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Friday, November 20, 2009

EDITORIAL 19.11.09

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

Editorial

month november 19, edition 000354, 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. NEEDLESS MEDDLING BY US
  2. DEATH FOR DEMOCRACY
  3. TO PLEASE CHINA, US SLIGHTS INDIA - SHOBORI GANGULI
  4. REMINISCENT OF PRE-1947 ERA - RN CHAWLA
  5. LOOKING FOR NEW ICONS - GAUTAM MUKHERJEE
  6. NO YOU CAN'T WIN THIS WAR - DMITRY KOSYREV
  7. LOBBYING NOT NECESSITY SECURES HEALTH AID - PHILIP STEVENS

MAIL TODAY

  1. OBAMA'S CARDS ARE THERE FOR ALL TO SEE
  2. CHANGE YOUR ATTITUDE
  3. BREAK THE DEADLOCK - BY SUDIPTO MUNDLE
  4. TAKING ON THE TRYING DEVILS OF THE BRAIN  - DINESH C. SHARMA

TIMES OF INDIA

  1. NO NEED TO PANIC
  2. THAW IN THE VALLEY
  3. HIGHWAY TO HELL -
  4. IF LATER, WHY NOT NOW?
  5. ONE STEP AT A TIME - KAURVAKI RAO
  6. IT'S NOT IN THE NAME -
  7. THE TIGER BITES A LION - BACHI KARKARIA 

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. DANCE WITH THE DRAGON
  2. GET IN THE HENPIT!
  3. KINDLY DO NOT ADJUST - SAMAR HALARNKAR
  4. THAT SINKING FEELING - UTTAM KUMAR SINHA

INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. ON THE ROAD
  2. THE VOTE TEST
  3. PROOF'S IN THE PAYMENT
  4. CONFLICTS OF DISINTEREST - SOLI J. SORABJEE
  5. NO LONGER SHIP TO MOUTH - YOGINDER K. ALAGH
  6. A CONDITIONAL CHARITY - JAVED ANAND
  7. 'IN DIFFICULT TIMES, THE COMMUNISTS WILL HAVE TO SHOW REVOLUTIONARY OPTIMISM' - MANOJ C G
  8. VIEW FROM THE RIGHT - SUMAN K JHA
  9. HIGHER THAN THE WALL - KUNAL PRADHAN

FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. SMALL SAVINGS ARE BIG SAVING
  2. WINTER OF REFORM?
  3. DON'T RELY ON PROVIDENCE FOR PENSION - MANISH SABHARWAL
  4. ADS ARE FINDING THEIR ONLINE FEET - NIKHIL PAHWA
  5. ADDING VALUE TO DTH - SUDIPTA DATTA
  6. REPORT CARD

THE HINDU

  1. SHAKING HANDS WITH CLENCHED FIST
  2. MAKE PICTURES SPEAK
  3. THE GAINS FROM MASKING REALITY - MRINAL PANDE
  4. AN ACTION PLAN FOR THE FUTURE  - MOHAN DHARIA
  5. THE "M" FACTOR IN BRITISH POLITICS - HASAN SUROOR
  6. THE STRANGE DEATH OF ILLEGAL DOWNLOADING - VICTOR KEEGAN
  7. NEW REALITIES FOR ANCIENT TIMBUKTU - ANDREW HARDING

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. JUST STAND FIRM WITH US, CHINA
  2. LEGISLATOR HAAZIR HO! - SOMNATH CHATTERJEE
  3. MINORITY REPORT - BY NITISH SENGUPTA
  4. I BELIEVE IN PUJAS - NIKHIL DWIVEDI
  5. LEBANON: A TWO-ACT TRAGEDY IN WEST ASIA - BY S. NIHAL SINGH

DNA

  1. LIVING LONGER
  2. PLAYING IT SAFE
  3. COPENHAGEN CAPERS
  4. CRACK THE LANGUAGE CODE  - E RAGHAVAN
  5. PHYSICIAN, HEAL THYSELF

THE TRIBUNE

  1. LIMITS OF POWER
  2. A MATTER OF CONCERN
  3. HIGHLY CORRUPT
  4. PRICE RISE IS ALARMING - BY JAYSHREE SENGUPTA
  5. CYCLING IN CHICAGO - BY RAJNISH WATTAS
  6. LEFT PARTIES MUST CORRECT THEIR MISTAKES, SAYS BARDHAN
  7. COOPERATE TO COMBAT TERRORISM - BY MIKE SMITH

THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

  1. SILLY POINT
  2. FIRE SERVICE
  3. PEACE PROSPECTS IN ASSAM - SHIBDAS BHATTACHARJEE
  4. THE VALUE OF PHILOSOPHY - DR MAINA SARMA

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. A LESSON FROM SAMSUNG
  2. UNFAIR COMPETITION
  3. BOW-RACK OBA-MAO
  4. CRY FREEDOM IS SOUND MUSIC - MANOJ NAIR
  5. THE RESPONSIBILITY OF ASIA'S RISE - JANMEJAYA SINHA
  6. BRING INNOCENCE INTO YOUR LIFE - PARAMAHAMSA NITHYANANDA
  7. EROSION OF BRAND HALO IS NOT THE CASE
  8. INTERESTS OF CONSUMERS HAVE LONG BEEN IGNORED
  9. HAS TELCO TARIFF WAR HURT BIG BRANDS?
  10. NO SLOWDOWN IN SILVER DEMAND - NIDHI NATH SRINIVAS
  11. SHARING SPECTRUM: IMPROVING TELECOM SERVICES REQUIRE PROACTIVE PLANNING - JAIDEEP MISHRA
  12. 'MY FILMS ARE ABOUT SOCIAL CHANGE, HENCE THEY ARE DOCU-FEATURES' - ASHOKE NAG
  13. BORN-AGAIN CSE TO DOUBLE ITS TURNOVER - ANURADHA HIMATSINGKA
  14. NO HURRY TO CHANGE TRADE TIMINGS: NSE - ASHWIN J PUNNEN

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. JUST STAND FIRM WITH US, CHINA
  2. AMERICANS LIVING IN A FOOL'S PARADISE? - BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
  3. LEBANON: A TWO-ACT TRAGEDY IN WEST ASIA  - BY S. NIHAL SINGH
  4. LEGISLATOR HAAZIR HO!
  5. MINORITY REPORT  - BY NITISH SENGUPTA
  6. AN EVERYDAY AMERICAN GIRL  - BY MAUREEN DOWD

the statesman

  1. COPENHAGEN TRANSIT
  2. OVERBLOWN BOW
  3. RURAL CONFESSIONS
  4. BIRDS TALK TO SIGNAL PREDATORS!
  5. MIDDLE EAST DOLDRUMS - SALMAN HAIDAR

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. TOKEN UNIVERSITY
  2. WILFUL EXIT
  3. FROM DREAM TO REALITY - N.K. SINGH
  4. STILL THE SAME  - DIPANKAR BOSE
  5. NEW EXPERIMENTS TO CURE AN OLD MALAISE - B. VENKATESH KUMAR

DECCAN HERALD

  1. SHOCKING LAPSES
  2. RIGHT REVIEW
  3. THE US-CHINA TANGO - BY ALKA ACHARYA
  4. MISSING LINKS IN PPP FOR EDUCATION - BY M R NARAYANA
  5. 'HING' BRINGS THE ZING - BY AMBUJA NARAYAN

THE JERUSALEM POST

  1. WRONG ON WATER
  2. FUNDAMENTALY FREUND: IT'S ANNEXATION TIME - MICHAEL FREUND
  3. WASHINGTON WATCH: VOTE FOR ME, I'M A LOSER - DOUGLAS BLOOMFIELD
  4. CANDIDLY SPEAKING: VIGILANCE WANTED, APPLY WITHIN - ISI LEIBLER
  5. A WHEELLESS CART BEFORE A LAME HORSE - ZALMAN SHOVAL

HAARETZ

  1. DIVIDED LOYALTY IN THE IDF
  2. THE FIGHT FOR THE RIGHT AG  - BY ARI SHAVIT
  3. WHY HAS THE LEFT IN ISRAEL VANISHED? - BY YITZHAK LAOR
  4. ERADICATING POLITICIZATION - BY ISRAEL HAREL
  5. SA'AR'S OFFICERS - BY NA'AMA SHEFFI

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. MR. OBAMA'S TASK
  2. INDIVIDUALISM, IDENTITY AND BICYCLES IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA - BY VERLYN KLINKENBORG
  3. THE WRONG SIDE OF HISTORY - BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
  4. THE BREAST BROUHAHA - BY GAIL COLLINS
  5. THE SENATE'S HEALTH CARE CALCULATIONS - BY ANDREW GELMAN, NATE SILVER AND DANIEL LEE
  6. HAVE WORK, WILL TRAVEL - BY AYDEN FABIEN FÉRDELINE

I.THE NEWS

  1. CRYPTOGRAMS
  2. IDPS AND WINTER
  3. THE RAPE REGISTER
  4. LEAVE AFGHANISTAN ALONE - ZAFAR HILALY
  5. IT'S THE STUPIDITY, STUPID - ZAFAR KHALID FAROOQ
  6. LOOKING BEYOND THE NRO - IKRAM SEHGAL
  7. WHO WILL SAVE PAKISTAN? - SARDAR MUMTAZ ALI BHUTTO
  8. STATE BEHIND SHADOWS - KAMILA HYAT
  9. LIVING BEYOND MEANS - TAYYAB SIDDIQUI

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. MAJOR ACHIEVEMENTS IN FIGHTING TERROR
  2. US, CHINA CAN HELP IMPROVE INDO-PAK TIES
  3. GROWING CORRUPTION
  4. OPERATION WAZIRISTAN: AN OVERVIEW - BILAL ZUBAIR
  5. FOREIGN POLICY IN REGIONAL CONTEXT - SYEDA HIRA NAQVI
  6. UNDERSTANDING THE ROOT CAUSE  - DR SYED JAVED HUSSAIN
  7. INTRUSION THROUGH THE AIR - MAHMOOD HUSSAIN
  8. NEW STATE MINISTRIES..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS

THE INDEPENDENT

  1. BETTER CPI RANKING
  2. OBAMA'S CHINA TRIP
  3. ABIDE WITH ME...! - ROBERT CLEMENTS
  4. IMPROVING OUR ROAD COMMUNICATION PLAN - MAJOR SYED MUAMMAD SHAMEEM, (RETD)
  5. AFRICA'S HUNGRY MOUTHS TELL GRIM STORY - TAREQUL ISLAM MUNNA
  6. CONCEPT OF JUSTICE IN ISLAM - ASGHAR ALI ENGINEER

THE AUSTRALIAN

  1. WHEN KRISHNA MET TRISHNA
  2. PREPARING THE GROUND FOR SECOND-TERM REFORM

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. SBY - AND WHY NOT
  2. OLYMPIC COUCH POTATOES
  3. TWINS SHINE A LIGHT ON PROGRESS
  4. SPORT MEANS MORE THAN MEDALS

THE GURDIAN

  1. QUEEN'S SPEECH II: A TIN EAR ON POLITICAL REFORM
  2. IN PRAISE OF… THE WOW FACTOR AT THE MOVIES
  3. QUEEN'S SPEECH I: JAW-JAW AND LAW-LAW

THE KOREA HERALD

  1. NOT TOO AMBITIOUS
  2. MORE TO AFGHANISTAN?
  3. WOMEN TO FURTHER EUROPEAN DREAM: ROBINSON, LAGARDE - JEAN-PIERRE LEHMANN

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. PREVENTING CHILD ABUSE
  2. TEMPERED ECONOMIC OPTIMISM
  3. WRONG WAY TO HALT WARMING - BY DAVID HOWELL
  4. OBAMA'S VIETNAM SYNDROME - BY JONATHAN SCHELL

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. THE ROLE MODEL FOR POLITICIANS: ADM. NELSON - C.G. MOGHE
  2. CONFRONTING THE THREAT OF UNCIVIL SOCIETY IN SE ASIA - TAN SEE SENG
  3. ASEAN AND THE CAMBODIA-THAILAND ROW - HUALA ADOLF
  4. CRACK OPEN THE BANK SCANDAL

CHINA DAILY

  1. MANAGE DONATIONS WELL
  2. LESSONS ON EDUCATION
  3. CHINA OFFERS NEW GROWTH PATTERN
  4. DIMINISHING ROLE OF US ROLE MODEL

  THE MOSCOW TIMES

  1. TERRORISM ON THE ROADS - BY GEORGE ROBERTSON
  2. GORBACHEV IS THE LAST 20TH-CENTURY WILSONIAN - BY FYODOR LUKYANOV

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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

NEEDLESS MEDDLING BY US

INDIA-PAKISTAN TIES NOT AMERICA'S CONCERN


Indications of a certain chill in Washington, DC towards New Delhi have been there ever since US President Barack Obama began enunciating his foreign policy, especially on American engagement with Pakistan and Afghanistan. That chill has now begun to take form and shape by way of the Obama Administration seeking to turn the clock back and re-hyphenating India and Pakistan while re-strategising the US's perceived role in South Asian affairs. It would appear that Mr Obama is unimpressed by his predecessor's vigorous efforts — which were successful to a great extent — to free US-India relations from Washington's obsession with Islamabad and, in a sense, make it the cornerstone of American foreign policy in the region. Mr George W Bush saw merit in India emerging as a power and thus as a countervailing force not only to China but the surge in reckless and destructive Islamism, which is not limited to jihadis blowing up Pakistan bit by bit, in South Asia and beyond. He saw India's rise as a stabilising factor, a success story which others would want to emulate. Mr Obama clearly believes otherwise. He neither wishes to see democratic, stable and progressive India rise in the global market nor emerge as a countervailing force in the region. Like other Democrats who have occupied the White House before him, he takes a rather bleak view of India and sees this country as being worthy of no more than being equated with an imploding Pakistan whose decrepit US-dependent regime has been reduced to a caricature despite billions of dollars in American aid. It is this perception which propelled Mr Obama to raise and discuss India's conduct of bilateral relations with Pakistan when he met China's President Hu Jintao and show cynical indifference towards Indian sensitivities by agreeing to the inclusion of a gratuitous, if not patronising, comment on the issue in the Joint Statement that followed Tuesday's meeting. What makes it particularly offensive is that Mr Obama has chosen to do so virtually on the eve of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's state visit to the US.


Mr Obama is free to discuss the future of Pakistan and Afghanistan with anybody he wishes; it is for those countries to deal with America's proclivity for rude and crude intrusive diplomacy. But he must not presume that the US has the right to either preach to India on how it should deal with Pakistan or, along with China, play a monitoring role in the "improvement and growth of relations between India and Pakistan" which is strictly a bilateral issue. Indeed, if truth be told, "peace, stability and development in South Asia" has long been hampered by flawed American policy and China's relentless pursuit of strategic clout at any cost. It is laughable that Mr Obama and Mr Hu should make pious observations on non-proliferation and call for a world free of nuclear weapons — the US is guilty of turning a blind eye to unfettered nuclear proliferation by Pakistan while China's contribution to Pakistan's nuclear arsenal does not merit elaboration. It can be argued that Mr Obama had no other option but to kowtow to Mr Hu: A broke America kept afloat by China cannot but play second fiddle to Chinese ambition and keep Beijing in good humour. With its economy in free fall and its military floundering miserably in Afghanistan, America is deserving of our sympathy; some would even suggest we should pity the world's sole superpower for its sorry plight. But while the US is welcome to express its gratitude to China any which way it wishes, it should resist the temptation of doing so at India's expense.

