CCI would, therefore, have its hands full just examining various individual cases thoroughly. It doesn't need to get entangled in broader policy issues. Actually, the controversy over turf is needless because just like everywhere else, competition authorities and sectoral regulators co-exist peacefully and effectively. It's simply a matter of each sticking to its own area of expertise.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

WHO'S IN CHARGE?


In May, when Mamata Banerjee took charge of the Union railways ministry in the West Bengal capital instead of at Rail Bhawan in Delhi, she cited a natural disaster—cyclone Aila—for breaking with precedence. She indicated that her taking charge in Bengal did not mean that her interests rested in Bengal alone. Simultaneously, she announced a special travel pass for people with a monthly income below Rs 500—it would cost only Rs 20 a month. She then went on to spend 20 of her first 31 days in office in Bengal. Prescient folks saw that as a sign of things to come and it's they rather than didi's statements that have been proved correct, with the minister having attended less than half of the Cabinet meetings hitherto held. Evidence has also piled up that her populism isn't doing the railways any good. Then, there has been dark icing on the cake in the form of a number of accidents. And behind it all, comparisons with previous minister Lalu Prasad are insistently raising their heads. It's in this context that one must read the PM's demand of a railways' status report within a fortnight. The minister hasn't been putting in enough time at her railways office—so crucial to India's growth objectives. The UPA-II high command is asking for an accounting.

 

Now, nobody is accusing didi of lotus-eating. She has been hard at work, pushing the CPM further and further into a corner in Bengal. Whether it's elections for the village panchayats or the Lok Sabha or the state Assembly, successive Trinamool Congress victories speak for themselves, and for what's the locus of the minister's considerable energies. Everyone now calls her the CM-in-waiting. If the decision-making paralysis on various fronts is an indication, even the CPM seems resigned to ceding power in 2011, which is when the Assembly polls are scheduled to take place. This is a situation begging for early elections. There is nobody governing the state and there is nobody running the railways ministry. Say Bengal went to polls now and say didi came to power, we would have a new—and more committed—railways minister and Bengal would have new—and more effective—government. Even if things went the other way, the state would see the end of political paralysis and the ministry would benefit from didi's refocused attention. We presume. Meanwhile, there are 90,000 posts vacant in the railways—it's anybody's guess as to how much this is impacting safety. Tariff reforms are necessary, but pending. The dedicated freight corridor project is in limbo. Capacity addition is progressing at a snail's pace. Ditto for modernisation in general. A part-time minister can't even address all these problems, let alone fix them.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

STATS OF THE NATION: GOOD, BAD & UGLY

MAHESH VYAS


The Sebi Committee on Disclosures & Accounting Standards has recommended that the audited figures of the major heads of the balance sheet be disclosed by listed companies on a half-yearly basis. This is a major step in improving disclosures. And, copious public disclosures are the best means of ensuring better corporate governance. Besides, the data thus generated helps in better policy interventions. Such a disclosure around October 2008 would have helped us gauge the strength of India Inc around the time of the disaster much better. Nevertheless, Sebi's move is commendable and is likely to go a long way in improving the efficiency of the financial markets in India.

 

Sebi proposes to relax the 30-day period within which companies are required to release their financials to 45 days. This is a bit disappointing. At the same time, it proposes to reduce from 90 to 60 days the time that companies are allowed for disclosing the audited financials for the year. While the reduction in the time is welcome, the relaxation for the last quarter is odd. Companies often do not provide last quarter results because of this relaxation. Sebi should plug this loophole in its disclosure requirements.

 

Sebi's moves at improving disclosures began more than a decade ago when it mandated the release of half-yearly profit and loss figures by listed companies. Soon, this graduated to quarterly release. We hope that the move to disclose half-yearly balance sheet figures will also soon move to quarterly disclosures.

 

The public infrastructure to access data on companies has improved because of Sebi's moves and also because of the efforts of the government. The best example is the ministry of company affairs' MCA-21 project that makes available the information filed by registered companies on its Web site. The public at large can access hundreds of thousands of reports online by paying a nominal fee using a credit card. This is a vast improvement over the earlier system when one had to visit the office of the Registrar of Companies in the region in which the company was registered and request for a copy of the reports.

 

Sebi has the EDIFAR system that provides a lot more information on listed companies. An important difference is that Sebi's EDIFAR is free of cost to the user while the ministry of company affairs charges a fee for access. Given that the government charges companies to file reports, it is unfair for it to also charge for its access. The MCA is also one of the very few ministries that charges for what is essentially public data.

 

Most ministries do not charge for the information they make available on their web sites. And, there have been some significant improvements. The India Meteorological Department got a lot of well-deserved flak for getting its forecast wrong this year. But, what may have gone unnoticed and unappreciated is the fact that in this same season, they have also improved disclosures regarding the progress of monsoon. Now, the IMD provides district-wise progress of the rains, unlike the meteorological department-wise disclosures made till now. It was a rare gesture for the IMD to admit their shortcoming, but it is a greater gesture for them to increase disclosures.

 

The roads sector is exceptional. The Vajpayee government launched the ambitious (and successful) project to improve the country's connectivity through roads. But, there was never any clear idea of the length of roads that the country had. Even today, the most recent data available on the Web site of the ministry of road transport & highways is of 2004. And, this is a major improvement of the situation since till recently, the latest information was only till 2002. While there is copious information on the NHAI and its projects, there is no data beyond that. No wonder we zip through the Mumbai-Pune expressway but then get lost in the traffic at both the ends of the expressway.

While there is a lot of debate on the reforms in the education sector, it may be useful for the ministry to update its databases first. The latest data on the number of schools, students, teachers, etc is for 2004.

 

One consistent failure on data has been the Directorate General of Commercial Intelligence & Statistics (DGCI&S). Foreign Trade data have always been delayed. Unlike in many other areas, there is no timetable for the release of the detailed trade data. It took the DGCI&S four months to release the March 2009 trade statistics for principal commodities. They have still not released the detailed ITC trade data for the month and therefore, for 2008-09. All the decisions to provide relief to exporters during the Global Liquidity Crisis were based on either no data or worse still, unreliable data.

 

A similar failure is in the CSO's publication of the Annual Survey of Industries . Till its significant deterioration, the ASI was the most important source to study the performance of the industrial sector. However, the delays have substantially reduced its usefulness. The latest ASI data published is for 2004-05.

 

The CSO is in the process of updating the IIP. But, it also needs to worry about the utility of the ASI database if it is released after a lag of more than five years. Contrast Sebi mandating the disclosure of information by companies and thereby making the market efficient against the CSO's collection of the ASI data with the tax-payers' monies that does not make anyone wiser.

 

The author heads Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

HOW TO PAY FOR ROADS AND AIRPORTS

SHYAMALA SHUKLA


India's public-private partnership (PPP) programme in infrastructure has acquired substantial size over the last few years. To fill the gap in public infrastructure investments, the government created future obligations in the shape of the PPP programme, which started with a large annuity-based road sector programme. The government committed a part of its fuel cess for 25-plus years for payment of annuity and for facilitating additional borrowing by NHAI. In addition, various clauses of concession agreements in user fee-based PPPs were framed such that the government undertook guarantees to lend comfort to investors and lenders entailing substantial levels of future payments contingent upon specified events. These are off-balance sheet.

 

The findings of a study on infrastructure financing that commercial banks, with public sector banks as major contributors, have provided a large part of debt financing so far have additional implications for the government's fiscal management, especially because many of these institutions are characterised by substantial government interests. Out of the total availability of debt financing for infrastructure in the Eleventh Plan of $206.38 billion, almost 70% would come from domestic bank credit, non-banking financial institutions and pension/insurance companies, again many would be institutions with government interests.

 

Considering the model concession agreements (MCA) for the road, railways (container), urban metro and port sectors currently in use, the transmission service agreements and the share purchase agreements of the power sector and limited clauses of the draft MCAs for the airport and railway sectors, the contingent liabilities of the 'authority' are in three major categories: compensation for change in law, penalties for authority default and termination payments, of which the first and the third are more important.

 

The concessions in different sectors provide coverage for change in law with minor differences. For the road sector, for example, the concessionaire is to be compensated if aggregate financial effect exceeds the higher of Rs 10 million or 0.5% of realisable fee.

 

The basis for termination payments in all agreements is the debt due or book value or replacement value. A partial answer to the obvious question on why the GoI did not consider market value as a basis lies in the level of comfort demanded by lenders. The substitution agreement which forms part of the concession agreement states that: "Lenders are entitled to receive from the concessionaire, without any further reference to or consent of the concessionaire, the debt due upon termination of the Concession Agreement."

 

This means that government, through termination payments, is essentially paying its banks or itself. Bluntly, it means that private debt will almost fully be paid for by government should the private sector fail to do its job. Over the course of time, with more financing coming from other sources, the situation would change, but the prospects of large contingent liabilities are indeed alarming.

 

A draft World Bank report, GoI: Managing the fiscal implications of PPPs, states that GoI's exposure to PPP termination payments is approximately Rs 40,000 crore ($10 billion, 1% of GDP in 2007) with current value of obligations at about 1% of the exposure, which is relatively low at present. Under similar assumptions, we can calculate somewhat loosely that the combined exposure of 17 state governments could be around $16 billion and additional exposure of GoI and the state governments combined could increase by approximately $50 billion in the next five years.

 

PPP experts in GoI have suggested the notion of 'Net Contingent Liabilities' based on the reasoning that most PPP projects are monopolies; services rendered cannot be replaced and demand inelasticity will keep revenue streams intact. On termination, the asset reverts to government and a new operator can be procured. Therefore, net contingent liability would take into account the current value of the asset and the NPV of earnings for the remaining period. This reasoning has an obvious flaw: a project with intact revenue streams would probably not require termination.

 

An institutional framework for controlling contingent liabilities would consist of investment planning, sector strategy, adequate project design, risk appraisal involving other than line ministries, risk sharing, limiting contingent liabilities overall, disclosure, separate promotion and oversight functions, tracking variables impacting probability of termination, tracking lifetime budgetary implications of PPPs and creating a reserve fund for called liabilities.

 

The author is working as advisor to India's executive director, at The World Bank. These are her personal views

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

BONDED BY INTEREST, NOT AFFECTION

ALEXANDRA RICE

 

During his meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao, US President Barack Obama will try to manoeuvre some wins off a reluctant China. Yet, as Obama attempts to employ his famous, though not always successful, diplomacy, he will be acting on behalf of a nation whose opinion of Hu's country is generally unfavourable.

 

After years of patting themselves on the back for their superpower status, Americans are becoming increasingly cognisant of China's rapid rise. While in 2000, 65% of Americans perceived their country to be the leading economic power (China came in third with 10%, after Japan), earlier this year, Americans placed China at a statistical tie with them for this status. In recognition of China's growing economic and political importance, 34% of Americans view US-China ties as the most important bilateral relationship for their country. However, acknowledgment of China's strategic importance does not cast that nation in a favourable light: only 33% of Americans view China as an ally, whereas 56% consider it an adversary. In fact, majority of Americans see China's emergence as a world power as a major threat to the well-being of the US.

 

Americans' attitude towards China, given the circumstances, is unsurprising. In addition to menacing the US' prized sole superpower status, China has become the US's biggest lender through its purchases of US Treasury bonds.

 

Americans also see China as a human rights violator that poisons toothpaste, unfairly manipulates trade with undervalued currency, and prioritises national interests over multi-national ones on issues such as climate change or security. In the American mind, the evil of such crimes is further substantiated by China being a communist nation. The resoluteness of American public opinion and China's strategic resistance to change make it unlikely that Americans will fall in love with China anytime soon. Americans are simply looking for Obama to extract maximum benefit from this unavoidable partner and to help delay the inevitable moment when the US will be forced to share centrestage with China.

 

feedit@expressindia.com

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

REPORT CARD

This study* sheds light on how a wide range of insurance and redistribution mechanisms operate at different points in the income distribution, and on how their respective roles have changed over the past 40 years:

 

We conduct a systematic empirical study of cross-sectional inequality in the US, integrating data from the Current Population Survey, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the Consumer Expenditure Survey, and the Survey of Consumer Finances. In order to understand how different dimensions of inequality are related via choices, markets and institutions, we follow the mapping suggested by the household budget constraint from individual wages to individual earnings, to household earnings, to disposable income, and, ultimately, to consumption and wealth. We document a continuous and sizable increase in wage inequality over the sample period. Changes in the distribution of hours worked sharpen the rise in earnings inequality before 1982, but mitigate its increase thereafter. Taxes and transfers compress the level of income inequality, especially at the bottom of the distribution, but have little effect on the overall trend.

 

 Jonathan Heathcote, Fabrizio Perri, Giovanni L Violante; Unequal We Stand: An Empirical Analysis of Economic Inequality in the United States, 1967-2006; NBER, 2009

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

COMING CLEAN AT COPENHAGEN

 

With less than a month to go for the Copenhagen climate conference, there is great expectation that India, the fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases, will come up with a clear plan to stem the growth of its carbon emissions. After a long phase of denial, there are some signs that national policy is beginning to acknowledge global concerns on this all-important issue. The signing of a memorandum of agreement with China on climate change is a welcome initiative that promises long-term benefits for both nations. The Chinese experience in substantially reducing carbon emissions per unit of GDP — by an impressive 49.5 per cent between 1990 and 2004 — is worth studying and emulating. It now appears virtually certain that the United States will not commit itself to binding emissions cuts at Copenhagen because a domestic consensus is yet to emerge. That need not stop India, however, from shaking off its 'do-little' image and strengthening international efforts for a political agreement. Indeed, if the U. S., China, and India can agree to differentiated cuts and joint development of green technologies, a strong protocol under the United Nations framework in 2010 may be more feasible. India needs to get its national action plan on climate change off the ground quickly. State governments need to get their act together. Aggressive measures are necessary to reduce emissions and raise efficiency in areas such as power generation, transmission, lighting, building practices, transport, forestry, water and waste management.

 

The Copenhagen conference may end with only a 'political' agreement on reduction of carbon emissions beyond the Kyoto Protocol period. Yet it offers India an opportunity to formulate a green development policy that leapfrogs the dirty carbon legacy of the industrial revolution. Wind, water and solar energy (derived using available technologies) have the least impact on global warming. They can help taper off fossil fuel use and meet the bulk of energy demand in the future. There are challenges, however, as rare earths and other materials needed to manufacture the tens of thousands of wind turbines, motors, fuel cells, batteries, and solar cells that form the backbone of this vision are finite and difficult to access. If new materials are developed, these hurdles can be crossed. The resulting clean energy can transform the residential, commercial, industrial, and transport sectors. This is the green growth that India should aspire for. With political commitment, it is possible to develop a research and production base for cutting-edge technologies and fast-paced innovation. It will also lay the foundation for a new wave of green jobs.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

STIMULUS-DRIVEN RECOVERY

 

As the United States economy continues to battle recessionary conditions, recent months have seen developments that some have hailed as indicators of economic recovery. First, stock markets witnessed an unexpected rally from early March, with the Dow Jones industrial average jumping 57 per cent — however volatility has soared since the crisis began, with $6.9 trillion of U.S. shareholder value wiped out in 2008 alone. Secondly, banks that accepted taxpayer money under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, including Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley, and U.S. Bancorp, repaid their debt to the federal government. Subsequently, some of them went on to make record trading profits even as commercial banking languished, most notably Goldman Sachs which made $3.44 billion in profits for the second quarter. Thirdly, the U.S. economy posted growth results that heralded, technically, the end of the recession. Supported by massive stimulus packages to banks and automobiles, the third-quarter growth rate of 3.5 per cent marked the first quarter of positive growth in more than a year.

 

But juxtapose these indicators of recovery with the looming symptoms of recession that remain, and optimism about a full-fledged return to pre-crisis conditions seems hollow. Unemployment in the U.S. recently climbed to 10.2 per cent and, by some predictions, will remain above 8 per cent even two years from now. After the end of the 'cash for clunkers' scheme aimed at boosting automobile sales, many of the large car manufacturers reported a sharp fall in sales in September. Quantitative easing by the U.S. Federal Reserve has made little difference to bank lending to customers — total consumer credit decreased at an annual rate of 6 per cent in the third quarter of 2009, according to the Fed. The International Monetary Fund predicts that economic growth in the near-term will be "sluggish, credit constrained, and, for quite some time, jobless." There is general agreement that the signs of what looks like a recovery are driven by the massive fiscal stimuli supplied. There is even a risk that these signs will encourage conservative lobbies to press for rolling back fiscal deficits. Such misguided efforts must be resisted if the current low ebb of economic activity is to revive. A premature 1930s-style rollback runs contrary to the need for even higher levels of spending on public infrastructure and social services, vital to individuals and households who will remain in the vice-like grip of housing foreclosures and job losses for years to come. President Obama cannot afford to be fearful of deficits.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

TORY BLUES FOR EUROPEAN UNION

WHETHER IT IS LABOUR OR TORY, BRUSSELS WILL ALWAYS FIND ITSELF ARGUING WITH LONDON. WITH THE TORIES IN POWER, THOUGH, IT WILL BE MORE OF A SLANGING MATCH THAN A CIVILISED ARGUMENT.

HASAN SUROOR

 

Going by the general buzz and a growing sense of fatalism in the Labour Party as the general elections near, it looks like only a matter of months before the Conservatives return to power in Britain after 13 years. Already, they have started behaving (and are being treated) as the government-in-waiting, lining up their benefactors for high positions and issuing warnings on what would and would not be "acceptable" under a Tory administration.

 

William Hague, a former leader of the Conservative party who led it to one of its most humiliating election defeats in 2001 and is tipped to become Foreign Secretary when his boss David Cameron moves into Downing Street, provoked anger in European capitals recently when he threatened Britain's European Union allies over the choice of the EU's first President. Any backing for the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, he warned, would be regarded as a "hostile act" by a Tory government.

 

For a party, which is still in the Opposition and could yet lose its way on the polling day, to speak in the sort of imperious tone Mr. Hague did — in what appeared an attempt to dictate to the democratically elected governments — was deeply resented in Europe. It was seen by many EU leaders as bad form and raised concerns about the Tories' style. And they have reason to be wary of a Tory government because the Tories' opposition to a Blair presidency, which now seems doomed anyway because of other factors though Mr. Hague has been quick to claim credit for it, is part of their broader hostility to the EU itself — more specifically to the Lisbon Treaty that created the post.

 

Europe has always been a toxic issue with the Tories and nearly wrecked the party in the 1990s. Since then, it has changed in many ways or has, at least, acquired a new image under Mr. Cameron. But on Europe, it is still stuck in the past. Close Tory observers point out that the party is "nowhere more united than in its Euroscepticism" and the issue is not going to go away. Even if, for now, Mr. Cameron is able to buy peace by appealing to his colleagues not to rock the boat when the party looks so close to power, fears of a civil war erupting again will remain very real if a Cameron government is seen to be "retreating" on his pledge to hold the Tory line on Europe.

 

As The Economist pointed out, as far as the Tories are concerned, "Europe can never die; Euroscepticism is too essential an element of too many Tories' conservatism." Besides, the journal added, "The incoming bunch of Tory candidates will create easily the most (Euro-) sceptical parliamentary cadre ever. What happens when Mr. Cameron disappoints them?"

 

The writing on the wall is already there: two leading Tory members of European Parliament have resigned as party spokesmen in protest at what they see as a "climbdown" by Mr. Cameron on his promise to call a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty after he announced that holding a referendum no longer made sense as the Treaty had already been ratified by all 27 member-states, including Britain.

 

Mr. Cameron may have dropped the idea of a referendum, sensibly realising its absurdity, but in his bid to appease the hardliners he has ended up taking decisions that have put his party on a collision course with the rest of the EU. One is to leave the mainstream centre-right group in the European Parliament and join a marginal alliance of far-right parties which have been accused of anti-Semitism and homophobia. The decision (again a brainchild of Mr. Hague) has made Mr. Cameron a laughing stock in Europe and isolated his party.

In another divisive move, aimed at placating the party's Europhobic grass roots, he has threatened that his government will repatriate some of the powers that, according to the Tories, Labour ceded to the EU at the cost of Britain's national sovereignty. These relate mainly to the social chapter involving EU-wide policies on employment and social policy. The announcement has sparked a backlash across Europe with even the Irish Republic, the Netherlands and Poland, which one newspaper described as "historically the friendliest to Britain in the EU," reacting angrily to what they regard as effectively a declaration of war on the EU.

 

French Foreign Minister Pierre Lellouche accused the Tories of "castrating" Britain's position within the EU. He used an interview with The Guardian to launch an extraordinary attack on the Tories' position on Europe describing it as "pathetic." He singled out Mr. Hague for criticism saying he suffered from "a very bizarre sense of autism."

 

"It's pathetic. It's just very sad to see Britain, so important in Europe, just getting itself from the rest and disappearing from the radar map ... They are doing what they have done in the European Parliament [by leaving the mainstream centre-right group]. They have essentially castrated your U.K. influence in the European Parliament." There has been a similarly angry reaction from other leaders with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Markel said to be extremely irritated by the EU-bashing. A senior member of the Franco-British Friendship group is reported as saying that Mr. Lellouche was speaking for all EU members when he urged the Tories to take a more grown-up view of Britain's relations with Europe. It has been made clear to the Tories that there is no question of reopening old agreements and that they should stop harping on it.

 

Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans bluntly summed up the message to the Tories, saying there was "more chance of a snowball surviving hell than the EU restarting debates on treaty change."

 

There is an irony in the situation that the Tories find themselves in because of their anti-European stance. At a time when centre-right parties are running governments in most of the major European countries — France, Germany, Italy, and Poland among others — the Tories should be their natural allies. Instead, their Europhobia has put them at odds with their ideological bedfellows.

 

Meanwhile, even as the European leaders are bracing brace themselves for daily clashes with Britain in the event of the Tories coming to power, at least they know where they will stand vis-À-vis a Tory government. Which should make it relatively easy for them to define their own approach towards Britain after their experience with a Labour administration, which spoke in a deceptively ambiguous tongue — professing to be pro-Europe but, in practice, extremely suspicious and patronising. And when the chips were down — as most controversially over Iraq — Britain's Labour government chose Washington over Paris or Berlin.

 

Europe has not forgotten how Mr. Blair defied his European allies to support the American invasion of Iraq. Not only that, he revelled in the public humiliation heaped on Europe by Washington hawks led by Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who contemptuously dismissed Germany and France as "Old Europe," which had lost its relevance.

 

Iraq apart, for a party which came to office vowing to put Britain at the "heart of Europe," Labour's record on Europe has been pathetic. Far from pushing Britain closer to Europe, it has spent most of its 12 years in office lecturing its European allies, negotiating opt-outs for Britain from various EU policies and laying down "red lines." The result: Britain is the only major EU-member country today which has refused to join either the euro-zone or the Schenegan visa regime making it the odd man out in Europe.

 

The argument that Mr. Blair was held back by the Eurosceptics in his party sounds more like an excuse considering how he bulldozed his party into supporting him on other contentious issues such as part-privatisation of public services. The truth is that Mr. Blair and his inner circle lacked the political will to push the case for euro.

 

For much of his time in Downing Street, he displayed a slightly sniffy attitude towards Europe while bending over backwards to please America. Not surprisingly, the chickens have come home to roost now that he is angling for the EU presidency. Even his best friend, Mr. Sarkozy, has turned his back on him in the face of hostile opposition to his candidacy from other EU leaders, cutting across the left-right divide. The post now increasingly looks like going to the little-known Belgian Prime Minister, Herman Van Rompuy.

 

In a sense, Britain as a nation is not exactly in love with the EU which is seen as an attempt to create a "super state" by taking away the national sovereignty of member-states. So, whether it is Labour or Tories, Brussels will always find itself arguing with London. With the Tories in power, though, it will be more of a slanging match than a civilised argument. Which explains why alarm bells are ringing across the Channel.

 

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THE HINDU

OPED

ON PATROL IN MEXICO'S MOST DANGEROUS CITY

IAN SHERWOOD

 

The sun sets early now that winter is approaching. It is nearly 1800 and Ciudad Juarez city in Mexico has already descended into darkness. We drive up to Estacion Delicias police station, where all is quiet. I explain that we are here to spend the evening on patrol with the municipal police. We are escorted to a marked police vehicle, which pulls away at high speed.

 

The police lights flash. There is no siren and it is not clear where we are going as the vehicle zips through the streets of Juarez. A few minutes later we stop. In front of us a car is surrounded by people, including several police officers, some of whom have their faces concealed with black masks. Suddenly it becomes clear why Ciudad Juarez has the label of being the world's most dangerous city.

 

The body of a man is slumped in the front passenger seat of the car. He has been shot several times in the chest. Paramedics arrive and he is pronounced dead. His wife is standing close by, holding her infant daughter. She breaks down as she tells us that it is her husband inside the car. The police seal off the area with tape. The bullet casings are marked out close to the car.

 

As the investigation into this murder gets under way we are told that there has been another killing close by. After being ushered into the police vehicle once more we pull away.

 

As we approach a busy roundabout, there is a white Suzuki jeep surrounded by armed police in the middle of the road. As we get closer, a body clearly is visible, loosely covered by a blue coat.

 

We get out of the police vehicle and approach the officers to be told that two people have been killed. The second victim is inside the car. There are several bullet holes in the driver's side window at the front of the car, a further bullet hole has penetrated the back window of the car.

 

Many bullet casings are scattered on the road, glinting under the street lights. In the distance we see a priest approaching the body in the road. He kneels down and administers the last rites to the victim and then he walks away.

 

Some police officers take photographs of the scene, vehicles pass on the busy road next to us and some buses pass by carrying children. They hang out of the windows of the bus trying to make sense of what they have seen. Rocks are placed next to the bullet casings in the road. An elderly man is escorted to the body, he crouches down close, a police officer pulls back the blue coat and the man holds his face in his hands and weeps.

 

He has just identified the body of his seven-year-old grandson, Jaciel Ramirez. The man in car is his 28-year-old son, Raul. The elderly man then calmly crosses the street, where he is greeted by his wife. She cries out loudly after her husbands tells her the news.

 

She is comforted by a friend, as she asks: 'What has he done to deserve this?" More relatives and friends come to the scene, the air is filled with cries of grief. One girl screams the boy's name as she tries to get closer to his body.

 

She is held back by the police and is then consoled by a man who embraces her. We do not yet have the answers as to why these people were murdered.

 

The people of this city are asking why they are still not safe?

 

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THE HINDU

OPED

FRENCH AMBASSADOR'S RESPONSE TO REPORT ON AREVA'S REACTOR

THE FRENCH AMBASSADOR TO INDIA, JEROME BONNAFONT, WRITES:

 

In the article, Faulty design in Areva's reactor, published on November 7th, 2009, The Hindu has reported information derived from a joint statement issued by the Nuclear Safety Authorities from Finland, France and the United Kingdom on the safety of the French EPR reactor. Some conclusions were expressed regarding potential consequences on ongoing and planned reactor construction projects in France and other countries.

 

I shall not make any comment on the joint declaration issued on November 2nd, 2009, by the three Safety Authorities. As far as France is concerned, the French Nuclear Safety Authority, ASN, is a fully independent administrative body established in 2006 under French law, which enables it to ensure the highest level of nuclear safety of French nuclear installations.

 

I would, however, like to emphasise on the following points:

 

The EPR is an evolutionary reactor of the third generation, which complies with the highest safety and security standards. It is currently under construction in France, Finland and China, and it adheres to the French policy of a responsible global development of civil nuclear energy.

 

It is a fact that Nuclear Safety Authorities from France, Finland and the United Kingdom have engaged for several years in a cooperation with the aim to achieve greater efficiency and optimisation of their means. They have worked collectively, in the frame of the EPR certification process in each country. In this context, they have raised common issues related to instrumentation and control of the reactor, which is a usual step in the process of construction authorisation and reactor certification. Specifically, in order to warranty a safe behaviour of the reactor, they request that full independence between the safety system used in accidental conditions and the system used in normal conditions be demonstrated, or otherwise technical adjustments should be accordingly proposed.

 

This is a permanent and fully transparent dialogue involving the safety authorities, operators and reactor designers, which aims to achieve collectively the highest level of nuclear safety for the EPR. At no point of time have the three Nuclear Safety Authorities questioned the overall and intrinsic safety of any of the technical choices for the EPR reactor.

 

Operators in the three respective countries and the reactor designer AREVA have been working for several months in order to propose the most robust solutions which will soon be reviewed by the Nuclear Safety Authorities. Transparency and nuclear safety are the priorities leading the French policy for responsible recourse to civil nuclear energy. The ongoing dialogue between ASN and the French utility and reactor designer will eventually be fully beneficial to the Indian project of building up to six EPR reactors at Jaitapur in Maharashtra.

 

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THE HINDU

INTERVIEW

'IRAN HOPES PRESIDENT OBAMA CAN DELIVER ON HIS PROMISES'

IF DIPLOMACY CONTINUES, IT IS POSSIBLE TO REACH AN AGREEMENT ON THE U.S.-LED PROPOSAL FOR THE EXCHANGE OF NUCLEAR FUEL, SAYS IRAN'S FOREIGN MINISTER.

SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN

 

In an exclusive interview toThe Hindu during a two-day visit to Delhi, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki talks about the latest western proposal on the nuclear issue, the reasons behind the recent disclosure of a new enrichment facility at Fardoo and the current state of Indo-Iranian relations. Excerpts.

 

Iran has yet to respond to the proposal of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany (the P5+1) for fuelling the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR). The proposal, which involves Iran shipping out some of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) in return for 20 per cent enriched uranium, seems good for both sides. It shows the P5+1 is dropping its insistence on Iran suspending all enrichment, and also allows Tehran to build confidence with the U.S. and its allies. What will Iran's stand be?

In order to provide fuel for the TRR, there are three options in front of us. The first is producing the fuel ourselves, i.e. enriching LEU up to 20 per cent; second, purchasing the fuel from other countries as in the past; or third, considering the proposal which has been made by the other side. And we have taken this proposal into consideration and provided an initial response - that we are ready to discuss that option. We have some technical and economical observations here but in principle, this option could be taken into consideration and put on the agenda. We believe that with the continuation of the diplomacy going on now, it is possible to reach an agreement and compromise. Complementary suggestions and proposals are being sent and received by both sides, and by [International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohammed] ElBaradei.

 

One of the proposals is to involve Turkey as a staging post for the swap, or for Iran to buy half its requirement for the TRR and export only half of its own LEU. Are these some of the ideas being actively considered by your government?

One part of the discussion is the exchange of Iran's 3.5 per cent LEU with 20 per cent enriched uranium of the other side. There's some talk regarding the exchange of these two fuels inside Iran. With a positive view regarding the essence and nature of the proposal, we are reviewing the possibility of exchanging this fuel inside Iran. We have studied this proposal in order to open a new door for the other side. And the truth of the matter is their interaction could somehow build confidence among the Iranians.

 

When you say "exchange inside Iran", are you saying the 20 per cent enriched fuel for the TRR must come first?

Well, if there is going to be any exchange of fuel inside Iran, this must mean one side of the fuel exists in Iran and the other side should come, the 20 per cent.

 

Is it that Iran doesn't trust some of the countries involved? Are you afraid, for example, that the French may cheat you?

That is not what we are saying. We need fuel for the TRR. May be in exchange for one portion of this fuel, we hand over some of our fuel. Therefore, it is quite natural to see this happen inside Iran.

 

From what I gather, you are looking to modify the basic P5+1 proposal but U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said this is a 'take it or leave it' offer.

In diplomacy, we do not have zero or hundred. Therefore, flexibility is considered the essence of diplomacy. I believe this, and I guess the American side will understand this point as well…. Earlier, when they wanted to talk to us, they put some preconditions [like suspension of enrichment].But today they are talking and participating in talks without any preconditions.

The IAEA has now visited the proposed nuclear facility you recently declared at Fardoo near Qom. What is the purpose of the facility and why did Iran inform the agency about it only recently?

The reason for nuclear activity in Iran is producing fuel for generating power. The Fardoo facility is a site designed to take into account the use of new and updated centrifuges and the [need for] security. According to the laws we have ratified in Iran, we had to inform the IAEA only18 months before injecting fuel into the centrifuges. But we have done so before that time.

 

The U.S. claims Iran told the IAEA about Fardoo because it realised the CIA knew about the site and was likely to go public. Is this true?

Whenever they have any information, they highlight it ten times more for the benefit of the world's public. So how come the CIA was so humble that it did not announce this site to the public! No matter when we announced it, they were going to say something else.

 

Do you feel President Obama is sincere when he says he wants to build new relations with Iran? Do you feel he represents a change from George W. Bush?

We consider the new administration different from the earlier one, which was a total warmonger administration that sullied the reputation of the U.S. The failure of the Bush policies has been confirmed by the American people, who showed this with their votes in the presidential election. Today, everyone around the world knows Obama is a chance for the U.S. And the experts there should not allow this opportunity to lead to failure. We want to believe what President Obama is saying. We hope he can operationalise what he says. To the extent to which President Obama is serious in his approach, Iran is ready to help.

 

There is a feeling in the aftermath of your recent presidential election that divisions within the Iranian establishment might make it hard for Tehran to take advantage of the opportunities for dialogue presented by Mr. Obama and the latest P5+1 proposal.

The incidents after the elections ended a long time ago. It was a miscalculation by those who lost. I think the presidential election strengthened the capability of Iran. It was unique in our history that the difference between the president and his nearest rival was 11 million votes. Therefore, the decision-makers of the Islamic Republic of Iran are moving forward with more energy and power. We have received the messages of President Obama and are studying those messages. When we assess that the administration's actions and deeds go along with one another, certainly they are going to have our help.

 

Indian officials say they are keen to expand relations with Iran. What are the specific areas of cooperation you discussed with External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna?

In my meetings with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Mr. Krishna, we reviewed all dimensions of our relations. I agree they are interested and keen on developing and enhancing relations with Iran. We found our Indian friends serious and believe a new chapter has been opened for cooperation.

 

But the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline remains dead?

We voiced our full readiness that after finalisation of the issue by the Indian side we can add India to the project. Both the EAM and PM reiterated and raised this issue.

 

Among well-wishers of Iran in India, there is concern about the recent secret trial of the Iranian scholar, Kian Tajbakhsh, for his alleged involvement in the post-election protests. Now he has been sentenced to 12-15 years. We hope his case can be reviewed because he is a scholar and not someone involved in subversion.

All judicial verdicts can be reviewed and the opportunity of appeal is there for him. I am not aware of the details of his case. But our great effort is to see that those entering court can use all their rights, including appeal or using the capacity and potentiality of pardon.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

 EDITORIAL

YESTERDAY'S MEN OUT OF TUNE IN UP

 

The unprepossessing sight of Mulayam Singh Yadav and Kalyan Singh — two former chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh, the country's largest state — shooting poisoned arrows at one other is amusing only because the duo, who once gave themselves such airs, are making a spectacle of themselves. Their choice of vocabulary would shame a political neophyte. The fight of the former heavyweights may be silly fun, but it masks a serious reality. Nearly all their life in politics, Messrs Yadav and Singh spoke grandiloquently of ideology, although from opposite ends of the spectrum, and sought to seize the elevated ground. However, what they were doing all along was to construct a base that rested heavily on narrow caste endogamy, rather than a language of development. That base has deserted them because UP — like some other states as well — is getting left behind even as India as a whole is trying to walk forward in quick steps. These gentlemen represent the shackles that bound the state to narrow confines. But the people are looking for something else today. The trouble is that Mr Yadav and Mr Singh still don't seem to get it.

 

The tragedy is that political stalwarts of a territory that harbours very significant numbers of India's poor have shown an extraordinary inability to rise above the pettiness of caste and self. Not long ago they came together in a craven act of political opportunism that drew gasps all round, but their project of backward caste consolidation collapsed in a heap. It just could not stand up to the counter-pull exerted by UP chief minister Mayawati's ostensible dalit agenda — which on paper translates to fighting for the poor — and the barnstorming act of Rahul Gandhi who dangles the development paradigm in caste-neutral terms. None of this means that caste has ceased to exist in specified areas of social intercourse, but it does mean that voters are losing faith in those who sell the caste utopia. Mr Yadav and Mr Singh are today likely to concede that two and two did not make four — that Yadav and Lodh is not equal to the Firozabad Lok Sabha seat. Left behind by time, they naturally cannot fully let go of opportunism. Mr Singh is trying every low trick to return to the BJP fold for the second time.

 

Down and out, the saffronites may well choose to embrace the twice-prodigal, but it is doubtful this can be a reason that will shore up their chances in UP. Mr Yadav at the moment may have only nostalgia to fall back on. His party has non-responsive relations with Ms Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party and only a slippery link to the Congress. This may lead to an erosion of the caste vote and even departure of party high-fliers who not long ago genuflected before "neta ji". In a merrily diverse country, the fate of former UP satraps cannot denote the end of what goes under the rubric of regional politics. But their condition does indicate that an earlier mobilisation model now has severe limitations in the poorer parts of India, some of which are now experimenting even with extremist violence.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

 EDITORIAL

WHERE ARE THE HAWKERS?

JAYATI GHOSH

 

Near the university campus where I live, there used to be a row of fruit sellers behind the pavement at an intersection. It was very convenient to stop there, before entering the campus, and to be able to choose fresh fruit to take home. These were very busy roadside stalls, popular with commuters on different kinds of vehicles, pedestrians, students, local residents. A few months ago the stalls disappeared, victims of the road expansion and "modernisation" of the city of Delhi before the Commonwealth Games.

 

What became of the hawkers after they were removed? They were certainly given no compensation as they were in any case chased away from the area. How they find a livelihood now is unclear.

 

Slightly further away from my campus is a bustling vegetable market that also has stalls selling meat and fish. These vendors live under constant harassment and threat of eviction, and every so often I find that they have had to either shift position or surreptitiously provide their wares because some local inspector has decided they are not allowed.

 

But these are not the only petty traders who are finding it more and more difficult to ply their trade or even survive in the current economic context. The plight of small-time hawkers in Indian cities cannot be blamed on the economic recession: it started during the previous boom, as the official data shows that employment in unorganised retail activities actually declined even as the economy was growing rapidly.

 

This seems a bit odd because petty retail trade has traditionally been a refuge employment sector for workers, both male and female, who lose other jobs or simply do not find any other paid work. This has been especially true of the urban areas because poverty and the lack of opportunities for gainful employment in the rural areas tend to drive a large number of people to the cities in search of work and livelihood. For the urban poor, hawking is an important means of earning a livelihood as it requires minor financial input and the skills involved are relatively basic.

 

Two factors have limited their spread recently. In many states, deregulation that permitted the entry of large corporate entities in the retail sector provided competition to small vendors because of their ability to take advantages of economies of scale. Possibly more important are the urban laws and policies of various types, including zoning restrictions and rules that constrain the ability of small traders and hawkers to function freely.

 

In most states and most cities of India, hawking is regarded as an illegal — or at best extra-legal — activity. This despite the fact that several judgments of the Supreme Court since the late 1960s have recognised that street vending is a legitimate activity. A National Policy on Urban Street Vendors Hawkers has recognised the problems of hawkers and seeks to improve their conditions. Even so, hawkers remain in the grey non-legal zone because of state and municipal regulation, are considered as unlawful entities and are, therefore, subjected to harassment by police and civic authorities.

 

Even where hawkers are legally recognised, there are usually very low limits to the number of vendors licensed to function in particular locations or activities. The numbers legally permitted and the spaces which may be legally used cover only a tiny fraction of those who are actually engaged in the trade. Consequently, much of vending by definition remains illegal and thus amenable to either extortion or removal.

 

So hawkers are typically treated as encroachers of public space and are forced to bear the additional burden of legal insecurity, harassment and bribes to different elements. As pressure on urban land increases, more and more laws are invoked to harass, exploit or coerce the street vendors, including some sections of the Police Act and the Indian Penal Code.

 

Urban plans and urban development policies also put severe constraints upon hawkers' activities, by allowing for hawkers to be evicted and prohibiting their functioning in particular areas. Municipal acts and city plans in general do not have any kind of provision for street vendors.

 

Instead, the common tendency is to view hawkers and street vendors as obstructions to the free flow of traffic and urban movement, rather than an outcome and a necessary part of this flow. It is inadequately recognised that bicycles, pedestrians and bus traffic attract street vendors, who in turn provide important services such as the provision of food and drink for commuters, repair shops, and the like. Without such services at frequent intervals, the traffic itself would be adversely affected.

 

The presence of hawkers often has other positive social externalities. They can make streets relatively crime free and safer for women, children and the elderly. It has been found that cities that have a large number of street vendors tend to be safer and less prone to violent street crime than those that do not.

 

In terms of encroaching on public space — a typically middle class notion — it is too often forgotten that urban elites also cordon off public places for car-parking, private gardening etc. Even the sheer amount of urban space taken up by private vehicles owned by better off sections is ignored. For example, it has been estimated that the parking space taken up by private vehicles in the city of Delhi is greater than the area of all the slum settlements of the poor, which house around half of Delhi's population.

 

The extra-legal treatment of street vending means that there is no consideration of the working conditions of hawkers and their own personal safety as well as the security of their goods, and no attempt at public improvement of their conditions of work such as adequate sanitation facilities. It also denies hawkers (along with many other small and tiny producers of goods and services) access to institutional credit, which dramatically increases the cost of their working capital and constrains their ability to expand operations.

 

So here is a strategy that makes both the retailers and the consumers worse off. Why do we put up with it?

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

COLUMN

FIGHT NAXALS THE WAY US WAGES TALIBAN WAR

SHANKAR ROYCHOWDHURY

 

Radical ideologies, whether political or theological, have much in common in their public manifestation. The beheadings by Naxalite cadres of inspector Francis Induwar of the Jharkhand Police and of a villager in Gadchiroli suspected to be a police informer have introduced a dimension of psychopathic savagery into Maoist Naxalism which was hitherto considered the exclusive preserve of jihadi militant organisations such as Al Qaeda and the Taliban. These gruesome murders have been casually dismissed by Naxal commander Bikash as stray incidents of little consequence, making it relevant to speculate whether Naxalites in India have begun to consider the Taliban in Pakistan as role exemplars?

 

The Naxal problem has acquired the same urgency for India as the war in Afghanistan for the United States. It is something to which the Prime Minister has referred repeatedly, making no secret about what he considers to be the "single greatest threat facing the nation". But his transparently genuine concerns have not aroused any adequately supportive responses from an apathetic political system or the politico-administrative machinery of governance. There seems no pervading sense of urgency in what is a race against a ticking time bomb to address and assuage a socio-economic problem which has metamorphosed through decades of sheer economic neglect and cynical political opportunism into a politico-military problem of major dimensions, an aspect which can no longer be wished away, especially at the functional level.

 

Logically, it is time for the country's professional military to be inducted into the decision-making process, but ministerial personalities at the Centre are taking great pains to disclaim any likelihood at all of military involvement in the battle against the Naxalites. It is disconcerting to note that political ambiguities, like the fatal "last resort" phrase, are also occurring with increasing frequency which, we know from bitter experience, is often the prelude to the military being pitchforked at short notice into festering socio-political situations which indifferent civil administrations and their political mentors have let get beyond their control.

 

Like the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Naxal movement in India too is imperceptibly but definitely acquiring international dimensions and clientele. The Indian cadres (like their Maobadi counterparts in Nepal) appear in the visual media as trained light infantry, naturally raising questions regarding the sources for military training and also the identity of the instructors, and also about their channels for procurement of weapons, and perhaps more important, of ammunition, explosives and finances. In Nepal the instructors were mainly ex-servicemen of the Indian Army's Gorkha Rifles, persuaded, tempted or coerced into providing assistance, and it must be admitted (with a perverse twinge of professional pride from an old hand!) that they did a fairly good job of it! Similar questions arise regarding the Naxals in India whose "main force" troops have proved definitely superior to the ramshackle state police forces fielded against them, and even Central paramilitary forces (including the much-awaited Cobra battalions of the Central Reserve Police Force) do not appear to have been successful to the degree expected. In this context, there are reports of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam leftovers connecting with the Naxal leadership in the jungles of peninsular India at the southern end of the Red Corridor to impart the benefits of their experience against the Sri Lankan Army, while weapons are reported to be coming from Bangladesh as also from Nepal through the northern end of the corridor in the Nepal Terai, not overlooking the well-established potential for Inter-Services Intelligence/jihadi interface in both the adjoining countries.

 

Against this background, the national leadership has chosen to adopt the option of addressing an increasingly complex national problem with multi-state ramifications through sub-national executive machinery, performing at the level of individual states. Such an approach may undoubtedly provide an interesting academic perspective, but experience suggests such a decentralised pattern would be more appropriate for maintenance of law and order and crime fighting. Here too an increasing requirement is being felt for agencies at the all-India level, such as the recently-established National Investigation Agency. If insurgency is popularly described as a "people's war", counter-insurgency is "war amongst the people". One is the obverse of the other and both are by nature long-drawn, long-term manpower and resource-intensive processes.

 

Counter-insurgency is a component of internal security and requires central coordination, direction and control. It is in a different category from maintenance of law and order, though with many overlapping aspects at the state level. Focused counter-insurgency is essentially an integrated process of reconstruction and protection of political, administrative, social and economic infrastructure which insurgency seeks to tear down and destroy. The reconstructive process of counter-insurgency has, therefore, to almost always incorporate a fairly sizeable military component of internal security and requires a comprehensive socio-economic-cum-politico-military analysis to establish its operational base.

 

Common knowledge based on experience indicates this to be a top-down process, and it is legitimate to query whether any such modality to establish a holistic framework at the national level for operations against Naxalites has been carried out by the Central government or any of its agencies, to be disseminated to state governments to formulate and implement sectoral plans by a similar process. But accounts emerging in the public domain, primarily through the media, still give the impression of each state carrying out what are in effect local and more or less private wars against Naxalites in their respective areas, without much coordination or oversight on any integrated basis.

 

Meanwhile, intensifying operational strikes by Naxalites in various states across the country, whether the Bihar police armoury at Aurangabad, the Nalco explosives store and Central Industrial Security Force post at Damanjodi, or the hijacking of the Bhubaneshwar Rajdhani near Jhargram, are warnings of a transition to the mobile warfare stage which may be repeated on a larger-scale as the Naxalites taste increasing successes against rickety state administrations. India thus stands doubly beleaguered, internally from Naxalites and externally from its hostile neighbours. This state of affairs augurs ill for the future.

 

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

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

MASTERLY SHOT

 

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.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

IN TURMOIL

 

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.

 

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DNA

COLUMN

RED TERROR CHALLENGE

PR CHARI 

 

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.

 

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DNA

LAUREL & HARDY ARE PASSÉ

SIDHARTH BHATIA

 

For someone who is supposedly in the midst of a war with the media, Amitabh Bachchan has been quite liberal in giving interviews. Every news outlet boasts of a Bachchan exclusive, and he manages to make each one of them sound interesting and readable.


That's the thing with Bachchan — he is a professional who realises what his job demands and he is a consummate actor who knows how to switch it on. The awed reporter goes back convinced he got a great interview, something that nobody has ever managed to get.


A film's marketing requires stars to liberally meet the press, but they are confined to keeping their remarks limited to the film and its theme. No silly questions about personal relationships or wider issues. So if the film is a fantasy, the actor will talk about genies and if it's about deep sea diving, they will gush about how they've always wanted to go underwater. Since Bachchan's next is about a man who has an affliction that turns him into a 13-year-old, naturally, the current batch of interviews are centred on childhood.


Reading one of Bachchan's interviews the other day, I was struck by something he said. He talked about his teen years, recalling that he read Billy Bunter books and loved watching Laurel and Hardy films. He particularly mentioned The Flying Deuces, which anyone who is a Laurel and Hardy fan will recall as a particularly funny one. Made in 1939, it's about the two becoming fliers  in the French Foreign Legion and is full of patently ridiculous situations that were a hallmark of their movies.


A charming bit of nostalgia, but it made me wonder: Will they strike a bell with any filmgoer today? Laurel and Hardy have disappeared from current consciousness. It may be somewhat non-PC to laugh at the antics of one fat (sorry, horizontally challenged) and one thin and dimwitted fellow. But more than that, would kids today find them funny at all?


I speak from some experience. Like most fond parents, I tried to get my kids to watch some of the funnier films by the comic duo. The black and white format was something that was so alien and unique, that initially they were fascinated by it, but soon they lost interest. There was a laugh or two halfway, but then they got bored. Ditto with Charlie Chaplin. Even the famous shoelace eating scene in The Gold Rush did not tickle them beyond a point. I quietly admitted defeat.


Now I can rationalise to say that for the child of today, two bozos in all kinds of predicaments is no basis for humour. And what's so great about a tramp who has to get by with his wits anyway? But the bitter fact is that the pace of old cinema doesn't jell with today's generation, used as they are to quick cuts, fast moving action, broad humour that spells it all out and most of all to garish colour. Laurel and Hardy are passé by a long shot.

Which makes me wonder: Do all movies have a cross-generational appeal? The films we call classics — would they work at the box office today? Take Mother India, considered one of the all time greats — would a bunch of youngsters be able to sit through it? The slow pace would probably put them to sleep, but they might also want to know why those rural losers whine so much instead of getting themselves a good job. Make a list of films that you enjoyed 30 years ago or are respected by all, and ask-would you spend a relaxed Sunday afternoon watching them?


The same applies to books, art and perhaps people too. Classics have to be venerated and revered, but from afar. Get too close and disillusionment sets in. But reinterpreting and reinventing to make them connect with a newer, younger audience can keep the idea alive. Our mythological and religious texts like the Mahabharata and Ramayana are around because each period retold the stories in current lingo, with a fresh approach while keeping the core values intact.


Amitabh Bachchan himself is a fine example of reinvention. A brooding hero who became a metaphor of his times, turned older but also cooler (Sexy Sam), was a success on the emerging medium of satellite television (KBC) and continues to churn out movies and promote products as diverse as cement and chocolate. Many of his recent films are creative disasters, but we can see how he is exploring new possibilities all the time. He is already blogging away with more energy than his younger compatriots. He can chuckle over the silly antics of Billy Bunter and Laurel and Hardy without appearing fuddy duddy and outdated. All this without compromising his core values as a professional. Will we be able to say that about many of our contemporary stars 25 years down the line?

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

MAMATA ON THE MOVE

PM WANTS RAILWAYS ON FAST TRACK

 

SO frequent have become train accidents – six derailments in about a month with the latest one taking place on November 14 near Jaipur, killing seven persons – that they no longer evoke public outrage or divert the attention of Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee from her more pressing political work in preparation for the 2011 elections in West Bengal. For the record, the minister is doing what is usually done on such occasions: announce compensation and order an inquiry. She remains so preoccupied with her engagements in her home state that her detractors have started calling the Railways "an engine running without a driver".

 

Since assuming charge, Mamata has attended less than half the Cabinet meetings. Her presence in Delhi may not stop accidents, but at least she could start the implementation of the various safety norms suggested by experts over the years. Concerned about the neglect of such a vital ministry, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has decided to intervene. He has sought a status report on the Railways from the absentee minister within a fortnight and suggested a discussion on the Planning Commission's eight-page note on what is wrong with the Railways. Dr Montek Singh Ahluwalia's note has pointed out that planning at the Railways is not guided by a vision and that there is need for reforms.

 

This is quite a climbdown from the days of Lalu Prasad when the Railways earned all-round praise for making huge profits. Incidentally, the number of accidents during Lalu Prasad's tenure too had declined. Railway problems are well known and studied off and on. The Planning Commission has drawn some vital lessons from the functioning of the railways in China and wants them included in the Indian Railways' operational practices. Another commission is likely to be appointed to suggest structural reforms. However, implementation of reforms remains the key issue, especially when railway ministers have other priorities. It is time to move beyond the diagnosis stage and put the Railways on track. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

CURSE OF MALNUTRITION

ANNOUNCING NEW SCHEMES NOT ENOUGH

 

IN a country that is one of the most malnourished in the world, any new initiative to tackle malnutrition is more than welcome. Thus, the government's plan to launch two new food schemes, targeted at improving the health of adolescent girls and mothers, is indeed in the right direction. However, only launching of new schemes will not help solve the problem. Time and again, studies have shown how India lags behind in providing adequate nutrition to its people, especially children and women. Child nutrition rates in India are worse than even in many sub-Saharan African countries. The ill effects of under-nourishment include stunted growth and increased susceptibility to diseases. The low nutritional status of women is often linked to the low birth-weight of babies.

India has launched several nutritional programmes. However, the implementation of these programmes leaves a lot to be desired. Even the Prime Minister noted in 2007, "There is strong evidence that the ICDS (Integrated Child Development Scheme) has not led to any substantial improvement in the nutritional status of children under six." More recently, a study funded by the UK Department of International Development has warned of more acute malnutrition levels if the nation fails to manage its nutrition expenditure better. It is also being feared that India may not be able to achieve its Millennium Development Goal of reducing the number of hungry people even by 2043, what to talk of by 2015 as was planned.

 

The governments, both at the Centre and in the states, have to act fast to bridge the gap between policy and implementation. Attention has to be paid to increasing the coverage as well as assessing the impact of nutrition programmes. Besides introducing new programmes, the existing ones must reach out to the disadvantaged sections of society, to those who need it the most. While plugging the loopholes in the nutrition service delivery mechanism, efforts have to be made to ensure that the National Nutrition Policy doesn't remain on paper only. Nutrition is the responsibility of the government and an underfed India cannot claim to be an economic powerhouse. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

FALLING APART

UP POLITICS IS CHANGING FAST

 

THE spectacle of two veteran politicians, Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mr Kalyan Singh, humiliating each other in public indicates a certain degree of desperation. Quite possibly, it signals the end of the road for both. Smarting at the defeat of his daughter-in-law in his pocket borough of Firozabad, Samajwadi Party (SP) boss Mulayam Singh took a swipe at Mr Kalyan Singh, apparently because of the belief that the defeat in Firozabad was owing to his hobnobbing with the former BJP Chief Minister. But, then, in the recent byelections, the SP lost not only minority votes. Its failure to win even one of the eleven constituencies, most of them in Mr Mulayam Singh's backyard, indicates a more serious erosion of support among the other sections of the voters as well. The Kalyan Singh factor alone could not have been responsible for the SP's disastrous performance.

 

Mr Kalyan Singh, not surprisingly, retaliated by describing Mr Mulayam Singh a "traitor". It was Mr Mulayam Singh, he revealed, who had placed the SP's red cap on his head with a helicopter at his service for canvassing in the election. It was also at Mr Mulayam Singh's request, asserted the former blue-eyed boy of the BJP, that his son had joined the SP. Mr Kalyan Singh had claimed to have felt suffocated in the BJP earlier but now, after being snubbed by the SP chief, he appears all too ready to return to the BJP.

 

Both leaders seem to be hopelessly out of touch with the political reality. They strangely continue to promote their personal agenda of securing a place in politics for their sons, nephews and daughters-in-law. While the BJP, which is steadily losing ground in UP, may well be tempted to welcome Mr Kalyan Singh back, it is unlikely to change the emerging equations in UP, where the electorate finally appears to be turning its back on the more cynical politics of the past. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

BJP IN TURMOIL

ADVANI JUST A SILENT SPECTATOR

BY S. NIHAL SINGH

 

Beyond the crisis in the Bharatiya Janata Party, so publicly on display, are weightier questions of Indian polity. Decades after Independence, we had a virtual one-party rule at the Centre, with parties ultimately making dents on the Congress in the states without breaching the central fortress. It was the Emergency of the mid-70's and its consequences that brought an unlikely combination into power, but the Janata Party government could not last.

 

Hastily assembled on the ruins of the Emergency, the Janata Party was no cohesive force or entity. It was an opportunistic alliance born out of an unlikely event, the first serious challenge to Indian democracy, and the inner contradictions and differing viewpoints and interests of its constituents brought the house of cards down. It was much later that the new avatar of the Jan Sangh, the Bharatiya Janata Party, began to coalesce into a viable national opposing party.

 

The six years of the A.B. Vajpayee-led government in New Delhi gave the BJP the status of a recognised alternative ruling party. Yet it remained a predominantly Hindi-speaking northern party, with a mere scattering of support in the southern states. Inevitably, the BJP's graduating into a national party attracted more than its share of freebooters and opportunists while the hovering shadow of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh remained its strength and weakness.

 

However, the BJP did prove a point. It gave the country a rudimentary two-party system for the first time even as regional parties proliferated like mushroom. In fact, the growth of political parties with parochial agenda made it all the more essential for a credible alternative to the ruling party at the national level. Here Mr Vajpayee played a sterling role in rounding the rough edges of the RSS-influenced BJP agenda by keeping his disparate flock together.

 

And then the BJP came crashing down, not by the mere numbers it mustered in the Lok Sabha election of 2004 (the Congress, after all, did not do that spectacularly well) but by the shock of defeat. It had not imagined that it would not return to power and took years to reconcile itself to its fate. Come the 2009 election, and the BJP geared itself up to return to power. Mr L.K. Advani was declared its Prime Ministerial candidate and his invariable refrain was that Dr Manmohan Singh was the weakest Prime Minister the country had ever experienced.

 

The BJP's defeat in 2009 by a more convincing margin set in train a turmoil the party is continuing to face. It was clear that Mr Advani's attempt at seeking the highest office was his last. What was not clear was the scramble it would unleash among the second rung leaders to secure the top post and the ugly debate it would trigger on the merits and demerits of Hindutva to take the BJP forward. Here the RSS became a far bigger player.

 

Partly, it had to do with the change at the top in the RSS. Mr Mohan Bhagwat's predecessors would have dealt with the crisis in the BJP more discreetly because howsoever the link between the party and the RSS is projected from time to time, it is universally acknowledged that in times of crises, it calls the shots. The fiction of the RSS being a cultural organisation was always sought to be maintained, it offering advice when asked for.

 

Mr Bhagwat, who became the top leader of the RSS at a time the BJP was undergoing its severest test, interpreted his role differently. Not only was he dissatisfied with wielding real power behind close doors, but he also announced his arrival on centrestage by holding a virtual durbar in Delhi. And since then he has been publicly telling the BJP leadership what it should do.

 

Borrowing from the language of matrimonial advertisements, he stipulated that Mr Advani should retire and his successor should be young, belonging to a circle outside the set of the BJP's second string of leaders in Delhi and should set the party's house in order and have a "leadership mindset". Earlier, he had greatly embarrassed the party by suggesting that the BJP be subjected to chemotherapy, if necessary. Reacting to the suppressed fury of the party leaders in Delhi, he has unconvincingly sought to retract his earlier firmans, saying that, when asked, he had advised the BJP that the president should have the capability to rebuild the party.

 

For the better part of the turmoil the BJP is undergoing, Mr Advani has been a silent spectator. Misfortunes seldom come alone, and even as the party had been shaken by the intra-party struggles in Karnataka in the only southern state it rules, the vacuum in the leadership ranks has been gapingly wide. Not only did the mining lobby in North Karnataka represented by the Reddy brothers demand its pound of flesh but publicly demeaned the Chief Minister, Mr B.S. Yeddyurappa, by getting him to sack and appoint officials and ministers of their choice. The party acquiesced in this blatant display of money power over the governance of an important state, and the Reddys officially crowned Ms Sushma Swaraj, a claimant to power in Delhi, their "mother".

 

In national terms, the weakening of the BJP is bad news because it did lay claim to national status and if the opposition of the Congress is to be made up of a motley of regional parties with a stake only in their parochial concerns, the country is in for a rough ride. The question then arises: how does the promise of the BJP begin to recede so quickly?

 

One answer is that the BJP has never been able to reconcile its central contradiction: how to mesh its essentially exclusivist Hindutva ideology with ruling a pluralist society composed of many creeds and faiths. The RSS answer is that the BJP's electoral defeats — most recently in a string of state assembly elections — are because it has strayed from the straight and narrow Hindutva path. There are, of course, many in the BJP who would agree, but there are also others who would argue that such a course would be suicidal. After all, Mr Vajpayee's success in running a jumbo coalition was his ability to postpone the most contentious aspects of the RSS agenda and run the government on traditional centrist lines while claiming to be an RSS functionary on occasions.