 

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THE PIONEER

DEATH FOR DEMOCRACY

IRAN TO SEND PROTESTERS TO THE GALLOWS


It is shocking that authorities in Tehran have sentenced five pro-democracy protesters to death and handed down jail terms ranging from six months to 15 years to 81 others. The defendants have been tried on charges such as 'waging war against god', 'undertaking action against the country's security', 'indulging in propaganda against the Islamic Republic' and for 'having relations with anti-revolutionary, terrorist or Opposition groups'. It will be recalled that street protests had broken out in the aftermath of Iran's June 12 rigged presidential vote that gave President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a dubious victory. But the violence that Iranian authorities speak of was perpetrated by their own security personnel who tried their brutal best to break the backs of the protesters. Thousands of well-meaning Iranian citizens were beaten up, jailed and, if reports are to be believed, tortured in detention. Who can forget Neda Agha Soltan, the 26-year-old woman who was shot dead by Government thugs as she attended one of the protest rallies? It can neither be claimed that the protests were unjustified. There is overwhelming evidence to prove there were serious irregularities that merited investigation. Instead, the Guardian Council, comprising mullahs, that was supposed to look into complaints of fraud, expectedly upheld Mr Ahmadinejad's victory!


All of this does no good to Iran's image. In fact, everything that has taken place since the June 12 election has reinforced the perception that the Iranian regime is one that is draconian, has no place for dialogue and understanding, no patience for criticism and no space for freedom of expression. If people can be tried and condemned to death for something as laughable as 'waging war against god', it speaks extremely poorly of the mullah-propped regime. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 was supposed to usher in an era in the history of the Iranian people that was to see the emergence of a 'model Islamic democracy'. What we have today is a theocratic state ruled by all-powerful mullahs and their stooges who do not tolerate either dissent or opposition. If Iran's aim was to become a source of inspiration for neighbouring Islamic states in the region, it has failed miserably. In many ways, it would be considered to be only a shade better than Taliban's Afghanistan. The people of Iran take great pride in their cultural and civilisational heritage, and justly so. But the path that their rulers have been treading is in stark contrast to Iran's ancient achievements. It would be an understatement to say that Iran needs to reform. Sterner measures against Iran by the international community are in order. But given the regime in Tehran, reformation is a distant dream.

 

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            THE PIONEER

COLUMN

TO PLEASE CHINA, US SLIGHTS INDIA

SHOBORI GANGULI


US President Barack Obama's China visit has put the writing on the wall in bold: China is the next superpower the world must watch out for. Clearly, the US realises there is little it can do to prevent China's phenomenal rise and growing influence; it has therefore decided to partner that growth. And, what better way than to use a presidential visit to Beijing to declare America's most serious geopolitical rival Asia's Big Boss and cozy up to a major global player in a rapidly multipolarising world. Admittedly, none can deny that China has been moving in that direction with very sure steps; it was only a matter of time before the US acknowledged that. Following his summit with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Mr Obama therefore said, "The Sino-US relationship has never been more important in our collective future."


Except, the declaration comes at a huge cost for India which, following the Indo-US nuclear deal, was being hailed as a strategic partner of the US, a counterbalance to China's alarming growth in the region and in the world. While the deal clearly mortgaged India's nuclear freedom, the Manmohan Singh Government drew false comfort from becoming a "strategic" partner of the US. Mr Obama's joint statement with Mr Hu now categorically indicates that far from being a possible counter-China presence in Asia India is, in fact, a subject of joint US-China monitoring, a perception Mr Obama has merely offered to "share" with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during the latter's forthcoming visit to the US.


The Obama-Hu statement begs serious and immediate attention. In a highly inexplicable, unprovoked and offensive manner, the joint statement says both "support the improvement and growth of relations between India and Pakistan". The casualness with which India has once again been hyphenated with Pakistan is alarming, to say the least. It was indeed an arduous diplomatic drill for India during the 1999 Kargil conflict when the world in unison reprimanded two nuclear neighbours for baring their fangs at each other. However, global capitals soon realised that Indian restraint alone had prompted US intervention which forced Pakistan to back off. In the subsequent years, courtesy some hectic diplomacy by its leadership, India was able to convince the world that it was a mistake to measure the two nuclear armed states with the same yardstick. India's economic growth and political credibility in the decade that followed finally gave world powers the confidence to de-hyphenate the two South Asian neighbours and deal with India as an emerging global power and with Pakistan as a failed Talibanised state.


As a country that calls India a strategic partner — an unstated tool to contain Chinese hegemony — the US would have surely known what the re-hyphenation of India and Pakistan on Chinese soil meant. Mr Obama may be new in office but surely an American President cannot be ignorant enough about India's sensitivities to ask China — long seen as Pakistan's aide in its conflict with India, its prejudices and ploys no state secret — to monitor an arena in which Beijing itself has geopolitical stakes. Is Mr Obama not aware that had it not been for Chinese help Pakistan, a rogue state, would never have acquired a nuclear weapon? Is he also unaware that China is engaged in huge infrastructure building in northern Kashmir so that Pakistan maintains a strategic edge over India? This, apart from the infrastructure build-up along China's own disputed borders with India that have put a huge question mark on India-China relations of late.


Today the creator of a nuclear monster like Pakistan, with its own reasons to keep India down, has been entrusted the task of monitoring "good relations" between a failed state and a responsible democracy like India. Indeed, India's stature vis-à-vis Pakistan has been reset to 1998 when a US-China joint statement by Mr Bill Clinton and Mr Jiang Zemin, ordered the two to "resolve peacefully the difficult and long-standing differences between them, including the issue of Kashmir". Short of saying 'intervention' that statement had asserted that the US and China were "ready to assist in the implementation" of the resumption of dialogue between the two countries.

Times — and the language Americans would use with India — were to change in subsequent years, remarkably so after Mr Clinton's visit to India in March 2000. Notably, after a five-day visit to India, Mr Clinton stopped over in Islamabad only for a few hours. The de-hyphenation had begun. Then came 9/11. With a terror attack on US soil, American engagement in the Asian arena was to change forever, an engagement that would leave India only as a bystander. In hindsight, India's distance from what transpired in Afghanistan and Iraq and with what is now happening in Pakistan helped it stay above the conflict and prove to the world that the problem in South Asia is not an India-Pakistan border/territorial conflict but an alarmingly growing fundamentalist Islamic terror machinery that knows no borders.


Mr Obama's visit to China comes at a time when India-China relations are at their pre-1962 worst and when US-China relations are at their all-time best. In such a scenario, for an American President to discuss India with China in the context of peace, stability and sustainable development in the region is patently offensive. Agreed, Mr Obama has to keep China in good humour. After all, the American and Chinese economies have become so interlinked that all other issues, including meeting the Dalai Lama, must be kept on hold. The compulsion is more serious on the American side. Also, it is quite evident that Mr Obama's AfPak policy is headed nowhere. He is therefore seeking more partners in this theatre of conflict. By ceding China that strategic space the US can make a dignified exit out of a war it could never really fathom. The possible trade off: China minds Iran and North Korea.


In the process, if India's strategic stature just got dwarfed in Beijing it has only the Manmohan Singh Government to blame. For, its first tenure saw India sign off crucial political leverage with the US in an inexplicably rushed nuclear deal. Its second tenure has seen its abject failure to counter growing Chinese belligerence on the border issue. Laughably, instead of outright rejection or outrage India's feeble response to the China-US statement is that it is "committed to resolving all outstanding issues with Pakistan through a peaceful bilateral dialogue…A third country role cannot be envisaged nor is it necessary."

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

REMINISCENT OF PRE-1947 ERA

RN CHAWLA


This refers to the editorial, "Jamiat's insidious agenda" (November 5), Chandan Mitra's article, "Amma Tujhe Salaam!"(Cutting Ed, Foray, November 8) and Kanchan Gupta's write-up, "Proud to sing Vande Mataram" (Coffee Break, Agenda, November 8). The Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind's fatwa against the singing of Vande Mataram by Muslims has been rightly described as regressive. Muslims, by and large, have never hidden their ultimate motive to have a separate niche for themselves. If politicians choose to depend on their votes for short-term gains, it is their free choice.


In the pre-partition era, the two stalwarts of the Muslim movement in India Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Alama Iqbal clearly stated that Hindus and Muslims are two separate nations and cannot live together. This thesis became the main driving force for the creation of Pakistan. The landed aristocracy and other well-off segments of the Muslim community went to Pakistan. Those who stayed back in India did so not by choice but by chance. Perhaps the Congress dissuaded them from migrating as it saw in them a potential vote-bank. Be that as it may, they did not leave for Pakistan not out of patriotism or love for the motherland. For Muslims, then and now, Islam comes first and the country second. Pan-Islamism and not sovereign nation is primary to their world-view.
The other resolutions passed at the 30th general session of the Jamiat at Deoband — non-interference in minority affairs by the Government, no change in the madarsa education system, no providing 33 per cent reservation for women in legislatures, condemning television and cinema as evil, etc — point to the same mindset that was witnessed before partition to wean Muslims away from the national mainstream. Our Union Home Minister P Chidambaram who had gone to attend the conference did not react to any of the resolutions passed but busied himself in voicing the feelings of Muslims over the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

When Pakistan was demanded by the Muslim League, Hindu leaders of the Congress termed it as a figment of imagination and said that the country would not be financially viable. But Pakistan proved to be a reality. Now when the dream of Rahmat Ali and others is being pursued through aggressive identity politics, one can only shudder at the shape of things unfolding. The silence of our 'intellectuals' and 'secularists' over the Vande Mataram fatwa is as scary as it is hypocritical.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

LOOKING FOR NEW ICONS

THE INFORMATION AGE HAS STRIPPED INDIVIDUALS OF EVERYTHING THAT WOULD MAKE THEM POPULAR HEROES IN AN ERA WHEN THERE WERE NO 24X7 TELEVISION CHANNELS AND THE INTERNET WAS PART OF SCIENCE FICTION. AS A RESULT, WE ARE FAST RUNNING OUT OF ICONS WHO CAN INSPIRE AND LEAD

GAUTAM MUKHERJEE


Technology, 24x 7 television, the Internet and the access of the information age may have put paid to the age of icons. Most that still exist belong to an earlier time when beauty and pulchritude, magnetism and charisma, could seep slowly into public consciousness, like candlelight. But those days are long gone, cut down to size by the magnificence of demystifying push-button access.

 

Richard Linklater, American filmmaker, recently wrote in Blackbook magazine of New York that, "An icon is someone who floats above the culture" that spawns him or her. Linklater, who is completing a film on Orson Welles, wisely does not try to define the term. He describes it though, writing: "When you're an icon, you're not just a person — you're a myth," and, "The supremely talented have a way of upending expectations".

India, in something of an existential crisis after just over six decades, clearly could do with new icons on its political firmament. The old ones, from legend, mythology, more recent history and the freedom movement, now seem anachronistic. And inducing their spark to fire our imaginations is not what it must have once been.

But since the age of iconography has irrevocably passed, it is hard to fill the perception of a leadership vacuum in the midst of a tumultuous democracy straining more than a little dangerously on a long leash of slack governance. The polity is behaving badly, frustrated perhaps for being a little lost.


No new icons of equivalent stature to the freedom fighters have sprung up since. Not even the children of midnight or thereabouts like Mrs Indira Gandhi who carried the political narrative forward to the relatively recent 80s. And though, she unarguably was, despite her despotic side, a staunch Indian patriot. But Mrs Indira Gandhi was also from the same drawer. She too was witness to the freedom movement led by Mahatma Gandhi, like many of her colleagues, her legendary father, and all the other stalwarts from her father's and grandfather's time.

And during, as well as after her time, we have had several able leaders and functionaries, all contributors to the crucial business of nation building. But any among them that were indeed iconic, men such as Jayaprakash Narayan and Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, also came from that earlier era. There was, at the expense of sounding revisionist, a sense of mission and greater purpose that animated all these leaders which created an image that enabled them to rise and float above the culture they led.


Rajiv Gandhi, our youngest Prime Minister to date, had a worthwhile vision too, but, as it turned out, was persuaded too often against his better judgement by cynical vested interests. The disinterested stance of independence era leaders, conscious of the necessity for sacrifice, was also given short shrift by the Gucci wearing, Mercedes driving, young Prime Minister.


But he might have still achieved iconic status had he lived longer because the late 80s were still not swamped by technology. Perhaps the uncharismatic but erudite Narasimha Rao, his successor, was able to see through, what might have been at least partially Rajiv Gandhi's vision. And perhaps his success owed itself to over three decades of experience in the governmental labyrinth and much greater maturity of years.

But the transactional style, antithetical to iconic governance, had well and truly entrenched itself by Rao's tenure, symbolised by pictures and lengthy commentary on entire suitcase-fulls of cash being delivered hither and thither to shore up his Government.


But were the old icons benefited because of the stimulus of struggling against a mighty foreign colonial power? And those from the era of kings and emperors and epics of yore presumably lived with entirely loftier terms of reference. But who knows? Icons are a little "unknowable" says Linklater. He calls them perpetual "works in progress".

But is this all dead aspiration now? Our current leaders seem to have little time for the enunciation of a beneficial vision several sizes larger than themselves. Instead politics has become a sum total of manoeuvres in the name of strategy and wily tactics in the pursuit of pelf, power, perpetuation.


What has come in place of stature acquired through good work and slow release exposure is noisome promotion, publicity and manufactured hype, pumped up considerably as budgets and technology and communication vehicles have improved from the early radio days of the republic.

Perhaps Indian politics itself has diminished in stature as a consequence of relentless exposure warts and all. Besides, those capable of assuming legendary proportions are no longer in it. They are found now on the cricket field, in the movies, in literature, amongst the more reclusive of businessmen, where the unknowable aspects of iconography can still operate. So we do have living legends like Mr Ratan Tata, Amitabh Bachchan, Sachin Tendulkar and Salman Rushdie.


This shrinkage of political stature has been affecting us in a particularly adverse manner for quite some time. Largely unchecked, the corruption is much grown, the dereliction of duty more shocking, and the flouting of constitutional norms more routine. There is a dangerous emphasis on regional issues over the national interest that is beginning, in a serious way, to challenge the very idea of India. And this, at a time when there are grave external and internal security threats as well.


But to be fair, it is certain our current leaders are definitely grappling with a level of complexity and aspiration unknown in the early decades after independence. The information flow is intense, with over 90 day-and-night news channels on television and hundreds of newspapers, magazines and online sites. It is difficult to be a hero in the glare of such unrelenting and familiar scrutiny.


The same shortness of shelf-life applies today to celebrity and stardom too. So quelle chance netagiri?


Let us realise there will be no more new Mahatmas and Subhas Chandra Boses. No new Madhubalas, no more Nargises, no triumvirate of Dharam, Vinod and Dilip. No new Raj Kapoor or Dev Anand. Ram Rajya itself would have to be reevaluated for relevance.


It is not easy to float above a culture morphing into the benefits of space age technology at ever increasing speeds. But the minimum requirement of netagiri, that of disinterested service to the nation, is still impervious to the ravages of technology.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

NO YOU CAN'T WIN THIS WAR

CONFUSION REIGNS SUPREME AS WASHINGTON FLOUNDERS

DMITRY KOSYREV


A new scandal over leaked confidential information has shaken Washington, DC. It is not in every country that confidential messages to top Government officials are published in the leading media within a week.


US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, who once commanded forces there, has told President Barack Obama that bolstering the American presence in Afghanistan would not make the country more reliant on the US unless President Hamid Karzai's Government demonstrates willingness to fight corruption and other vices, which are only strengthening the Taliban.