 

Only the future can determine whether a new leader will emerge in the BJP to take the party forward. If Mr Advani could not live down his constant refrain of Dr Manmohan Singh being the weakest Prime Minister, Ms Swaraj would find it difficult to live down her role in placing money power above the party's interests in Karnataka.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

LEAN DAYS AHEAD

BY DONA SURI

 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may think that economically, India has turned the corner, but his Food and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar is disappointed with kharif procurement. Recently he declared: "Only a bumper rabi crop can rein in spiraling food costs". He says that the next three months are going to be tough.

 

The elite will continue slurping their favorite decoctions in five-star coffee shops no matter what the price, but for the common man (who could buy a week's ration for the price of just one little cinnamon mocha latte) stretching the budget to keep the kitchen running is a challenge. Here are some helpful tips to save on the food budget:

 

Waste naught want naught: You can grow many nutritious vegetables yourself. A gumla with a tomato-plant on your verandah is an obvious answer to high vegetable prices but you can go further. A small patch of lawn in front of your house is a real blessing. Grass can be harvested every three weeks and is an excellent source of vitamin B12. The higher grass will look slightly shaggy but this is inconsequential when you think of the lovely saag.

 

Back to the Future: Here's another way to reap dividends from your lawn. In most urban areas, keeping a cow or buffalo at home is no longer an option. If municipal bylaws don't get in the way, space constraints do. The answer is G-O-A-T. This small milk-producer can fit in any small corner during the day and be tethered outside at night to graze unseen and fertilise the lawn. Gandhiji preferred goat milk and you will soon come to like it too. A nicely fattened goat also delights non-vegetarians, although they will have to be more patient than their vegetarian friends.

 

Stop eating. Not only will you soon be fashionably slim, you will refine your soul, as per our time-honoured tradition. Baba Ramdev strongly approves of fasting and assures that anyone can easily do without food on alternate days. Western literature agrees. In Alice In Wonderland, the Red Queen promises Alice "jam every other day". After several days pass without jam, Alice confronts the Queen with her promise only to learn that the rule is "jam yesterday and jam tomorrow, but never jam today". Apply this rule to your meal schedule and see how much further your ration goes.

 

Go where the getting is good: The coming lean months also happen to be the wedding season. You don't have to know the happy couple personally in order to bless them. Dress nicely, saunter in and enjoy. Show real daring by carrying a large tiffin box and telling the mother of the bride that "Uncle is laid up with a fracture but really wanted to come. Do you mind if I take a little for him?"

 

Assign your family members to different weddings in order to maximise the tiffin-box haul.

 

When it comes to buffets, conferences are just as good as weddings. Pawar issued his warning while addressing the Economic Editors' Conference in Delhi. That shows that Pawar Sahib knows how to stretch his food budget — not that a minister ever has to worry about such things. Consult the engagements column every day and eat well all the way until April. Bon appétit!

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

BJP – ADRIFT IN CHOPPY WATERS

NO ONE IN SIGHT TO STEADY THE BOAT

BY SWATI CHATURVEDI

 

ATAL BEHARI VAJPAYEE, former Prime Minister and the only BJP leader India loved and cherished, remains an enigma. Yet, today the witty poet has no words for the party he has created.

 

Vajpayee could make any debate sparkle with witty asides. When asked in Parliament "Atalji aap atal rahiye", he smiled and said: "Atal toh hoon lekin bhooliye mat Bihari bhi hoon.''

 

He went to a RSS "shakha" wearing his customary dhoti and chortled at the sea of khakhi shorts. "Pehle kyun nahi bataya, mein bhi pehen leta'', he said, underlying the difference between him, a political leader, and the RSS.

 

Today he watches the RSS take complete and formal control of the BJP with Nitin Gadkari, a provincial leader with no national exposure, set to take over as the president of the BJP as a formal nominee of the RSS.

 

Every time the RSS Sanghsarchalak, Dr Mohan Bhagwat, a vet in her earlier days, holds forth on how the BJP leadership needs to change, even people who believe that Mr L K Advani is a completely lack-lustre leader who has lost the BJP two general elections, groan.

 

Says Mr Brajesh Mishra, a former National Security Adviser to Mr Vajpayee, "Vajpayeeji knew where to draw the line. There is a crisis in the BJP today because there is a leadership vacuum. Actions such as the expulsion of Mr Jaswant Singh are pointless and serve to convince people that this is less a political party and more some bizarre cult run by out-of-touch septuagenarians.''

 

To be described thus by an insider is a comedown indeed for the principal national opposition party. And the reasons are many: the blind ambition of one man to be the prime minister at any cost, the vapid grasping hold of some second-generation leaders who thought that political graduation came through the drawing rooms of Delhi, and the fluffing over the genuine leadership challenge such as the Gujarat riots and the taint of Varun Gandhi.

 

So lost was the BJP in its delusions that it actually thought that it would sweep Uttar Pradesh after Varun Gandhi spewed poison. Party president Rajnath Singh promptly tried to clamber on to the bandwagon, cancelled seven announced public meetings and rushed to Naini jail to deliver Varun a change of clothes and the faithful a message.

 

The miserable failure in the elections nonetheless, Rajnath Singh continued to act on the RSS message. Despite his own singular failure as a mass leader in UP, the man, described by Arun Shourie as a "lachar thakur'', tried and failed to cut down all other contenders in the BJP.

 

Mr Rajnath Singh always tried to pretend that he was the man with the magic wand – the RSS – and would wave it and make all political challenges vanish. Unfortunately for the BJP, he never saw the opposition as competition; for him it was personal and always Mr Arun Jaitly.

 

Take the case of the self-styled Sardar Patel Mark II and the grandiosely known as the PM-in-waiting, L.K. Advani. As Home Minister, he was prevented by Atalji from releasing a white paper on the ISI after the intelligence agencies indignantly pointed out that he would be making their assets public.

On three separate and vital occasions, on issues of vital national interest, Mr Advani suffered selective amnesia, preferring to pass the buck and the blame to the silent Mr Vajpayee.

 

On the release of Masoood Azhar and two other occasions, he was exposed by his own angry Cabinet colleagues such as Mr Jaswant Singh. But as Mishra, who also exposed the hypocrisy, points out: "How can you call yourself a leader and then waffle and fudge?''

 

Even his meaningless offer to resign following the BJP's worst-ever electoral defeat in the last elections was hollow. His coterie, guided only by self-interest, promptly persuaded him to change his mind.

 

The story put out that the RSS wanted him to stay put was scotched by Bhagwat himself, leaving Advani with egg on his face. Says one of his erstwhile camp-followers in a catty aside: "The problem is that he has no hobbies, so he is refusing to leave. He should have taken up gardening or bonsai.''

 

His followers, the second-generation leaders who have grabbed all the plums, now make unconvincing noises about how he is waiting for a graceful exit. But says a BJP leader, rather ruefully: "When you hang on with your thumb nails and are publicly told to go, what grace are we talking about? Even now, despite the media plants, he still does not want to leave.''

 

There was feverish speculation in the BJP on the eve of his 82nd birthday this month, but even that brief flurry of hope came to nothing. Recounts one of his aides: "The minute I saw the photograph of him trying to weight-lift, I knew we had lost. The palpable desperation to project youth in a bid to take on Rahul Gandhi and the daily attacks on a decent and learned man like Dr Manmohan Singh did him in. The BJP was only wallowing in negativity. We had nothing positive to say to the country."

 

In a bizarre kind of parallel with Pakistan and Jinnah, which the BJP seems to be obsessed with, it was almost as if the BJP had trapped itself in a negative mindset – stuck in partition somewhat like Pakistan – while the rest of India had moved on and did not want the politics of grievance mongering.

 

Today Advani finds himself all alone while all the second-generation leaders he created such as Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitly , Venkiah Naidu and Ananth Kumar are publicly told by the RSS that they are most "unwanted''.

 

Even in their 60s they call themselves the ''second-generation''. "The late Pramod Mahajan told this writer half in jest: "I have become a grandfather and the party still considers me a teenager.''

 

"While the Congress party has a genuine youth leadership, we still have these seniors fancying themselves as young and ensuring that no real youth even come in to the party. In a way Advani's continuance for the last election ensured that the second generation had no future'' rues one of them.

 

Even without the daily tantrums of the second generation, the BJP is shying away from grasping the Modi nettle. This, in essence, is the crisis of the BJP.

 

Many believe that the Gujarat riots cost the BJP a general election, yet currently Modi is the only genuine mass leader of the BJP. If he was made the party president, it would electrify the faithful yet would ensure that the BJP could not become the party of government in alliance.

 

Even the intellectual dishonesty repeatedly displayed, be it the destruction of the Babri Masjid or the complete lack of regret for the Gujarat riots, has eaten away at the heart of the national project that the BJP was.

 

And, one man who had the intellect to understand the idea of India and make all of India connect to him watches silently like Bhishma on his bed of arrows as the RSS and the BJP indulge in a modern Mahabharat . Let's give the last word to Jaswant Singh on Vajpayee: "When there is too much to say, the wise keep quiet."

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

COMPUTERS NEED TO LEARN GRAMMAR

BY PHILIP HENSHER

 

We're all getting, I fear, a computerised reading device for Christmas, allowing us to read the complete works of dozens of novelists through the magic of a seven-by-four screen. What happens if the logical conclusion is reached, and the computer takes to reading what we write, and judging it, too?

 

Experiments with using computers to mark exams have been on the rise for some time, and have now reached the point where they are supposed to be able to judge styles of writing.

 

Last week, the Westminster Education Forum amused itself by hooking an exam-marking computer up to various classic works of literature and rhetoric. What mark would Jane Austen, William Golding, Hemingway, Churchill get?

 

The answer was predictable: too much repetition; not proper sentences; even grammatical incorrectness (it

thought Churchill's phrase "the might of the German army" was a misuse of the conditional "might").

 

The conclusion was clear: a computer was at least as likely to make mistakes in marking as a student is in writing. But computers don't make up these standards themselves. They arise out of the principles of writing installed in them by, I am afraid to say, schoolteachers.

 

Those school-taught principles have a way of hanging around in the head. It's surprising to discover what a load of old rubbish many of them are. First, teachers were always telling pupils not to repeat words – this is the one that did for Hemingway in the forum's experiment.

 

But why not? The alternative is something called elegant variation – not a good thing – and the style of very old sports reporters; Wayne Rooney, for instance, becomes, in succession, "the recent proud young father", "the lad from Liverpool", "the Scouse bruiser", "the pug-faced virtuoso of the leather globe" and so on, deliriously. Much better to stick to the accurate word.

 

A specific terrible application of this comes when pupils writing a story are asked not to repeat "he said" and "she said", but to vary the verbs of speech, so that people are always described as murmuring, stating, enunciating, chirruping, guffawing and so on. I expect teachers want to increase their pupils' vocabulary, but the fact remains that only truly terrible writers do this; good ones generally stick to "he said, she said".

 

Probably, nowadays, the demented old rules about not ending a sentence with a preposition and never splitting an infinitive have disappeared. But what seems to have taken their place are some creative-writing derived principles.

 

The good principle of not using unnecessary words is interpreted by teachers, and I dare say computers, to mean "if you can cross out a word, do so". A "tiny little" object means something different from either a tiny, or a little, object; Sebastian Barry's memorable title A Long Long Way is different from both a long way, and a very long way. Either of these examples would get the computer's alarm bells ringing.

 

Computers could be programmed to recognise and deplore the passive voice, such as, indeed, "could be programmed". Teachers hate it, despite its obvious usefulness.

 

They could even be instructed to identify instances where students have lapsed from that saddest of creative-writing instructions, "Show don't tell", or to reward the pathetic belief that writing in the present tense is somehow more vivid than in the past.

 

But should they? Some of the things we are told in school, and apparently go on believing quite fervently, are

not good general rules to which genius provides an exception. They are just terrible rules.

 

Incidentally, I just ran this page through my computer's grammar checker. It ticked me off for two fragmentary sentences, one misspelling and one non-existent word ("Scouse"), and made an impertinent suggestion regarding a comma. Its day, I think, is still to come.

 

 By arrangement with The Independent

 

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THE TRIBUNE

DELHI DURBAR

BSP TAKES UP ASSAULT ISSUE

 

At the meeting of political leaders convened by Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar ahead of the winter session of Parliament last week, the BSP was the only party that raised the issue of MNS legislators assaulting an MLA in the Maharashtra assembly for daring to take the oath in Hindi instead of Marathi.

 

While all other leaders, including the one from the SP whose MLA Abu Azmi was roughed up by Raj Thackrey's men, were silent on the issue, the BSP's leader in the Lok Sabha Dara Singh Chauhan spoke up.

 

"Ab to Hindi bolne se pehle sau baar sochna padega", Chauhan said, ensuring the MNS (mis)deed did not go unmentioned at the leaders' meeting.

 

ADVANI CELEBRATES BIRTHDAY

Last week L.K. Advani celebrated his 82nd birthday with much fanfare. His camp followers, Sushma Swaraj and M Venkaiah Naidu, saw to it that the truce between the warring factions in the party's Karnataka unit was announced on this day and at Advani's house, accompanied by a lot of camaraderie  and bonhomie between the rivals.

 

Chief Minister B S. Yedyurappa and his bete noire, Tourism Minister Gali Janardhana Reddy, were seen offering cake to each other even as Rajnath Singh posed before photographers offering cake to Advani himself.

 

In the evening Advani's daughter, Pratibha, organised a preview of a film she made on the important roles older characters played in Hindi cinema. Advani, a film buff, sat with his family, select friends and camp followers.

 

A song in the collage film was really poignant and reflected the overall sombre mood of the day for all the apparent festivity. It was from Dev Anand's film "Hum Dono" and went like this "Barbadiyon ka sog manana fazul tha, barbadiyon ka jashn manata chala gaya"

 

AS OZ PM SPOKE, THEY SLEPT

The organisers of Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's address at the Sapru House last week had issued a limited number of passes for the speech, expecting a huge crowd in the backdrop of racial attacks on Indian students Down Under.

 

Strict security arrangements were in place for the function with many people, who actually were interested in listening to the Australian PM, being turned away as they did not have passes.

 

The auditorium was almost half empty just before Rudd was to arrive. Nothing could be done at that stage. So employees of the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA), who had just finished their lunch, were hurriedly summoned by the ICWA bosses to occupy the vacant seats.

 

The result: many of the ICWA staffers dozed off in their seats even as Rudd spoke on India-Australia ties, much to the embarrassment of their superiors.

 

Contributed by Aditi Tandon, Faraz Ahmad and Ashok Tuteja

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

CRICKETERS, CAREERS & CARRIERS

 

When the Indian team skipper pushed a Sri Lankan bowler for a single and reached an individual landmark on November 16, the huge screen at the Motera Stadium in Ahmedabad flashed a message, "Congratulations Dhoni for scoring 2,000 runs in your Test carrier". A carrier, the dictionary tells us, is anything which carries, ranging from a basket on a bicycle to a passenger aircraft. A carrier could even be a pigeon that carries messages or someone who transmits a disease by harbouring germs.

 

Whereas, by scoring 2,000 runs in Test cricket, Dhoni had reached a significant milestone in his cricketing career. The two words carrier and career could somewhat tally in the case of a railway porter who transports the passenger's baggage from one point to another, a la the coolie whom Amitabh Bachchan played in a movie released in the good old days when most people travelled by train with as much luggage as they could squeeze into the compartment. And so what if the Indian Railways carried prominent messages saying, "Less luggage, more comfort. Make travelling a pleasure."


The passengers, of course, did not heed the advice. Which could be why in the movie Coolie, the porter personified by Amitabh, mournfully sings, Saari duniya ka bojh hum uthatein hain. Ayn Rand's Atlas would have shrugged, but Rahul Dravid didn't when asked once again to bear the burden of an Indian innings rocked right back on its heels, with the four wickets of Sehwag, Gambhir, Tendulkar and Laxman down for a total of just 32 runs.


However, for those who are not porters, career and carrier are different things. Spelling, of course, has never been the electronic media's strong point, whether TV or scoreboard! Which could well explain the term, the idiot box, and Groucho Marx's observation: "I find television very educational. Every time someone switches it on, I go into another room and read a good book."

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE WHOLE THING COULD CRACK

 

Reports from the site of the latest train accident — the Delhi-bound Mandore Express derailed on Saturday, killing seven passengers — say that there was a 'crack' in the track. While it is for investigators to determine what exactly caused the mishap, the fact remains that track renewal has been given short shrift for years by IR, even as the load placed on the same tracks had been jacked up, to increase yield. Worse, rail minister Mamata Banerjee's clear preoccupation with her role as West Bengal chief-minister-in-waiting sends wholly wrong signals across the Railway board. Which is why there is genuine perception that the Railways are adrift, with a huge investment backlog and the real prospect of worsening finances around the corner. Note that the prime minister has called for a status report on the Railways. Now, the latest rail budget did reveal a cash surplus (before dividend) of Rs 17,400 crore. But in a Rs 1,00,000-crore outlay, track renewal is not even a major budgetary head! Instead, what's been provided is Rs 2,900 crore for new lines, a big increase on that for the previous fiscal, and Rs 1,750 crore for gauge conversion.

 

The stress is very much on introducing new trains, adding more rolling stock and, generally speaking, crowding the tracks with speed, so as to gain on populism and patronage. Recall that the latest budget envisages 57 new trains, apart from extensions and more frequencies on existing routes. Yet, track renewal seems to remain a low-priority item, never mind the pious intention to modernise and use digital ultrasonic flaw detectors. In the last five years of high growth, the revenues of IR did improve, with higher axle load and double-stack containers. But, in parallel, what's surely required is stepped up investment in tracks and fixed assets. The point is that IR can hardly rest on their laurels because the accident rate has come down from 0.65 per million train km in 2000-01 to 0.19 pmtkm in 2008-09. Rail traffic has doubled in this decade and the average load on tracks would also be far higher. It implies much faster wear and tear of tracks. So, the 70% improvement in the safety record is likely to be temporary, without a clear change of track on the ground.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

 

SMALL SAVINGS, BIG COSTS

 

With collections in assorted small saving schemes shooting up, the interest burden on state exchequers is poised to rise. States should have the choice to opt for cheaper loans, instead of being mandated to borrow 80% of the small savings collected in their territory. Further, the entire scheme of small savings calls for radical reform, with regard to interest rates, tax incentives and deployment. The Public Provident Fund (PPF), post-office saving deposits and certificates are booming, after a gap of two years. Collections in PPF, which offers a pre-tax return of 8%, have already touched the budget estimates of Rs 6,500 crore during April-September 2009. Similarly, collections from saving certificates and deposits crossed Rs 12,900 crore, or 78% of the budgets estimate.

The renewed investor interest in these schemes, which have the comfort of sovereign backing, is mainly on account of the uncertainty in the markets and steep fall in interest rates on bank deposits over the last year. The interest rate on term deposits with a tenure of over three years has dropped to 6.5% against 8% a year ago. In contrast, the administered interest rate on small savings has not changed. The icing on the cake is liberal tax incentives for small savings. This might seem like giving the small saver a good deal. But it comes at a cost to the economy. Diverting funds from banks to small savings means diverting savings from the commercial sector to the government, at high rates of interest. All this must change. Small saving rates must be benchmarked against the yield on government securities with a similar tenure. Further, there must be parity in the tax treatment of all savings, ideally by taxing all savings at the time of withdrawal, even as contributions and accumulations continue to be tax-exempt.


States pay 9.5% for the money they get from small savings, admittedly for 25 years. But then, states might be able to minimise their interest outgo and borrowing requirement by opting for 10-year loans, going at 8.3% now. Instead of foisting small savings on the states, the Centre should give states the freedom to tap cheaper funds, if they can. Simultaneously, small savings too should be allowed to be deployed in shorter-tenure state loans.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

THROUGH THE THIRD EYE

 

YOUR KHAN & OUR KHAN

A simmering Bollywood star war seems to be spilling over to the Congress. Now, a section of the party's leaders just can't stop praising Salman Khan for his 'direct contribution' to the party's election campaign in Mumbai as well as for supporting Rahul Gandhi's Ferozabad battle. This camp is also quick to add that unlike Salman, who openly joined the Congress war against its rivals, his rival Shahrukh Khan has so far conveniently limited himself to advertising his friendship with Rahul and Priyanka through photo sessions in VIP cricket galleries or at 10, Janpath.

 

The pro-Salman 'Congressies' now ask why those party leaders who claim credit for facilitating Shahrukh's proximity to Gandhis could never get him to shake a leg for the Congress when it mattered.


HOMECOMING
Nafiza Ali's unilateral 'return' to the Congress from political wilderness evokes bigger laughter at 24, Akbar Road, than what her Lok Sabha poll performance in Lucknow in an SP uniform had. Yet, Congressmen being what they are, the return of the prodigal is being used to drive home a bigger agenda. Party folks close to
K Karunakaran have found in the Nafiza episode an opportunity to loudly wonder why the leadership cannot clear the readmission of K Muralidharan, son of the Kerala veteran. Murali, after many political misadventures outside the Congress, has been knocking at AICC and PCC doors for an 'unconditional return'. The 'K camp', also worried over the Leader's failing health, ask if 'social butterflies' could fly in and out of the Congress, then why a former PCC chief and a two-time Lok Sabha MP like Murali is being made to wait. Finally, AICC in-charge of Kerala Mohsina Kidwai has agreed to meet Murali in Delhi later this week.


WILLING CONVERSION?

The non-factional Parivar devotees are now a confused lot. Not long ago, they heard Shri Mohan Bhagwat's coronation as RSS sarsanghchalak being hailed as a defining moment in the saffron world. The new RSS chief, they were told, 'is a man of the new world' with fresh and dynamic ideas'. His 'respect' for L K Advani and his inclination to play along with the Ashoka Road movers and shakers were cited as indications of the new order that would succeed Mr Advani. But the moment Dr Bhagwat, a qualified veterinary doctor, revealed his scepticism over paper tigers' ability to become roaring tigers and opted, instead, for a pedigreed lead horse from the Nagpur stable, the spin took a reverse swing. Now, goes the new line, Bhagwat and the RSS are cut off from the realities of modern India, its new-age politics and are bent on treating BJP as their bonded slave. The eerie resemblance of this line to what the 'pseudo secularists' have been saying all along has the average Parivarite baffled.

SECOND CHALLENGE

Supporters of the Samajwadi Party (SP) felt reassured by the speed with which young Akhilesh Yadav recovered from the Ferozabad shock to roar vengeance on those who messed up his wife's debut show. They understand the strategic importance of putting up such a brave front when one's political front is falling apart. Yet, they also get a nagging feeling that their young gun has not yet hit any new bright idea.


His post-Ferozabad resolve to take on the Rahul Gandhi challenge, they recall, is reproduction, verbatim, of what the SP spin doctors had come up with when Akhilesh took over as state party chief after the
LS poll meltdown in May.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE REAL SOLUTION FOR NAXALISM

ABHEEK BARMAN

 

Unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, equipped with cameras, data and video links are the latest weapons to be deployed against Naxals in India.

 

Developed by Hindustan Aeronautics, each machine will cost at least Rs 18 lakh. Will they work to contain or subdue what the prime minister has called the "greatest threat to India's internal security?" I doubt.


The Naxal — or Maoist — agitations in the country today are different from, say, the AASU-sponsored violence in Assam or the Khalistan-inspired violence in Punjab in the 1980s, or even the militancy in Jammu & Kashmir. The violence in Assam, Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir were orchestrated, at least initially, by close-knit organisations with a clear-cut agenda of breaking away from mainstream India on ethnic or religious grounds. Today's Naxal movements have no such goals.


Reckoned conservatively, Naxal activity in India today spreads across 90 districts in 10 states: Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. A look at this list will convince you that these movements aren't driven by the urge to break away from the country based on one geographical, ethnic or linguistic drive: at least six languages are spoken by the natives of these 10 states.


But cutting across this diversity, there are some startling similarities about the condition of people living there. To start with, they are poor. Studies show that 85 of the country's 100 poorest districts are in seven of those 10 states. In the Naxal-affected districts, 32% of the population is below the officially-measured poverty line, compared to 24% elsewhere.


Second, in these districts, state governments have a terrible record of delivering public goods and services. Only 68% of homes in Naxal-affected districts get safe drinking water, in other places, the number is 74%.


Many of these problems have to do with one simple fact: the people living in these areas are tribals who, on paper, receive special rights and privileges but are actually subject to brutal discrimination in India's caste-conscious society. Even in West Bengal's so-called socialist utopia, in dry areas where a single source of water, like a well or a pond, has to be shared by many households, the tribal is the last person in queue to get her bucketful.

Babus in state and district administrations are mostly drawn from the local elite, and their sympathies lie entirely with 'their' people. So, they pour whatever resources they have in better-off, urban, upper-caste areas. The tribal areas remain backward. What else explains the fact that only 43% of women in tribal, Naxal-affected areas get skilled medical attention during pregnancy, when 51% of women elsewhere get the same care?

If you place a map of India listing its mineral resources over another map marking areas of Naxal influence, the two would overlap almost perfectly. The poorest areas of the country are rich in coal, iron ore and bauxite seams but the 'curse of minerals' has gripped the area.


Coal mining was nationalised in the 1970s and, almost immediately, most activities surrounding the actual mining were hived off to efficient private operators: the mining mafia. Around Dhanbad and Asansol in the east, the coal mafia controlled everything: trucking, transportation, the movement of railway wagons and labour contracts. With money came political power. We've seen something similar in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, where the Bellary brothers, who control large mining leases, have acquired enough clout to bring the BJP government of Karnataka to its knees.


None of that is good news for the people who live there. The power of local mining overlords makes it easy for them to muscle into tribal land, fell forests and sell off timber as well as the minerals under the ground. This robs locals of land and forest resources. Over time, anger builds up.


It's easy to jump to the conclusion that the Naxal areas are hotbeds of crime and violence. Research by economist Vani K Borooah, of the University of Ulster, throws cold water on that assumption. After comparing rates of violent crimes, crimes against women and against public order across all Indian districts with Naxal-affected ones, he finds that Naxal-affected areas are in many ways less crime-prone than other parts.

He also finds, unsurprisingly, that urban areas are more crime-prone than rural ones — where Naxals largely operate — that poverty has little role in influencing the number of violent crimes, but riots and arson were more likely in poorer areas. Conflicts over drinking water led to higher crime rates, as did discrimination against scheduled tribes.


Though Borooah finds it hard to explain why criminal activity is lower in Naxal areas than in others, he has a provocative suggestion: "Judging from the experience of Northern Ireland, it is plausible that Naxalites — like the Loyalist and Republican paramilitary forces in Northern Ireland — also enforce law and order in their areas of influence."


The Naxal issue is complex, widespread and rooted in local factors. The government can't end Naxalism by sending the military into villages and jungles. And it won't help to club Naxals as terrorists and book suspects under harsh laws.


Last year, a report on Naxalism, published by the Planning Commission, made this accurate observation: "Mobilising the support of the people is also absolutely essential to weaken the support base of the Naxals. The political parties are not playing their role in this regard. The representatives of major political parties have virtually abdicated their responsibility."


Perhaps the only exception to this was Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress, which backed a police boycott movement called PCAPA in the western, tribal belt of Bengal. But as soon as the state cracked down on the PCAPA, Trinamool support for it withered.


To get Naxals into the political mainstream, the political mainstream has to make the first move. And to do that, the government has to take the first step to reconciliation. Otherwise, which politician would like to be seen hobnobbing with people branded as Naxals and terrorists?

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

JUST IMAGINE, ALL THIS FOR NOTHING!

MUKUL SHARMA

 

The space in between — that gap of nothingness which separates things like planets, particles of dust, parallel universes, protons and electrons, past from present, the self and others, mind and matter, life and death, etc — is as important as the things it separates. Some would even go so far as to say that it's more important since it's the medium in which existence, co-existence and different types of spatial and temporal existences can happen. It probably has to be there for such events to occur. Of course, it goes without saying that without stuff embedded in it, the nothingness too loses its importance because each ultimately defines the other and depends on it. Yin and Yang.

 

But is this nothingness really a nest of nothing? A void of shunyata beyond and beside the pale of all? Not quite. On the contrary, it appears to be seething with potential. We learn from modern physics, for example, that a qualitative description of such 'empty' space at incredibly minuscule microscopic distances becomes what is called a quantum foam constituting the fabric of the universe. And that at such small scales, the uncertainty principle allows particles and energy to briefly dance into existence, and then annihilate, without violating conservation laws, among which is the one that says matter or energy cannot be created or destroyed.


Many decades earlier, Albert Einstein had similarly theorised that what we call gravity — things attracting one another — is due to the presence of matter warping the space-time around it which then makes things fall into the warp. Hundreds of subsequent experiments have since then confirmed that our Sun, for instance, warps the space around it significantly enough to make light waves travelling from distant stars behind it to deflect off their paths to a degree which can easily be measured on Earth. In other words, nothingness can be bent.


And, most importantly, as far as we are concerned, nothingness can also explode, like it did at least once some 13.7 billion years ago in the Big Bang which created everything we have today: including all matter, energy, time, life and, paradoxical as it may sound, more nothingness of more space. It's almost as if nothingness did this because it needed to be defined by being that which exists between them. And vice versa. No wonder some people believe the nothing of death is no big deal. Like, how can we possibly be less?

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

MFS HAVE SERVED BOTH SMALL AND LARGE INVESTORS WELL

 

Mutual Funds have the expertise of managing products across the risk return spectrum. Correspondingly, for large and small investors, mutual funds offer an opportunity for deployment of savings based on individual risk taking capabilities and corresponding return expectations. This unique capability of mutual funds has helped individuals and large/institutional/corporate investors enhance significantly their return on savings over the last decade. The industry in India has some very high quality global and local players, very high quality of regulation and has a long track record of delivering returns in line with risk profile of products across the spectrum.

Mutual funds have offered great value to large and small investors. The industry in its modern form and shape is about 15 years old. The participation of individual investors in the industry has grown significantly in this period and today we have a situation where the total number of mutual fund folios actually exceeds the total number of demat accounts. Thus, more individuals are participating in India's capital markets through mutual funds than directly through purchase and sale of other securities. This growing family of individual investors is a testimony to the fact that the industry has been able to manage the savings of both large and small investors in a transparent and efficient manner thereby creating value for all.