Mr Obama was considering four options for sending between 10,000 and 40,000 troops to Afghanistan, which will cost between $ 33 and $ 50 billion annually, and wanted to know how long it would take to see results and be able to withdraw. It was at that time that newspapers published the Ambassador's opinion.


Mr Eikenberry thinks that the US will not attain its goals in Afghanistan without replacing Mr Karzai's Government.

It is not surprising that the Press has published information about the confidential messages because Afghanistan is the biggest problem of the United States and, in general, the Western civilisation. The point at issue is not just billions of dollars but human lives. Britain has lost 200 servicemen there, but was it worth it?

It has also become clear that the August presidential election in Afghanistan organised by the US has seriously undermined American aspirations there.


The Obama Administration regarded the Afghan election as a key element of the efforts to solve the Afghan problem. But when Mr Karzai and his supporters were accused of framing the election results, they opted for the worst possible scenario: Vote recounting.


When it turned out that a second round of the election was needed, US diplomats did their best to wrench an agreement from Mr Karzai. And then they looked like idiots when the Afghan President's opponent withdrew his candidacy.


Mr Karzai took it unkindly and is now openly speaking his mind about the US policy in his country, which explains Mr Eikenberry's disappointment and messages. But Mr Karzai was bound to speak up after the US had done its best to show the Afghans — as if they did not know this — that their President is a puppet with many American masters who cannot even agree in which direction to pull his strings.


One can rule Afghanistan without elections, but never without respect.


While that black comedy was still playing out, US President Barack Obama said at the UN: "Democracy cannot be imposed on any nation from the outside. Each society must search for its own path ... rooted in the culture of its people and in its past traditions."


This sounds fine, but the US and the Western civilisation as a whole have not yet found a way to encourage Afghanistan to pursue such a path. In a word, the agony can last long, and the US will either find a new style of behaviour in Afghanistan or it will lose everything (Europe is a separate issue).

Meanwhile, many countries have become more active in the Afghan affairs, thereby creating an alternative to the US policy there. The UN General Assembly has adopted a resolution on Afghanistan unanimously and at the initiative of Germany, which is an unprecedented occurrence. The resolution reads that Afghanistan's presidential election was both credible and sound.


Then Japan decided to increase its aid package to Afghanistan from $ 3 billion to $ 5 billion within five years. Other donor countries are currently negotiating in Istanbul, Turkey, which means that the international community is not going to curtail aid to Afghanistan.


The reason for all of the above is simple: The US wants to review its operations abroad, first of all in Afghanistan and near it, but when it needs to do something in a new way with Russia's assistance, it becomes paralysed.

 The writer is a political affairs columnist based in Moscow.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

LOBBYING NOT NECESSITY SECURES HEALTH AID

WITH THE MOST VOCAL GROUPS CLAMOURING FOR FUNDS TO COMBAT AIDS, THE SHARE FOR OTHER DISEASES IS DECLINING, WRITES PHILIP STEVENS


Health activists Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, Doctors Without Borders) claimed last week that the global recession threatens AIDS funding, putting millions of lives at risk. Donors certainly have to think more carefully about getting the biggest bang for their buck but this is long overdue: For too long, global health funding has gone to diseases like AIDS with the most vocal lobby groups and not to the diseases with the greatest need.


HIV/AIDS is the world's most high profile disease. World AIDS Day garners an astonishing 32.3 million hits on Google. According to a 2007 poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, people questioned in eight out of 10 sub-Saharan African countries consider AIDS to be their country's number one health priority. The same poll shows people in Asia also believe HIV should be a major priority for their Governments, with those in India and Bangladesh putting it at the top.


In fact, HIV/AIDS causes only 5.7 per cent of deaths in developing countries. Only eight countries have a severe AIDS crisis, all in sub-Saharan Africa. In India, the prevalence rate is a tiny 0.3 per cent and in Bangladesh it is too small to calculate.


That HIV/AIDS is at the front of ordinary peoples' consciousness is a result of decades of campaigning by international AIDS activists, perhaps the best organised and most powerful health lobby the world has ever seen. A staggering 24,000 delegates, many of them professional campaigners, attended 2008's biannual international AIDS conference in Mexico City — and that's just the ones who could afford the airfare and the $ 1,200 entry fee.


Since the early-1990s, thousands of AIDS NGOs have sprung up all over the world, producing a constant stream of publicity and advocacy, holding public meetings and thrusting themselves in front of politicians. Major development pressure groups such as Oxfam and Save the Children have put AIDS at the heart of their lobbying. Big Western multinational companies have got in on the act too, most notably the 'Red' campaign backed by Gap, American Express, Apple and Starbucks, among others.


As a result of this lobbying, the cash has poured in. AIDS spending rose from 3.4 per cent of all health aid to developing countries in 1990 to 23.3 per cent in 2007, from $ 0.2 billion to $ 5.1 billion. US President Barack Obama has pledged to increase spending on AIDS to 70 per cent of all US global health spending in 2010: $ 8.6 billion, totalling $ 63 billion over six years. AIDS also has the dubious distinction of being the only disease to have its dedicated UN agency, UNAIDS.


But much of this money has been poorly spent. The AIDS industry boasts about the millions of people on anti-retroviral treatment but almost no progress has been made in actually reducing the numbers infected globally —surely the only true measure of success.


Meanwhile, diseases that kill many more remain in relative obscurity.


The biggest killer in lower-income countries is chest infections such as pneumonia, accounting for 11.2 per cent of all deaths, mainly amongst children under five. There is no UN agency for chest infections, almost no dedicated funding and only a sprinkling of NGOs. Bizarrely, the first World Pneumonia Day was on November 2 this year, although this disease has always been a scourge of humanity.

The third biggest killer in developing countries, after heart disease, is diarrhoea. This kills 1.5 million children every year, more than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Yet there is no world diarrhoea day and the disease attracts a fraction of the funding of HIV/AIDS. There is only one staff member at the World Health Organization working exclusively on childhood diarrhoeal diseases.


Fortunately, thing are beginning to change. The UN has started pleading for funds to improve health systems, so that 'silent killers' such as pneumonia and diarrhoea can be better tackled.


Some Government aid agencies, such as Britain's Department for International Development, plan in future to spend money on improving healthcare systems, rather than on specific diseases such as AIDS. Better healthcare systems also make it easier to manage HIV patients, who tend to have other health problems.

The AIDS lobby reject this reasoning. "Some policymakers say AIDS is expensive, we should focus on cheap and easy things," Mr Tido von Schoen-Angerer from MSF told reporters last week, adding: "This cannot be an either-or game.(…) It's not that HIV is over-funded. Global health is under-funded."


The reality is that there will never be enough money for global health. Governments, therefore, have a duty to ensure taxpayers' money saves as many lives as possible. Taking the lobbying of the AIDS industry with a pinch of salt would be a good place to start.


Philip Stevens is a Senior Fellow at International Policy Network, a development
think-tank based in London

 

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MAIL TODAY

 COMMENT

OBAMA'S CARDS ARE THERE FOR ALL TO SEE

 

THE 19th century statesman and twotime Prime Minister of Great Britain Henry John Temple once said that for nations, there are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, only permanent interests. To no other nation is this more applicable than the United States.

 

In his latest strategy initiative, US President Barack Obama has said his administration will work with China to play a greater role in enabling stable and peaceful relations in South Asia. While calling such an alliance sinister would sound a bit exaggerated, it is nothing short of unfortunate for India and for the US too.

 

The previous Bush administration worked tirelessly to counter Chinese hegemony in Asia, and though Beijing plays an active role in arming Pakistan with both conventional weapons and raw material and knowhow for non- conventional weapons, the US was able to hold its progress by aligning with India with the help of an verarching civilian nuclear deal.

 

However, in one fell swoop, President Obama seems to have not only negated the advancement of US- India relations but also put a question mark on its trustworthiness in future engagements.

 

There is no gainsaying that China is already a world power, and its influence runs deeper than just the strength of its military. China holds more than $ 1.1 trillion in US government debt and had more than $ 100 billion in US equities. Though this figure may not sound large for the $ 14 trillion US economy, it does indicate China's influence over Washington when the latter is going through its worst financial crisis since World War II. Also, the US is heavily dependent on Chinese imports — around 17 per cent of all American imports are from China. So, there could be more than just a strategic reason for the US to make friends with China.

 

On its part, India has shown little or no maturity in its foreign policy negotiations.

 

Before it decided to cosy up to the US following the July 2005 joint declaration, New Delhi's strategic outlook

was biased towards Moscow. After 2005, India seems to have alienated Russia with its constant harping on its relationship with Washington.

 

With the US now deciding to turn its back on India on at least the China- Pakistan nexus issue, its Go West approach suddenly seems shortsighted.

 

It will take a lot of hard work on New Delhi's part to balance the two relationships.

 

And in doing so, it should keep in mind that keeping all its eggs in one basket is a bad idea.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

CHANGE YOUR ATTITUDE

 

FOR the vice- chief of the Indian Air Force to say that women can be considered for combat roles in the future if they undertake not to become mothers is not just discriminatory; it is ridiculous. For, motherhood being an integral part of women's lives, that argument can be advanced to deny women their due in any field of activity, as has no doubt often happened in the past. It bespeaks of a sexist mindset, which exists in no small measure in our armed forces.

 

In any case, we wonder under whose authority has Air Marshal P K Barbora — who has a reputation for shooting his mouth off — aired his controversial views and who he is to take a call on such a matter.

 

It is also surprising that he has adopted such reasoning when sounder arguments exist for keeping women off combat zones.

 

And all such arguments have been losing force, with several countries — a list that includes United States, United Kingdom and Israel — finding nothing wrong with the idea. In fact, women served in combat positions even in the Second World War.

 

There is no doubt that concerns exist about women serving in positions where there is likelihood of their being taken prisoners of war. But this is just one particular form of combat — and even here the right of women to make individual choices must be considered — and leaves out several duties in the combat zone which women in the Indian armed forces could take up.

 

But perhaps this is too much to expect in this country where women officers are still denied a permanent commission in the armed forces. The irony of such a situation will not be lost on those who remember that the Indian Army is short of more than 10,000 officers and the IAF often rues the increase in the number of pilots who are leaving service to join commercial airlines.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COLUMN

BREAK THE DEADLOCK

BY SUDIPTO MUNDLE

 

With hopes from Copenhagen climate summit fading away, there is need to look at the Spence proposal which offers an equitable solution IT'S NOW official. There will be no final agreement at the Copenhagen conference on climate change this December.

 

The prospect of a legally binding Copenhagen Agreement was given a quiet burial at a press conference on the sidelines of the Asia- Pacific Economic Cooperation ( APEC) Summit last Sunday.

 

In a bleak face saving effort, Mr.Lars Lokke Rasmussen, Prime Minister of Denmark and Chair of the Copenhagen Conference, was given the unenviable task of announcing that it would be premature to expect any final agreement in Copenhagen. Instead the aim is to reach some kind of broad agreement that will then lead, hopefully, to a legally binding agreement at the next climate change meet in Mexico.

It is a great pity that the opportunity to reach an agreement at Copenhagen has been missed because the consequences of climate change are already upon us. We are seeing a rising frequency of extreme weather events like storms, droughts and floods that are destroying crops and livestock, washing away homes, and taking a large toll of human lives every year. The main lesson to take away from this missed opportunity is that the developed countries should stop expecting that they can somehow dupe or coerce the developing countries, including China and India, into an unequal treaty inimical to their development goals.

We no longer live in a colonial world of imperial hegemony.which emit per head.

 

PROPOSAL

Equally, the developing countries must recognise that there can be no deal other than one that is acceptable to the major developed countries, especially USA, which are the main polluters. As we look beyond Copenhagen to a possible agreement at the next summit in Mexico, can we see any proposal that could be acceptable to both groups of countries? Of the dozens of proposals on the table, one that could possibly do the trick is the scheme proposed by Nobel laureate Michael Spence. The starting point of Spence's scheme is an estimate by the International Panel on Climate Change that in 50 years the acceptable safe level of pollution would be about 14.7 billion tones or 2.3 tons per capita per year. The average pollution today is already 4.8 tons per head, and this will have risen to about 8.7 or 4 times the safe level by 2060 in a ' business as usual' scenario if no additional effort is made to contain carbon emissions.

 

Much of the excess pollution at present comes from the advanced countries, especially countries like USA and Canada which emit about 20 tons per head. Other developed countries emit between 6 and 12 tons per head. In contrast developing countries, including India, emit well below the safe level of 2.3 tons and China is at the boundary.

 

The developing countries argue that the developed countries that do most of the polluting should be the ones to curtail pollution.

 

However, with rapid growth in many developing countries, especially China and India, the emission balance is constantly changing. Fifty years down the road, the bulk of pollution will come from the developing countries.

Hence the advanced countries maintain that climate change cannot be mitigated without effective action in the developing countries. However, such mitigation action at present could compromise the high growth route out of poverty in the developing countries.

Spence proposes that at present mitigation action should be mainly the responsibility of the advanced countries. First, there has to be acceptance of a global emissions time path leading to the acceptable target of 2.3 tons per head. This total acceptable level of emission rights or ' carbon credits' should be allocated to the advanced countries under a Carbon Credit Trading System ( CCTS). The allocations can be based on some equity principle such as population size. The carbon credits initially endowed should then be tradable among the developed countries, based on their national preferences for carbon emitting activities.

 

DIFFERENTIATION

The advanced countries should also be able to earn carbon credits through mitigation efforts, such as aforestation or the use of lower emission technologies, either in their own countries or elsewhere, where the cost of mitigation may be lower. The CCTS would establish a price for emissions reflecting the cost of pollution and enforce the ' polluter pays' principle for emissions above the assigned permits. Thereby it would also be introducing an incentive for the advanced countries to move to cleaner technologies and engage in other carbon containing activities.

 

In this scheme the developing countries do not need to participate in the CCTS system nor do they have to meet any emission caps at this stage. The only commitment required of them at the outset is to accept the global carbon emissions time path leading to the acceptable target of 2.3 tons per head by 2060. As their growth leads to rising per capita pollution levels, these will sooner or later catch up with the pollution levels of the advanced countries, which should hopefully be declining towards the 2.3 tons per head target because of the incentives built into the Spence system. Once that happens, and a developing country ' graduates' to developed country status, they too will have to join the CCTS. Their entry would be on more advantageous terms, allowing for more carbon emission headroom within their permitted limits, if they voluntarily choose to take remedial action from now.

 

RISKS

The beauty of the Spence proposal is that it is very transparent and fair, requiring polluters to pay for any emission beyond their fair permissible limits.

 

If the G20 countries would buy into this proposal, they would be in a decisive position to enforce it. However, the proposal has two kinds of risks. One is a technological risk. The proposal assumes that the required stock of technologies will be available to reduce emissions or absorb emissions to meet the 2060 global target of 2.3 tons per head. Indeed there is already an impressive stock of technologies of both varieties. But there is still a great deal of uncertainty in this matter. As in any field of research, outcomes cannot be known in advance of the research.

 

The other risk is political.

 

There is a feeling that some advanced country negotiators believe they can somehow hoodwink or bribe the developing country negotiators into accepting an unequal treaty that is unfair to the developing countries, especially the larger countries like China and India. If so then neither the Spence proposal nor any other will lead to a final agreement. Difficult as the advanced country negotiators might find to believe it, not every developing country negotiator is a sucker and not everybody is up for sale.