Investments made by large institutions have in fact helped the mutual fund industry bring down expense ratios for a large number of debt products where the institutions invest significantly. In fact, a study of the industry shows that for most debt products, the expense ratio is significantly below the limit provided under regulation.

Global experience shows that the skill of money management needs to be made available both to individuals as well as to large investors/institutions. In fact, if one studies the example of other countries like Brazil and China that have a large mutual fund industry, one finds a significant participation of institutional investors in mutual funds.

The mutual fund industry in Brazil is over $600 billion and that in China is over $300 billion. While the retail participation in mutual funds in India has increased, we have a long way to go as penetration is very low. However, the efforts of the industry are now resulting in this penetration gradually improving and increasing and investors from over 300 cities now actively participate in investing in Indian mutual funds. The industry has also provided service to institutional/corporate clients in this period.


These institutions/corporates are in turn owned by a large number of individual investors. Availability of skilled money management advice to these institutions has helped them enhance their own return on investments thereby in turn benefiting their millions of shareholders. The industry now has a 15-year track record of managing products across the entire risk return range and delivering high quality consistent returns over a long term timeframe. The focus of our efforts should now be to increase the reach and availability of this expertise available with Indian mutual funds to a wider range of individual and institutional investors to enhance the productivity of capital in our economy.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

MFS HAVE EFFECTUALLY BEEN HIJACKED BY CORPORATE

 

Our mutual fund industry boasts of assets under management (AUM) of a Rs 7.75 lakh crore. These numbers hide more than they tell. What the industry is shy of disclosing is the share of small investors in this AUM. The reality is that nearly 80% of the AUM is corporate money. In the US, households hold 77% of AUM and their fiduciaries another 13%.

 

Regulators and financial organisations worldwide define mutual fund as a security to provide small investors access to a diversified portfolio of capital market instruments managed by professionals, protecting them from the hazards of direct uninformed investing. Clearly, mutual funds were created as a vehicle for the "little guy" to get a piece of the market.


In India, mutual funds are yet to emerge as an asset class of any significance for the small investors; in 2008-09, less than 2% of household savings got invested in mutual funds. In the US, individuals have 47% of their household financial assets in mutual funds.


Why are small investors missing? As they represent 'non-trouble making' and long-term money, each fund vows it wants more retail investors. But to get them, all that most do is to mislead them into buying NFOs and 'at par' and by luring them through passbacks, only to dump them with a greater share of expenses, and bad after-sales service. Poor fund performance as also higher acquisition cost prevents them from aggressively reaching small investors. The impact of new Sebi policy on entry load is yet to be seen.


Mutual funds prefer and, in fact, are obsessed with corporates because they help increase the AUM, leading to better bonuses for managers and higher ranking in the industry. For another, it means lesser effort. As a result, our industry has now become more of a money market funds industry. Corporates, of course, find mutual funds an extraordinary vehicle in terms of costs, simplicity, efficiency, liquidity, and flexibility, and one that provides tax benefits. Paradoxically, it is the corporates who do not offer any stability to the funds — in normal times they are dictated by treasury requirements, and in times of crisis, they are the first to redeem. Worse, committing large sums, corporates often influence the investment decisions of the fund.


It is time to re-examine the philosophy of the fund industry. Urgings by the regulator for retailisation has not helped; now it requires an intervention. Remedy lies in discouraging corporates from investing in mutual funds. A cap can be put on investment at, say, Rs 10 lakh per investor or alternatively, there can be an overall cap of say 10% on the total corporate investments in any plan, at both NFO and post-NFO stage. Tax disincentives should also be introduced.


Funds represent our country's biggest hope in channelising household savings into the economy through the capital market route, and in the process, also making us less dependent on FIIs. They can also act as guards of good governance in the investee corporates.


Fund houses have to now show more respect to small investors by charging them less, educating them, being more transparent and investor-friendly and responding to their grievances on priority. It is time the industry rose to the occasion.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'THE POWER OF CONSULTANTS IS NOW PRETTY DIMINISHED'

VIKAS KUMAR

 

The creator of Dilbert, the cartoon character who rose from his cubicle to global fame, talks about India's surge. Scott Adams italic">speaks also on the positive effects of the downturn on the US in a freewheeling interview with ET

 

The past two decades threw up a lot of management fads and jargon that inspired your cartoons. What's different about the workplace today and how's that showing up on Dilbert?

The unemployment rate (in the US) and outsourcing are the biggest things happening now. But I'm not seeing much that's going to define the next era. It was certainly easy to find ideas in the earlier years because downsizing was all around and all the big companies were doing it. Then there came the internet bubble when everything was about starting a website. This is a kind of nondescript period, and people are just sticking to the basics. It feels like there's nothing obvious emerging in this era except that it's hard to get a job.


After re-engineering, downsizing and management consultants, what new trends are you looking at?

My guess is that the power of consultants and MBAs is pretty diminished because they got such a black eye for not averting this financial crisis. The days when Dilbert was first gaining popularity, any idiot with an idea could write a book, have a bestseller and go on the speaking circuit. But at this point I would say the bullshit filter is pretty high. I think it's going to be pretty hard for any consultant to sell their services right now.

The other big trend is subtle. I'll bet if you did a survey of people who still have jobs they will say they're more satisfied than normal just because they're happy to have a job. In the past months when companies decided to cut everybody's pay 10% across the board, in the old days that would've caused a riot. These days, people say, "Oh, I am so happy that we only got a 10% (cut). It's nice to have a job." So in relative terms I think people are actually happier with their jobs right now than maybe in a long time.


What kind of emails do you get these days?

I don't get nearly as much email as before. The number people going to the website has doubled or tripled, though. So, readership is at an all-time high. But when Dilbert first came out I got the most emails in the first few years because there weren't that many people who had an email. A lot of them were from people who said, 'I just got email and I don't know anybody else who's got email, so I'm sending you one.' As Dilbert has become more and more well-known, the comment that I get is 'I'm sure you won't read this because you get so many emails.' So many people don't email because they assume I won't read it. Ironically, it's the opposite. Right now I read 100% of my email.


More people these days are taking to new social media like Facebook and Twitter. Are you comfortable with these?

I would be, if I weren't in the job that I have. It's a bit problematic for me. If you have a job like mine, you end up getting stalked. People know much about what you're doing and where you are.


Somebody figures out your pattern or learns much about your family, and then it becomes a security issue. Unfortunately I'm completely out of that due to security reasons.


Do you use any of that in your cartoon strips?

Yes, I had done one recently where Wally and Dilbert convince the boss to use Twitter and tell him it's fascinating and they really liked it. He tells them where he is and what he is doing at all times. The punch line is that they make him use it to avoid work. So, it probably has its uses.


From your experience, would you say entrepreneurs are born or made?

There's no universal rule. But I would say—probably born. People either have an appetite for risk or not and that's just natural. People have a willingness to do something incredibly hard for some kind of benefit, or they don't. My guess is that the qualities that make a successful entrepreneur are probably wired into your thinking long before you finish school.


One way to start a company is when you are already working for one. When I started Dilbert, the guy behind me was running a production sound company out of his cubicle, and the person in the cubicle across me was running another kind of company. So almost everybody around me was trying to start an entrepreneurial venture the same time they were getting a paycheck.


How does it feel cranking out cartoons day after day?

It depends on how I am feeling that morning. If I have a great idea that I like it feels great. If I don't have a good idea and I have to draw a cartoon anyway then it feels like work. Most of the times it feels like the best job in the world and once in a while it feels like work.


Do you feel like hanging up your boots on Dilbert?

I kind of like being the Dilbert guy. Much of that has to do with my identity—who I am and what I do. It's probably a guy thing. You want to be identified with your job.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

YESTERDAY'S MEN OUT OF TUNE IN UP

 

The unprepossessing sight of Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mr Kalyan Singh — two former chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh, the country's largest state — shooting poisoned arrows at one other is amusing only because the duo, who once gave themselves such airs, are making a spectacle of themselves. Their choice of vocabulary would shame a political neophyte. The fight of the former heavyweights may be silly fun, but it masks a serious reality. Nearly all their life in politics, Messrs Yadav and Singh spoke grandiloquently of ideology, although from opposite ends of the spectrum, and sought to seize the elevated ground. However, what they were doing all along was to construct a base that rested heavily on narrow caste endogamy, rather than a language of development. That base has deserted them because UP — like some other states as well — is getting left behind even as India as a whole is trying to walk forward in quick steps. These gentlemen represent the shackles that bound the state to narrow confines. But the people are looking for something else today. The trouble is that Mr Yadav and Mr Singh still don't seem to get it. The tragedy is that political stalwarts of a territory that harbours very significant numbers of India's poor have shown an extraordinary inability to rise above the pettiness of caste and self. Not long ago they came together in a craven act of political opportunism that drew gasps all round, but their project of backward caste consolidation collapsed in a heap. It just could not stand up to the counter-pull exerted by the UP Chief Minister, Ms Mayawati's ostensible dalit agenda — which on paper translates to fighting for the poor — and the barnstorming act of Mr Rahul Gandhi who dangles the development paradigm in caste-neutral terms. None of this means that caste has ceased to exist in specified areas of social intercourse, but it does mean that voters are losing faith in those who sell the caste utopia. Mr Yadav and Mr Singh are today likely to concede that two and two did not make four — that Mr Yadav and Lodh is not equal to the Firozabad Lok Sabha seat. Left behind by time, they naturally cannot fully let go of opportunism. Mr Singh is trying every low trick to return to the BJP fold for the second time. Down and out, the saffronites may well choose to embrace the twice-prodigal, but it is doubtful this can be a reason that will shore up their chances in UP. Mr Yadav at the moment may have only nostalgia to fall back on. His party has non-responsive relations with Ms Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party and only a slippery link to the Congress. This may lead to an erosion of the caste vote and even departure of party high-fliers who not long ago genuflected before "neta ji". In a merrily diverse country, the fate of former UP satraps cannot denote the end of what goes under the rubric of regional politics. But their condition does indicate that an earlier mobilisation model now has severe limitations in the poorer parts of India, some of which are now experimenting even with extremist violence.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

FIGHT NAXALS THE WAY US WAGES TALIBAN WAR

BY SHANKAR ROYCHOWDHURY

 

Radical ideologies, whether political or theological, have much in common in their public manifestation. The beheadings by Naxalite cadres of inspector Francis Induwar of the Jharkhand Police and of a villager in Gadchiroli suspected to be a police informer have introduced a dimension of psychopathic savagery into Maoist Naxalism which was hitherto considered the exclusive preserve of jihadi militant organisations such as Al Qaeda and the Taliban. These gruesome murders have been casually dismissed by Naxal commander Bikash as stray incidents of little consequence, making it relevant to speculate whether Naxalites in India have begun to consider the Taliban in Pakistan as role exemplars?


The Naxal problem has acquired the same urgency for India as the war in Afghanistan for the United States. It is something to which the Prime Minister has referred repeatedly, making no secret about what he considers to be the "single greatest threat facing the nation". But his transparently genuine concerns have not aroused any adequately supportive responses from an apathetic political system or the politico-administrative machinery of governance. There seems no pervading sense of urgency in what is a race against a ticking time bomb to address and assuage a socio-economic problem which has metamorphosed through decades of sheer economic neglect and cynical political opportunism into a politico-military problem of major dimensions, an aspect which can no longer be wished away, especially at the functional level.


Logically, it is time for the country's professional military to be inducted into the decision-making process, but ministerial personalities at the Centre are taking great pains to disclaim any likelihood at all of military involvement in the battle against the Naxalites. It is disconcerting to note that political ambiguities, like the fatal "last resort" phrase, are also occurring with increasing frequency which, we know from bitter experience, is often the prelude to the military being pitchforked at short notice into festering socio-political situations which indifferent civil administrations and their political mentors have let get beyond their control.
Like the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Naxal movement in India too is imperceptibly but definitely acquiring international dimensions and clientele. The Indian cadres (like their Maobadi counterparts in Nepal) appear in the visual media as trained light infantry, naturally raising questions regarding the sources for military training and also the identity of the instructors, and also about their channels for procurement of weapons, and perhaps more important, of ammunition, explosives and finances. In Nepal the instructors were mainly ex-servicemen of the Indian Army's Gorkha Rifles, persuaded, tempted or coerced into providing assistance, and it must be admitted (with a perverse twinge of professional pride from an old hand!) that they did a fairly good job of it! Similar questions arise regarding the Naxals in India whose "main force" troops have proved definitely superior to the ramshackle state police forces fielded against them, and even Central paramilitary forces (including the much-awaited Cobra battalions of the Central Reserve Police Force) do not appear to have been successful to the degree expected. In this context, there are reports of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam leftovers connecting with the Naxal leadership in the jungles of peninsular India at the southern end of the Red Corridor to impart the benefits of their experience against the Sri Lankan Army, while weapons are reported to be coming from Bangladesh as also from Nepal through the northern end of the corridor in the Nepal Terai, not overlooking the well-established potential for Inter-Services Intelligence/jihadi interface in both the adjoining countries.


Against this background, the national leadership has chosen to adopt the option of addressing an increasingly complex national problem with multi-state ramifications through sub-national executive machinery, performing at the level of individual states. Such an approach may undoubtedly provide an interesting academic perspective, but experience suggests such a decentralised pattern would be more appropriate for maintenance of law and order and crime fighting. Here too an increasing requirement is being felt for agencies at the all-India level, such as the recently-established National Investigation Agency. If insurgency is popularly described as a "people's war", counter-insurgency is "war amongst the people". One is the obverse of the other and both are by nature long-drawn, long-term manpower and resource-intensive processes.


Counter-insurgency is a component of internal security and requires central coordination, direction and control. It is in a different category from maintenance of law and order, though with many overlapping aspects at the state level. Focused counter-insurgency is essentially an integrated process of reconstruction and protection of political, administrative, social and economic infrastructure which insurgency seeks to tear down and destroy. The reconstructive process of counter-insurgency has, therefore, to almost always incorporate a fairly sizeable military component of internal security and requires a comprehensive socio-economic-cum-politico-military analysis to establish its operational base.


Common knowledge based on experience indicates this to be a top-down process, and it is legitimate to query whether any such modality to establish a holistic framework at the national level for operations against Naxalites has been carried out by the Central government or any of its agencies, to be disseminated to state governments to formulate and implement sectoral plans by a similar process. But accounts emerging in the public domain, primarily through the media, still give the impression of each state carrying out what are in effect local and more or less private wars against Naxalites in their respective areas, without much coordination or oversight on any integrated basis.


Meanwhile, intensifying operational strikes by Naxalites in various states across the country, whether the Bihar police armoury at Aurangabad, the Nalco explosives store and Central Industrial Security Force post at Damanjodi, or the hijacking of the Bhubaneshwar Rajdhani near Jhargram, are warnings of a transition to the mobile warfare stage which may be repeated on a larger-scale as the Naxalites taste increasing successes against rickety state administrations. India thus stands doubly beleaguered, internally from Naxalites and externally from its hostile neighbours. This state of affairs augurs ill for the future.

 

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

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

CHINA'S CURRENCY GAMES TIP THE SCALES

BY PAUL KRUGMAN

 

International travel by world leaders is mainly about making symbolic gestures. Nobody expects President Barack 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-neighbour 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 policymakers 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 US trade deficit? Imports of goods like automobiles collapsed; so did some US exports; but because we came into the crisis importing much more than we exported, the net effect was a smaller trade gap.

But with the financial crisis abating, this process is going into reverse. Last week's US trade report showed a sharp increase in the trade deficit between August and September. And there will be many more reports along those lines.


So picture this: month after month of headlines juxtaposing soaring US trade deficits and Chinese trade surpluses with the suffering of unemployed American workers. If I were the Chinese government, I'd be really worried about that prospect.


Unfortunately, the Chinese don't seem to get it: rather than face up to the need to change their currency policy, they've taken to lecturing the United States, telling us to raise interest rates and curb fiscal deficits — that is, to make our unemployment problem even worse.


And I'm not sure the Obama administration gets it, either. The administration's statements on Chinese currency policy seem pro forma, lacking any sense of urgency.


That needs to change. I don't begrudge Mr Obama the banquets and the photo ops; they're part of his job. But behind the scenes he better be warning the Chinese that they're playing a dangerous game.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

WHERE ARE THE HAWKERS?

BY JAYATI GHOSH

 

Near the university campus where I live, there used to be a row of fruit sellers behind the pavement at an intersection. It was very convenient to stop there, before entering the campus, and to be able to choose fresh fruit to take home. These were very busy roadside stalls, popular with commuters on different kinds of vehicles, pedestrians, students, local residents. A few months ago the stalls disappeared, victims of the road expansion and "modernisation" of the city of Delhi before the Commonwealth Games.


What became of the hawkers after they were removed? They were certainly given no compensation as they were in any case chased away from the area. How they find a livelihood now is unclear.


Slightly further away from my campus is a bustling vegetable market that also has stalls selling meat and fish. These vendors live under constant harassment and threat of eviction, and every so often I find that they have had to either shift position or surreptitiously provide their wares because some local inspector has decided they are not allowed.


But these are not the only petty traders who are finding it more and more difficult to ply their trade or even survive in the current economic context. The plight of small-time hawkers in Indian cities cannot be blamed on the economic recession: it started during the previous boom, as the official data shows that employment in unorganised retail activities actually declined even as the economy was growing rapidly.


This seems a bit odd because petty retail trade has traditionally been a refuge employment sector for workers, both male and female, who lose other jobs or simply do not find any other paid work. This has been especially true of the urban areas because poverty and the lack of opportunities for gainful employment in the rural areas tend to drive a large number of people to the cities in search of work and livelihood. For the urban poor, hawking is an important means of earning a livelihood as it requires minor financial input and the skills involved are relatively basic.


Two factors have limited their spread recently. In many states, deregulation that permitted the entry of large corporate entities in the retail sector provided competition to small vendors because of their ability to take advantages of economies of scale. Possibly more important are the urban laws and policies of various types, including zoning restrictions and rules that constrain the ability of small traders and hawkers to function freely.


In most states and most cities of India, hawking is regarded as an illegal — or at best extra-legal — activity. This despite the fact that several judgments of the Supreme Court since the late 1960s have recognised that street vending is a legitimate activity. A National Policy on Urban Street Vendors Hawkers has recognised the problems of hawkers and seeks to improve their conditions. Even so, hawkers remain in the grey non-legal zone because of state and municipal regulation, are considered as unlawful entities and are, therefore, subjected to harassment by police and civic authorities.


Even where hawkers are legally recognised, there are usually very low limits to the number of vendors licensed to function in particular locations or activities. The numbers legally permitted and the spaces which may be legally used cover only a tiny fraction of those who are actually engaged in the trade. Consequently, much of vending by definition remains illegal and thus amenable to either extortion or removal.


So hawkers are typically treated as encroachers of public space and are forced to bear the additional burden of legal insecurity, harassment and bribes to different elements. As pressure on urban land increases, more and more laws are invoked to harass, exploit or coerce the street vendors, including some sections of the Police Act and the Indian Penal Code.


Urban plans and urban development policies also put severe constraints upon hawkers' activities, by allowing for hawkers to be evicted and prohibiting their functioning in particular areas. Municipal acts and city plans in general do not have any kind of provision for street vendors.


Instead, the common tendency is to view hawkers and street vendors as obstructions to the free flow of traffic and urban movement, rather than an outcome and a necessary part of this flow. It is inadequately recognised that bicycles, pedestrians and bus traffic attract street vendors, who in turn provide important services such as the provision of food and drink for commuters, repair shops, and the like. Without such services at frequent intervals, the traffic itself would be adversely affected.


The presence of hawkers often has other positive social externalities. They can make streets relatively crime free and safer for women, children and the elderly. It has been found that cities that have a large number of street vendors tend to be safer and less prone to violent street crime than those that do not.


In terms of encroaching on public space — a typically middle class notion — it is too often forgotten that urban elites also cordon off public places for car-parking, private gardening etc. Even the sheer amount of urban space taken up by private vehicles owned by better off sections is ignored. For example, it has been estimated that the parking space taken up by private vehicles in the city of Delhi is greater than the area of all the slum settlements of the poor, which house around half of Delhi's population.


The extra-legal treatment of street vending means that there is no consideration of the working conditions of hawkers and their own personal safety as well as the security of their goods, and no attempt at public improvement of their conditions of work such as adequate sanitation facilities. It also denies hawkers (along with many other small and tiny producers of goods and services) access to institutional credit, which dramatically increases the cost of their working capital and constrains their ability to expand operations.
So here is a strategy that makes both the retailers and the consumers worse off. Why do we put up with it?

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

WORLD'S LARGEST TRASH CAN

BY LINDSEY HOSHAW

 

In this remote patch of the Pacific Ocean, hundreds of miles from any national boundary, the detritus of human life is collecting in a swirling current so large that it defies precise measurement.


Light bulbs, bottle caps, toothbrushes, popsicle sticks and tiny pieces of plastic, each the size of a grain of rice, inhabit the Pacific garbage patch, an area of widely dispersed trash that doubles in size every decade and is now believed to be roughly twice the size of Texas. But one research organisation estimates that the garbage now actually pervades the Pacific, though most of it is caught in what oceanographers call a gyre like this one — an area of heavy currents and slack winds that keep the trash swirling in a giant whirlpool.


Scientists say the garbage patch is just one of five that may be caught in giant gyres scattered around the world's oceans. Abandoned fishing gear like buoys, fishing line and nets account for some of the waste, but other items come from land after washing into storm drains and out to sea.


Plastic is the most common refuse in the patch because it is lightweight, durable and an omnipresent, disposable product in both advanced and developing societies. It can float along for hundreds of miles before being caught in a gyre and then, over time, breaking down.


Millions, billions, trillions and more of these particles are floating in the world's trash-filled gyres.
Polychlorinated biphenyls, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane and other toxic chemicals cannot dissolve in water, but the plastic absorbs them like a sponge. Fish that feed on plankton ingest the tiny plastic particles. Scientists speculate that toxic chemicals are leaching into fish tissue from the plastic they eat. The researchers say that when a predator — a larger fish or a person — eats the fish that eats the plastic, that predator may be transferring toxins to its own tissues, and in greater concentrations since toxins from multiple food sources can accumulate in the body.


Charles Moore found the Pacific garbage patch by accident 12 years ago, when he came upon it on his way back from a sailing race in Hawaii. As captain, Moore ferried three researchers, his first mate and a journalist here this summer in his 10th scientific trip to the site. He is convinced that several similar garbage patches remain to be discovered.


"Anywhere you really look for it, you're going to see it," he said. Many scientists believe there is a garbage patch off the coast of Japan and another in the Sargasso Sea, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.


Bonnie Monteleone, a University of North Carolina, Wilmington, graduate student researching a master's thesis on plastic accumulation in the ocean, visited the Sargasso Sea in late spring and the Pacific garbage patch with Moore this summer. "I saw much higher concentrations of trash in the Pacific garbage patch than in the Sargasso," Monteleone said, while acknowledging that she might not have found the Atlantic gyre. Monteleone, a volunteer crew member on Moore's ship, kept hoping she would see at least one sample taken from the Pacific garbage patch without any trash in it.


The Pacific garbage patch gained prominence after three independent marine research organisations visited it this summer. One of them, Project Kaisei, based in San Francisco, is trying to devise ways to clean up the patch by turning plastic into diesel fuel.

Environmentalists and celebrities are using the patch to promote their own causes. The actor Ted Danson's non-profit group Oceana designated Moore a hero for his work on the patch. Another Hollywood figure, Edward Norton, narrated a public-service announcement about plastic bags, which make their way out to the patch.
Moore, however, is the first person to have pursued serious scientific research by sampling the garbage patch. In 1999, he dedicated the Algalita foundation to studying it. Now the foundation examines plastic debris and takes samples of polluted water off the California coast and across the Pacific Ocean. By dragging a fine mesh net behind his research vessel Alguita, a 50-foot aluminium catamaran, Moore is able to collect small plastic fragments.


Researchers measure the amount of plastic in each sample and calculate the weight of each fragment. They also test the tissues of any fish caught in the nets to measure for toxic chemicals. One rainbow runner from a previous voyage had 84 pieces of plastic in its stomach.


The research team has not tested the most recent catch for toxic chemicals, but the water samples show that the amount of plastic in the gyre and the larger Pacific is increasing. Water samples from February contained twice as much plastic as samples from a decade ago. "This is not the garbage patch I knew in 1999," Moore said. "This is a totally different animal." For the captain's first mate, Jeffery Ernst, the patch was "just a reminder that there's nowhere that isn't affected by humanity".

 

By arrangement with the New York Times

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

STIGMA OF THE QUESTION MARK HAUNTS AND HURTS

BY SHIV VISVANATHAN

 

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

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

HUNGER
COPING WITH HISTORY'S WORST FOOD CRISIS


Beyond the call for donations from individuals, the World Food Programme's appeal ahead of the food summit underscores the magnitude of the shortage that afflicts one of life's essentials. Clearly, the crisis has never been so acute in recent decades. The hunger-strike by the UN food chief, Jacques Dioul, can only be of totemic significance if the summit fails to spur action to alleviate the misery. The fiscal straits are as direly endemic as the scarcity of food and ballooning prices; India's resolve to come up with monthly charts is at best a redefinition of periodisation, at worst an attempt to skirt the fundamentals. It is a measure of the enormity of the crisis that never before has the WFP urged the individual to contribute his mite, an effort that can add up to an enormous sum worldwide. It would be convenient enough to diagnose the almost crippling fiscal deficit as the outcome of the recession that has hit the donor countries. Equally is it imperative that civil society must respond; the contribution that has been sought through the Internet appeal is remarkably modest. Going by the estimate of Josette Sheeran, the WFP head, if people in the developed world contribute just one Euro (Rs 69) a week, it would be enough to combat hunger for another billion people in the developing countries. As with climate change and environment, the responsibility of the developed bloc is decidedly greater. The subtext of the appeal is as simple as it is stark: one billion hungry of the world are depending on another one billion to donate money to buy food. But it isn't only people in the developed world who must be benevolent; if, for instance, the Ambani brothers were to donate 10 per cent of their annual legal bills, or cellular phone operators five per cent of what they earn from nonsensical reality show polls, the world would be a better place.
The fact that the world has no less than a billion crying for food must be the singular issue that ought to be grappled with at the high table of the summitry on food. Implicit in Mr Sheeran's appeal is an acknowledgment of the limitations of governmental effort. Hence the message to the "citizens of the world" to fill what he describes so emotively as "the food cup". The cup brimmeth over for some; for many if not for most, it is almost chronically empty. Never in world history has the food crisis been so forbiddingly acute. The nub of contemporary social history can be as direly distressing as that.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

JOLT IN THE NORTH

PCC NEEDS CORRECTIVE MEASURES


Pradesh Congress leaders need not engage in the ritual of seeking a report, as Pranab Mukherjee has proposed, to get to the bottom of the debacle at Goalpokhar. The report may reveal information that the Congress would not want to make public. State and national level leaders had spoken of "local effects'' when the alliance was virtually scuttled and the CPI-M was found to be an only-too-willing partner in the mayoral election in Siliguri. Mamata Banerjee made her displeasure known but Trinamul didn't need to engage in any clandestine operations to give Deepa Das Munshi a taste of her own medicine. To this was added the resentment from within the party against the Raiganj MP who grabbed every opportunity to mock the alliance and liked to project herself as leader of the north compared to Trinamul's supremacy in south Bengal. Sentiments were running high and the substantial margin of defeat ~ 14,000 votes ~ compared to the MP's victory margin barely five months ago seemed to be a statement against recent events. This constituency had been nursed over the years by Priya Ranjan Das Munshi and his wife had continued the winning streak. The trend may have continued but for local tensions arising out of the MP's style of functioning that went against both the high command and ground realities.


Pranab Mukherjee has been quick to set the record straight by declaring that Mamata Banerjee is the unquestioned leader in the north and south. Suggestions that Trinamul didn't play its part in Goalpokhar have been brushed aside for two reasons. First, the party has virtually no organisational base in Das Munshi territory and, secondly, Congress has everything to gain from the alliance. To that extent, the verdict in Goalpokhar is, by all accounts, an isolated statement that should not have any bearing in a larger context. However, if the alliance is to sustain its progress in the north, it is crucial to adopt corrective measures. The local Congress unit is trying desperately to untie the knot. The prospects depend on whether the party can deal effectively with the dissent.


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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

SHAME RECONFIRMED

WILL THAT CHANGE ANYTHING?


CYNICAL folk, and the Capital has no dearth of them, will ridicule conducting a survey to establish what everyone knows all too well ~ the disgusting manner in which the city treats women. Yet in "quantifying" (for want of a more appropriate term) the various manifestations of ugly reality, the study by the Centre for Equity and Inclusion (CEQUIN) does serve to authenticate both gut-feeling and experience, as well indict those in authority. While some may contend that 630 women make up too small a sample for accuracy, few will dispute the finding that 97 per cent feel sexual harassment is common, 88 per cent said nobody went to their help, 34 per cent said that any time of the day was unsafe though 22 per cent said conditions worsened after 10 p.m. Not surprisingly, 82 per cent said public buses were where the malaise was most rampant, only 19 per cent felt seeking police assistance was advisable, and that while teenagers were most targeted there was really no "age limit". All in all it adds up to severe condemnation of the Dillwallah, or Delhi'ite as the yuppies would prefer to be known, even if there was nothing particularly "new" about the findings. And that the evil cannot be seen in isolation from other disgraceful dimensions of boorishness ~ ranging from brazen use of influence and money to defying with impunity building bye-laws, traffic rules etc ~ does not serve as any kind of excuse or explanation.


Certainly the fault does lie "within", for if the men living in and around Delhi treated their wives, mothers, sisters and daughters with more respect sexual harassment ~ and that need not necessarily be physical ~ would not be so rampant. The education system has clearly failed: and what need be said of a police force that diminishes harassment to eve-teasing and repeatedly avers that the majority of rape victims were acquainted with the perpetrators. Or indeed of a local government, headed by a woman at that, that did not oppose parole to a politician's son convicted for shooting a woman who refused him a drink. Commendation is due to CEQUIN for not stopping at a survey and launching a gender-sensitising remedial campaign. Chances of its success would appear dim, for the demeaning truth is that what has brought notoriety to the city also triggers in so many of its men a perverted sense of pride.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

VILLAINS AND SAINTS~I

COULD PARTITION HAVE BEEN AVOIDED?

BY SAROJ KUMAR MEHERA


FOR quite some time now, there has been a plethora of expressions, written as well as verbal, on the why and wherefore of Partition and efforts to find the villains and saints of that event. While I may be adding to the cacophony, my intention is to present a series of pictures which I started to see, as a boy in the 1930's and 1940's.


I am not a Bengali but have lived in Bengal for over 75 of my 81 years of life. I am a Punjabi Khatri, whose ancestors were among the many of that ilk who travelled to Bengal in the 17th and 18th centuries as pilgrims, decided to stay on as merchant adventurers, with some taking service under the Mughal emperors of the time and their satraps. They were rewarded with zamindaris of various sizes, which were subsequently fitted into the so-called Permanent Settlement that the British introduced.


I believe that the principal cause of Partition was, on the one hand, a visceral dislike, even hate, of Muslims, embedded in the psyche of Hindus conscious of humiliations heaped on their forebears over many centuries by iconoclastic Muslim conquerors and, on the other, by Muslim scorn and contempt for Hindus as idolatrous, effete and effeminate people who were no match for the Islamic sword that had exercised supremacy in India for generations. To his great credit, Mahatma Gandhi resolutely fought to dispel these sentiments and British rule kept them relatively dormant, despite outbreaks of communal rioting from time to time.
But his was a lone voice and, in my book, he was the only saint of that tragic era. History shows that Muslims, not just in India, have tolerated but never felt comfortable with aliens, whether rulers or fellow-citizens and have categorised countries as either Dar-ul-Islam or Dar-ul-Harb. The Palestine problem, essentially one of usurpation of Arab land by Zionist immigrants, is now intractable because of deep, centuries-old, Muslim hatred of Jews despite a common Semitic ancestry. The British Raj was accepted when it defeated the Mughal empire by force of arms and became an umbrella of safety for outnumbered Muslims in a predominantly Hindu country.


FEDERAL GOVERNMENT

 

THE prospect of a Hindu-majority federal government had earlier encouraged politicians in the Muslim-majority provinces of Bengal and Punjab to press for concentration of power in the provinces, with a weak centre. As the departure of the British became imminent during World War II, the fear of a Hindu-dominated central government aroused Muslims, not only for emotional reasons but economic ones too. Industry, commerce and trade were largely in Hindu hands as was land ownership. This Muslim attitude was shared by the British Raj and assiduously fostered by the likes of Churchill, who called Hindus a beastly people with a beastly religion. Jinnah's demand for Pakistan included the whole of the Punjab and Bengal provinces, both with large non-Muslim minorities. Mountbatten rightly told Jinnah that if India was to be partitioned on communal lines, the same principle applied to these two provinces. None of the politicians nor the Viceroy foresaw the Punjab slaughter and migration that were a consequence of the 3rd June 1947 plan. The politicians were tired old men who wanted power and Mountbatten had no problem in selling his scheme to them. It is debatable whether the Punjab disaster could have been avoided if Mountbatten had been in less of a hurry although virtual anarchy and the makings of a civil war already reigned in the Punjab after the Sir Khizar Hyat Khan Tiwana government collapsed earlier in the year. Uncle Hindsight is merciless and has condemned all the dramatis personae of the time, barring the Mahatma, the only saint among villains. Mountbatten was even reported to have confessed to an interviewer about twenty years later that he had made a horrible mess of things!

 

It has been said that events to come cast their shadows beforehand. This was certainly true of Partition. Savarkar, Golwalkar and their like quite openly said that Muslims and other non-Hindus would have to be second-class citizens in independent India ~ a two-nation theory far more vicious than anything propounded later by Jinnah, and undoubtedly alarmed Muslims. In Bengal, caste Hindu prejudice against the Scheduled Castes (today's Harijans or Dalits) was rampant for centuries and when Muslim generals like Shaista Khan extended Mughal rule into Bengal, the outcastes embraced Islam in large numbers, to escape persecution. The majority of these people were extremely poor peasants and conversions continued even after the end of Mughal rule. As is quite normal among converts, they were the most fanatical of Muslims and being described in derogatory terms as mlechhas by the rich Hindu zamindars, should have served as a warning of the future. The poet, Iqbal, in December 1930, advocated consolidation of Muslim-majority areas in the North-West into a region which, he felt, would not only safeguard Muslims in an independent India but would also protect the country from invasions through the traditional route. It should not be forgotten that he composed Saare Jehan Se Achha, Hindustan Hamara and died in 1938, long before the Pakistan Resolution. Pakistanis claim that he later regretted writing the hymn and they eulogise him as their national poet! Nehru's rebuff to Chaudhri Khaliquzzaman in the UP after the 1937 elections greatly antagonized Jinnah and fuelled the ego clash he had with Nehru and others. It was a clear indication of how the wind of Hindu-Muslim relations was blowing.


A myth that should be exploded is that Hindus and Muslims in pre-independent Punjab and the NWFP lived together amicably. Reference is often made to the speech in the Provincial Assembly by the then Punjab Premier, Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan, where he claimed that the local population was Punjabi, first and last. The nostalgic Government College, Lahore brigade in India never tires of reminiscing about the great communal amity which, it claims, prevailed at the time. What is not mentioned, or is forgotten, are the religious prejudices and taboos that existed, especially among the women-folk, rendering interaction among the various communities as no more than skin-deep. It is also forgotten that, apart from a few large Muslim landlords, much of Punjab's wealth, in property and commerce, was in the hands of Hindus and Sikhs. The impoverished peasantry was largely Muslim, living in unending debt to a rapacious Hindu bania. 


ECONOMIC DISPARITY

MUCH of the savagery in Punjab at Partition had its roots in the economic disparity between Muslims and non-Muslims. Such disparity was also prevalent in the NWFP, added to which was the fiercely independent Pathan tribal population ~ strict Muslims, who never gave up fighting the British, supported the Khan brothers and their Red Shirts for economic reasons, but deserted them once they saw the inevitability of a Hindu-dominated government in Delhi. Undoubtedly, British officials in the province encouraged latent anti-Hindu feelings. Another myth to be exploded is that had Netaji Subhas Bose headed the Congress instead of Gandhi and Nehru, Partition would not have taken place. No one doubts Bose's patriotism and sincerity and he genuinely believed, mistakenly, that the British Indian Army soldiers, captured by the Japanese at Singapore in 1942, would join the INA, regardless of their religion. A few Muslims did but the vast majority stayed aloof, among them an officer, Mahmood Khan Durrani, an unabashed supporter of Jinnah and the Muslim League, who was decorated by the British with the George Cross, and who wrote a book The Sixth Column. Most of the Punjabi Muslim demobbed soldiers were later recruited to fight for the establishment of Pakistan, by Captain Shaukat Hayat Khan, son of Sir Sikandar, who resigned his commission in the British Indian army. Of the Muslim officers who did join the INA, Burhanuddin and Kayani subsequently participated in the tribal invasion of Kashmir in 1947, while the famous hockey player, AIS Dara, became an officer in the Pakistan police. The INA was an ineffective fighting force, with low morale, poorly armed and led, and distrusted by its Japanese allies. Many soldiers had joined the INA to escape the rigours of Japanese prison camps and surrendered to the British as the tide of war changed against the Japanese in Burma.

 

(To be concluded)(The writer is a freelance contributor)

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

REAL CONTESTS

 

It is not difficult to see why the Chinese communists fret over the Dalai Lama's freedom of movement and speech. By keeping alive the Tibetan question, he exposes the nature of the Chinese rule in Tibet. Beijing's embarrassment over this is understandable, but that is no reason why any government should restrict the Dalai Lama's freedoms. Beijing's objections to his visit to Arunachal Pradesh were thus both morally and politically untenable. New Delhi could respond to these in only one way — by ignoring them and refusing to interfere with the Tibetan leader's freedoms. And, given his responsibility to guide the destiny of the Tibetan people, it is entirely upto him to decide how he would do it. China may see a political conspiracy in everything he says about the condition of the people in Tibet, but neither New Delhi nor any other government needs to be unnecessarily upset about the Chinese view. In fact, the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, showed admirable statesmanship by refusing to be bullied by Beijing on the Dalai Lama's visit to the state on the India-China border. That huge crowds attended his teachings at Tawang and elsewhere in the state was also a clear rejection of Beijing's attempted blackmail.

 

In hindsight, the controversy over the visit seems to be utterly irrelevant to the real issues of India-China relationship. The war of words between the two countries, however, gave the false impression that the visit would have serious repercussions on ties between them. The geopolitical compulsions today make it absolutely necessary for the two countries to make common cause on many important issues. Whether it is on poverty reduction, fair trade or climate change, both New Delhi and Beijing have more to gain by joining hands than by stirring conflicts. True, there are unsettled issues between the two, especially on the border and regarding Beijing's help to Pakistan's military build-up. Neither side expects these disputes to be settled very soon. But disputes are not all in the India-China relationship. The recent surge in bilateral trade shows that the two can do business even before the disputes are settled. The unnecessary heat generated over the Dalai Lama's visit, however, poses a warning. Jingoistic sentiments can sometimes derail mature diplomacy. Both India and China can do without small games of one-upmanship.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

THREE AND OVER

 

When India begins to move, it may also start to trot. Years of struggle went to loosen the tentacles of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that made homosexuality punishable, until the Delhi High Court took the first big step towards decriminalizing homosexuality last July. But by November 2009, India had taken another step that has made it unusual in the whole world. The Election Commission has decided to add a new category to the gender column in voting rolls. The third gender, including transsexuals, intersexed persons and eunuchs, can now identify themselves as "Others" or "O" instead of as male or female if they so wish. Although this group, usually included under the umbrella term "hijra" or eunuch (in a unique modification of the word's original meaning), had been given voting rights in 1994, its members were identified as either male or female. From an ideal point of view, the situation was obviously unsatisfactory, for the limited option reflected the inability of society to think beyond two genders, and its discomfort with the idea of fluid gender roles and unorthodox sexualities. On the practical level, it threw up unexpected problems. A member of the third gender had become a successful mayor in Madhya Pradesh, but was identified as male on the voters' list while winning the election in a seat reserved for women. This political career came to an abrupt end.

 

The addition of "O" symbolizes freedom of choice, not something that Indian society is famed for. But Indian institutions do have a way of sometimes stepping out on their own within their own jurisdictions, initiating changes that force changes in other areas, either through logic or by example. In this case, an earlier step had been taken by Tamil Nadu last year, where the civil supplies department had added "T" or "third" in the gender column on ration cards. That marked an achievement of the highly organized and articulate third-gender movement in the South, and the tireless efforts of gender rights campaigners and non-governmental organizations. Even earlier, a separate category for those who wish to be identified as the third gender had been introduced into the online version of the passport form. Freedom of choice has taken time to evolve, but it has come with a bang. Logical repercussions and illogical politics are yet to follow.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

A NOVICE RAPIDS RIDER

INDIRA GANDHI WAS RATHER POOR IN POLITICS

WRITING ON THE WALL - ASHOK V. DESAI

 

Living in the times of Indira Gandhi was never boring; she had a penchant for making news. She passed from one dramatic event to another; in each she had a stellar role. She changed over seamlessly from being a heroine to a villain and back. She excited strong passions; in the end, she left an aftertaste which was sweet to her admirers, bitter to her haters, and spicy for all. Of the four significant prime ministers India has had since Independence, she is certainly the most memorable.

 

She stepped into her first crisis the day she became prime minister. India had just fought a war with Pakistan over incursions in Kutch. Lal Bahadur Shastri would have tackled it in his own sage, unsensational manner, but he inconveniently breathed his last while talking to General Ayub Khan about winding up the 1965 war. He left that business unfinished, and the need to finish it must have lurked in Indira's mind. But she had more urgent business to look after as she took over: namely, the looming famine of 1966.

 

She had no options in dealing with it. India had run foodgrain deficits since the late 1950s which the United States of America had filled with its own wheat surplus. Both the Americans and the Indians could see that India would have to import even more wheat during the famine than it normally did. India should have been happy to import more, for the wheat came free: most of the proceeds of selling it in the domestic market went to finance the Plan (the third five-year plan was just ending then, and deliberations were on for a fourth one).

 

There was a hitch, however. The American wheat surplus was declining, and the American cotton surplus was rising. The Americans told India that it should grow more food for itself, grow less cotton and import it from them. At an elementary level this sounded reasonable. The only problem was that the land that grows cotton cannot grow wheat. Wheat is a winter crop in the Gangetic plain (at least it was; it has been creeping southwards since then with the development of more heat-tolerant strains). Cotton is basically a crop of the black volcanic soils of the Deccan plateau. It can be replaced by bajra, jowar and ragi, but not wheat. It is far more paying than coarse grains; farmers would not have been willing to replace it with grains.

 

So there was a difference of perceptions. It could have been bridged; the two countries should have appointed a joint committee to examine the issue and find an agreed solution. But the US Congress got involved, strong words were uttered, and they hit fertile ground in Indira's paranoid mind. The conflict could have had dire consequences for India. But Indira was lucky. The Green Revolution started delivering more and more million tons of wheat from 1967 onwards, and by 1970 India no longer needed American wheat.

 

The 1971 revolt in East Pakistan was an equally fortuitous event. If it had not been for Z.A. Bhutto's vaulting ambition, Mujibur Rehman would have become Pakistan's prime minister. But the West Pakistanis had an extremely parochial concept of an Urdu-speaking, beard-sporting Pakistan; they continue to have it. Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who hardly knew any language other than English, had gone to Dacca and lectured East Pakistanis that they must learn Urdu. In the end, East Pakistanis started to rebel in defence of their language. But the Pakistanis were lost in Jinnahist schizophrenia. They made up their minds that the revolt in East Pakistan was the handiwork of those Indian agents, the Hindus. They decided to complete the work begun with the Partition, and to drive the Hindus out of East Pakistan.

 

The Bangladesh war was Indira's finest achievement, not because she fought a successful war, but because, for a change, she listened. She called General Sam Manekshaw and asked him what he needed if he had to win against Pakistan. She took the shopping list he gave her, went to Moscow, and bought the materiel with a friendship treaty. Manekshaw wanted six months to prepare. She gave him the time and used it to go all round the world, telling everyone that the influx of refugees from East Pakistan was intolerable and that if Pakistan did not take them back, she would have to force it to do so. When everything was ready, she let the Indian army organize a perfect military campaign. She ended it just short of destabilizing Pakistan. And she signed a pretty generous Simla pact with Bhutto.

 

If her handling of East Pakistan was a model of sagacity, her handling of the oil crisis was a model of stupidity. The crisis began when the Arab oil producers quadrupled the price of their crude overnight in 1973. It was an international crisis; the price rise affected industrial nations at least as much as India. If Manmohan Singh had been prime minister then, he would have sought out the US president, the British prime minister and the German chancellor, and looked for some joint strategy to bring the Arabs to their senses. It was available. It was not easy, but it was costless. It would have involved making the Israelis see sense and treat Palestinians less harshly. But the Western powers were indecisive; and having called America's bluff over East Pakistan, Indira Gandhi could hardly go West and organize joint action. She had no international options other than taking what oil the Soviet Union and Iraq would spare. So she had to absorb the impact of higher oil prices domestically. She told the Oil and Natural Gas Commission to find oil at home, and the Indian Oil Corporation to build more refineries. They both did, but it took time, and it was too late; Indira Gandhi lost power long before they could do much.

 

Indira Gandhi is best remembered for the Emergency. But the Emergency was only the last act of a play which started much earlier — with Indira's expulsion of the old Congress leaders. One can no longer recapture the drama; nor can one know what happened in the Congress meetings after Indira took over. What struck me about the split was, how poor Indira was at making friends. Not a single serious leader of the Congress accompanied her; all of them left her. Politics is the art of the possible. In a democracy, one cannot get rid of the Opposition, even in one's own party; to win, one has to make friends and split the enemies. Nehru had trouble enough with dissentients; he kicked some upstairs, tolerated some, and sidelined some. Indira was under his tutelage for five years; the art of politics is just what he was supposed to teach her. If we look at how she practised it, he was a lousy teacher — or she was a lousy student. She failed in politics.

 

The Congress had no opposition till she came; she created it single-handed — out of the Congress. She established a pattern of divisive leadership that nearly destroyed the Congress — until Narasimha Rao rescued it. It is ironic that the party ignores its saviour and worships its destroyer.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

HAVEN FOR CHILDREN

MALA FIDE - MALVIKA SINGH

 

One of the most rewarding experiences of which I was fortunate to be a part was a visit to the Bal Bhavan in Delhi, an extra-curricular centre for children that celebrates the young, their flights of imagination, their many aspirations, and encourages them to develop their potential and latent skills so that they can think out-of-the-box, and get the opportunity to express themselves with liberty and freedom. Run by a dedicated group of professionals from diverse disciplines — ranging from art and photography to museum technology, science and carpentry — this institution, sponsored by the human resource development ministry, has grown, matured and advocated its 'model' across India.

 

There was vitality and energy at the Delhi campus, tucked away on Kotla Road, off the bustling ITO intersection. At the moment, this haven for children from all social strata appears to be free from political interference and unnecessary bureaucratic interventions that often plague such 'dependent-on-sarkari-support' institutions even if they are 'autonomous'. Efficiently maintained, spotlessly clean, Bal Bhavan was a pleasure to visit. But the most extraordinary experience was a walk through the children's museum. It was of a standard rarely seen in this country. The three aspects of India's cultural strength — environment, heritage and the phenomenal human resource bank — were speaking a clear and emphatic language there.

 

We need similar museums in every state capital for a start. A museum for man, woman and child, fine-tuned to suit the realities of the place it is located in. The HRD ministry needs to look into the wherewithals of this project. I recall visiting remote villagers on top of hills in Nagaland, where the village community had created rounded structures to house all their traditional headgear, jewellery, implements, shawls and suchlike. These were borrowed from the community museum whenever there was a festival and the locals had to don their traditional gear.

 

Sad story

Pride binds people, and pride in one's own cultural ethos will lift India to the level it deserves. In the post-colonial years, we were unsure about following our indigenous cultural norms and tried desperately to ape and adopt alien, uncomfortable strains. We became clumsy in handling our everyday lives. A disintegration of our habitats, our environment, our skills, arts and crafts set it. We need to break out of this dreadful straitjacket and embrace all that we are comfortable in.

 

At Bal Bhavan, there were some large and wonderful wooden tribal sculptures leaning against the walls of a corridor. They were quite spectacular, smaller versions of the bhutas. I was told that when a group of youngsters were on a trip to some tribal villages, they had come across this kind of amazing woodwork and invited the craftspersons to Delhi, where they used the dead tree trunks to chisel out sculptures rather than use them as firewood in someone's home. Recycling is a norm there. They recycle everything that is disposed, even cut grass and dead flowers, converting them all into paper that is further crafted into all manner of things, including files.

 

Cut to the National Archives of India. This institution is a relic instead of being a vibrant, exciting place where history is nurtured, savoured and protected for future generations. Allegedly, there have been no substantial additions to the archival material post-Independence. In many ways, this is a pointer to the sad story of how we have allowed and condoned the destruction of our cultural strengths. The first step towards a correction would be a partnership between citizens and professionals to make government babus accountable.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPED

BATTLE AGAINST A BROTHER

 

The Pakistan army is responsible for the threat that the Taliban pose to that country, writes Abhijit Bhattacharyya

 

The recent attacks on several Pakistani cities and towns — Lahore, Kohat, Peshawar and Rawalpindi — have shown the army of Pakistan in a poor light. The armed forces, it seems, have been reduced to the role of mere spectators. This certainly cannot be good news either for the State or the regions that are engaged in a discussion with the powers that be.

 

Lahore is not only important militarily, but is also, symbolically, the custodian of Punjabi culture, tradition and cuisine. Lahore is the base of the IV corps, which consists of the 10 and 11 infantry divisions, two independent infantry brigade groups (partly mechanized) and one independent armoured brigade whose objectives are to defend Punjab and counter any threat emanating from Amritsar, India. However, this vast garrison of (more than) 60,000 military men was found wanting when it came to negating the internal threat originating from insurgent elements who were once friends of the military establishment. These men had been raised and supported by the Pakistan army to fight the threat posed by foreign powers such as India. The recent increase in the spate of attacks by gunmen and suicide bombers on the army has the potential to bring about an unprecedented restructuring of the military in Pakistan.

 

The prevailing situation in Peshawar is not different either. Peshawar is home to the XI corps, which consists of two infantry divisions with Mardan and Kohat as the headquarter of the 7 and 9 infantry divisions respectively. The corps is responsible for security in areas such as the North West Frontier Province, the Afghan border, as well as for the reinforcement of the eastern formations facing India.

 

The recent killings in Kohat and Peshawar comprised all the ingredients of Sun Tzu's Art of War — surprise, deception and mobility, and the precise choice of date, time, place and target. Indeed, the Pakistani army today faces a real dilemma for the first time since its inception: it not only has to confront an enemy, which is capable of fighting an 'asymmetrical war', but is also having to push hard against 'blood-brothers' who are operating in the catchment areas of military recruitment. This constitutes a grave threat and endangers the unity and cohesion within the army.

 

Having ruled Pakistan for over three decades, the high command of the army now finds itself in a tizzy. This is because any insurgency spreading further and wider across the Punjab and the Pashtun homeland can be potentially disastrous for the army's recruitment operations. And there are no signs yet of a decline in the number of attacks by militants against the military.

 

It is an extraordinarily complex situation. Fifty five per cent of combat soldiers in the Pakistan army is Punjabi and 30 per cent are Pashtun. The bulk of the recruits hails from Attock, Rawalpindi and the Pashtun badlands of NWFP and Fata. This army of Punjabi and Pashtun soldiers are having to face an enemy, which has been resorting to guerrilla warfare and suicide missions against the nation. Although the army is expected to take the fight to the Taliban, the possibility of an escalation of conflict on fronts in the rear cannot be ruled out. This is likely to stretch the armed forces of Islamabad.

 

In reality, the outfits raised and reared by the army and by the Inter-Services Intelligence are bound to mount further desperate attacks against their mentors. Moreover, there are enough of them lurking in the shadows. There is the Al Badr, a "small organization", which is capable of inflicting serious damage on Indian targets in co-operation with larger terror outfits operating in South Asia. With bases in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and in Lahore, Al Badr is reportedly trained in Kotli, PoK, by the ISI's instructors who train the cadre in handling explosives as well as in guerrilla warfare. Although Al Badr has claimed that it is not a part of the al Qaida, it had opposed the restrictions that President Musharraf had imposed on jihadi groups.

 

The biggest foe of the army in Pakistan is the Tehrik-e-Taliban, which, according to Jane's Defence Weekly, was "formed as an umbrella group to enable the numerous pro-Taliban groups operating in the FATA and NWFP of Pakistan to co-ordinate their activities and consolidate their growing influence in the region". In the light of the recent suicide attacks across urban Pakistan, including the one on the Pakistani army headquarters in Rawalpindi, it is pertinent to refer back to what Jane's had to say in 2008 — "These groups (under TTP) are regularly confronting and defeating Pakistani security forces. Their ability to deploy suicide bombers has also meant they are capable of posing a threat throughout Pakistan, even in military strongholds such as the garrison city of Rawalpindi." Prophetic? Yes, as well as a practical assessment of the threat perception.

 

The Pakistani army is already facing a daunting task fighting its own countrymen. The Tehrik-e-Taliban has openly professed its three-pronged strategy: First, to unite the various pro-Taliban groups in Fata and NWFP, thereby preventing the government from pursuing its divide-and-rule strategy to counter tribal insurgency by creating a single channel for all negotiations; second, to assist the Afghan Taliban in its campaign against Hamid Karzai and Nato; finally, to reproduce a Taliban-style Islamic emirate in Pakistan and beyond.

 

The most significant aspect is that the Tehrik-e-Taliban represents a section of the 'population on the fringes'. These people were the ones who formed a critical front in the State's proxy wars, from Kabul to Kashmir. The Pakistani soldiers and spies, till recently, had selected these jihadi groups, among others, as asymmetric weapons "to tie down half the Indian army in Kashmir" and to develop "strategic depth" in Afghanistan.

 

The monster that has been set free is the Tehrik-e-Taliban. Consequently, its creator is fast losing its head and heart. So much so that the harassed army chief, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, is having to rush to douse the domestic fire and save the State from oblivion. The Taliban pose an existential threat to Pakistan, and the Pakistani army is solely responsible for the unenviable situation in which it finds itself today.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPED

SIMPLE, ELEGANT, AND BRILLIANT

A MEMORABLE EVENING WITH A DISTINCTLY MATHEMATICAL TUNE

 

Stephen Hawking, by now, is of course, a phenomenon. However, back in 1967, Stephen was relatively unknown in the corridors of Cambridge. It is known that a dashing young graduate arrived from Oxford in 1962, attired in a black velvet jacket and floppy bow tie to take up a studentship at Cambridge with science's most celebrated legend, Fred Hoyle. The chemistry didn't work at all because the physics was wrong.

 

Stephen fell desperately ill, nourished only by Wagner and an enormous quantity of a special brew. The illness, it turned out, was not terminal, and he continued with great vigour to seek out the singularity that created the universe with a 'big bang'.

 

After a long gap, I recall meeting him at Caltech, Pasadena, in 1974, when he was already wheelchair-bound. But at that time, the theory of 'Hawking radiation' from the black hole was firmly on its way to making the name of Stephen Hawking a major milestone in the natural sciences. Hawking radiation comes out of an idea that is extraordinarily simple but also extraordinarily elegant and impossibly brilliant — an unbelievable combination of quantum mechanics, gravity and thermodynamics.

 

I am told that Isaac Newton, one of the most illustrious Lucasian professors, and not a very nice man (in Stephen's own words in A Brief History of Time), is rather unhappy with this great discovery of his equally famous successor.

 

On September 25 this year, Stephen Hawking had the last words on a sunny afternoon at the department of applied mathematics and theoretical physics, Cambridge. Hawking is wheeled into a very packed lecture hall, as expected. A serene Stephen just sits there on his wheelchair and goes through, with an unusually cutting, at times even demolishing but always engaging humour, his life and times at DAMTP. After 30 years, Hawking is formally stepping down from his Lucasian Chair. I believe Isaac Newton is rather relieved, because in those Newtonian days, nobody retired but just died. And it so happened that Newton lived for a very, very long time.

 

In the evening, the great lower hall of King's College, Cambridge, was packed to full for a banquet celebrating 50 years of the DAMTP. Everyone came, the tune was distinctly mathematical. To my surprise, and indeed pleasure, Stephen Hawking arrived attired in an unusually long sweater. His wheelchair was at the extreme end of the hall.

 

While going out, I managed to whip up enough courage to talk to him (he can hear but not talk) while his young colleagues (helping hands) sat around. I reminded him of the glorious days in Caltech in 1974 and, of course, of the inimitable Richard Feynman. The young lady accompanying him must have thought that I was talking of something that happened a very long time ago.

 

Coming out, I saw King's Chapel basking in faint, ethereal moonlight, stars studding the cosmos above — timeless, yet with a cataclysmic beginning. I had a quiet moment to myself; 1974 is, after all, the year of the announcement of Hawking radiation.

 

The world, or shall we say the universe, would never be the same again.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

MOCKERY OF JUSTICE

"PAROLE WAS GRANTED FOR EXTRANEOUS REASONS."

 

The grant of parole to Manu Sharma, convicted and serving life term in Delhi's Tihar jail for the murder of model Jessica Lall, and his misuse of the facility show how well-intentioned legal provisions are subverted by the high and mighty. Parole is granted to prisoners in order to give them a feel of the normal life outside the jail, which might help to reform them, or in situations of extreme personal exigency. In Manu Sharma's case both the general purpose and the specific reasons were proved wrong. During the parole period he was involved in a brawl in a night club in Delhi, thus confirming his criminal and wayward ways. The three reasons given for parole were either wrong or unacceptable. The first was to attend a religious ceremony in memory of his late grandmother. This was not a sound ground for parole. The second was to visit his ailing mother. This was a lie as his mother was hale and hearty. The third was to attend to his business. This was ridiculous. Why should a murder convict be set free to look after his business?


It is clear that parole was granted to Sharma on extraneous considerations. The Delhi government took special interest in the matter, probably because Manu Sharma's father, Venod Sharma, is an influential Congress politician in Chandigarh. The Delhi police had rejected the request for parole as the grounds were not genuine but the government sought a second report from the Chandigarh police  for obvious reasons. Though Delhi chief minister Sheila Dixit claims that all 'rules were followed' in the case, it is obvious that pressure was put on the administration to grant parole in an undeserving case. This is also clear from the fact that parole was granted to Sharma in six days and extended for one month after the original one-month period, while many prisoners wait for months to get it. Many who deserve parole do not even get it.


The mockery of justice and the wanton violation of the jail manual cannot be missed. It confirms the impression that the rich, powerful and well-connected people are above the law. Sharma is back in jail now but the incident has again posed questions about the integrity of the system of justice.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

SPEED UP GST

"THERE SHOULDN'T BE ANY DILUTION OF GST."

 

The proposal to introduce a Goods and Services Tax (GST) to reform and modernise the country's complicated indirect tax system is two years old but it has not seen much progress till now. Therefore the first discussion paper released by the empowered committee of state finance ministers is a major step forward as it contains a number of ideas that will go into the finalisation of the proposal. The case for a GST is appealing because it is based on the concept of a single national market and uniformity of tax rates across it. It seeks to make the tax regime simple so that compliance is high and the administration easy and efficient. There has been no serious political opposition to GST and that should have made preparations to happen at a faster pace.


States have not been reluctant to accept the new regime but some of them have reservations on some aspects and have fears about revenue loss. They have been assured that for five years any revenue loss will be compensated by the Centre. But many are not willing to let go some taxes and discretionary powers they have under the present system. There should not be any serious dilution of the GST regime as it has been conceived. In July it was decided that there would be a dual taxation structure, with the Centre and the states administering separate rates. Now there is demand for more differential rates and exemptions. According to the discussion paper, there may be as many as four rates for goods — a lower rate for essential goods, a standard rate for general goods and special rates for certain others.  A system of multiple rates and increasing exemptions should be discouraged because they defeat the purpose of GST and would make implementation difficult. The plan to keep octroi and similar local taxes outside the system is therefore not  sound from this point of view.