 

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

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MAIL TODAY

QUANTUM LEAP

 

TAKING ON THE TRYING DEVILS OF THE BRAIN

DINESH C. SHARMA

 

THE MAKERS of popular Hindi flick Lage Raho Munnabhai — in which the central character Munnabhai is said to be suffering from a chemical locha ( imbalance) in his brain — may have never heard of neuroscientist Vilayanur S Ramachandran or his work. But dealing with cases such as Munnabhai's — who have phantoms in their brains — is Ramachandran's passion.

 

Gandhi was a phantom in Munnabhai's brain. Some of Ramachandran's real life patients too have phantoms in their brains and he is trying to decipher how this happens. For instance, someone may have lost a limb in war or a road accident, but can still feel ' pain' in his or her amputated body part. Some others see alphabets as colours, while a few others report ' out of body' experiences in which their phantom twin hovers over their bodies. Through such rare cases, Ramachandran is try ing to address unresolved questions relating to the human brain, and in the process helping patients with some rare neurological disorders.

 

The ' pain' that people feel in their phantom limb or leg, Ramachandran explains, is due to a phenomenon which he dubs " learned paralysis". This happens in cases of persons whose limbs had got paralysed prior to amputation. When such a patient attempts to move the paralysed limb, he or she receives sensory feedback through vision that the limb did not move. This feedback remains etched into the brain circuitry and even when the limb is no longer present, the brain feels that it exists, being paralysed.

 

To help such patients, Ramachandran and his colleagues at the Centre for Brain and Cognition, University of California, have created a box with two mirrors in the centre.

 

In this mirror box, the patient places his or her good limb onto one side, and the stump onto the other. The patient then looks into the mirror on the side with the good limb and makes " mirror symmetric" movements.

 

Because the person is seeing the reflected image of the good limb moving, it appears as if the phantom or the imaginary limb is also moving. Through the use of this artificial visual feedback it becomes possible for the patient to " move" the phantom limb, and to free it from perceived painful positions.

 

Ramachandran, who delivered a talk at the Centre for Philosophy and Foundations of Science in Delhi last week, says the mirror box therapy can help in rehabilitation of patients suffering from paralysis of one side of the body.

 

Another interesting area of Ramachandran's work is " empathy neurons" or " mirror neurons" ( he likes to call them Gandhi neurons). Neurons in the prefrontal cortex send out signals that orchestrate movements such as putting food in your mouth or pulling a lever. But mirror neurons also fire when you merely watch another person perform a similar act. It's as if these neurons are using the visual input to do a sort of " virtual reality simulation" of another person's actions.

 

Ramachandran postulates that there may be mirror neurons that let you feel someone else's pain or happiness.

 

NEONATAL MORTALITY AS OUR SHAME

SIMPLE, cheap measures like providing basic transport facility or on- call ambulance services in rural areas and promoting breastfeeding in the first hour after a child's birth hold the key for India getting rid of its most shameful health indicator — very high and stagnating neonatal mortality rate. While the economic growth rate has been rising steadily in the past few years, the number of infants dying within the first four weeks of birth has remained static at 36 per 1000 live births since 2000.

 

The absolute number of Indian children dying is chilling — 100 per hour. The stagnation in the neonatal death rate has Indian experts and international agencies worried, as neonatal deaths account for almost 50 percent of all childhood deaths in the country.

 

Remember, most of these deaths are preventable. Simple measures like encouraging mothers to feed newborns in the first hour ( in some regions, this is delayed owing to superstitions), avoiding early bath, proper dressing of the umbilical cord stump and providing an ambulance to ferry the mother and child to a healthcare facility, in case of an emergency, can save the lives of lakhs of children every year.

 

CHILDREN COME OUT AGAINST JUNK FOOD

 

THE prime minister's residence had an unusual group of visitors — school children and their teachers — on Diabetes Day last week. They were at 7, Race Course Road, not to meet Dr Manmohan Singh, but to see his wife Gursharan Kaur. The visit organised by youth group Hriday- Shan was to appeal to Mrs Kaur to use her good offices to restrict the use of trans fats ( substances in cooking oil and vanaspati known to be bad for the heart) and to establish clear rules for advertising junk foods on television.

 

The meeting was dubbed as an appeal from ' moms to mom' ( grandmom would be more apt, in case of Mrs Kaur). While the government may take its own time in banning trans fats in food served in restaurants — as has been done in New York City — some city schools have already taken the lead. An example is the DAV Centenary Public School, Paschim Enclave, whose canteen does not sell junk food items. " Eating in the school canteen is considered ' cool' and ' hep' by children. We can tackle this problem in two ways — by replacing junk foods in canteens with healthy choices and by working with parents on what they send in tiffins. We have tried this in our school and it works", says Dr Anshu Asri, medical officer of the school.

 

dineshc.sharma@mailtoday.in

A NEW study shows that molecular similarities exist between the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus and other strains of the seasonal H1N1 virus that have been circulating in the population since 1988. This means healthy adults may have a level of protective ' immune memory' that can blunt the severity of infection caused by the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus.

 

Researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases examined molecular structures that are known to be recognised by the human immune system — called epitopes — on the 2009 H1N1 influenza and seasonal flu viruses. Viral epitopes are recognised by immune cells called B and T cells. B cells make antibodies that can bind to viruses, blocking infection, and T cells help to eliminate virusinfected cells. The world is still grappling with the pandemic, though the panic has subsided with arrival of the first set of HIN1 vaccines.

 

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MAIL TODAY

INTERACTIVE

TEST CRICKET PITCHES NEED TO BE SPORTING

 

THIS is with reference to the Question of the Day ' Are Test pitches in India too batsmancentric?' ( November 18). Indian Test pitches are often termed as " sleeping beauties", " bowlers' graveyards", " dust bowls", etc.

 

As wickets are loaded in the batsman's favour, a lot of batting records have been created in the sub- continent. Although the host nation has the right to prepare wickets according to its team's strength, ill- prepared, sub- standard and placid tracks often mean that they start to crumble from the first day.

 

Worse, some Test pitches do not last for the entire five days.

 

The fourth innings therefore turns into a virtual nightmare for the batsman. So we are back to square one about spinners calling the shots on Day Five when the batsman has very little chance to defend himself.

 

It is natural, therefore, that because of growing up on and playing on batsman- centric pitches, Indians stand exposed when they are confronted with fast- paced, green- top wickets abroad, especially in South Africa and Australia, where fiery fast bowlers generate tremendous pace on lively tracks. No wonder the Indian cricket team is dubbed as " tigers at home and lambs abroad". The Ahmedabad Test is no different; with its one- sided pitch it seems have become a run feast. The present situation calls for preparing true wickets that may last for a full five days.

 

Test matches can be made interesting only when sporting tracks give an even chance to both bowlers and batsmen.

Lov Kumar Chawla via email

 

ARMED FORCES ARE A DIFFERENT BALL GAME

 

THIS is with reference to the news report ' IAF women to fly fighter jets but with ' no children' precondition' ( November 18). The real cause for controversy over the induction of women as armed combatants is the ignorance of the general public regarding the working conditions and the inability of the top generals to explain clearly the issues involved.

 

As an Armyman for 35 years, I can say that in most cases, everything that one may like to use will have to be carried on the body along with one's weapons and ammunition. The weight is enormous, and tires you quickly. Besides, it hampers movement.

 

A small hole dug with the sky as the roof represents a wash room. In areas where vehicles can't go, a 2.5 ft tall cloth becomes a tool to cover your modesty. Sleep is almost impossible, and there are no separate places for officers to sleep.

 

If at all bathing is needed, an open stream if available is the answer; and that too after taking into consideration the threat perception. Change of clothing on a daily basis is impossible. A full dinner would consist of rice and salt.

 

The Armed Forces have great regard and respect for women.

 

Service customs demands every officer including the seniormost general rise if a woman enters the room. The ethos of the services with regard to women can be perceived from this single custom.

 

I love the services as much as my family. That notwithstanding, I may not like my wife, sister or daughter to join the combat arms in the Indian Defence Forces as they may have to go through severe hardships and embarrassment.

 

Brigadier V Mahalingam ( Retd) via email

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

NO NEED TO PANIC

 

The mention of India and Pakistan in the US-China joint statement issued during US president Barack Obama's trip to China has sent alarm bells ringing in New Delhi. India has been mentioned for the first time in a US-China joint statement since 1998, when Bill Clinton and Jiang Zemin took issue with India for conducting nuclear tests. It was met with a stinging rejoinder from India. But this time around the reference to India hardly merits that kind of reaction.


The joint statement says that the US and China support improvement of relations between India and Pakistan. It further says that the two sides are ready to "strengthen communication, dialogue and cooperation on issues related to South Asia". There's nothing here that should make New Delhi nervous. There are two aspects of the declaration that have possibly raised red flags in India. One, the clubbing together of India and Pakistan raises the spectre of re-hyphenation of the two countries in US foreign policy, something that was seen to have been jettisoned by the George Bush government. Two, it hints at a role for China to broker good relations between New Delhi and Islamabad. This is unacceptable to India which sees relations with Pakistan as a bilateral issue.


New Delhi's fears might stem from reading too much into the US-China joint declaration. That South Asia figures in the declaration shows that both Washington and Beijing are seriously concerned with the region and its role as both an origin as well as target of terror attacks. While the US is already heavily involved in the region, China's role has been much more nebulous. There is good evidence that in the past China has supported Pakistan's nuclear programme. But the prospects of terrorism within China's borders, particularly in Xinjiang, could potentially alter Beijing's policy towards Islamabad and its links to terrorists. In that context, if China agrees to exert its influence over Pakistan it would be a good thing.


Any doubts about US policy towards India must be cleared during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Washington beginning Sunday. There are some misgivings about the direction of Indo-US relations under the Obama government. Following the highs during Bush's presidency, Indo-US relations seem to be somewhat adrift at the moment. The PM should use his visit to inject some much-needed momentum into the relationship. He must make clear that any mediation on Kashmir is unacceptable to New Delhi. Singh must impress on Obama the mutual interests in Pakistan and Afghanistan and the need to work together in both these trouble spots. Above all, the PM must develop on the strong platform for Indo-US ties built during the Bush government.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

THAW IN THE VALLEY

 

Union home minister P Chidambaram had hinted some weeks ago that the government wanted to discuss Kashmir with the concerned parties outside the glare of media. Track II initiatives involving senior Indian and Pakistani officials are currently on in Bangkok. Indian officials and a section of the Hurriyat Conference have met in New Delhi though details of the discussions have been held back from the public.


The intricate matrix of Kashmir talks involves representatives of New Delhi, Islamabad, and a section of the Kashmiri separatists. The political mainstream in the Valley and separatist groups working outside the Hurriyat platform are also contributing to the climate of debate by espousing their views in public forums in J&K. The separatist opinion in the Valley too has started to unravel. The Mirwaiz faction of the Hurriyat hopes that a tripartite dialogue involving New Delhi, Islamabad and Srinagar is possible and could pave the way for a New Delhi-Srinagar pact endorsed by Islamabad. The contours of such a pact, it believes, could be worked out of General Pervez Musharraf's four-point proposal to resolve the Kashmir dispute. A radical section of the Hurriyat led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani is opposed to talks with New Delhi. The only solution acceptable to them seems to be a merger with Pakistan. A third section has revived the idea of an independent J&K. The political mainstream including the National Conference and the People's Democratic Party have come up with their own proposals arguing for various levels of autonomy to the state.


However, it must be clear to everyone that a solution to the Kashmir issue has to be worked out without necessitating a change in the present national boundaries. Also, New Delhi and Islamabad can't be expected to accept any dilution of sovereignty over their territory. Similarly, the call to return to the pre-1953 status of Jammu and Kashmir is a non-starter, simply because the world has changed a lot since then. Institutional linkages built between Srinagar and New Delhi can't be undone even though these can be transformed to make the relations between the J&K state and the Indian Union truly federal.


The focus of a political solution should be the demilitarisation of the region. This could happen simultaneously with the creation of reasonably open borders between Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir. Trade and travel must be made easier so that trust is built between governments and populations across borders. The current dialogue process, hopefully, will help realise some of these achievable goals.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

HIGHWAY TO HELL

 

Sometimes in life you get hit by a moment of empathy. I had one a few weeks ago. It happened while I was standing by the six-lane super-highway that circles Delhi. As the trucks, four-by-fours and cars went speeding by, I noticed a group of women with children strapped to their backs, facing up to the traffic as they struggled to cross the road. One question hit me: "How would I like to be in their shoes?"


Ministers attending the world's first ever UN ministerial summit on road safety in Moscow today should be asking themselves the same question. They have a chance to tackle head-on a hidden pandemic that is killing and maiming vulnerable people in the world's poorest countries on a vast scale. It is also undermining efforts to reduce poverty, draining health systems of resources, and holding back economic growth.


Few people are aware of the carnage that takes place on the world's roads. Around 1.3 million people die each year as a result of road crashes. Probably 40 times that number suffer serious injury. Over 90 per cent of road deaths and injuries happen in developing countries. India has the highest death toll in the world at over 1,00,000 annually. For people aged 5-25, cars pose a bigger threat to life than killer diseases like AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis - and the threat is growing.


It's generally people too poor to own a vehicle who face the greatest risk of getting hit by one. And the loss of a breadwinner and the costs of health treatment can mean a one-way ticket to extreme poverty. The human costs of this pandemic are beyond estimation. You can't put a price on grief, trauma and the loss of a loved one. But there's an economic cost, which also impacts severely. Road traffic injuries typically cost countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia the equivalent of 1-3 per cent of GDP a year.


Many health ministers are already aware of the damage inflicted by road traffic injuries. I have visited trauma wards in hospitals in India where over half of the beds are occupied by road injury victims. Treating these victims is diverting finance and skilled medical care from other priority areas.


Perhaps the greatest tragedy is the political indifference that perpetuates the carnage. We could do so much to prevent road deaths at such low cost - yet we do so little.


When it comes to avoiding road injuries it's all so desperately simple. Roads can be designed for pedestrian safety, by separating cars, trucks and buses from people. Governments can enforce laws that reduce speed, ensure the wearing of helmets and seat belts, clamp down on drunken driving, and regulate road users. These are affordable measures that are tried, tested but widely ignored.


When I met Delhi's city leaders recently they seemed committed to taking action, yet face severe challenges. This is a city with an unregulated bus company that kills over 100 people a year with monotonous regularity, in which women and children sit on the back of motorcycles with no helmets, and in which disregard for basic traffic rules is the norm. Is it really beyond a country that is a world leader in economic growth and can put a satellite into orbit, to enforce basic traffic laws?


It's not just developing country governments that need to act more decisively. Aid donors like the World Bank are investing huge sums on road networks - and almost nothing on road safety. It goes without saying that roads are vital for development. But in their neglect, these policies are killing people. Surely donors have to think more about the security of the people they are supposed to be helping.

Scratch the surface, and government planners are measuring success in kilometres of metalled roads. This approach combines indefensible ethics with illiterate economics. The simple truth is that our current approach is unsustainable and unaffordable.


There is an alternative path - and it starts in Moscow. The Make Roads Safe campaign is calling on the ministerial conference to prepare the ground for a UN Decade of Action on road safety. Through global collaboration we could halve the projected increase in traffic-related death and injury by 2020, saving five million lives and preventing 50 million injuries. As part of the package, we are calling on aid donors to spend $300 million on a plan to get national road safety initiatives moving.


Of course, there are many people in governments across the world who will see the Moscow summit as a diversion from the big ticket issues of economic growth, security and climate change. For them, I have just one plea. Try a little empathy. Next time your motorcade is heading along the metalled highway to the airport, take a look at the kids braving the high-speed traffic en route to school - and try imagining that they are your kids.

The writer is an actress and global ambassador for the Make Roads Safe campaign.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

TIMES VIEW

IF LATER, WHY NOT NOW?

 

Vice chief of air staff, Air Marshal P K Barbora controversially suggested that the Indian Air Force (IAF) would only allow women to train as fighter pilots if they adhered to a no-pregnancy rule. Even that can happen only later, not now. Barbora said that the Indian government's investment in training fighter pilots would not be repaid by women who take maternity leave to have a baby. He seemed to imply that once women start a family, they are compromised as pilots and cannot handle the twin pressures of being in the air force and raising a child at the same time. If, however, air force pilots can be fathers, why should they not be permitted to be mothers?


There is no need to wait for a few years down the line to induct women into combat streams in the air force. If the IAF is serious about removing this barrier, then it can just as easily move now as later. Barbora's comments are an indication of how uncomfortable the Indian military still is with the idea of deploying women in combat roles. But although the army might have an argument when it cites women's relative physical weakness as a reason to bar them for combat duty in infantry, flying fighter planes is not about strength. Sure, a certain amount of physical conditioning is required for the human body to be able to withstand the G-forces it is subjected to in a fighter jet, but women fighter pilots in other countries have had no difficulties adapting to these demands. Moreover, opening up to women could solve one of the difficulties the air force is currently facing: the shortage of fighter pilots.


Across the world countries are moving towards opening up more and more options within the military to women and creating gender equal armies. In the US, women have been allowed into combat as fighter pilots since 1993. But there are no preconditions about when and how women fighter pilots can get pregnant. Women are obviously not able to fly planes into combat while pregnant, but the maternity leave is not seen as a waste of investment, which Barbora seems to regard it as.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

ONE STEP AT A TIME

KAURVAKI RAO

Indian Air Force vice chief P K Barbora's statement that inducting women fighter pilots into the force is not feasible as yet has predictably stirred a hornet's net. The issue of inducting women pilots into combat duty is not new but has come to the forefront ever since it was announced that President Pratibha Patil would be doing a sortie later this month. If she can fly a Sukhoi - a supersonic fighter jet - then what's to stop trained women officers from piloting fighter planes is the question being raised.


To put things in perspective, it's important to face facts. Pratibha Patil is not going into a war zone. She is going to be a passenger on a sortie and her flight is merely a symbolic one. The issue of allowing women to fly combat planes is altogether different. Once inducted, women pilots will have to be battle-ready at all times. They will not be flying only peace-time sorties. They can be called to duty in times of conflict and will be expected to operate in situations that involve direct and close combat.


No one is questioning the ability of women to do all of the above. However, it is prudent to go about inducting them as fighter pilots according to a pragmatic plan instead of being carried away by emotions. Gender parity is not the issue here. The issue is about taking into account the obvious physical constraints that women have to deal with. If women pilots decide to go the family way, they will have to be off combat duty because it is simply not safe for them to fly during pregnancy. Even commercial airlines discourage women in advanced stages of pregnancy from flying. This is obviously something that the IAF has to factor in because it has implications for troop strength.


Even those countries that have allowed women to join combat forces have done relatively recently, after considered planning. Let's think this proposal through and put in place workable mechanisms to address valid concerns. It's in the best interests of both women pilots and our security forces.


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TIMES OF INDIA

BRAND IMBROGLIO

IT'S NOT IN THE NAME

 

What do you think of when you read the word Nike? Most likely, you'll think of sports apparel that is strong and durable, not a far cry from what the company name is supposed to signify. Nike is the Greek goddess of victory, and Nike's products are supposed to make sportspersons victorious on the field. If only all companies had names as sensible as that!


There are some that have long stopped epitomising the lofty ideals heralded by their names. Consider Satyam. The company hardly lived up to the principles of truth and justice embodied in its name when its creative accounting practices were revealed. Others, of course, may not be as criminally guilty as Satyam. But often there can be big gaps between a company's name and its image. Take Microsoft. There was a time when the software giant was, well, not quite so gigantic, but that was aeons ago. Redmond certainly hasn't been small or soft or cuddly for several decades now, instead becoming an entity most people love to hate. Need more proof? Another Indian giant - giants now - found that it couldn't trust its spinoff company, rather making a mockery of its name, Reliance.


That's just the tip of the iceberg. If you've ever wondered why Starbucks has such a ridiculous name, it's probably because the owners were overcome with nostalgic memories of all the coffee they imbibed writing papers on Herman Melville's whale of a book, Moby Dick, which - you got it - boasts of a character called Starbuck. Then there's the ridiculous acronym BHEL, which caused me no small amount of confusion as a child. I discovered that this BHEL had naught to do with yummy street food; much to my disappointment, this was some company that made heavy electricals, whatever that meant. Ubiquitous banking giant HSBC has long since progressed from banking in Hong Kong and Shanghai to banking for the entire world, as they themselves claim. Another misnomer! And there are probably more companies that have moved away from their core businesses, or have failed to stay true to their names. Why, though, do they think the consumer confusion their names cause is acceptable? Why don't some of them take the leap and just junk those old identities for ones that might actually exemplify what they stand for?

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

SUBVERSE

THE TIGER BITES A LION

BACHI KARKARIA 

 

Bichare Balasaheb. How it is his fault?  What he can he do if the name of the state is Maharashtra.  Means, it is the maha- rashtra, no? Means, it has to be greater than the rashtra, no. Then why all the people are khali-pili bom marta over his attack on Tendulkar? 

 

If you are called Maharashtra year in and year out, then the delusion of grandeur must get  embedded in your DNA as surely as e coli in Mumbai's drinking water. It means you are above not just all other states, but above the Indian state itself. So naturally, Thackeray senior got his saffron silk dhoti in a twist over Sachin-baba's skewed notion of nationalism.

 

In his version of  Tebbit's 'cricket loyalty test', Tendulkar put  being Indian over being Maharashtrian, which the Supremo considers nothing short of high treason. So, he was perfectly entitled to launch  a maha yuddh  over it. Maharashtra must score over Mahabharat, no? What else could  Krishna have done than give an 'affectionate warning' to the one-time Arjuna awardee?

 

Nakkich, Balasaheb is right. Of course, all cricketing glory is only about our Maharashtra. So where does India even enter the picture? Wadekar, Gavaskar, Vengsarkar, Tendulkar - the game is entirely our 'kar'mabhoomi.

 

Rubbing lasan chatni into the chauvinistic wound, Sachin also foolishly stated that 'Mumbai belongs to the whole country'. So, he ekdum and fully-ch deserved the threat that Thackeray bowled at him in Saamna. Thank Chhatrapati Maharaj, that the misguided fellow at least had the sense not to say 'Bombay'. Then his batata vada days would surely be numbered. 

 

Nakkich, Balasaheb is right. Of course, Tendulkar must keep off the political pitch. But   politicians must not keep off the cricket pitch. They must keep digging it up like the Shiv Sena men did at Ferozesha Kotla during the 1999  India- Pakistan test series and again in Agra in 2003, just before the Veterans Match with you-know-who.

 

Nakkich, Balasaheb is right. Of course, he had to warn Tendulkar  'not to lose on the political pitch what he has earned on the cricket  pitch'. Who says Thackeray senior is already in danger of losing on this cricket pitch what he had earned on the political pitch?  Or whatever is left of his legacy after his son has turned it into a gilli-danda game, and his nephew has run away with the danda.


At one time, Indian cricket too had its Tiger, but Pataudi's pampered cub is not interested in being out for a duck; he prefers to go out with a Size Zero instead. No such self-indulgence for the heirs to the Sena lair.They must valiantly continue the mission of hacking down the rich biodiversity of the Mumbai forest and turn it into a monoculture which saps the soil and the sons thereof.

 

 Well, like mortals, tigers too must age. Often they turn into man-eaters since they are too weak to take on prey worthy of their earlier prowess. But this time, our Tiger hasn't attacked a man, but a lionized boy. So wagh-saheb has bitten off more than he can now chew. It hasn't helped that he's still licking his wounds from the last election, where he was thrown to the wolves.   

 

The latest attack is considered a slip even in the gulleys where the Supremo is still venerated. The Marathi manoos proudly consider Sachin to be one of their own, and the boy from Shivaji Park has always returned the compliment with grace and modesty. He is a steeped-in-the-varan local. So, sorry Balasaheb, to borrow from another game, this time you have scored an 'own goal'. Why, if aapla Tendlya was the type to swear oaths , you could safely bet that he'd do so in  Marathi.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

DANCE WITH THE DRAGON

 

The east wind is prevailing over the west wind — at least as long as the global economy remains trapped in a depression. This is the geopolitical weather forecast that follows the China visit of President Barack Obama. Obama was the first US leader in nearly two decades to be disallowed from speaking uncensored and live to the Chinese public. Obama also scrapped the US presidential tradition of a pre-visit meeting with the Dalai Lama. The reference to both countries "supporting" better relations between India and Pakistan is probably best understood in this context: a US that has concluded its interests are best served by humouring the Middle Kingdom's whims. Beijing is no doubt pleased at a stray sentence that gives the impression it sits at the right hand of the sole superpower.

 

Obama seems to have an exaggerated belief that this is a "post-American world". The US remains economically and militarily a head and shoulder above any two other countries in the world. China is wealthy, but much of its accumulation of riches remains dependent on Western consumer whims. On the deeper measures of power like technology, social stability and global influence it remains a pale shadow of the US. China may hold billions of dollars of US debt, but it is so because this buttresses US consumption of its own exports. More importantly, there is little evidence that China's willing or able to provide the sort of global public goods that legitimise superpower status in the rest of the world.

 

Obama's officials seem to believe that his policies of engagement and concession will reap their country benefits down the road. So far, the evidence indicates that hard-nosed countries like North Korea or China have seen the US's deference in only one light: acts of weakness. Tellingly, Obama earned no concessions from China on Iranian nuclear roguishness or yuan manipulation. Worse, US allies around the world are confused: is Obama bowing from the waist down in foreign affairs part of a tactical gesture or a strategic mindset? The new administration is almost certainly right to compensate for the blunt unilateralism that marked its predecessor. However, the US's global leadership role is anchored by speaking softly as well as carrying a big stick. Wielding only one of each sends wrong signals to partners and rivals alike.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

GET IN THE HENPIT!

 

After years of the Indian Army successfully fending off repeated assaults by aspiring combat-worthy recruits — women included — it is now the turn of the Indian Air Force to dodge those gender-seeking missiles. At a time when the first woman Commander-in-Chief of the Indian armed forces is hitting the treadmill to get in shape for her maiden flight in a Shukhoi-30 MKI, the IAF's Vice Chief Air Marshal P.K. Barbora's advice for non-presidential ladies is to "be happy, be married" but sans "offsprings" if they wish to ever do what President Pratibha Patil will be doing later this month.

 

Well, if those kind and gentle men of the armed forces have their way, women would probably have to make do with flipping rotis rather than supersonic loops and serve their children plain naans instead of pushing the throttle on a $40 million plane. Ladies, as those boys who don't want to share their toys would have us believe, the need to strike the right work-life balance before you can set your sights on the target in your crosshairs, is something that the Top Gun men are born with. Well, there may be an alternative theory we have.

 

Given that it costs over Rs 10 crore ($100 million) to train a fighter pilot, worries about women running off on maternity leave might be partly justified. Existing service rules already demand that male pilots sign a guarantee requiring them to reimburse training costs if they quit before 14 years of service. To then have a separate set of rules for those with a different set of chromosomes smacks of crony cockpitism. At a time when women around the world are busy making quick trips into the wide blue yonder on billion-dollar space shuttles, what are a few quick rolls at 20,000 feet in a Sukhoi, eh?

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

KINDLY DO NOT ADJUST

SAMAR HALARNKAR

 

On Monday, the impetus to fix the economic problems of the world's richest country gained urgency when an annual government report revealed that one in six American households experienced hunger in 2008.

 

In all, 49 million people "had difficulty putting food on the table at times during the year", the highest rate ever since so-called food-security surveys started 15 years ago, and an increase of 11.1 per cent over 2007.

 

The figures were concern enough for President Barack Obama to issue a statement from China during a hectic, much-publicised sweep through Asia. Two days ago, he called the findings "unsettling". More unsettling: The revelation that 17 million of the 49 million who faced hunger were children.

 

"This trend was already painfully clear in many communities across our nation, where food-stamp applications are surging and food pantry shelves are emptying," said Obama. "It is particularly troubling that there were more than 500,000 families in which a child experienced hunger multiple times over the course of the year."

 

Obama's immediate attempt to acknowledge the issue is hard to understand for us in India, inured as we are to hunger and suffering. He talked of hunger — regarded in his country as a Third World problem — at a time when his yes-we-can aura is slipping.

 

On the day the hunger report was released, about 43 per cent of US voters felt positive about Obama, a fall of 2 per cent since October and in line with a downward trend since June.

 

It's hard to compare hunger in the US with hunger in India. A fifth of the Indian population of about 1.1 billion is undernourished, and nearly 300 million people — more than the population of Pakistan, Britain and France combined — go without any food every day.

 

A day after Obama's comments on hunger, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made a historic apology to 500,000 "forgotten Australians", abused as children in orphanages and care homes between 1930 and 1970. About 900 of these victims — now middle-aged or older — packed the Australian Parliament as Rudd spoke of this shameful period in Australian history.

 

"We look back with shame that so many of you were left cold, hungry and alone and with nowhere to hide and nobody, absolutely nobody, to whom to turn," Rudd said in a nationally televised address. "We look back with shame at how those with power were allowed to abuse those who had none."

 

The apology echoed Rudd's 2008 apology to the so-called Stolen Generation of Aborigines, who were taken from their families to be raised in institutions and White homes under assimilation policies, which ran until the late 1960s. The apology came a day after the British government said Prime Minister Gordon Brown would apologise for child-migrant programmes that sent children as young as three to Australia and other former colonies over 350 years.

 

Why do we in India find it so hard to acknowledge problems and shameful events?

 

India's troubles need public acknowledgement, not to ape an Obama or a Rudd, but to start the process of addressing them.

Our monumental education problems are finally a matter of public debate only because our education minister, Kapil Sibal, started to talk loudly about them. We may agree or disagree with his flood of views, but we are talking; experts are thinking fixes; and we realise that the schools and colleges of unchanging India must now change.

 

For centuries we did nothing to change our disgraceful caste prejudices, until a certain Babasaheb Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi started talking about them. A lifetime has passed since, and while caste discrimination is still deeply entrenched, it has yielded much ground.

 

Here are some random issues we do not regard as national problems because no one — well, no one we recognise — talks of them: Hunger, water and electricity shortages, the poor who — like every year — will freeze on pavements across the great northern plains, terrible roads and crumbling pavements.

 

No, don't snigger. Don't tell me "we are like that only". Don't tell me to "kindly adjust". That is why  I was happy to see actor Priyanka Chopra align herself with child rights on national television. It's fine for celebrities to endorse luxury watches and biscuits, but if they take some time to endorse the big issues, India can only benefit.

 

When we do not speak of our problems, we do not recognise them. That is why many who live in the new India actually believe we are on a par with the West. We are — if you can mentally shut out 600 to 700 million people.

 

Shutting out events is something we do particularly well in India. That is why we find it so hard to apologise.