There is the need for a wide consensus on the new system because it changes the entire tax regime. Consultations are needed with the states, industry and business and consumers organisations. But it should be ensured that too many compromises are not made. It is also important to expedite the  development of technical support for the implementation of the system. It seems unlikely that the rollout will happen in April 2010 as originally planned but efforts should be made to stick to the target date.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

THE BULLIES' RAJ

THERE'S AN OUTRIGHT COLLAPSE OF CIVILITY AND DEMOCRATIC CONDUCT BY THOSE WHO ARE SUPPOSEDLY THE GUARDIANS OF THE SYSTEM.

BY B G VERGHESE


It is strange and worrying that so many people in India appear to believe that punishment should not fit the crime. Manu Sharma, now serving a life sentence in Tihar Jail for murdering Jessica Lall in 1999, was granted parole for a month in September and then for another month on the grounds that he needed to observe his grandmother's death anniversary, visit his sick mother in Chandigarh and attend to the family business. He voluntarily returned to Tihar a few days ago after a hue and cry about his parole in the first place and his conduct while out of prison — such as pub crawling.


The modalities for granting parole are said to have been correctly observed under the law. The grounds however, do not appear to have been properly checked, as the death anniversary was antecedent and Sharma's mother was not ill. The parole procedure followed in this case is now being probed. But even granting the reformative aspect of imprisonment, should parole for heinous crime be granted as easily as it is in India and should preference be given to people with wealth and connections while lesser breeds have none to speak for them?

A grandmother's death anniversary and attending to the family business appear trivial grounds for parole. So perhaps are weddings. And if prisoners are ill, should they be permitted to choose their hospitals and enjoy what for many would appear to be a holiday under five-star medical care?


Now Madhu Koda, the former Jharkhand chief minister currently under investigation for fraud, has complained that he is being framed and will 'reveal all' at the right time. What could be a better time than now!

The Reddy brothers, who are allegedly part of the notorious Bellary iron ore mining mafia, have just succeeded in blackmailing Yeddyurappa, the Karnataka chief minister, into reshuffling his ministry and certain civil servants in order to avert a party split that might have cost him his majority. If the BJP succumbed to this pressure, the Congress and others have done so too.


Just as disgraceful was the hooliganism displayed by MNS MLAs in the newly-convened Maharashtra Assembly when they violently objected to a Samajwadi Party member Abu Azmi, taking his oath in Hindi. This, because their boss, Raj Thackeray had ordained that oaths must be taken only in Marathi as a matter of Marathi pride. There was pandemonium as Azmi was assaulted and furniture scattered. The Speaker suspended the four errant MNS members from the House for four years, a punishment that the MNS claims is too harsh as its members meant no disrespect to the House! The suspension should not be revoked or commuted, nor should the four errant MLAs be allowed to come to the Assembly, sign the attendance register and claim their salary or allowances.

This sort of misbehaviour is becoming endemic as it goes unpunished or is too lightly punished. The oath may be taken in any of the country's 22 scheduled languages and Hindi is the national language. So Azmi's action was perfectly in accordance with the constitution.


In the instant case, the malaise stems from the rabid threats that have emanated from Raj Thackeray, in the manner of his uncle, Bal Thackeray, about reserving jobs in the state for Maharashtrians and mandating that all 'outsiders' shall speak Marathi or face dire consequences. 'Outsiders' have contributed greatly to Mumbai and Maharashtra's prosperity and do so even today. Raj Thackeray has been at this game of rabble rousing for quite some time and has warned that Mumbai will burn if he is touched. The government has sadly treated such open incitement and defiance with extraordinary pusillanimity.


PUNISH THUGS

Maharashtra is not the only state that has been cowed down by thugs and bullies, which has only whetted their appetite for mischief and encouraged others to follow suit. This must end. Punishment must be swift and condign and if public property is destroyed the party must be made to pay, if necessary by selling off the personal property of the ring-leaders and other guilty elements. This will end impunity and immunity.


Finally, there was the sad case of agitating lawyers manhandling the Karnataka Chief Justice Dinakaran as he has been charged with accumulating wealth through improper means. It is for this reason that his name was not further processed after much protest when put up for promotion to the Supreme Court. Peaceful agitation is one thing. But creating disorder in the chief justice's court room and manhandling him is an assault on the judicial process and constitutes unacceptable behaviour. The outrage committed has been widely condemned. But is that sufficient? What next?


All around us we see an erosion or outright collapse of civility and democratic conduct, sometimes by those who are extremely privileged or are supposedly the guardians of the system. The rot cannot be allowed to to spread, else it will destroy us all. One of the critical issues we face is perhaps too much law and too little justice.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

RECESSION LEADS TO UNCERTAIN RETIREMENT

LOW INCOME WAGE-EARNERS IN INDUSTRIES THAT DO NOT PROVIDE PENSION FACE A FUTURE OF WORK WITHOUT END.

BY MARK SOMMER,IPS

 

For the first postwar generation of American workers, putting in a faithful 40 years 'working for the man' may have sometimes felt like a jail sentence, but it offered a handsome reward. Corporate and state employee pensions bolstered the government's social security system to provide a secure if not always lavish retirement for a substantial majority of Americans. But recent and long-term trends have eroded that assurance.


The good news is that despite alarming predictions of imminent insolvency by those who seek to privatise the system and hand it to Wall Street, for the moment the social security system remains well-funded. A federal programme of mandatory social insurance established during the 'new deal', it draws on payroll taxes from both employees and employers and is placed in a separate fund not to be accessed for other purposes. Never intended to be the sole source of retirement support, social security pays its beneficiaries lifetime benefits that average 40 per cent of the inflation-adjusted pre-retirement income of middle earners and 50 per cent for low-income workers.

Until recent years, as part of their traditional benefit packages employers in the public and private sectors routinely provided their employees with private pensions to supplement social security. But as the US manufacturing sector has dwindled and unions have lost membership and influence, the percentage of American workers covered by private pension plans has dropped to less than half.


SHORT-CUT
Watching GM's struggles, many employers from newer industries avoid such long-term commitments. Increasingly they've turned to outsourcing and contract labour to provide them with the flexibility to shed workers when revenues won't support them.


Public sector workers have long figured that while they generally receive lower pay than in the private sector, they're compensated by rock-solid pension plans. But as state governments facing billion-dollar budget deficits slash away at public services, health care, and higher education, many employees fear that politicians will raid their once sacrosanct public employee retirement plans.


The most vulnerable are the tens of millions of American workers who have never been covered by a pension plan. They also include a higher income class of knowledge workers, professionals, independent contractors and others who've chosen a more independent but insecure path. Most of these free-spirited baby boomers have yet to retire and look on the prospect with increasing unease. They'll need to cobble together a retirement from social security benefits based on intermittent incomes, their own often modest savings, and whatever they inherit from their more security-minded parents.


And now comes the Great Recession. If, as predicted, it's a slow and painful recovery, it will only further fray America's already threadbare retirement safety net. Low income wage-earners in industries like fast food, retail, maintenance, and construction that routinely provide no pension face a future of work without end. Nearly half of all Americans have no net worth and many of these are mired in chronic debt. Often in poor health from the multiple stresses of work, family conflicts, lifestyle choices, and violent, toxic environments, 45 million Americans also lack the health insurance that would enable them to treat or prevent their worsening health.

But increasing insecurity about old age is by no means limited to the working poor. Many faithful workers find themselves laid off in their 50s, struggling to be rehired as prospective employers turn to eager youth willing to work for less. Until recently, middle-income boomers looked to the rising values of their mortgaged homes as retirement collateral. Now that both their homes and stock portfolios have shrunk by a third, they look to the future with increasing anxiety. They dread the prospect of putting their kids through college as tuition costs rise. And they wonder whether they'll ever be able to retire or, absent that option, to maintain their health and keep or create income-producing work into their 70s and beyond.


It wasn't supposed to be this way. In an increasingly unbalanced society, inequalities of wealth and income are producing radical inequities of ultimate outcome.


For the fortunate few who exit the recession richer than when it began, retirement plans hardly matter: they've got their own. But for the great majority who depend on public and private pension plans, retirement may be one 'American dream' that will remain painfully out of reach for many years to come.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

POLE STAR AND CO-STAR

CHILDREN HAVE UNENDING QUERIES AND IT'S NOT ALWAYS EASY TO ANSWER THEM.

BY D K HAVANOOR


My six-year-old daughter was drawing a picture of my mother. Suddenly, she said "Papa, I want to draw a picture of my grandpa also. But I have not seen him; when will he visit us?" I made the usual elderly statement that he had gone and joined God in heaven.


She counter-questioned asking when he would return. I don't subscribe to the concept of rebirth, so I told her that he wouldn't ever come back and that he had become a bright shining star in the sky. She started sobbing and said she wanted to see the star that her grandpa had become.


It was already dark so I took her to the terrace and fortunately, the sky was clear. For a moment I pondered over the imponderable; which star to point at, because I would have to be prepared for a flurry of questions. I decided on the 'Pole Star' since I knew a few things about that. I pointed at the star and she asked, "Is that Ajja star?" I agreed and then added that people called it the Pole Star too.


Her sobs had petered down but not her queries. She then asked why the Pole Star was brighter than the other stars. Usually my response to her unending queries ended with the advice that she should study hard and be a bright student. So I told her that the 'Ajja' star is the smartest, most-knowledgeable being in the sky and guides people on the earth, and that is why it is the brightest.


She then wanted to know who the 'Pole' star guided, and so I replied that it guided people lost on the high seas and soldiers in the wilderness. I told her that she should study well and guide people in life. Thankfully, she immediately agreed to this and said she would be a star on the earth and that I should do the same too.
But she also said that I should never go to the skies and that I should always remain as a 'co-star' on earth with her. I nodded with filial love. She took her clipboard and wrote, "My papa is the best in the world" and showed it to my wife. My eyes were brimming and couldn't see any more.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

THE GROUNDWORK FOR A THIRD INTIFADA IS ALREADY LAID

DROR BAR-YOSEF

 

Since President Barack Obama assumed leadership of the United States, intensive diplomatic efforts have been made to renew the peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. The new spirit in the White House has attained some significant achievements. First, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declared that an independent Palestinian state will be part of the solution. For the first time, an Israeli government has agreed to freeze the construction of new homes in Gush Etzion and Ma'aleh Adumim, two major settlement blocs in the Jerusalem suburbs (although this settlement freeze does not apply to east Jerusalem). Lastly, in September, Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas publicly met.

 

Nevertheless, it seems that the US's efforts have only further distanced the Israelis and Palestinians and have not led the sides to announce the renewal of negotiations. This stalemate is neither new nor surprising. While it can perhaps be viewed as a tactical move on the part of the negotiators, the reality on the ground is quite disturbing. Recent months have been marked by violent demonstrations in Jerusalem, a call by many prominent Palestinian leaders to organize a new, nonviolent intifada and statements by Palestinians that a two-state solution might not be possible, due to settlement activity.

 

An analysis of recent developments reveals that even though a new intifada won't be fought in the near future, it could erupt in several months' time; in fact, we are witnessing how Palestinian society and its leadership have begun laying the groundwork, at least in terms of public opinion, for such an option.

 

What is so surprising is that Palestinians have remained unfazed by what Israel perceived as "historic" gestures towards Abbas. In fact, the crisis has been bolstered by internal conflicts plaguing the Palestinian political arena; Israeli-Palestinian relations are not the sole factor contributing to the current escalation.

 

THE PALESTINIAN political landscape has undergone many changes over the last few years, mainly due to the unprecedented crisis between Fatah and Hamas. Current tensions and the failure to reform the "Palestinian home," both within and between the major political parties, have led to widespread frustration among the Fatah leadership and Palestinian people. Scholars widely believe that the competition between the groups over the leadership makes the likelihood of a state nearly impossible. In a similar vein, the Fatah-Hamas schism has been blamed for the outcome of the war in Gaza last winter. The tension between the movements reached new heights after Hamas refused the recent Egyptian proposal to reunite Gaza and the West Bank under one governing system.

 

The unresolved tension between the two movements is not the only political crisis the Palestinians are facing. Fatah's internal conflicts are entirely unrelated to the peace process - in fact, many leaders of the Tanzim faction, including Kadura Fares, Hatem Abdel Kader and Muhammad Hurani, have openly supported Abbas's positions, including a two-state solution and a compromise on the right of return. They have also publicly stated that the last intifada, including its bloody terror attacks, was a mistake (despite still refusing to publicly accept Israel as a Jewish state). The reason so many Palestinian leaders' refuse to back Abbas is primarily a function of internal political considerations.

 

In many respects, Abbas's success in the August Fatah convention worked against him, giving him a specious feeling of self-confidence and popular support. Tensions between Abbas and his party emerged after his striking success in convening the convention, and his candidates' electoral victory in the central committee. This victory was marred by harsh allegations by many Fatah activists who claimed incongruity between votes cast and the official results. Leaders in the Tanzim accepted the outcome, but off-the-record criticized Abbas and the electoral process quite strongly. They felt that their faction's popularity, as evinced by their winning the majority of seats in the revolutionary council, was intentionally and illegitimately stifled during elections for the central committee.

 

Amidst this turmoil, Abbas's declared legislative and presidential elections would be held on January 24, 2010, and said he would not run for a second term. The declaration brought the previous crises to a new height. Many Fatah members were torn between their fear of Abbas's replacement and their criticism of his handling of the Goldstone Report and relations with Hamas.

 

The expected election is a complex issue with many implications, especially if Abbas indeed will not run. A more dramatic development might be his following through on his threats and resigning, causing other senior PA officials to follow his lead. But in almost every scenario, the elections will be marked by rhetoric that will prove unhelpful to resuming negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, while lending credence to a renewed struggle against Israel.

 

This development, which could foretell the end of the PA, will pave the road for a new intifada and call for a one-state solution. As long as the political landscape remains on the current trajectory, including holding elections and Abbas's retirement, the current PA leadership will lack the legitimacy to negotiate with Israel and the US. It will face public criticism alone, without the public help of any noteworthy Palestinian public figure, much as Abbas stood alone when he agreed to postpone discussions on the Goldstone report in the UN.

 

MOREOVER, THE stalemate between Israel and the PA, which is a natural result of the aforementioned crises, will lead to a fierce deterioration of the current calm. In a recent interview with the Maan News Agency, Marwan Barghouti said the "PLO executive committee, with all of its factions, should set a plan and vision for a wide popular and peaceful movement against settlements. We need the executive committee, the factions and Palestinian Legislative Council members to turn up the heat on popular demonstrations."

 

It is important to remember that prominent Palestinian figures had attributed the previous intifada to two equal causes: Israel and the PA. They claim that one of the intifada's major goals was to push for reforms within the Palestinian political arena. Today, the same reasons are being cited to explain the current escalation, which is indeed taking place regardless of recent developments in the peace negotiations with Israel.

 

If Abbas can incorporate the young Fatah leadership in the decision-making process, he, and the peace process, will receive more Palestinian public support. Barghouti's involvement in the peace process will grant Abbas more flexibility. But on the current trajectory, further concessions by Israel and the US will have limited effect.

 

If this is the case, what will the future look like? The boiling point might be a nonviolent intifada, characterized more by rocks and Molotov cocktails than suicide bombers, and backed by strong international judicial and diplomatic activity.

 

The Palestinians will utilize international objection to the settlements to demand a one-state solution, with a "one man, one vote" political system. For Israel, annexation of the West Bank and granting full and equal political rights to the Palestinians unequivocally means an end to Israel as a Jewish state.

 

In short, the current stalemate and the increasing tension between the Israelis and Palestinians is not due only to the ongoing building in West Bank settlements; the internal political struggle in the PA, the Fatah-Hamas crisis, the difficulties within Fatah and Abbas's declaration that he will not run for a second term as president have all contributed to the deterioration of relations in the Israeli-Palestinian-American triangle.

 

The writer is coordinator for programs in the Palestinian Authority at the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies. This article was first published by the Adelson Institute forStrategic Studies, at the Shalem Center,
www.adelsoninstitute.org

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

BORDERLINE VIEWS: STUDYING ISRAEL ON CAMPUS

DAVID NEWMAN

 

Tomorrow, my colleague Professor Colin Shindler will deliver his inaugural lecture as the new professor of Israel studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London. This comes against the backdrop of the intense academic boycott debate which has taken place in the UK over the past four years and, more significantly, takes place at an institute which has figured most prominently in many of the pro-Palestinian activities and events during this period.

 

Shindler has not been promoted to the chair in Israel studies, the first of its kind in any UK university, because he is either a left-wing critic of Israel or because he is a right-wing blind advocate of everything Israel does. He has been awarded the chair because he is a first-rate scholar who has written books on Israeli society, culminating in a History of Modern Israel which was published recently.

 

Moreover, Shindler is known by his many students, Jews and Arabs alike, to be a balanced lecturer, explaining the arguments of all sides without coming down in favor of any particular position while, at the same time, enabling the student to go away with additional knowledge and information about the country's history, society and culture.

 

I LECTURE frequently on European and British campuses. Invariably, whether the topic of the lecture has anything to do with Israel or not, I am always approached by students at the end of the lecture who bemoan the fact that the discussion of Israel/Palestine on campus has become transformed into a polemical and highly politicized arena.

 

Many of the students are Jewish who come along simply because the lecturer is from Israel and they feel an affiliation, regardless of what they themselves are studying and whether it is relevant or not to the lecture. They too are critical of the fact that all they ever hear is a political tirade - be it pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli - and that what they want is information and a balanced presentation so that they - young, rational, intelligent adults - can make up their own minds and adopt their own political positions without having someone trying to force it upon them.

 

The same is true in my many meetings with university principals and chancellors throughout the UK. Most of them have little interest, either positive or negative, in Israel and are fed up with the way the boycott debate has been forced upon them by a small radical group of academics who have hijacked the UCU - the trade union to which most UK academics belong. They too bemoan the fact that they are constantly bombarded with requests to allow conferences to take place which are highly political in nature, or that they are pressured by political and community lobby groups into cancelling conferences which focus on one side of the conflict only.

 

Whatever they decide, they are always accused of being biased toward one side and/or denying the right of academic freedom of speech and debate. What they want, and would be prepared to support, are high-quality balanced courses which present the history and the politics of the Arab-Israel conflict, explain the contrasting and contested narratives of both sides and allow the students to digest and analyze the information for themselves.

 

THERE HAS been a significant growth in the adoption of Israel studies programs in recent years. This has been particularly the case in North America, where new programs have started up at UCLA, Maryland and Berkeley, to complement existing Israel studies chairs at Emory, New York University, Toronto, Georgetown, Harvard and a host of other academic institutions. One of the leading Israel studies institutes is the Schusterman Center at Brandeis, headed by Prof. Ilan Troen, who is also the editor of the leading analytical journal in this field, Israel Studies, published jointly by Ben-Gurion University and the Indiana University Press.

 

The Association of Israel Studies, a North American based network of scholars whose research and teaching interests are focused on Israel, meets once a year in either North America or Israel. Its meetings are attended by hundreds of scholars, whose own perspectives on Israel and Israeli society range from the left-wing post-Zionist to the right-wing neo-Zionist, from the proponents of one state to supporters of Greater Israel and the settlement network. Political differences aside, they meet to share their scholarship and their understanding of the immense complexity of what Israel is all about.

 

There is also a move afoot to create chairs of Israel studies at a number of leading UK universities, although raising funds for new academic ventures of this type in the present economic climate is not simple. What is critical, however, is that these chairs, be they in North America or Europe, do not become transformed into centers of pro- or anti-Israel advocacy, but that they draw the very best in academic scholarship and intellectual debate.

 

That is not to say that there is no room for political debate and intensive differences of opinion. One would expect that these chairs would, occasionally, invite public speakers to argue their respective positions - after all, universities are also about raising political awareness among students.

 

But first and foremost, it is for professors of Israel studies to educate their students, to provide them with information and data, to present balanced and contrasting analyses of the political context, before they start inviting the ambassadors and the politicians to push for their own corner.

 

Whether Israel studies as such is a discipline in its own right is open to debate among scholars, but no more or less than whether American or European studies or any other form of area study has its own conceptual and analytical tools. In the highly charged atmosphere of many university campuses today, what is lacking is a serious balanced debate. It is to be hoped that the creation of many new Israel chairs and, if there should be such a move, the creation of chairs in Palestine studies as well, will redress the imbalance which exists today and which has turned many of the universities into extensions of the battlefield rather than the places of learning they are meant to be.

 

The writer is professor of political geography at Ben-Gurion University and editor of the International Journal of Geopolitics.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

NO HOLDS BARRED: REJECTING FATE AND CHOOSING DESTINY

SHMULEY BOTEACH

 

Yesterday and today my organization, This World: The Values Network, in conjunction with Yeshiva University, is hosting, in New York City, the world's first conference dedicated exclusively to the identification of Jewish values and their dissemination into the wider, mainstream culture.

 

Ask 10 Jews what Jewish values are and you will get 20 responses. Most will enunciate obvious things like education, charity and family. But these are values which any civilized society embraces and our inability to articulate values that are uniquely Jewish - and to be found exclusively in Jewish texts and Jewish living - is the principal reason why so many Jews are assimilating. In their opinion Judaism has done its job. It has communicated important values to the world. Now, like a midwife after a child is born, it can disappear into obscurity.

 

But there are values that the world has yet to embrace, or that are under threat, of which we Jews are the most important exponents. Foremost among them is the idea of destiny. The ancient Greek world believed in fate. Before one was born, one's life was scripted. The outcome of one's life was determined before he was born. There was no escape. Astrology and zodiacal signs advanced the idea that people's choices were of no consequence. Their lives were governed by the celestial spheres.

 

JUDAISM WAS a radical departure from this view and contributed to the world the most empowering concept it has ever known, that no life is scripted and each of us possesses freedom of choice to be whatever we want. In every circumstance, in every predicament, we can make the moral choice to be good. Everything else is just an excuse. Each and every one of us, regardless of our point of origin, could put a destination ahead of us - a vision of who it is that we wish to be - and we can reach our destination, transforming fate into destiny.

 

But this most fundamental of all Jewish values is under constant threat. Science has been moving away from a belief in choice for more than a century. It began with Freud who posited that we are all far less masters in our own mental houses than we would otherwise suppose. It continued with biological determinism up through modern theories of genetic predisposition. Evolution especially - whatever its scientific merits - teaches that we are all far more animal than human.

 

Social anthropologists are likewise assailing the idea of destiny created by free choice. How many times have we heard that poverty breeds crime, as if those making the decisions are compelled to violence. It is an argument that has been especially tragic for the Palestinians who are treated by experts in the Middle East as forced to choose suicide bombings because of what they allege to be daily degradation at the hands of the IDF.

 

But even if such degradation were true - and let's face it, it is Palestinian terror that necessitates the army roadblocks - what is the connection with blowing up innocent civilians and children?

 

As Prof. Alan Dershowitz points out, the Jews of Europe experienced the most brutal assault in the history of the world during the Holocaust. But that did not compel them to take out their fury on German kindergartens and buses.

 

It was Victor Frankl in Man's Search for Meaning who gave the definitive rebuttal to the belief that we are nothing but creatures of our environment, incapable of making moral choices when placed in a degrading environment. Frankl's moving depiction of concentration camp inmates sharing their last morsels of bread with those hungrier than they and moving about the disease-ravaged barracks comforting the dying is proof positive that there is no such thing as fate. The Nazis may have wanted all inmates to become animals. But no one can force us to forfeit our humanity. We all have choice, in every time, in every place and under all circumstances. We can all choose how we will respond to what is being done to us. What we become in life is entirely the making of our own hands.

 

But isn't this a principle of religion and not just of Judaism? Not really. Christianity maintains that humans are born in sin and must be redeemed by grace. Human action alone is never sufficient for salvation. It is the righteous belief rather than righteous action that counts. Which is not to suggest that Christianity does not demand a life of moral rectitude. Of course it does. But it is the dogma rather than the activity that ultimately determines human proximity to God.

 

Imagine now if this most quintessential of all Jewish values could be mainstreamed, if we could really convince people that it is in their power to be whatever they wish. Malcolm Gladwell's best-seller Blink makes the point that we are so utterly unaware by all the marketing influencing our decisions that we only live under the illusion of choice.

 

Perhaps. But even the most brilliant marketing campaign cannot force us to buy another useless item rather than feed the hungry. Nor can they force us to live ostentatiously rather than humbly. It is a lesson that those on Wall Street, just a few blocks from our conference, would do well to consider.

 

The writer is the founder of This World: The Values Network and the author of Ten Conversations You Need to Have with Your Children and Parenting with Fire. www.shmuley.com

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

END THE FANATIC VIOLENCE

 

If workers entering their workplace are subjected to violent attacks, it is self-evident that the law enforcement authorities must protect them - as well as their employers - whatever day of the week it happens to be and regardless of the motive for the attacks. This did not happen at the Intel plant in Jerusalem's Har Hotzvim industrial area on Saturday. Moreover, the frenzied assaults of ultra-Orthodox extremists there were not a one-time event. The city and the state must stop trying to ignore the phenomenon.


The ability to operate modern industry in Israel's capital faces a test of the utmost importance in the face of this renewed ultra-Orthodox offensive. Jerusalem is a poor city with dwindling resources and a particularly high natural growth rate. Its residents, both religious and secular, most of whom work in government offices and public institutions or study at Hebrew University, want to lead normal and comfortable lives, but a fanatical minority whose conduct has recently become more belligerent than ever is set on making that impossible.


Mayor Nir Barkat was elected partly because he promised to promote tourism and industry in the city and to extricate it from the vicious cycle of poverty. The ultra-Orthodox extremists tried to harm tourism to the capital by violently opposing the opening of the Carta parking garage on Saturdays. Now they are trying to harm high-tech industry in the city with their violence against the Intel plant, because it employs workers on the Sabbath.

 

The extremists draw even relatively moderate people into unreasonable positions. Deputy Mayor Yitzhak Pindrus claimed that the "case of Intel is graver than the Carta parking garage," while others have proposed that only non-Jews should work there. The right of Shabbat observers not to have to work on the Sabbath must be protected, but if it is essential that the Intel plant operate seven days a week this must be allowed unconditionally.

Intel might conclude from the incident that it would do well to leave Jerusalem, and other companies could do the same. If the municipality and the government do not do what is necessary to foster tourism, industry and the quality of life in the capital, it will become still poorer, and backward and neglected as well, with a future that will put its past to shame.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

THE RETURN OF THE ILLUSIONIST

BY YOEL MARCUS

 

Let's say Benjamin Netanyahu was prime minister in 1977 instead of Menachem Begin. Would he have gone the same way? Made a peace agreement with Egypt via Camp David? Renounced all the Pithat Rafiah settlements? Withdrawn to the last millimeter in Sinai? Signed an agreement affirming the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people?


Would he have uprooted all our settlements beyond the border in a violent confrontation with the Greater Land of Israel people? Would he have responded to President Carter's dictates and submitted his concessions, mainly removing the settlements, to the Knesset and supported peace with a state that killed some 3,000 of our soldiers in the Yom Kippur War?


The answer, of course, is no. The very thought of such a possibility would have made Bibi sweat by day and suffer horrible nightmares by night.

 

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Sure enough, everyone praises and commends Yitzhak Rabin as a man of peace, but the truth is that Begin the Herutnik was the one who paved the way for Rabin the Laborite to adopt the Oslo Accords and strive for the second peace agreement - with the Kingdom of Jordan.


When Ariel Sharon ran for elections under the slogan "only Sharon will bring peace," his media advisers told me that not keeping his promise could be a career-ender. Indeed, he kept his promise far beyond expectations when he decided to remove forcibly 25 settlements as a first step to awaken the nation from the dream of a Greater Land of Israel.


Judging by the rebellion Bibi tried to lead against Sharon at the time, and finding himself leading a Likud of 12 MKs, Bibi was suitable to be a foreign minister but was not built to be prime minister, as his father, Prof. Benzion Netanyahu, said. Bibi was defeated shamefully and returned to the prime minister's chair because of Tzipi Livni's mistake. Now he's back with his old tricks and shtick.


After uttering one hope-raising paragraph in the Bar-Ilan speech ("two states for two peoples"), Bibi managed to swiftly erase his statement's impression by setting conditions, insisting on continuing the construction in the territories and mainly in angering the American administration.


Bibi, typically, is doing everything to mark time. He talks to Ehud Barak a lot, but also to Daniel Ben Simon and Tzipi Hotoveli, and calls out to President Assad "let's make peace."


Everyone knows what Assad's constant conditions are - they are identical to what Israel has given Sadat. Bibi's call to Assad has won over mainly Shimon Peres, who declared - this time from South America - that Bibi is ready for concessions and has a serious plan to advance peace.


Are we heading for catastrophe, Razi Barkai asks historian Anita Shapira on Army Radio.


She replies that the head tells us we're bound for chaos, but the heart says everything will be all right.


"That's what they said in Warsaw in 1939 as well," she tells me after that radio interview.

Bibi knows Assad wants what Sadat received - everything his father had lost in the war. But he is deceiving all those who want peace by saying he is prepared for negotiations with Syria "without preconditions."


Since I wondered what would have happened had Bibi been prime minister in 1977, it is now important to ask, why repeat the mistake we made then, when we didn't respond to Sadat's hints and threats before the Yom Kippur War - that if there isn't peace, he would be ready to sacrifice a million soldiers to get Egypt's land back? Did so much blood have to be spilled to achieve that peace?


A peace agreement with Syria has a price, but isn't it better to reach the agreement and pay for it now, before Syria is driven to a war sponsored by Iran?


The unsolved mystery is why, if Bibi is so hesitant, in surveys the answer to the question "who is more suitable for prime minister," is 43 percent for Bibi, compared to 5 percent for Barak?


The explanation is that the public has become more right-wing and the Likud more radical.