 

Can you imagine what might happen if apologies were offered by: Sonia Gandhi or the Prime Minister to the

victims of the 1984 Sikh riots (the 25th anniversary was last month); Narendra Modi to the families of Gujarati Muslims massacred in 2002; the Prime Minister to Kashmiri Muslim families whose loved ones went missing in Kashmir over 20 years; Kashmiri separatist leaders to the Hindu Pandit families who fled their homes; Raj and Uddhav Thackeray to those who have died in their mindless shutdowns and riots.

 

English writer G.K. Chesterton once said: "The injured party does not want to be compensated because he has been wronged; he wants to be healed because he has been hurt."

 

It can't be that hard, can it?

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

 

THAT SINKING FEELING

UTTAM KUMAR SINHA

 

We have increasingly become a 'risk society' — to borrow a phrase from Ulrich Beck — living in the times of heightened warnings and predictions. One cannot dismiss the fact that climate change threatens to reintroduce resource issues as major sources of regional insecurity — particularly the interlocking challenges of food, energy and water (FEW).

 

This set of critical drivers will present combined challenges and will reinforce each other as never before. First, as population grows, competition for FEW will increase. Second, with the risks that climate change assigns, FEW will be subjected to many stresses and strains. Climate change is no longer just an environment issue; it's now widely interpreted as 'an-all-encompassing' threat to peace and security. In South Asia it will be far more abrupt, from cycles of glacial melts and unpredictable patterns of the monsoon. The impact of climate change on water resources and food production, in particular, will be severe. It's estimated that every 1 degree centigrade rise in temperature would reduce wheat production by 4 to 5 million tonnes. The dependence of agriculture on energy will also increase in the same ratio.

 

Another important set of social impacts in South Asia would be the potential displacement of millions of people as a consequence of rise in sea levels. Together, this will force people to either fight to secure their share of diminishing resources or flee to other locations. Time is also a critical factor in finding responses to the impact of climate change. Since it's a gradual phenomenon, it is in the uncertainty of climate change both in terms of time framework and the evidence, from where threats emerge.

 

Climate change can potentially change the conditions of conflict. It could either be a 'threat multiplier' or a 'threat reducer'. Yet, one needs to consider the impact from the 'down-side risks'. For example, melting of the Himalayan glaciers will have catastrophic consequences. From the 'up-side risks', if climate change does not turn out to be calamitous given its uncertainty then policies and actions can be readjusted and reversed.

 

Understanding climate change and security and exploring the intersection between the two will be vital to peace and stability in South Asia. The emphasis needs to be on determining whether to adopt a broader regional climate policy or to have specific State responses to climate threats. A preventive regional policy will be of paramount importance. Climate change has the propensity to overburden some States in South Asia, which are already fragile and conflict-prone. The attainment of developmental goals in the region should be the driving force for States to adopt comprehensive climate change policies. Such an approach would require viewing adaptation and mitigation strategies as complements rather than competing alternatives.

 

Further, South Asian states will have to work on a two-front strategy: strengthening diplomatic relations and regional institutions for sharing climate-related information and to domestically engage in energy efficiency, energy renewal and resource conservation. Debating the likelihood of the runaway consequences of climate change should not obscure the reality that decisions need to be made, even in the face of uncertainty.

 

Uttam Kumar Sinha is a Research Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses

The views expressed by the author are personal.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

ON THE ROAD

 

No matter how much we try to make up for our historic underinvestment in roads by frantically constructing flyovers and highways, India will never be truly on the move unless it addresses the dark question of injury and mortality. Road safety is a public health crisis, as the WHO has been pointing out for years. There are 13 deaths every hour on our roads, and India now has the highest number of road deaths in the world. What gives? While the glib explanation would point at exploding traffic levels wearing out our capacities, that is only the latest challenge — the Indian road system has weak fundamentals.

 

Whether it is engineering, education or enforcement, India has been unforgivably lax in the last decades. A recent study by Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainathan and others examined how corruption produces unsafe drivers — examining Delhi's department of motor vehicles, it showed how people twisted the driving licence procedure through agents and touts instead of taking the mandated test, making roads collectively unsafe for the rest of us. What's more, driving in India is a Darwinian test of strength. We honk our way through traffic snarls (or pretend we can, anyway), we list and weave through lanes, we intimidate smaller vehicles and pedestrians. Pavements are for sissies, jaywalking is a mark of urbanity. A clear stretch of road is open invitation to speed. We cannot seem to internalise basic information about entry and exit, right of way, yielding to special vehicles (like school buses and ambulances), wearing helmets while on a bike. Obviously, it is not intrinsically Indian to flout the rules of road safety — it is just that most of us were never schooled in the finer points of driving etiquette, or even helped along by an intuitive traffic code.

 

The blame also lies with inadequate engineering — the lack of large, legible street signs and dividers — as well as a weak and arbitrary enforcement system. The road safety problem is often partitioned into the need for an agency whose singular problem it is to address road safety — to oversee every detail from automobile standards to traffic-related injuries — along the lines of the American National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Swedish National Road Administration. Without such a systems approach, these cheerless road safety stats from India are unlikely to improve.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

THE VOTE TEST

 

It is a comment on the over-centralised nature of our political parties that the Congress has sustained such a buzz with its election programme for its youth wing. The party's effort to invigorate its ranks with young recruits is being propelled by the Rahul Gandhi-led calendar for organisational elections in the Youth Congress and the NSUI. To this end, former election commission officials have been roped in to make the process accountable and transparent. A proposal is now reportedly gaining currency to open up the posts of Pradesh Congress Committee chiefs to the candidates who poll the most votes. As reported in this newspaper on Wednesday, several PCC appointments are currently on hold, so that current incumbents can be replaced through elections.

 

Internal party democracy is usually gauged on a relative and rather forgiving scale. Some of the smaller parties adhere to such a personalised and closed structure that everybody else looks democratic by example. The Congress and the BJP, the two biggest parties, continue to use phrases like "high command" when beset by organisational issues. Most recently, the rebellion within the BJP's Karnataka government was openly settled in New Delhi; and assembly elections are most often accompanied by professions by Congress leaders that their party president would decide who'd be chief minister. This predictably gives excessive, and corrosive, clout to the "coteries" that form in the central unit, with leaders humming around the centres of party power in Delhi invested in keeping local leaderships on edge and thereby beholden. This is why the Congress's proposal, which can strengthen the party in more ways than simply settle clashes of ambitions in PCCs, comes with many posers.

 

The corollary of such a step would be a realistic reduction in the clout of hangers-on and power-brokers. They are obstacles in bringing internal democracy not just because they'd lose power in the process, but also because they are needed to carry through the change. For political parties, benefits range from transparency to accommodation of the widest possible array of ambitions and issues. But will they find the collective will to submit to genuine inner-party democracy?

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

PROOF'S IN THE PAYMENT

 

More than most other people, Nandan Nilekani knows how to turn information into hard currency. The induction of this former head of an iconic IT company as chairperson of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) was meant to send out a larger message: UPA-II was willing to learn lessons from India Inc. His latest proposal — to charge corporates for authentication services by leveraging the UIDAI's vast database — is validation of just these expectations.

 

The UIDAI proposes to charge a fee, currently proposed to be Rs 5, to verify each address and Rs 10 for biometric confirmation, services that are estimated to cost companies between Rs 100 and Rs 500. This proposal works in many ways. The most obvious is by generating revenue. Rs 288 crore per year may only be a projection, and a small one at that, but it is recurring and self-sustaining. A less obvious reason to support Nandan's revenue model is that it, in a way, would force the government to deliver the goods. If data collection is as shoddy as delivery of many government schemes often is, which private individual would consider paying for the information? Put another way, the success of the idea hinges on the accuracy of the data, a good way to move from outlays to outcomes in policy implementation. A third reason to support this proposal is the public-private partnership that it symbolises, that government and corporates can form a mutually rewarding relationship.

 

The task before Nilekani — coordinating with multiple agencies and cutting through a rolodex of ID cards, to provide every Indian with a unique identity number — requires managerial skills that will test the best. But Nilekani was brought in not just for his proven success in running a large corporation, but also to breathe fresh air into government implementation mechanisms. His novel scheme to generate revenue from what was originally thought of as just cost-incurring does precisely that. It deserves to be taken seriously.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

CONFLICTS OF DISINTEREST

SOLI J. SORABJEE

 

Impartial administration of justice is the hallmark of a democratic society based on the rule of law. One of its essential requirements is that there should be no bias or real apprehension of bias in a judge while adjudicating disputes between the parties. Partiality or bias can arise, for example, if the judge has kinship or cordial relations with one of the parties to the litigation. In that event the judge is conscientiously embarrassed and therefore decides to recuse himself from the case irrespective of the consent or "no objection" from the parties about his continued participation.

 

What is the position where a judge holds shares in a company which is a litigant before the court? At one time according to legal thinking in England the judge was automatically disqualified from hearing the case. This view was based on a 19th-century case of Dimes in which orders of the Lord Chancellor were set aside on the ground of bias because he had shareholding in the company which was a litigant before him and, more importantly, there was no disclosure of his financial interest. The decision in Dimes has been substantially diluted as is clear from the recent judicial trend in the United Kingdom, in Australia, in New Zealand and in South Africa, according to which the mere presence of financial interest does not necessarily lead to automatic disqualification of the judge unless the judge has a direct pecuniary interest in the outcome of the litigation. An Australian court has aptly observed, "The Dimes principle is not attracted simply by showing that a judge (or juror) owns a parcel of shares in a company whose pecuniary interests are in issue. If, as in the present case, the litigation could not possibly affect the value of the shares, then it cannot be said that the judge has a direct pecuniary interest in the outcome of the litigation."

 

The current legal position is admirably summed up in the classic treatise De Smith's Judicial Review (6th edition): "The rule of automatic disqualification for pecuniary or proprietary interests is a misnomer, and might be more accurately considered a rule of automatic disclosure. This is because the parties may waive the offer of the decision-maker to recuse himself. In addition, some financial or proprietary interests have been held to be subject to the de minimis rule and not invoke automatic disqualification where the interest is 'so small as to be incapable of affecting the decision one way or another'." Thus it has been held in England that "disqualification will not attach if the connection between the pecuniary interests of the decision-makers and the issue before them is very tenuous". Indeed some commentators and jurists have opined that automatic disqualification doctrine is "mechanistic" and "smacks of abdication".

 

The thrust of the House of Lords judgment in Pinochet II was non-disclosure by one of the members of the Bench, Lord Hoffman, of his links with the party which participated in the case. This is apparent from the observations of Lord Browne-Wilkinson that "the mere fact of his interest is sufficient to disqualify him unless he has made sufficient disclosure".

 

The Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct 2002 highlight the said legal position. Clause 2.5.3 states that a judge should disqualify himself or herself from participating in any proceeding "where the judge, or a member of the judge's family, has an economic interest in the outcome of the matter in controversy". When does an economic interest disqualify a judge? Commentary on Clause 2.5 by the Judicial Integrity Group (Vienna 2007) with judicial experts from 35 countries states it is in cases where the judge or a member of his family is in a position to gain or lose financially as a result of the decision. For example, if as a company judge he has to decide whether a company in which he holds shares should be wound up. In that contingency, the judge should recuse himself because he has an economic interest in the outcome of the matter.

 

However a judge does not personally stand to gain or lose financially if he decides that the company in which he holds shares is liable to pay excise duty at a particular rate or that it is covered by an exemption notification under the Income Tax Act or that the company has infringed the trademark of another person. In such cases a judge cannot feel any embarrassment in deciding the case. But lest one of the parties may have an apprehension of bias the judge should make disclosure of his financial interest at the commencement of the hearing and if there is unequivocal no objection from all parties the judge should proceed with the hearing. Express statement of no objection amounts to waiver and, as the Judicial Integrity Group points out, in most countries it is competent to the parties to make a formal waiver of any issue of impartiality. Our Supreme Court has as far back as 1957 held that there can be a waiver in respect of alleged bias of a judge or a decision-maker.

 

For decades the practice in the high courts and the Supreme Court has been that judges can proceed with the hearing of a case if after disclosing their financial interest parties have expressed their no objection. This is in keeping with the Supreme Court judges' resolution. In the bank nationalisation case judges disclosed their shareholding in some of the banks, to which the eminent counsel appearing for the government stated that they had no objection to the Bench hearing the matter. In the Bombay high court Chief Justice Chagla disclosed his shareholding in TISCO, no party or lawyer objected, including Sir Jamshedji Kanga, the doyen of the Bombay Bar. The case was heard and ultimately decided against TISCO.

 

If the judicial conscience is clear and there is disclosure of interest and unequivocal no objection by all the parties judges, as sturdy judicial sentinels, must discharge their function uninfluenced by misinformed criticism, media hype or gratuitous advice of distinguished senior counsel. Recusal from a case out of abundant caution or hypersensitivity tends to hamper the effective administration of justice because of the delay and costs incurred by recusal as pointed out by the distinguished Lord Bingham. It can also pave the way for sophisticated forum shopping, which tendency must be curbed.

 

The writer is a former attorney general for India express@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

NO LONGER SHIP TO MOUTH

YOGINDER K. ALAGH

 

Surprisingly, there was in the Indira Gandhi eulogies very little discussion on her food and agriculture policies apart from some acerbic non-factual diatribes. With the country unable to feed itself, she hated the humiliation of begging abroad for grain. It is true that the miracle seeds were imported in the mid-'60s but were actually of limited spread initially; and by the early '70s, when the Indira period really begins, there was a "universal" of an Indian agricultural and grain crisis. Paddock and Paddock, in Famine — 1975!, argued that India absorbed like a blotter 25 per cent of the entire American wheat crop. It would be beyond the US to keep famine out of India, they said, since of all the national leaderships the Indian one came close to being the most childish and inefficient, perversely determined to cut the country's economic throat.

 

This unfairly negative assessment was from a larger canvas. Other think-tanks and experts — the Hudson Institute, Keith

 

Griffin, Francine Frankel, the Bretton Woods institutions and at the IDS Sussex, Paul Streeten and Michael Lipton — all had a dim view of agricultural prospects and some argued that India also did not have medium-term growth prospects since poor agriculture would lead to a wage goods constraint. The initial spurt of grain growth had petered out and the green revolution was seen as a misnomer. India's grain production, after reaching 108 million tonnes in 1971, was ranging between 101 and 104 million tonnes in the early '70s. The World Bank and in fact even the Indian finance ministry said that India would not achieve the Planning Commission target of 125 million tonnes of grain by 1978-79 and their estimates ranged between 118 and 120 million tonnes. This was the challenge and the planner's priorities were set and implemented at the level of Indira Gandhi who saw food security as a central issue.

 

At that time in my first job in the government, the Planning Commission produced its first Agricultural Sub-Model and this model made conservative assumptions on land reserves and productivity assumptions so that resource allocation for agriculture, particularly irrigation, got high priority in the investment budget. Interestingly, public sector capital formation of Rs 5566 crore at 1993-94 prices in 1976-77 was not reached in any year in the decade of the '90s, reflecting the lack of strategic policy-making for agriculture in the reform period. A lot of the investment then was to support the farmer to install irrigation pump sets, now advocated by people like Jeffrey Sachs for Sahelian Africa, where he has recommended the earlier Indian strategies. There was also priority to completing irrigation projects and the period saw the foundations of the conjunctive use practices as the new seeds spread and cropping intensities went up. While wholesale trade in grains was nationalised there was concern for giving the farmer adequate price incentives. By 1978-79 India was producing 127 million tonnes and was a net exporter of grains. Most serious commentators know that the significant revving up of the Indian agricultural growth rate above 3 per cent annually and of diversified agriculture go back to the foundations of that period. Given the importance of politics in food aid that was the decisive turning point.

 

With the neglect of agriculture from the '90s, the agricultural growth rate went down, employment growth in agriculture was low. Profitability of agriculture fell by 14.2 per cent in the '90s and, while earlier public capital formation was falling, even private investment stagnated. Irrigation and fertiliser growth slackened. It is to the credit of the UPA government that it decisively changed the trend of neglect of agriculture by raising investment in agriculture and since the last five years the growth rate in agriculture has picked up, less in crop production than the wider sector. Also some of the more basic problems of land scarcity, water use and incentives to the farmer remain.

 

The present generation does not really know the trauma a food-deficit poor country has to go through and many of the things we take for granted, and on which our growth is based, would simply not have been possible without the push given then. Removing hunger with adequate food supply is difficult. Without adequate food, hunger removal and in fact for a large country non-inflationary growth are impossible. I would suggest on Indira Gandhi's birth anniversary that, if we have to think symbolically, we should recall her role in India's lone march to food self-reliance, which laid the foundations of later prosperity.

 

The writer, a former Union minister, is chairman, Institute of Rural Management, Anand express@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

A CONDITIONAL CHARITY

JAVED ANAND

 

The disgraceful conduct of a UK-based Muslim charity with the victim-survivors of the 2002 communal carnage in Gujarat could have been ignored as an isolated, if highly deplorable act. Sadly, this is no isolated incident. If anything, it is but the latest manifestation of a malignancy common to many Muslim outfits, in India and internationally.

 

For those who missed the news in the November 15 edition of this paper, here is the gist. A UK-based NRI charity named Muslim Relief Organisation (MRO) had built a colony in Detral village in Bharuch district to rehabilitate the victim-survivors of Gujarat's state-sponsored carnage (2002). Even in charity, it seems, conditions apply.

 

The MRO has now issued an ultimatum to the Muslims it had helped rehabilitate: Shariah-compliant beards are a must. No rubbing shoulders with fellow Muslims in the village mosque, namaaz only in the special (sectarian) mosque we have built. Banish TV sets from your homes, all music is prohibited. Follow the "Shariah rules" or out you go of the homes we built. For you.

 

It can't be an easy choice for Detral's Muslims who, dispossessed by Hindu extremists seven years earlier, now face a second dispossession: by co-believers this time. My salaams to those village folks who at great cost to themselves have chosen freedom over capitulation to mean despots masquerading as custodians of Islam! A Google search doesn't tell us much about the MRO or its broader ideological affiliation. But it's easy to see where they are coming from.

 

The Detral ignominy is no isolated incident. Last year, televangelist Dr Zakir Naik's flush-with-petro-dollars Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) launched a scholarship scheme for Muslim students. That you might think is a good idea. But here again, conditions apply. Before all else, the aspiring candidates must pass the "Islam test". Since IRF is the screening body, it is reasonable to assume that the would-be grantee must match-up to the sponsor's brand of an intolerant Islam. So here is free tuition to future aspirants on IRF's 'model answers' to frequently asked questions:

 

Is it OK for Indian Muslims to sing Vande Mataram?

Model answer: Forget Muslims, even Hindus must follow the Vedas and refrain from such sinful act. (Rigveda, page…, para…, mantra…; the IRF is pretty good at playing the memory game).

 

Why can't non-Muslims practice their faith in Saudi Arabia?

Model answer: Simple, stupid! Islam is the only true religion. How can sinful ways of worship be allowed in the land of the only true religion?

 

Were the Taliban justified in demolishing the Bamiyan Buddhas?

Model answer: But of course! Since there were no Buddhists in Afghanistan and the territory belonged to the Afghans, they were right in destroying their own property. (How did Buddhists disappear from Afghanistan? Don't act smart!)

 

Co-education?

Model answer: Un-Islamic.

 

Burqa for women?

Model answer: It's a symbol of women's dignity while their participation in the Olympics, alongside men, symbolises degradation of women.

 

How to promote peace in the world?

 

Model answer: Through a 24/7 'Peace TV Channel' and mega-budget 'International Islamic Peace Conferences' in Mumbai, London, Tokyo. Message: "My dear Hindu, Christian, Jews and the rest of you, brothers and sisters, Peace be upon you! We are here to prove with reason and logic how ignorant you are, clueless about your own faith and guilty of the greatest sin: idol worship. Convert to Islam for "Global Unity and Peace".

 

(No Islam, no peace? At an estimated expenditure of rupees one crore per convert, IRF's must be the most cost-inefficient model in the conversion business).

 

The Sachar Committee's report convincingly establishes the fact of institutionalised discrimination against Muslims in our 'infidel' state? But the Muslim Relief Organisation, the IRF and their types do a much better inside job in discriminating: between Muslims (good) and Muslims (bad) in Islam's name. It's a discrimination that's inevitable when faith is converted into a totalitarian ideology.

 

"There is no compulsion in religion" ("La ikraaha fiddeen"), says the Quran. "Diversity of opinion in my ummah is a blessing from Allah," said the Prophet. For the despots of Islam, however, not only is Islam the only true religion, "their Islam" is the only "true Islam". No space for doubt, no question of choice.

 

For sensible scholars of Islam, the Shariah is only a problem-solving methodology for those who seek to unravel the Divine Intent with the help of the Quran, teachings of Prophet Mohammed (Ahadith and Sunnah), consensual approach (ijma) and critical reasoning (ijtehad). But when a methodology (Marxist or Islamic) is elevated to the status of Law — frozen in time, all fresh approaches outlawed — you cannot but end up with a totalitarian ideology that by its own internal logic must aspire to the establishment of a totalitarian state (Marxist or Islamic).

 

It may seem like an ugly utopia for you and me. But to the hopelessly indoctrinated, a school in Mumbai, a village of bruised and battered Muslims in Gujarat, the Swat valley in Pakistan, a country named Afghanistan, or any social space big or small will do as a laboratory for the pursuit of their totalitarian fantasy.

 

Fortunately for the world and for the ummah itself, when given a chance to express themselves, the vast majority of Muslims — Indonesian, Malaysian, Bangladesh, Pakistani — continue to deliver a resounding 'No' to the enemies of freedom and choice. But beware of the dangers of the malevolent, modern-day messiahs. Unlike the poor maulvi sahib from a Muslim mohalla, this seemingly sophisticated lot comes draped in suit and tie, speaks fluent English, swears faith in "reason and logic", quotes from the Vedas and the Bible as comfortably as from the Quran, oozes cash and promotes disharmony and discord in the name of peace. Don't take them lightly for many among the new generation of otherwise well-educated but theologically ignorant Muslims assume this out-of-date medievalism to mean 'Modern Islam'.

 

The writer is co-editor, 'Communalism Combat' and general secretary 'Muslims for Secular Democracy'.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

'IN DIFFICULT TIMES, THE COMMUNISTS WILL HAVE TO SHOW REVOLUTIONARY OPTIMISM'

MANOJ C G

 

The 11th International meeting of the Communist and Workers Parties is being held in New Delhi this week, at a time when the Left in India is facing its worst-ever crisis and is fast losing support even in traditional strongholds like West Bengal and Kerala. CPI National Secretary D. Raja speaks to Manoj C.G about the challenges before the Left and the need for bringing about a change in the functioning style of the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government.

 

What is the significance of this meeting?

This is the 11th international meeting of the Communist and Workers Parties. It is being held in India for the first time. And it comes against the backdrop of the global recession, which has once again shown that capitalist economy is a crisis-ridden economy and crisis is in its inherent nature. So the question is, what is the alternative? We strongly believe that socialism is the genuine alternative.

 

But socialism as an economic and political model had failed, and we have seen it in Soviet Union and eastern Europe?

It is true that the model of socialism suffered setbacks and reverses in the Soviet Union. But that doesn't mean that socialism will suffer the same fate in other countries. What happened in Soviet Union doesn't necessarily happen in other countries.

 

How can you advocate socialism when it has already proved to be a failure?

The basic feature of socialism, which is welfare of the people, has not failed. The ideology of socialism is still relevant. In Soviet Union it happened because of some other reasons like the role of the state and contradictions in the political structure.

 

How can it succeed in India?

In India, we will have to apply the ideology according to our specific conditions. There are some unique features in India. We will have to keep in mind aspects like economic exploitation and social discrimination that still exists in several states. We cannot simply copy the Soviet model. We can only draw lessons from it.

 

The meeting also comes at a time when Left in India is at a crossroads. The communists have suffered serious electoral reverses and the Left's base is eroding very fast.

We are in a parliamentary democracy and elections are a regular feature. Setbacks in one or two elections do not mean the end of ideology.

 

But how can you wish away the fact that the Left's base is shrinking across the country as was evident in the electoral results? The Left is also not able to move with the changing times and gauge the electoral significance of the rising middle-class.

It is right. There is a gap between the political influence of the Left and its actual electoral performance. We are trying to bridge that gap. It is true that the middle class is increasingly influencing public opinion and government policies. We have been trying to politicise the middle class, which is driven by consumerism and careerism. The market is dictating the terms. We need to raise the level of social consciousness of the middle class.

 

The Left is facing its worst-ever crisis in Bengal. What has gone wrong?

It is true that we are facing a very adverse situation in Bengal. The Left Front will have to take corrective measures before the next Assembly elections. There should be a change in the style of government functioning and in matters like economic policy. For example, the Singur land question has to be sorted out fast. The Left Front will have to function collectively. There should be mutual trust and all the constituents will have to be taken into confidence during decision-making.

 

What changes do you want in the functioning style of the chief minister? And how much is the CPM responsible for the reverses?

The style of functioning of the government as a whole needs to be changed. Some of the policies have not gone down well with the people. We are not talking about any individual or any party. the government has collective responsibility. There must be a change and we hope there will be a change.

 

Do you feel that a leadership change in West Bengal will help turn the situation around?

Right now, these are not the issues to be discussed. The need of the hour is to change the style of functioning to win back the confidence of the people. The government's functioning style has not gone down well, as we have seen during Singur and Nandigram.

 

Several Left leaders, including some CPM ministers, are now openly saying that Trinamool Congress is set to come to power in 2011 and the Assembly elections should be advanced.Does the CPI share the same perception?

There is no need to advance the elections. I accept that Trinamool Congress is a challenge for the Left. After all it is the main Opposition party. But we should be optimistic and confident. We will have to fight. As Antonio Gramsci has said, in times of difficulties, the Communists will have to show revolutionary optimism.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

VIEW FROM THE RIGHT

SUMAN K JHA

BURDEN OF THEIR SONG

 

The editorial in the latest issue of RSS mouthpiece Organiser, titled "Vande Mataram. Why the clergy crib?" says: "The fatwa brigade is out again. This round in the company of the redoubtable Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram, who has displayed an exceptional expertise in blowing hot and cold in the face of mounting pressure on national security. That the Deoband intellectuals could not find anything more significant and meaningful for the community it claims to represent, than the bogey of Vande Mataram to raise before the home minister underlines the crisis facing the Muslim clergy. It is in a time warp. It has no sense of timing or priority. If a Muslim should or should not sing Vande Mataram can be debated endlessly. There are people like A.R. Rahman and Arif Mohammad Khan, in modern times who find it elevating to sing the soul-stirring song. Post-independent India has seen social reformers and intellectuals like M.C. Chagla, Hamid Delvi, etc, pleading tirelessly to their community to join the national mainstream. The liberal leadership of Indian Muslims has often found it difficult to carry the Muslim masses with it, as the more orthodox held sway over their political decision-making. This helped cynical political bargaining by the self-appointed champions of minority rights like Congress and Communist parties, which keep Muslims in perpetual bondage of vote-bank politics even as this game damaged and undermined the community — economically, educationally and even socially".

 

The editorial adds: "The real problem with the mullah is his medieval attitude towards women. He cannot digest the idea of honouring womanhood, her dignity, in the form of a goddess, mother or motherland. It seems more a pathological deformity than religious rigidity. It has more to do with treating woman as an object, a chattel than a source of inspiration, grace and creativity. This is his anathema with the concept of motherland also. It is surprising that he is not able to salute the land that gave him birth, that continues to give him succour and sustenance. This is in other words called gratitude or patriotism. It is a non-negotiable paradigm, Vande Mataram is only a literal translation of an Indian's feelings, attitude and attachment to this land on whose abode he finds his fulfilment and meaning in life. To deny this is to deny ones own identity, ones claim to be its citizen and an equal partner to its growth and prosperity". It concludes: "By issuing a fatwa barring its followers singing Vande Mataram, the mullah is chopping off his community away from its own ancestral right. Thankfully, the members of the community have better sense. These mullahs no more represent or call the shots in the community. It is time for them to realise their irrelevance or for the community to show them their place. A Muslim becomes a better Muslim when he owns and belongs to the land of his birth".

 

GLACIER SAVIOURS

A news item in the RSS journal, titled "Massive plantation is essential to save the glaciers in Uttarakhand: Sri Sri Ravi Shankar," says: "Noted spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravishankar Guruji expressed concern over the depleting glaciers in Uttarakhand. He said local people should be involved in the crusade to save the environment. 'I was in Manila recently. People there complained me that they faced floods since glaciers are shrinking in India ( Himalayas ). What we need today to save our glaciers like Gangotri and Yamunotri in Uttarakhand is massive plantation,' he said. Sri Sri Ravishankar was addressing a gathering of distinguished persons at the chief minister's residence in Dehradun. During the interaction, Chief Minister Dr Nishank apprised Sri Sri Ravishankar of Char Dham, Hemkund Sahib and Piran Kaliyar, where lots of religious tourists come every year. In a bid to motivate people to cultivate medicinal products, the state government has prepared a detailed plan. Recently Yoga Guru Baba Ramdev expressed his desire to buy Rs 1500 crore medicinal plants per year from local farmers".

 

The news item adds: "The chief minister said Sri Sri's blessing for state residents would send a good message among the masses. Dr Nishank said ensuring immaculate arrangements for the forthcoming Maha Kumbh Mela is being accorded top priority by the state government. He also spoke at length regarding abundance of herbal plants in Uttarakhand, stating that a proposal to procure herbal plants worth 1500 crore rupees per annum from local farmers was put forth by Baba Ramdev recently that would augment job opportunities in the state. Prominent persons and officials present on the occasion included Assembly Speaker Harbans Kapoor, Forest Minister Bishan Singh Chufal, Tourism Minister Madan Kaushik, MLAs Ganesh Joshi, Kuldeep Singh, Parliamentary Secretary Premchand Aggarwal, Planning Com¬mission Vice Chairman Manohar Kant Dhyani, organisation secretary general of state BJP Naresh Bansal and others".

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

HIGHER THAN THE WALL

KUNAL PRADHAN

 

At a Thai restaurant in Islamabad, after the first day's play in the final Test in 2004, Rahul Dravid politely declined to stay for dessert, saying he needed to sleep because he had to bat the "whole day tomorrow". Not early, not in the morning; the whole day.

 

It led to a few involuntary sniggers at the dinner table, but Dravid had chosen his words carefully. Ten not out overnight, he was unbeaten on 134 when stumps were drawn the following evening. And then, for good measure, he batted almost the whole of the next day as well, finishing on a career-best 270. It wasn't the most attractive knock, and not nearly his most fluent — in fact, at 12 hours and 20 minutes it was the longest innings by an Indian player ever — but Dravid had ensured, almost single-handedly, that India won their first Test series in Pakistan.