Netanyahu has prepared a list of delaying tactics. The Palestinians are playing into his hands by threatening to declare unilaterally a Palestinian state, which is a recipe for an enforced solution or, heaven forbid, a third intifada.

Meanwhile the sun is shining, the ministers are flying all over the place, the supermarket shelves are full, the restaurants are bursting and the ultra-Orthodox are taking over Jerusalem.

 

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 HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

THE EUROPEAN STING

BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER

 

For years we've been on the threshold, waiting for the dream to come true - joining the prestigious Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the exclusive club of the world's 30 most developed countries. As early as 2000, then finance minister Avraham Shochat said we were "very close" to admission. Nine years later, once again we are "very close" to making it.


There is one little obstacle to overcome: Adoption of a long list of economic recommendations from the OECD delegation that visited Israel recently. Even if we accept and implement all of the recommendations, our entrance ticket is not guaranteed. Behind the economics lie the politics, and as long as the Europeans perceive Israel as balking at peace, the OECD's Council of Ministers will not let us in. There's no such thing as "politics is one thing and economics another." Everything is intertwined, and interests are all.


One of the OECD recommendations was for the Bank of Israel to desist from intervening in the exchange rate "to avoid damaging its credibility" and also because such intervention creates inflationary pressures. Sounds innocent and professional, but there's an interest: The involvement of the central bank's governor in manipulating the exchange rate prevents revaluation of the shekel, giving Israeli exporters an advantage over those from OECD countries, something that upset the delegation.

 

Another recommendation that concealed an interest was that Israel should stop the process of reducing income tax and company taxes. The OECD members do not want Israel to become too competitive and attractive; low taxes entice foreign investors and serve as high-grade fuel for growth. Evidently no one wants to be faced by too strong a competitor.


The delegation also proposed a hike in VAT, noting the OECD countries where it is as high as 20 percent, whereas in Israel it is "only" 16.5 percent. But this arouses the suspicion that it is actually envious of our lower VAT and wants Israel to make the same mistake it made.


As for the national budget, the OECD delegates criticized the fact that Israel's maximum national budget increase is only 1.7 percent. The Israeli economy is growing at a faster rate than 1.7 percent, they said, and therefore the weight of public expenditure in the GNP will decline. But what's wrong with that? Would a groom complain that his bride's too pretty? Israel does want to reduce the weight of public expenditure in its GNP, and that is also what will make tax cuts, rapid growth and reducing unemployment possible. Don't let them tell us that we'll also get less education, health and welfare, because the public sector still has plenty of fat that can be trimmed, a lot of room for efficiency, savings and reforms without harming services for the citizens.

Once before, the OECD tried to get Israel to prolong the protection period for patented drugs. The implication was sacrificing Teva on the OECD altar, as most of its business is in generic drugs. The delegation also shamelessly recommended we reduce subsidies to agriculture and allow free-market rules to prevail, even though in Western Europe, they heavily subsidize their farmers.


The Knesset Finance Committee last week discussed the subject, and MKs used the OECD delegation's criticism to lash out at Israel's economic policies. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz retorted that the delegation's report "was not the Torah of Sinai. They recommend, but we are not obliged to accept."


Steinitz is right. The OECD report was not the work of ministering angels. It is replete with the self-interests of a European agenda, which simply does not suit us. True, it would be nice to get into the prestigious club , but it isn't worth stripping bare for the privilege. There's no need to worry about getting our duds ready for the welcoming ceremony, because the politics prevailing in the organization will once again postpone Israel's admission, just as in Shochat's day.

 

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 HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

LAST CALL FOR THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY

BY SHAUL ARIELI

 

It's a mistake to view Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' announcement that he will not run in the next Palestinian Authority elections as simply a ritual designed to apply pressure on the international community and Israel. Even if, as anticipated, the elections don't take place in January and Abbas remains in office for now, he is liable in the future to make good on his threat to quit and thereby place Israel in a position fundamentally similar to the one obtaining in Gaza before Operation Cast Lead, but with much more serious ramifications.


In Cast Lead Israel decided to leave control of the Gaza Strip in the hands of Hamas, understanding that the only alternative was resumption of Israeli rule there, with all its disastrous implications.


The disintegration of the PA would perhaps generate a storm of exultant "we told you so"s from right-wingers, but it would also obligate Israel to reassume responsibility for ruling over the lives of more than two million Palestinians in the West Bank.

 

In the absence of a suitable candidate to succeed Abbas (assuming that Marwan Barghouti, who has declared that he will contest the election, could not do so from his Israeli prison cell), the breakup of the PA is not an unreasonable scenario.


The disintegration of the PA could coincide with a decision by Fatah to commit to reconciliation with Hamas, which would be accompanied by the end of the Dayton plan to build a Palestinian military infrastructure, and especially an end to security coordination with Israel.


It could also end the Fayyad plan for creating institutions of a future Palestinian state, the release of Hamas prisoners held in the West Bank and the renewal of popular protest.


The dismantling of the PA would be tantamount to a public admission by the Palestine Liberation Organization of the failure of the diplomatic route. Even if Fatah, which has been losing ground on the Palestinian street, doesn't declare it publicly, it would have to adopt the call by the Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Meshal to freeze efforts to come to an agreement with Israel, "at least for a certain period of time, and to embrace jihad, resistance and popular action of all kinds."


Hamas would become "the only game in town" by virtue of its success in bringing an end to the Israeli presence in Gaza and would commit to doing the same in the West Bank.


As things stand, Abbas and his Fatah colleagues will refrain from challenging Hamas in democratic elections. Abbas' political organizing, which planned to rely on the anti-Hamas nationalist camp, will not win if it only comes out against the organization's social platform, whose radical Islamic signature is already visible in the Gaza Strip. It will require political reinforcement.


In his speech, Abbas left an opening to Israel and the United States to regain its composure and act to prevent the scenario from becoming a reality. The initiative over a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state also leaves such an opening, taking into consideration that it is a plan that can indeed be carried out.


Its complexity, however, and the risks that it carries on the Palestinian side as well will, in all probability, lead to the postponement of a declaration and the possibility of resuming negotiations before an independent state becomes a reality.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who time and again speaks of the need to make a distinction between Gaza and the West Bank, must act to make this concept a reality and to again give the West Bank Palestinians the sense that there is benefit in a diplomatic solution.


Israel must create the conditions that will in the short run enable the realization of the Fayyad plan to build a Palestinian state "from the bottom up" and in the long run the resumption of negotiations with an agreed agenda and time frame for completing negotiations on a final-status arrangement.


The writer is a member of the board of directors of the Council for Peace and Security and one of the architects of the Geneva Initiative.

 

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 HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

BE A BETTER NEIGHBOR, BIBI

BY BATYA SHEFFI

 

The murder of Yitzhak Rabin 14 years ago left Israeli citizens, in particular those responsible for protecting the lives of their leaders, worried. A number of conclusions were drawn from the event, and one was to increase the security for the country's leaders. But this raises quite a number of questions, such as the effects these security arrangements have on the daily lives of the neighbors of one of those leaders.


The prime ministers and presidents of Israel have official residences, which they live in and use for official purposes. The official residences are permanent fixtures, and the security arrangements around those residences, and their implications, have been properly planned for. The neighbors also have lived in the neighborhood for many years.


Prime ministers often have other homes or apartments where they tend to spend weekends or vacations. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for example, has a home in Caesarea in addition to his official residence, and an apartment in Jerusalem.

 

Since he started his term, life in the Caesarea neighborhood where his house is has become unbearable. What am I talking about? Every time a neighborhood resident wants to drive on his street, on days when the prime minister is there, the car is inspected, the driver is questioned and you even have to present an identity card. Every guest must pass through the gauntlet, and every visiting repairman is interrogated and checked.


Some of the security guards have the authority to enter private yards and question neighbors. The street looks like a ghetto, with the loud voices of the guards on their radios and cell phones audible everywhere. The presence of the guards, their vehicles and all the inspections disturbs the quiet street; and that does not include the destruction of plants, which are often uprooted, the searches of garbage cans and the blocking of main streets during the middle of the day for training exercises, as well as environmental hazards such as security fences, bright lights on all night that penetrate the bedrooms of neighboring houses, garbage and the smell of excrement.

There are both moral and legal questions involved. What is more important: The prime minister and his family's personal pleasure, or the privacy and freedom of the eight families living near him? What is more important: Normal citizens' rights to enjoy peaceful weekends at home, or the prime minister and his family's wish to spend time outside their official residence?


The prime minister and his family can claim, "We are not responsible for this at all, the security arrangements are dictated to us."


They are right. But I think the prime minister should be more considerate of his neighbors, and since there is no choice, he should give up these pleasures in light of his high position. Everything we do or choose in life has a price. Even senior positions, such as that of prime minister, have a price. Sometimes this price means giving up on the small pleasures in life.


For those responsible for the prime minister's security, it is simple. No one can force the prime minister to give up his time at home, and therefore there is no choice but to guarantee his security at the expense of a few families who live on the same street, most of whom lived there long before the prime minister moved in.

But in my opinion, Netanyahu would do the right thing if he gave up on his visits to his home in Caesarea while he is in office. Such a concession would make residents' lives easier, prevent problems for the security forces, protect the environment, save the state numerous resources, and mostly prove the word "consideration" has meaning.

The writer has a doctorate in social work and is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's neighbor in Caesarea.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

THEIR FUTURE IS OURS

 

There are 16 million children in immigrant families in the United States, one of the fastest-growing segments of the population. It's an old American story made new in the age of globalization, when waves of human displacement in recent decades have led to immigration on a scale not seen since Ellis Island. But a country that has been so good for so long at integrating new Americans is stumbling under the challenge.

 

That is the conclusion of Professors Marcelo and Carola Suárez-Orozco, fellows at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton and co-directors of immigration studies at New York University. They have done basic research in immigration for more than 20 years, five of them studying 400 children from China, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Central America and Mexico.

 

The results of their research, released this month, show the stark effects of what Marcelo Suárez-Orozco calls "the age of global vertigo." Dislocation breeds a host of difficulties, starting with family separation. Nearly half of the children in their sample had at some point lost contact with one or both parents, either through migration directly or through divorce or death. The absent parent was most often the father for long stretches or permanently. For 49 percent of the Central American children, separations lasted more than five years.

 

The children from separated families were, perhaps unsurprising, more likely to show signs of depression. Those symptoms were often accompanied by poverty, isolation and — despite an early period of hopefulness and engagement — a downward academic slide. Immigrant children lagged in mastering standard academic English, the passport to college and to brighter futures. Whereas native-born children's language skills follow a bell curve, immigrants' children were crowded in the lower ranks: More than three-quarters of the sample scored below the 85th percentile in English proficiency.

 

There is clearly a need for policies and programs to support immigrant parents and children, but the reality is as haphazard and tenuous as these children's lives often are. Millions are growing up in mixed families, with some members here illegally, others not. Bills to help immigrant families with a path to legalization have died repeatedly in Congress, and small-scale reforms like the Dream Act, a path to college or the military for children of illegal immigrants have been stymied for years. New investments in language education, citizenship preparation and after-school and preschool programs have been derailed by economic crisis, harsh immigration politics and a general lack of attention.

 

This is the great challenge that is forgotten in the heat of the immigration debate. The children of immigrants are Americans. "They" are "us," a cohort of newcomers who will be filling the demographic void left as the baby boomers start fading away. Their future is our country's future. The job of integrating them is not only unfinished but in many critical ways has hardly begun.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE HUMAN MOON

 

Over the past four months, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft, which is in a low polar orbit over the Moon, has returned a series of images of Apollo landing sites showing the vessels themselves at rest on the Moon's surface.

 

The most recent of these, released last week, is a high-resolution view of the first manned landing site where Apollo 11 touched down on July 20, 1969. On the right are the bright, stony rays of West Crater, and at the left edge of the photograph is the lower stage of the lunar module itself, gleaming like a pinpoint of light on the gray, cratered plain.

 

The mission of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which is loaded with instruments, is to produce a new and vastly sharper glimpse of the Moon from an orbit about 30 miles above the surface — all with an eye toward a possible manned return.

 

Yet there's something terribly wistful about these photographs of the Apollo landing sites. The detail is such that if Neil Armstrong were walking there now, we could make him out, make out his footsteps even, like the astronaut footpath clearly visible in the photos of the Apollo 14 site.

 

Perhaps the wistfulness is caused by the sense of simple grandeur in those Apollo missions. Perhaps, too, it's a reminder of the risk we all felt after the Eagle had landed — the possibility that it might be unable to lift off again and the astronauts would be stranded on the Moon. But it may also be that a photograph like this one is as close as we're able to come to looking directly back into the human past.

 

There the lunar module sits, parked just where it landed 40 years ago, as if it still really were 40 years ago and all the time since merely imaginary.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

OBAMA'S JUDICIAL NOMINATIONS

 

The Obama administration is off to a slow start on judicial nominations, but the Senate, which has delayed in confirming the choices President Obama has made, also bears a good part of the blame. The administration and the Senate leadership should pick up the pace of nominations and confirmations in order to restore some balance to a federal judiciary that was pushed sharply to the right by former President George W. Bush.

 

Appointing federal judges, who have enormous power and serve for life, is one of the most important presidential responsibilities. President Bush, who was intent on leaving an ideological imprint on the judiciary, made his nominations quickly and pushed hard to have them confirmed. By the end of his first year, according to a report by the liberal group Alliance for Justice, he had nominated 65 federal judges and 28 were confirmed.

 

By that measure — and those of the Clinton and Reagan years — Mr. Obama has moved slowly. As of Nov. 4, he had nominated just 26 appellate and district court judges, and only four of them had been confirmed. Even considering that selecting Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court and getting her confirmed took time, the administration's pace has been disappointing.

 

On the confirmation side, the fault lies with the Senate. Obama nominees who have been reported out of the Judiciary Committee have waited months for a vote from the full Senate, far longer than is necessary.Senate Republicans have been doing their best to drag things out. In March, every Republican senator signed an outrageous letter to the White House warning that they would filibuster any nominee from their home states if they did not approve the choice in advance. That was a dizzying reversal. In the Bush years, Senate Republicans professed to be so upset about Democrats' filibustering that their majority leader threatened the "nuclear option," which would have eliminated the use of filibusters for all judicial nominations.

 

Senate Democrats used the filibuster very selectively against Bush nominees who were true extremists. The real outrage was who was approved. Jay Bybee, the author of the infamous legal memorandums justifying the use of torture, is now a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco.

 

The Democrats also allowed J. Leon Holmes to be confirmed to the federal bench in Arkansas. He had made a number of offensive statements about women, African-Americans and gay people. In 1997, he wrote that in marriage, "the woman is to place herself under the authority of the man."

 

Republican senators, by contrast, are unreasonably opposing good nominees who are well within the legal mainstream. A current example is David Hamilton, a distinguished federal district court judge in Indiana who has been nominated to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago. Judge Hamilton has decidedly moderate legal views and strong centrist credentials, including the enthusiastic endorsement of Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican. Judge Hamilton in no way resembles extreme Bush nominees that Democrats opposed. There is a good chance the Senate will vote on Judge Hamilton this week. Republicans who oppose him may be trying to send a message that even moderate nominees will have a rough time so the White House should steer clear of more controversial choices.

 

The Obama administration should not be deterred. After eight years of flawed Bush nominations, it should work hard to fill every judicial vacancy with the best possible judges — and it should act as quickly as possible.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

PUPPETS IN CONGRESS

 

For a depressing example of how members of Congress can be spoon-fed the views and even the exact words of high-powered lobbying firms, consider remarks inserted into the Congressional Record after the debate and vote on health care reform in the House.

 

As Robert Pear reported in The Times on Sunday, statements inserted into the official record by more than a dozen lawmakers were ghostwritten, in whole or in part, by lobbyists working for Genentech, a large biotechnology company that expects to prosper under some of the provisions in the reform legislation. The company estimates that 22 Republicans and 20 Democrats picked up some of its talking points.

 

The comforting news is that none of the ghostwritten material sought to change the contents of the bill, which was not open to much revision during the debate. Rather, the statements were inserted into the Congressional Record as revisions and extensions of briefer remarks made by legislators on the House floor. Still, there they are in the official record for historians to read, or perhaps a judge trying to determine the lawmakers' intent in passing this bill.

 

The apparent goal was to show that, even though there were sharp divisions between the parties on the overall reform bill (only one Republican voted for it), there was bipartisan support for provisions relating to drugs produced by the biotechnology industry. One provision, for example, would allow generic competition to expensive biological drugs but only after the original manufacturer had enjoyed 12 years of exclusive use, a generous period by anyone's standards.

 

An e-mail message from one top lobbyist urged his colleagues to conduct "aggressive outreach" to Congressional staff members to secure as many supportive statements from their bosses "as humanly possible." Sure enough, Republicans who denounced the overall bill, said in their industry-fed statements that the biological drug provisions struck "the appropriate balance."

 

It is disturbing that the industry was able to so easily shape the official record to its liking. It is even more disturbing that so many members of Congress were willing to parrot the industry talking points.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

IN THE WILDERNESS, A NEW FRONTIER

BY MICHAEL CAREY

 

Anchorage

 

SARAH PALIN, a onetime beauty queen, a mother of five, the Republican candidate for vice president in 2008, and the former governor of Alaska, has a new incarnation: author.

 

Her memoir, "Going Rogue: An American Life," out today, is already a best seller. In what was trumpeted as a "world exclusive," Ms. Palin sat down with Oprah Winfrey on Monday to discuss the obvious controversies in which she has been a participant — among them, the dismal Katie Couric interview, her conflicts with the McCain campaign and her difficult relationship with Levi Johnston, the father of her grandson. Her book tour, much of which will be conducted by bus, promises to attract the energy of a "tea party" rally and the hoopla of a presidential campaign.

 

As the country continues to be fascinated with Ms. Palin, here is what continues to fascinate Alaskans: how a woman who takes pride in calling herself a homemaker from Wasilla brought celebrity culture to the Last Frontier.

 

No other Alaskan can match her stardom. Ted Stevens, a senator for four decades, became only briefly notorious after being indicted on corruption charges. Only hockey fans recognize Scott Gomez (formerly of the New York Rangers, now of the Montreal Canadiens). The four-time Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race champion, Susan Butcher, died in 2006. The skippers on the Discovery Channel's "Deadliest Catch" are not household names.

 

It all happened so fast.

 

In March 2008, I ran into Ms. Palin at the start of the Iditarod in downtown Anchorage. She had no entourage, no security, only her daughter Piper — who wanted to go home. We chatted about her beautiful parka with its wolverine ruff.

 

Sometime around then, I also interviewed her on a radio call-in program. As we waited to go on air, I asked her where she got her long, round O's — as in her pronunciation of the name of her 2006 Democratic opponent in the governor's race, Tony Knowles, "Tooon-y Knooowles." She leaned over and asked, with an air of confidentiality, "Do you think I should hire a voice coach?"

 

Her life changed when she was nominated for vice president, and ours did too. Reporters, photographers and anchormen descended on our state. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Alaskans were interviewed. Few of us previously understood just how exhaustively the American news media would follow a celebrity story. The Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989 drew plenty of national journalists, but far more came to cover Ms. Palin. Sometimes her fame was contagious: young Levi Johnston has become a tabloid figure quoted authoritatively on the Palin family's private life.

 

Ms. Palin exposed Alaskans to a larger universe. We learned how celebrity is created through images, words, legends and, in a few cases, outright fabrication.

 

Several times after the 2008 Republican convention, I had a variation of the following experience in restaurants, bars and waiting rooms. Someone sitting nearby would blurt out "Look!" and point upward as if having seen an apparition. There she would be on a television screen overhead — campaigning before a huge throng in Pennsylvania, North Carolina or somewhere else Outside, as Alaskans call the rest of the country. In that "Look!" I heard a mixture of pride and amazement. Because there, right in front of us, was an Alaskan — a neighbor from down the road — standing on the biggest stage in the world.

 

But Ms. Palin's celebrity is unlikely to have a lasting effect on Alaskan politics. Her movement was not inheritable, not transferable. She did not reshape the state. When she still held office, her fame was mostly an annoyance to legislators who felt she was too busy pursuing national ambitions to talk to them. The 2010 gubernatorial race is likely to be a contest between candidates promising competent, meat-and-potatoes government to constituents who grew sick of their governor staring at them from magazine covers as they waited in the supermarket checkout line. For the time being, it appears that American celebrity culture will remain in the Lower 48.

 

For the record, I don't believe Sarah Palin will ever hold national office. She inspires many right-wing activists and enchants some members of the conservative news media, but the independents and moderates decisive to any presidential bid won't send her to Washington with "quitter" on her résumé. Still, she's likely to remain in the limelight for years to come.

 

If that makes you scream, don't scream at Alaskans. We only made her governor. The nation made her a celebrity.

 

Michael Carey is a columnist for The Anchorage Daily News and the host of the public television program "Anchorage Edition."

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

INVENTING A BETTER PATENT SYSTEM

BY ROBERT C. POZEN

 

Boston

GARY LOCKE, the secretary of commerce, has urged Congress to overhaul the nation's patent law by the end of the year. Although a bill has been circulating since 2005, a fierce fight involving the high-tech and drug industries on a technical issue — how to measure damages when a company violates a patent applying to one component of a larger product — has kept it from reaching a vote.

 

The best way forward is for Congress to sidestep the damages question and instead add five amendments to existing statutes that would improve the processing of patents, reduce lawsuits and speed up the arrival of innovations on the market.

 

The quality of American patents has been deteriorating for years; they are increasingly issued for products and processes that are not truly innovative — things like the queuing system for Netflix, which was patented in 2003. Yes, it makes renting movies a snap, but was it really a breakthrough deserving patent protection?

 

One root of the problem is that patent examiners, many of whom are young or lack practical experience, are not qualified to evaluate whether complex claims in biotech or physics meet the most critical tests: whether the claim is novel relative to prior art, and whether this would be obvious to a person skilled in the art. To help fix this, Congress should pass an amendment allowing experts in the field to submit explanatory or critical comments on patent applications.

 

Currently, most such evaluations are prohibited "without the express written consent of the applicant." But academic scientists and industry researchers are the best judges of an application's novelty. Their input would help federal examiners better understand the merits of claims. True, outside comments would likely elicit disagreements from the applicant — but it is better to have this debate first rather than waiting until after patents are granted and taking it to the courts, as we do now.

 

Next, Congress should require that all applications be made public 18 months after they are filed. Applicants can now sidestep publication until the patent is awarded simply by certifying that they will not seek the same patent in a foreign country. Such secrecy is inconsistent with international practice, and keeps rivals of the applicant in the dark until the process is completed. This may well be several years, during which time competitors may waste time and money developing the same invention.

 

Third, under today's system, interested parties can challenge a patent after it is granted in two ways: in court or in an administrative proceeding called an opposition. Oppositions are widely used in Europe because they are faster and less expensive than court cases. In the United States, however, oppositions are relatively rare — in large part because if the challenger loses the hearing and then tries to challenge the patent in court, she cannot assert that it is invalid on any ground he raised or "could have raised" during the opposition.

 

While it is reasonable to prevent someone from rearguing a claim that has already been adjudicated in an opposition, it is unfair to prohibit plaintiffs from bringing up claims that were never raised in the hearing. Congress should eliminate the "could have raised" clause.

 

Fourth, Congress should provide limited new immunity to all inventors who choose to protect their innovations as "trade secrets" rather than patents. A trade secret — like the formula for Coca-Cola — is an innovation that is kept confidential by company procedures like contractual covenants. Innovators may choose the trade secret route over the patent application for many reasons — for instance, they may not have the time or money to pursue a patent.

 

In most foreign countries, inventors with trade secrets are protected from infringement suits if they have been using the secret innovation for some time, another firm independently develops a similar innovation and obtains a patent for it. This protection is called "prior user rights." In 1999, Congress limited prior-user rights to "business method" patents like Netflix queuing; the statute did not cover prior uses of machines or other actual products. Congress should extend protections to prior users of all types of patents.

 

Finally, Congress should adopt a "first to file" rule for awarding patents between competing parties. America is the only major country that tries to ascertain who was the first applicant to invent the product or procedure. This may seem fair, but long proceedings to determine precisely when each party conceived an idea result mostly in keeping innovations from hitting the market.

 

Congress shouldn't make the best the enemy of the good. If it avoids the tricky question of damages measurement and adopts these five amendments, it would weed out low-quality patent claims, reduce the number of expensive lawsuits and reward our best innovators.

 

Robert C. Pozen, the chairman of MFS Investment Management and a lecturer at Harvard Business School, is the author of "Too Big to Save."

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

WHAT THE FUTURE MAY HOLD

BY BOB HERBERT

 

What will the United States be like in 20 years when today's toddlers are in college or trying to land that first job or maybe thinking about starting a family?

 

The answer will depend to a great extent on decisions we make now about the American infrastructure.

 

This came to mind as I was reading about yet another closure of the problem-plagued San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, which is more than 70 years old. In 20 years, will today's toddlers be traveling on bridges and roads that are in even worse shape than today's? Will they endure mammoth traffic jams that start earlier and end later? Will their water supplies be clean and safe? Will the promise of clean energy visionaries be realized, or will we still be fouling the environment with carbon filth to the benefit of traditional energy conglomerates and foreign regimes that in many cases wish us anything but good?

 

The answers to these and many other related questions will depend to a great extent on decisions we make now (even in the midst of very tough economic times) about the American infrastructure. We're trundling along in the infrastructure equivalent of a jalopy, with bridges rotting and falling down, while other nations, our competitors in the global economy, are building efficient, high-speed, high-performance infrastructure platforms to power their 21st-century economies.

 

We used to be so much smarter about this stuff. A recent publication from the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution reminds us that:

 

"Since the beginning of our republic, transportation and infrastructure have played a central role in advancing the American economy — from the canals of upstate New York to the railroads that linked the heartland to industrial centers and finally the interstate highway system that ultimately connected all regions of the nation.

 

"In each of those periods, there was a sharp focus on how infrastructure investments could be used as catalysts for economic expansion and evolution."

 

Policy makers all but gave up on that kind of thinking years ago. America's infrastructure, once the finest in the world, has been neglected for decades, and it shows. Felix Rohatyn's book on the subject, "Bold Endeavors," opens with: "The nation is falling apart — literally."

 

It's almost as if we no longer understand the crucial links between infrastructure and the health of the American economy, the state of the environment and the viability of the nation as a whole. We've become stupid about this.

 

Consider transportation. As Brookings tells us, "Other nations around the globe have continued to act on the calculus that state-of-the art transportation infrastructure — the connective tissue of a nation — is critical to moving goods, ideas and workers quickly and efficiently. In the United States, however, we seem to have forgotten."

 

Much of the nation's rail infrastructure is approaching the tail end of its useful life. If you've flown anywhere recently, you know what a nightmare that can be.

 

To the extent that we have any infrastructure policy at all, it is badly disjointed, dysfunctional, often doing more harm than good as it serves the interests of politicians who are crazy for pork rather than the real needs of the American public.

 

Brookings' studies of American infrastructure policy have been extensive, and a conversation last week with one of its executives, Bruce Katz, offered a glimpse of the kind of economic environment today's toddlers could face in a couple of decades if we started getting things right now.

 

"We'll very likely have a low-carbon-based economy," said Mr. Katz, "which will require enormous innovation with regard to energy and the infrastructure. We'll be much more export-oriented than we are today, less consumption-focused." And as a nation, he said, we should have a better understanding of the importance of the metropolitan areas that are the major drivers of the U.S. economy, and how essential it is to give them the coordinated national support that they need on infrastructure and other forms of development.

 

You can't thrive as a nation while New Orleans is drowning, and Detroit is being beaten into oblivion decade after decade, and a bridge in Minneapolis is collapsing into the Mississippi River, and cities in upstate New York and the Rust Belt are rotting from lack of employment opportunities, and so on.

 

Imagine, instead, an America with rebuilt, healthy, dynamic metropolitan areas, and gleaming new port facilities, and networks of high-speed rail, an America with electric vehicles and a smart grid and energy generated by the power of the sun and wind and water and the ocean's waves. Imagine if the children of today's toddlers had access to world-class public schools all across the nation and a higher education system that is both first-rate and affordable.

 

Imagine if we set out seriously to do all this.Imagine.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

THE NATION OF FUTURITY

BY DAVID BROOKS

 

When European settlers first came to North America, they saw flocks of geese so big that it took them 30 minutes to all take flight and forests that seemed to stretch to infinity. They came to two conclusions: that God's plans for humanity could be completed here, and that they could get really rich in the process.

 

This moral materialism fomented a certain sort of manic energy. Americans became famous for their energy and workaholism: for moving around, switching jobs, marrying and divorcing, creating new products and going off on righteous crusades.

 

It may seem like an ephemeral thing, but this eschatological faith in the future has motivated generations of Americans, just as religious faith motivates a missionary. Pioneers and immigrants endured hardship in the present because of their confidence in future plenty. Entrepreneurs start up companies with an exaggerated sense of their chances of success. The faith is the molten core of the country's dynamism.

 

There are also periodic crises of faith. Today, the rise of China is producing such a crisis. It is not only China's economic growth rate that produces this anxiety. The deeper issue is spiritual. The Chinese, though members of a famously old civilization, seem to possess some of the vigor that once defined the U.S. The Chinese are now an astonishingly optimistic people. Eighty-six percent of Chinese believe their country is headed in the right direction, compared with 37 percent of Americans.

 

The Chinese now have lavish faith in their scientific and technological potential. Newsweek and Intel just reported the results of their Global Innovation Survey. Only 22 percent of the Chinese believe their country is an innovation leader now, but 63 percent are confident that their country will be the global technology leader within 30 years. The majority of the Chinese believe that China will produce the next society-changing innovation, while only a third of Americans believe the next breakthrough will happen here, according to the survey.

 

The Cultural Revolution seems to have produced among the Chinese the same sort of manic drive that the pioneer and immigrant experiences produced among the Americans. The people who endured Mao's horror have seen the worst life has to offer and are now driven to build some secure footing. At the same time, they and their children seem inflamed by the experience of living through so much progress so quickly.

 

"Do you understand?" one party official in Shanxi Province told James Fallows of The Atlantic, "If it had not been for Deng Xiaoping, I would be behind an ox in a field right now. ... Do you understand how different this is? My mother has bound feet!"

 

The anxiety in America is caused by the vague sense that they have what we're supposed to have. It's not the per capita income, which the Chinese may never have at our level. It's the sense of living with baubles just out of reach. It's the faith in the future, which is actually more important.

 

China, where President Obama is visiting, invites a certain sort of reverie. It is natural, looking over the construction cranes, to think about the flow of history over decades, not just day to day. And it becomes obvious by comparison just how far the U.S. has drifted from its normal future-centered orientation and how much this rankles.

 

The U.S. now has an economy shifted too much toward consumption, debt and imports and too little toward production, innovation and exports. It now has a mounting federal debt that creates present indulgence and future hardship.

 

Americans could once be confident that their country would grow more productive because each generation was more skilled than the last. That's no longer true. The political system now groans to pass anything easy — tax cuts and expanding health care coverage — and is incapable of passing anything hard — spending restraint, health care cost control.

 

The standard thing these days is for Americans to scold each other for our profligacy, to urge fiscal Puritanism. But it's not clear Americans have ever really been self-disciplined. Instead, Americans probably postponed gratification because they thought the future was a big rock-candy mountain, and if they were stealing from that, they were robbing themselves of something stupendous.

 

It would be nice if some leader could induce the country to salivate for the future again. That would mean connecting discrete policies — education, technological innovation, funding for basic research — into a single long-term narrative. It would mean creating regional strategies, because innovation happens in geographic clusters, not at the national level. It would mean finding ways to tamp down consumption and reward production. The most pragmatic guide for that remains Michael Porter's essay in the Oct. 30, 2008, issue of Business Week.

 

As the financial crises ease, it would be nice if Americans would once again start looking to the horizon.

 

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

CURBING MILITANCY

 

Militants are under fire across the north. Apart from the 23 killed in Orakzai and South Waziristan, 22 bodies are reported also to have been recovered from Swat and Buner. It is somewhat reassuring to learn that the effort against the Taliban continues in Malakand and that an effort now seems to be on to clamp down on militants everywhere. In the past we had heard of TTP figures from Swat escaping into surrounding areas and regrouping there. This should prove more difficult now that the operation has been expanded to cover a bigger swathe of territory. But even now it is important not to be complacent. There are accounts from Mingora and other towns in Swat of life returning to normal. Bazaars bustle once more with activity, schools have been re-opened and at least some barber shops have resumed business. But the threat from the Taliban still lurks. Women are reported to be scared of venturing out to work and many have chosen not to discard 'burqas' forced on them by the Taliban. It will naturally take time for mindsets to change and for fear to fade away. But to ensure there is no possibility of the Taliban re-asserting themselves some months or even years down the line more needs to be done.

A development plan for Swat was announced by the prime minister some months ago. It is unclear if there has been any move towards implementing this. The Taliban exploited the poverty and sense of neglect of the people of Swat to vault into power. They can be prevented from repeating this feat by altering ground realities and pushing forward development in the area. One shortcut towards this is by making an active effort to revive tourism – the industry that once formed the backbone of Swat's economy. Images of people skiing this winter at the Malam Jabba resort – one of the targets attacked by militants – or enjoying the winter from warm hotel rooms would do more than anything else to restore faith in the fact that things have indeed come full circle in Swat. This would also instantly create jobs, by giving back the horsemen, the jeep drivers, the inn-keepers, the guides and the chefs their means of livelihood. Alongside an effort geared towards this, we need also to establish among the people of Swat a pride in their past. In schools and elsewhere an understanding of the ancient history of the region must be incorporated and people taught that this is a part of their history to cherish, and that it does not in any way detract from the faith they practise today. It will take time to work towards this. But it is certainly not too soon to begin putting a plan in place for this so that the future of Swat can be a peaceful one not marred by any attempt at a Taliban comeback.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

RIGGING ALLEGATIONS

 

The PML-Q and the MQM have made allegations of massive rigging by the PPP in Gilgit-Baltistan, where the ruling party swept the poll to 23 seats in the new legislative assembly for the region. The charges have been denied by the prime minister and other members of the winning party. This pattern of accusations and denials is of course not a new one. Disturbingly, the tensions between rival parties triggered clashes in Skardu as supporters pelted each other with stones. The losing parties have demanded re-elections on nine seats rather than on four, as announced by the Election Commission. The poll in Gilgit-Baltistan was monitored by neutral observers. A mission of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has noted the process was flawed. It has for instance stated the indelible ink to mark voters could in fact quite easily be removed and that the Benazir Income Support Programme may at times have been used unfairly. But the human rights body, with considerable experience in watching polls, does not appear to have found evidence of a large-scale attempt to alter the results.


As we have said before, there is only one way around this problem. Pakistan today urgently needs an autonomous and independent Election Commission, which is free of government control. The models for this used in other countries, including India, could help us work out how to set one up. The fact is that until this is done, every election will be followed by allegations of manipulation. After all the very nature of polls means there will always be winners and losers. One part of the democratic process is transparency and fair play at the ballot. This can be guaranteed only if the process is overseen by a body free from political affiliation and respected by all the major contestants. Otherwise we will continue to see the kind of unfortunate aftermath to polls that we are witnessing today in Gilgit-Baltistan.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

WOMEN'S HEALTH

 

In its first ever global report on health care for women, from birth to death, the WHO has highlighted that women too often fail to receive the care they need, notably in adolescence and old-age. It also identifies child birth and preventable cancers as a key risk to the health of women. This of course has particular significance for us in Pakistan. We have plenty of evidence from NGOs, international organizations and the government itself as well which indicate how women lose their lives unnecessarily as a result of their lack of access to medical care. The maternal mortality rate, standing at around 500 deaths for every 100,000 births, is among the highest in the region. The rate of complications linked to pregnancy is higher still.


The low status of women in society of course means their needs receive limited attention within households. Researchers find that sick girl-children are less likely to be taken to a doctor than their male counterparts; in some families they eat less too than the men. Doctors working among IDPs have reported many women who had never encountered medical practitioners. Many suffered anaemia or nutritional deficiencies. The same pattern can of course be found countrywide. It is not linked to levels of income alone but also to social taboos which prevent breast cancer being spoken about or awareness raised about the importance of early detection. The comprehensive WHO report should act as a trigger encouraging us to think more deeply about these issues. The finding that women make up the majority of the world's elderly too points to a need for a greater focus on ensuring they receive the care they need and that government policy encompasses the need to provide them with this.

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

PESHAWAR IS PESHAWAR

RAHIMULLAH YUSUFZAI


Peshawar, or Pekhawar as it is called by Pakhtuns and Pishor by its old Hindko-speaking residents, has always been a city under attack. Past invaders coming from Central Asia, Persia, Afghanistan, India, and beyond have raided and plundered the place. Aryans, Greeks, Persians, Mughals, Afghans, Sikhs and the British occupied and lost Peshawar during their various campaigns of colonial conquest. And then there are the Pakhtun tribes living so close to the city in the Khyber and Mohmand tribal regions and the frontier regions of Darra Adamkhel and Hasankhel and threatening it whenever they are attacked.


Peshawar is, once again, under attack. It is one of those periodic attacks that test the resilience of its brave and proud inhabitants. There is no doubt among its residents that they will overcome the latest threat to their city. But this will require lot of sacrifices and patience because it is a different kind of warfare. Terrorist attacks through vehicle-borne suicide bombers using up to 200 kilos of explosives are something new, and far more dangerous than anything Peshawar has experienced in the past. No place is safe in Peshawar nowadays -- not even the military, police and government installations that are supposed to protect the people and also public places and bazaars crowded by innocent commoners.


Lahoris are proud of their city and justifiably so. Terms like "Lahore, Lahore aie" and "Zindadalan-e-Lahore" are well-known and widely used because those born and brought up in Pakistan's cultural capital are lively and, at times, boisterous.


Peshawar isn't far behind even though this city of almost three million people is much smaller than Lahore. "Pekhawar kho Pekhawar dhay kana" (Peshawar is Peshawar) is how the city is described by those living in the NWFP. To say that is 'Peshawar is Peshawar' means that the city is one of its kind quite like the way that Lahoris feel about the city. It is also true because where else will you find the warmth and hospitality that one experiences in Peshawar?


Peshawar is among the most ancient cities in Central, West and South Asia. The Kushan king Kanishka is believed to have founded it in second century AD. The Kanishka stupa on the outskirts of present-day Peshawar at almost 700 feet was said to be the tallest in the world at the time. Old Peshawar was known as Purushapura (city of men), a Sanskrit word in keeping with its Hindu and Buddhist past. If this is what it meant, those who gave the name excluded from their equation the entire female population of the town. Though times have changed and women are now active in many walks of life in Peshawar and the rest of the province, the conservative ethos of the place shows that the men here are still reluctant to allow the females some of the freedoms that they deserve. Or it is possible the term "city of men" meant a place inhabited by strong people ready to fight for their honour and independence?


In the Mughal period, Peshawar was referred to as the "city of flowers." Babar, upon reaching Peshawar on his onward march to Delhi, wrote that he could see flowers as far as the eye could see. Those were still glorious days for the city. It was strategically located near the entry point of the Khyber Pass, which served as the gateway to Central and South Asia. The Afghan king of India, Sher Shah Suri, had made Peshawar commercially important by ensuring that his Delhi-Kabul Shahi Road, now the Grand Trunk (GT) Road, passed through this great city.


Peshawar was the main trading centre on the Silk Road at the crossroads of various civilisations. It was west of the river Indus, or Abasin as the local people called it and the life-line of agriculture and prosperity for the plains of Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh. It functioned as a frontier city for both South Asia and Central Asia. It was the capital of the glorious Gandhara civilisation, basking in the glory of its Buddhist past and proud to be the home of an array of people from different faiths and races. Bukharan Jews, Zorastrians, Baha'is, Hindus, Sikhs, Mongols and Afghans at different periods of time called it their home. The widely different features of the people one comes across in Peshawar is testimony to the fact that so many races came to live here, inter-married and co-existed in harmony.


All that and much more is now under threat. The once well-defended city with its ancient walls and 16 gates is vulnerable to attacks. Peshawar has spread haphazardly on all sides and could be easily infiltrated. The "city of flowers" has been gradually losing its greenery, parks and flowers to encroachments, bad planning and greed. It is now known as an over-crowded and polluted city. Western journalists writing about Peshawar often refer to it as a dusty place. It has been abandoned and forgotten by its most famous sons and daughters, many moving out in search of greener pastures never to return. Those still remaining are thinking of shifting to safer places, Islamabad being the preferred destination for those who are able to afford the move to a new place.


Peshawar's recent misfortunes started in the 70s when Sardar Mohammad Daud became Afghanistan's president after overthrowing his cousin and king Zahir Shah in 1973, and took up the cause of Pakhtunistan with renewed vigour. Pakhtun and Baloch nationalists from the NWFP and Balochistan were now more than welcome to visit Afghanistan and were assisted with arms and money to destabilise Pakistan. The government of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto began harbouring and backing Afghan dissidents like Gulbaddin Hekmatyar, Burhanuddin Rabbani, Ahmad Shah Masood and Maulvi Yunis Khalis in a tit-for-tat response. All of them were accommodated in Peshawar and their fighters were trained and infiltrated into Afghanistan. The Afghan government assisted Pakistanis who were exploding bombs in Peshawar and rest of the NWFP.


The bombing campaign intensified when Afghan communists staged a coup d'etat in Kabul in April 1978 and triggered a series of events that led to the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan in December 1979. Pakistan, along with the US, was now the biggest supporter of the Afghan mujahideen, and NWFP and Balochistan became the front-line provinces for waging jihad against the Red Army occupying forces across the Durand Line. Peshawar suffered the most as it was the headquarters of the Afghan mujahideen, the nerve centre of international jihad and the world's biggest spy capital. In the 80s and early 90s, Peshawar experienced so many acts of sabotage and terrorism that on an average there was a bombing a week. The recent bombings in public places appear familiar if one recalls the period when bus stands, cinema houses, restaurants and schools were bombed, apparently by the KGB and Khad agents retaliating against Pakistan's support for Afghan mujahideen.

The present wave of bombings in Peshawar is retaliation by militant groups now under attack in their tribal strongholds in Waziristan, Orakzai, Kurram, Darra Adamkhel, Khyber Agency, Mohmand, Bajaur and Swat. As the provincial capital of the NWFP and its business and commercial hub, any attack in the city makes a huge political impact, damages the economy and creates international news. Peshawar, as was the case throughout history, is close to the hide-outs of the militants in the adjacent tribal areas and is, therefore, accessible and vulnerable to attacks.


However, Peshawar's residents and its countless fans have become attached even more to their beloved city. Pashto folk songs have always celebrated the city with songs like "Larsha Pekhawar ta" (Lets go to Peshawar!). It was the only "khar" or city for the people of the Frontier and beyond in the past. Folk songs are still being written to show love for the city. But they are now mostly melancholic due to the bombings and suffering that Peshawar has endured in the recent years. So now there are Pashto songs that say "I don't want my Peshawar to suffer bomb explosions" and "Let Kabul heal first before Peshawar starts suffering injuries and pain."

The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. Email: rahim yusufzai@yahoo.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

THE TRUTH OF THIS CONFLICT

PART I

MOSHARRAF ZAIDI


The conflict that is taking place in Pakistan is not an ideological war. It is a conflict between very small groups of terrorists, whose only weapon is murder, and a very large group of citizens, whose frontline weapon (the Pakistani state) is not a very sharp weapon at all.


Branding this conflict as a war on extremism is factually incorrect. If for no other reason, then because extremist ideology, and extremist groups such as the Taliban and Al Qaeda have never captured the public imagination in Pakistan. The Pew Survey on Global Attitudes and the International Republican Institute's data, both confirm that Pakistanis reject these groups and their ideologies in overwhelming numbers.


As a construct, branding the conflict as a war on extremism is a deeply problematic one, for three reasons. It gives extremism more than its due in the shape of the country, it absolves government of its duty to protect citizens, and, most of all, it plays right into the extremists' "us versus them" creed of civilisational conflict etween the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds.


Pakistan is not shaped by extremism. Despite all its massive problems, Pakistan has a vast network of people, organisations, institutions and habits that make up an ecosystem of resistance to extremist ideas and extremist violence. That ecosystem is what inoculates Pakistan from being run over by terrorists. It is the reason that while terrorists can strike regularly in the heart of Pakistan's urban centres, they cannot, have not, and will not ever constitute a viable political force. Without having serious political capital, terrorists have only one weapon at their disposal: murder. This weapon, of indiscriminate murder, has claimed more than 7,000 victims. Each one of those is a tragic loss. None can or should ever be minimised. But let's try to be rational and keep it real, shall we?


Pakistan is a country of nearly 180 million people. We speak at least eight major languages. We sustain 10 cities with more than one million people. We make telecom companies rich beyond their wildest dreams, buying up and using more than 85 million active mobile phone subscriptions. We love to watch. Politics. On over 25 news channels. We reject violent extremism in poll after poll--both the IRI and Pew Global Attitudes Survey confirm this. We reject religious political parties in election after election--the desperate and confused religious political establishment confirms that.


So does the sustained caricature of religious parties and their leaders. Indeed, mullahs are mainstream Pakistan's punching bag. And that has nothing to do with a fabricated post 9/11 image consultant's playbook. Pakistanis make fun of mullahs because its what we do. Bulleh Shah was tearing up the mullah-ocracy long before Saudi Aramco made millions of billionaires in the desert, and long before Republican spymasters and the CIA helped make the Pakistani military an indispensable part of the global political discourse.


Bulleh Shah was not born yesterday (unlike Seymour Hersh, apparently). He was born in 1680, and his poetry informs the very ethos of Pakistan's rustic contempt for orthodoxy. It is Bulleh Shah that defines Pakistaniat, not Muridke. And it is Bulleh Shah that informs the larger context of Pakistan's long-standing historical, cultural and economic resilience and resistance to extremism.

 

Of course, governments, both Gen Musharraf's sorry excuse for a democracy, and President Zardari's democratic excuse for incompetence, love the "fight the extremists" narrative. It gives license to fail, because, of course, as Interior Minister Rehman Malik keeps reminding us, a committed suicide bomber is unstoppable (sic). This is a self-perpetuating myth. Pakistan is getting battered by terrorist attacks because it does not have the capacity to prevent them. Police are under-funded, undermanned and lacking in some of the most rudimentary counter-terrorism instruments.


In India, it is now emerging that Hemant Karkare, the heroic Maharashtra Anti-Terror Squad chief, may have been killed on 26/11 because of a faulty bullet-proof vest. We should shudder to think of what would happen as a result of an investigation of the equipment we provide to our cops in Pakistan. At least Karkare had a vest. Pakistan's law and order and internal-security establishment is literally shirtless.


One reason why this incompetence has sustained is that the bulk of resources for security are employed to protect the lives and property of the government officials that claim powerlessness before the extremists. Another is that, save for the very significant assassination of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, it tends to be the poor and the non-elite that have to bear the brunt of terrorist attacks.


Of course, there is one other reason why we should expect continued incompetence in preventing terrorist attacks. Each successive attack helps strengthen the case of the "beggar state." If terrorism were to stop claiming the lives it claims on a weekly basis, the argument for massive injections of foreign assistance would persist, but they would be much less urgent than they are in the face of almost daily bombings. To cover up for its own incompetence, and the skewed institutional and fiscal incentives that drive the behaviour of the Pakistani elite, a conflict with extremism is a particularly useful distractive ploy. Buying into this version of the conflict simply excuses government incompetence, when none should be tolerated.


Finally, the "war on extremism" narrative is dangerously problematic because it cedes the discourse to a narrow band of extremists with global aspirations that would otherwise have no foundation to rest upon. A civilisational conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims is a dream scenario for extremist groups. Insisting on defining the law-and-order problems in Pakistan as a war between extremists and moderates, unnecessarily empowers extremists to an extent that outweighs their actual impact in Pakistani politics and economics.


One of the more fascinating ways in which we can see the truth of this conflict bear itself out is in a recent New York Times video report about the Pakistani music scene. In a classical ideological battlefield, the lines would be clearly drawn. Sex, drugs and rock and roll tend to fare poorly with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The rock stars the NY Times interviews, including the ethereally gifted Ali Azmat, can't and don't endorse extremist ideology or the groups that espouse that poison. But they do bank on conspiracy theories to explain what Pakistan is experiencing. In response, an over-the-hill music critic with a forceful insistence that is reminiscent of how mullahs talk, calls for more robust and explicit condemnations of the Taliban from within the music community--as if he were defining some kind of litmus test of modernity.


Pakistani musicians are heroic in their own right for having stared down the barrel of a conservative society for the last two decades. They've helped replace guns and knives in kids' hands with Fender Stratocasters and Les Pauls. There are no Noam Chomskys or Henry Kissingers among them. If there were, the magical music they make would have been bereft of any melody.


We can repeatedly try to reject, or debunk, or minimise the conspiracy theories (as I have in recent weeks) that are taking up so much airtime in mainstream Pakistan, all we like. Contemptuous dismissals of the theories are well and good. But if even sex, drugs and rock and roll Pakistan seem to be enamoured with these ideas, perhaps an effective discourse requires more than just backhanded dismissals. Clearly, "na re na" isn't doing the trick.
(To be concluded)The writer advises governments, donors and NGOs on public policy. He can be reached through his website www.mosharrafzaidi.com

 

***************************************

I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

THE TRUTH OF THIS CONFLICT

PART I

MOSHARRAF ZAIDI


The conflict that is taking place in Pakistan is not an ideological war. It is a conflict between very small groups of terrorists, whose only weapon is murder, and a very large group of citizens, whose frontline weapon (the Pakistani state) is not a very sharp weapon at all.


Branding this conflict as a war on extremism is factually incorrect. If for no other reason, then because extremist ideology, and extremist groups such as the Taliban and Al Qaeda have never captured the public imagination in Pakistan. The Pew Survey on Global Attitudes and the International Republican Institute's data, both confirm that Pakistanis reject these groups and their ideologies in overwhelming numbers.


As a construct, branding the conflict as a war on extremism is a deeply problematic one, for three reasons. It gives extremism more than its due in the shape of the country, it absolves government of its duty to protect citizens, and, most of all, it plays right into the extremists' "us versus them" creed of civilisational conflict between the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds.


Pakistan is not shaped by extremism. Despite all its massive problems, Pakistan has a vast network of people, organisations, institutions and habits that make up an ecosystem of resistance to extremist ideas and extremist violence. That ecosystem is what inoculates Pakistan from being run over by terrorists. It is the reason that while terrorists can strike regularly in the heart of Pakistan's urban centres, they cannot, have not, and will not ever constitute a viable political force. Without having serious political capital, terrorists have only one weapon at their disposal: murder. This weapon, of indiscriminate murder, has claimed more than 7,000 victims. Each one of those is a tragic loss. None can or should ever be minimised. But let's try to be rational and keep it real, shall we?


Pakistan is a country of nearly 180 million people. We speak at least eight major languages. We sustain 10 cities with more than one million people. We make telecom companies rich beyond their wildest dreams, buying up and using more than 85 million active mobile phone subscriptions. We love to watch. Politics. On over 25 news channels. We reject violent extremism in poll after poll--both the IRI and Pew Global Attitudes Survey confirm this. We reject religious political parties in election after election--the desperate and confused religious political establishment confirms that.


So does the sustained caricature of religious parties and their leaders. Indeed, mullahs are mainstream Pakistan's punching bag. And that has nothing to do with a fabricated post 9/11 image consultant's playbook. Pakistanis make fun of mullahs because its what we do. Bulleh Shah was tearing up the mullah-ocracy long before Saudi Aramco made millions of billionaires in the desert, and long before Republican spymasters and the CIA helped make the Pakistani military an indispensable part of the global political discourse.


Bulleh Shah was not born yesterday (unlike Seymour Hersh, apparently). He was born in 1680, and his poetry informs the very ethos of Pakistan's rustic contempt for orthodoxy. It is Bulleh Shah that defines Pakistaniat, not Muridke. And it is Bulleh Shah that informs the larger context of Pakistan's long-standing historical, cultural and economic resilience and resistance to extremism.


Of course, governments, both Gen Musharraf's sorry excuse for a democracy, and President Zardari's democratic excuse for incompetence, love the "fight the extremists" narrative. It gives license to fail, because, of course, as Interior Minister Rehman Malik keeps reminding us, a committed suicide bomber is unstoppable (sic). This is a self-perpetuating myth. Pakistan is getting battered by terrorist attacks because it does not have the capacity to prevent them. Police are under-funded, undermanned and lacking in some of the most rudimentary counter-terrorism instruments.


In India, it is now emerging that Hemant Karkare, the heroic Maharashtra Anti-Terror Squad chief, may have been killed on 26/11 because of a faulty bullet-proof vest. We should shudder to think of what would happen as a result of an investigation of the equipment we provide to our cops in Pakistan. At least Karkare had a vest. Pakistan's law and order and internal-security establishment is literally shirtless.


One reason why this incompetence has sustained is that the bulk of resources for security are employed to protect the lives and property of the government officials that claim powerlessness before the extremists. Another is that, save for the very significant assassination of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, it tends to be the poor and the non-elite that have to bear the brunt of terrorist attacks.


Of course, there is one other reason why we should expect continued incompetence in preventing terrorist attacks. Each successive attack helps strengthen the case of the "beggar state." If terrorism were to stop claiming the lives it claims on a weekly basis, the argument for massive injections of foreign assistance would persist, but they would be much less urgent than they are in the face of almost daily bombings. To cover up for its own incompetence, and the skewed institutional and fiscal incentives that drive the behaviour of the Pakistani elite, a conflict with extremism is a particularly useful distractive ploy. Buying into this version of the conflict simply excuses government incompetence, when none should be tolerated.


Finally, the "war on extremism" narrative is dangerously problematic because it cedes the discourse to a narrow band of extremists with global aspirations that would otherwise have no foundation to rest upon. A civilisational conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims is a dream scenario for extremist groups. Insisting on defining the law-and-order problems in Pakistan as a war between extremists and moderates, unnecessarily empowers extremists to an extent that outweighs their actual impact in Pakistani politics and economics.


One of the more fascinating ways in which we can see the truth of this conflict bear itself out is in a recent New York Times video report about the Pakistani music scene. In a classical ideological battlefield, the lines would be clearly drawn. Sex, drugs and rock and roll tend to fare poorly with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The rock stars the NY Times interviews, including the ethereally gifted Ali Azmat, can't and don't endorse extremist ideology or the groups that espouse that poison. But they do bank on conspiracy theories to explain what Pakistan is experiencing. In response, an over-the-hill music critic with a forceful insistence that is reminiscent of how mullahs talk, calls for more robust and explicit condemnations of the Taliban from within the music community--as if he were defining some kind of litmus test of modernity.

 

Pakistani musicians are heroic in their own right for having stared down the barrel of a conservative society for the last two decades. They've helped replace guns and knives in kids' hands with Fender Stratocasters and Les Pauls. There are no Noam Chomskys or Henry Kissingers among them. If there were, the magical music they make would have been bereft of any melody.


We can repeatedly try to reject, or debunk, or minimise the conspiracy theories (as I have in recent weeks) that are taking up so much airtime in mainstream Pakistan, all we like. Contemptuous dismissals of the theories are well and good. But if even sex, drugs and rock and roll Pakistan seem to be enamoured with these ideas, perhaps an effective discourse requires more than just backhanded dismissals. Clearly, "na re na" isn't doing the trick.
(To be concluded)The writer advises governments, donors and NGOs on public policy. He can be reached through his website
www.mosharrafzaidi.com

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

TALKING THE WALK

AKBAR NASIR KHAN


What is it that sets the recent US secretary of state's visit to Pakistan apart from any of her predecessors'? My first feeling is that it is the Obama factor although I am tempted to call it the Clinton factor. Ms Hillary Clinton was clear and direct, almost to the point of being blunt which makes her sound almost honest. I am amazed, really and it stunned me when she said that "you don't have to believe us and we don't have to give you money". But this is only when she was brought to the point by our opinion makers that she had to say it, simply to be heard or understood.


One thing is for sure -- the Americans have mastered the art of talking to us. She didn't mince words and one understands now why Mr Bush either -- while calling our president and telling him that "either you are with us or against us". It not only made the decision easy for Musharraf but also helped him sell his book largely based on the strength of this historic one-liner.


So what makes Ms Clinton different? It is her attempt to "turn the page" and write a new chapter on people-to-people diplomacy. Even if you believe the more it changes, the more it stays the same, she did make it look like a good idea. Good or bad, time will tell.


Language does not just comprise words -- it is also about how you utter these words. As a nation, we are struggling big time with how to say our part in any medium we choose. One could feel the frustration and the huge gap in a recent interview with Ms Clinton conducted by a panel of celebrity anchors. Questions were annoyingly long, each one like a story, thoughts were scattered and dare I say stupid -- one of them asked a two-minute-long question just to find out "why do you focus only on Pakistan in the Kerry-Lugar Bill (KLB) and not on India or Afghanistan?" To which Ms Clinton answered that "because it is about Pakistan and not about India and Afghanistan." What a classic example of a simple answer to a stupid question. Being a Pakistani, I find it simply embarrassing.


Ms Clinton also emphasised the communication gap between the two nations and vowed to work on it from the American end. I think it might be better for us to work on it from our side as well. How would it help us if we keep on going with the "baby talk" and they have to come to our level to make us "understand"? Would it change anything? We have to mature to be taken seriously. She can say that she spent eight years as a senator opposing the Bush administration and its policies but she cannot expect us to "understand" that overnight.


We do need to be heard because we have been on the receiving end in real sense, facing consequences of the policies that have put us through these testing times. But to be heard, we need to work on ourselves. Making unpleasant faces coupled with ignorance -- no one could counter her argument, pointing out that this is how other aid legislation is structured -- is certainly not the solution. The quality of questions show our national attitude: we do not plan, prepare, do our home work, or simply realise that communication is a two-way process -- how can we proceed without understanding the other's point of view?


Our problem is not just communication but our understanding of what it is. It is not just the words that we say; it is the trust or the lack of it that fills the void as well. We have this national habit of being mistrustful, especially when it comes to the US. No wonder we have been failing to communicate.


Let us face the reality -- staying positive in our present circumstances is increasingly harder. I grew up believing that there are two types of nations in the world, 'developed' and 'developing' and that we fall in latter category. I so wish it was true but it looks like as if one has to reclassify. There are nations in the direction of development and nations that are not sure where they stand and struggling for survival -- slipping away from the world median and moving in the other direction.


I couldn't agree with her more that it is not the time to dig into the past but to "turn the page", look into present and make the future brighter. It will not be a walk in the park but along this walk, we will grow out of our baby talk and hopefully reverse the direction.

 

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: akbar_nasir_khan@hks11.harvard. edu

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

DEALING WITH THE PAKISTAN-INDIA IMPASSE

DR MALEEHA LODHI


The writer is a former envoy to the US and the UK, and a former editor of The News

 

Those who hoped that the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's recent statement expressing his readiness to discuss all issues with Pakistan would presage an end to the persisting diplomatic impasse were bound to be disappointed.

Mr Singh actually said little that was new. During his visit to Srinagar on October 26, he said he was not setting pre-conditions but the "practical aspect" was that talks would not make headway unless Pakistan took effective action against terrorism. His readiness for talks was, therefore, placed squarely in the context of Pakistan being able to create an "atmosphere that is fruitful for negotiations".


This pronouncement was neither accompanied nor followed by any move by Delhi to re-engage Islamabad in a dialogue. Quite the contrary. Delhi declined to respond to the 'road map' for resuming talks that Pakistan had conveyed to Indian officials on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) session in New York.

It is quite customary for Indian leaders visiting the troubled valley to talk peace. The timing of Prime Minister Singh's remarks provides an even better indication of his intent. His peace rhetoric coincided with the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to Pakistan. The remarks also came ahead of his upcoming visit to Washington -- the first state visit of the Obama presidency. Thus one aim could have been to preclude the possibility of the US injecting itself into the Pakistan-India equation on Kashmir.


Far from foreshadowing any resumption of the Pakistan-India dialogue, suspended since the Mumbai terrorist attack a year ago, Prime Minister Singh