 

Adelaide, Kolkata, Leeds, Kingston — he will be remembered when, years from now, people talk about what had happened in those cities at the turn of the century. For, scratch a famous Indian victory, and you will uncover a Dravid gem underneath.

 

Through his career, he has been associated with hard, unwavering grit with a bat in his hands and soft, natural refinement off the field of play. It's been hard to pick between the great batsman and the perfect gentleman. But, as the French philosopher Voltaire said, "The best way to be boring is to leave nothing out." So, while Dravid invoked deep admiration and steadfast affection, he did not immediately move fans as much as some of his more naturally attractive peers from this generation of astonishing batsmen.

 

Perhaps history will judge his true place in Indian cricket, and put him higher than the fifth or sixth place he occupies on the list of most experts. Perhaps history alone will finally realise that "The Wall" is too simplistic a nickname for a batsman of his ilk.

 

I've always believed that Dravid's famous sobriquet is completely misplaced. As a batsman, he is skillful and prudent, with far more character than a block of brick and mortar. Maybe, at times, he stood firmly like a defensive barrier. But they weren't necessarily his best moments. There were more occasions when he attacked the very heart of the opposition. "The Wall" barely begins to describe him, so how can it sum him up?

 

There was a time when Dravid was in grave danger of being consumed by his own quest for technical perfection. Former Australian captain Ian Chappell once said he needed to be told that matches were won not by hours but by runs or wickets.

 

In those days, when he did manage to get a big score, he was invariably overshadowed by a colleague. Right from his debut 95 at Lord's in 1996 (when Ganguly cracked 131) to the 148 at Headingley in 2002 (when Tendulkar trumped him with a 193). But at The Oval in the following Test, Dravid smashed a flawless 217. The next highest score was Tendulkar's 54. The spell was broken, and there was no looking back after that.

 

This week, seven years later, there were glimpses of the Dravid we know so well in his 177 at Ahmedabad. But the innings was different because it seemed to have the fluency that usually comes only with abandon. Beaten by Dammika Prasad midway through his knock, he hammered the next ball down the ground for four. The Dravid of old would've never done that — he would've scarcely scored a run for the next few minutes, cross with himself for the momentary lapse of concentration.

Treated unkindly by the national selectors with his sudden inclusion and abrupt exclusion from the one-day team in recent weeks, one might say it was Dravid's way of showing he should not be trifled with. But, knowing him, that was perhaps the last thing on his mind. He is too clever a student of the art of batting to let anything come in the way of the next ball, next over, next session.

 

Dravid fell early on the second morning of the Test, having already made a statement with his most entertaining century since Adelaide 2003 — removing not just the scars of the recent one-day snub but also, to an extent, of his only modestly successful stint as captain that ended suddenly in 2007.

 

The innings was significant for all those reasons. But, situationally speaking, there was nothing new. India was in trouble, and Dravid, its great No 3, batted the whole day again.

 

kunal.pradhan@expressindia.com

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

SMALL SAVINGS ARE BIG SAVING


This is one surge in economic numbers that will evoke mixed reactions. The sudden rise in small savings inflows this financial year—the net inflows are at Rs 10,997 crore in the first six months—is a significant turnaround from the previous financial year. To some extent, an increase this financial year was more likely in any case. Last year was a year of crisis and people cashed in on their small savings instead of increasing them. But even the government, as reported by FE on Wednesday, was pleasantly surprised by the extent of the increase this financial year. Clearly, this is a solid indicator of economic recovery taking firm root, particularly in smaller towns and rural areas, which are the biggest contributors to small savings schemes. This seems to fit in with other trends, which also indicate that the economy has overcome its liquidity problems of the last financial year. This upsurge will, however, not return savings to their peak levels of 37.7% in 2007-08. The PM's EAC has forecast savings in this financial year to be just under 35%. That is an impressive rate so soon after such a major crisis of confidence.

 

One of the other important reasons (other than the recovery) for the upsurge in small savings is the steady fall in bank deposit rates. Interest on bank term deposits fell to a two-year low of 7% in August. In comparison, the return on the National Small Savings Fund (NSSF) is 8%, plus tax incentives. Unsurprisingly, savers are opting for the higher return. And that's also why there is mixed reaction to the rise in small savings numbers. Banks, in particular, are unhappy at the prospect of small savings offering higher returns than deposits. Banks have consistently been arguing that the small savings rate acts as a floor on deposit rates. And as a result, it acts as a firm floor on lending rates as well. This argument does not, however, carry enough weight to be taken seriously at the policy level. Bank deposit rates should fall further to enable lending rates to be much lower than they are right now. Consumers and investors are simply not taking up bank finance because it's too expensive. Banks have to get their pricing right. In any case, there is no evidence that small savings schemes are drawing a significant number of savers away from deposits. In fact, a majority of those who invest in small savings schemes, especially from rural areas, have no access to bank accounts in any case. Small savings thus end up acting as an agent of financial inclusion and work complementary to bank deposits. And from a macroeconomic perspective, we need as many new savers to join the financial system as possible, through banks or small savings schemes.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

WINTER OF REFORM?


Even before Parliament's winter session has begun, Opposition parties are saying they will bring an adjournment motion against the Centre's new sugarcane pricing policy. Put together other scandals like the Madhu Koda affair or alleged irregularities in spectrum allotment and you have the guarantee of a stormy session. These are genuine issues and a legislative debate concerning them is, of course, welcome. But certain critical Bills are also expected to be tabled during the session, and it will be very unfortunate if these fail to pass for want of time. A stormy session is one thing, and one that goes completely off track, another. Opposition from within the UPA-II coalition has already taken a toll on Bills like the one involving land acquisition, which is unlikely to be passed this time around. The National Food Security Bill has fallen victim to the dispute over the size of the BPL population, and a resource crunch. Then there are Bills that have lapsed because they couldn't be introduced in the last session. For example, there is the Judges Inquiry Bill, 2006. Last time around, the law minister had decided not to introduce it after MPs protested. Since then, the Supreme Court and high court judges have declared they will disclose assets voluntarily. But we are still awaiting legislation enhancing the efficiency and credibility of justice delivery.

 

The month-long winter session can really push the reform agenda forward and reinvigorate economic sentiment by passing relevant legislation. For example, there is the Pension Fund Regulatory & Development Authority Bill, which has even enjoyed the BJP's public support, and which seeks to both bring foreign direct investment into the pension sector and give the interim regulator statutory powers to develop a new pension system for even the unorganised sector. Then there is the Insurance Bill that will raise the foreign direct investment cap in insurance firms to 49%, from the existing 26%. There is also a set of Bills relating to the State Bank of India group, whose concerns include reducing government shareholding. An amendment Bill to the Mines & Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act, 1957, would introduce competitive bidding for allocation of coal blocks—parliamentarians should prioritise passing this over disrupting proceedings to protest against the Koda scandal. On education, equal opportunity, women's reservation et al, there are matters that Parliament needs to resolve. If, instead of moving forward on multiple fronts, tooth and nail remonstrations over one issue or the other dominate the session, that will be unfortunate indeed.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

DON'T RELY ON PROVIDENCE FOR PENSION

MANISH SABHARWAL

 

Most employees with a Provident Fund account don't realise that 35% of their contribution is diverted to the horrible Employee Pension Scheme (EPS). This scheme was opposed by employers and unions when it was introduced in 1992 on grounds of sustainability, transparency, governance and returns. However, it was upheld by the Supreme Court based on assurances of the Employee Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO). Interestingly, the government rejected a pension plan proposed for civil servants by the Bhattacharya Committee similar to EPS—with the same birth defect of defining both benefits and contribution—on grounds of sustainability and affordability.

 

Our worst fears about EPS have now come true: EPFO has unilaterally and substantially reduced benefits under EPS by crimping return of capital, abolishing commutation and increasing pre-retirement penalties. The new rules abolish Para 13, which provided three options for return of capital: a) If the employee opted for 90% of original pension (having given up 10%), then the return of capital was 100 times the original monthly pension; b) if the employee opted for 90% of original pension (i.e. gave up 10%), then the widow got 80% of the original pension for her life and on her death or re-marriage, the nominee got 90 times the original monthly pension as return of capital; and c) if the employee opted to get a fixed monthly pension of 87.5% of the original pension for a period for 20 years, on completion of 20 years, he would get 100 times the original pension. Following this no pension would be paid.

 

The changes also delete Para 12A around commutation; this removed the option by which an employee could opt for two-thirds of the original pension as reduced pension, and the balance one-third could be commuted and paid as 100 times the one-third as a lump sum. The most damaging change is to Para 12(7), which has changed the 3% penalty per year for early withdrawal before 58 years; for example, if you opted for pension 2 years ahead of the age of 58, the reduction was 3% x 2 = 6%. This 3% has now been changed to 4%.

 

I only include these details because they are being gift-wrapped by EPFO as a fine-tuning of the scheme. But nobody should doubt that these represent a broken promise; a unilateral and substantial reduction in future benefits promised for past contributions already made.

 

The more dangerous problem is that most experts believe that even these modifications are not enough to move EPS to sustainability and it will need either higher contributions or lower benefits. Increasing contributions is difficult; employees do not contribute, employer contributions to the Provident Fund and EPS are defined, and the government has no obligation or willingness till it fills up the hole (as reflected by the prudent decision of the ministry of finance to reject an EPFO request for a government bailout).

 

EPFO has lost touch with its mission and no longer acts in the best interest of its members. It has become self-referential, arrogant and most importantly, dangerous. It does not have clients but hostages (so it can get away with charging 454 basis points to manage a government securities mutual fund). Its dual regulatory and administrative role means that it is both the umpire and the player (so it can suppress competition by denying permission for new exempt PF trust formation). Its goofy service means that participants give up begging for their money (so about 50% of its accounts are dormant with unclaimed money). Its lack of transparency and consistency (definition of wages, treatment of employees above the salary of Rs 6,500, etc) creates opportunities for corruption. It has broken the linkage between interest earned and interest credited (only by a highly questionable reclassification accounting treatment of liabilities and assets).

 

But instead of being punished or held accountable, EPFO is being rewarded with a bigger kingdom—its mandate has been expanded to cover employers with more than 10 employees (lowered from the earlier 20 employees). There are also rumbles that EPFO proposed to raise its salary coverage limit to Rs 10,000 per month (from the current Rs 6,500). This expansion is built on the false and flawed assumption that benefits are over and above salary. Corporate India has moved to a CTC (cost-to-company) model in which all benefits are included in a number. Any fatwa to raise PF contributions does not increase CTC but reduces take home salary.

 

At the well-organised annual Invest India Pension conference in Delhi earlier this month, the agenda, speakers and attendees clearly symbolised the progress in civil service and individual pensions. And the absolute lack of progress in employer pensions. But pension reforms are like ice cream: the more you wait, the more it melts.

 

We must scrap EPS before the hole becomes unmanageable because tweaking will not overcome a birth defect. We must create competition by allowing employers to pay their Provident Fund contribution to the New Pension Scheme (NPS). And we must legislate that EPFO cannot pay investment returns it has not made. Otherwise we must get ready to write a bigger cheque to EPFO than we did for US64.

 

The author is chairman, TeamLease Services

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

ADS ARE FINDING THEIR ONLINE FEET

NIKHIL PAHWA


The Mobile advertising world received a significant shot in the arm last week with Google announcing plans to acquire mobile advertising network AdMob for $750 million. Advertising networks are largely an Internet phenomenon: with the medium able to support a seemingly unlimited number of publishers, and advertising networks and provide advertisers with a consolidated large inventory. Much of this advertising is 'blind' because advertisers often don't know where their inventory is being served. The mobile advertising network space has been struggling for a while now, and showed little sign of perceptible growth until the launch of the iPhone, which gave a lifeline to mobile advertising.

 

Google has been eying the mobile advertising space with intent now, and the Android phone is taking on juggernaut proportions. Last quarter, Google reported a 30% quarter-over- quarter growth in mobile searches. As one of the largest mobile advertising networks in the world, with a presence in 64 countries, AdMob brings to Google immediate scale in display advertising as well as ads on applications that next-gen phones like the iPhone, Nokia N97 and a number of Android phones have made popular. For AdMob, the top ten devices in the US for September 2009 included five with touchscreens, six with Wi-Fi capabilities, and six with application stores, with higher mobile usage than their share of handsets sold. Android accounted for 17% of smartphone traffic in the US in September 2009 on the AdMob network, up from 13% in August 2009, with HTC Dream (G1) as the number three and the HTC Magic as the number 10 device in September 2009.

 

In case of the iPhone, much of the traffic came from applications. AdMob's revenues are not known, so whether they were bought for their 'success' in a struggling mobile advertising space or their potential, is yet to be ascertained. AdMob's publisher network comprises over 15,000 mobile Web sites and applications. According to its latest report, the monthly ad requests "increased 6.3 times over the past 2 years from 1.6 billion in September 2007 to 10.2 billion in September 2009." India is AdMob's number two market, albeit a fraction of what it serves in the US. To put things in context, also take into account the thinning barrier between the Internet and the Mobile Internet, and the fact that Google—a juggernaut, particularly with the Android—has put in considerable resources to address the potential of the mobile space: it's gone from one device, one carrier, one country to 12 devices, 32 carriers, 26 countries in less than a year. With 18-20 Android expected to be out by the end of this year, and many more next year, it seems increasingly difficult for the iPhone and Nokia to keep up.

 

The initial challenge for Google and AdMob is one of integrating quickly. That'll serve as something of a lull as companies like Meridian Media and India's InMobi figure out ways of competing with the Google-AdMob combine. Google's acquisition of AdMob works as something of a validation for the space, but there is still a lot to be done in terms of building the mobile advertising ecosystem.

 

There have been concerns around the effectiveness of mobile advertising: the mobile has a screen size that is much smaller than a desktop, and each pixel matters that much more. Google itself recently said it's not quite sure of how to serve ads on its popular Gmail application, because it doesn't want ads to get in the way of user experience. But display advertising is far more visible and evident on a mobile screen, and users do tend to notice it more. Viewing links on a mobile device tends to be sequential: you scroll down a page. In comparison, viewing a screen on a desktop is far more cumbersome, since users are processing inputs from a larger screen in parallel, taking in both horizontal and vertical inputs; that's a scenario for 'Banner Blindness'. Thus, the impact of an advertisement on a mobile device is far greater. Add to that the additional input that mobile devices receive, in terms of the location of the individual through triangulation of mobile signals from cellular towers. The context, the personalisation and location specific details allow serving more relevant ads.

 

However, identifying conversions is also an issue on a mobile. If I'm near a McDonalds and served an ad around lunch time, identifying a restaurant location close to mine, I'll just walk in. How does McDonalds identify that the walk-in has been generated by the mobile advertisement? That's a problem that mobile advertising is yet to solve, and much of the ads are for content or commerce, similar to the way advertising evolved on the Internet. For Google, mobile advertising will also be limited by the paucity of mobile landing pages, essentially homepages for mobile advertisers. How many businesses in India currently have mobile-ready Web sites?

 

The author is the editor of MediaNama.com

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

ADDING VALUE TO DTH

SUDIPTA DATTA


The direct-to-home industry in India is growing fast but the numbers are not quite adding up to revenues for the players—not yet. Every player will tell you that India's DTH market is small and that's why the potential for growth is immense. According to entertainment industry estimates, India's TV viewership is the second largest in the world, with the country adding 14 million new TVs a year. Of the 130 million TV households we already have, 97 million are cable & satellite (C&S) homes and growing at 25-30% annually.

 

The DTH players together boast a market share of 14-15 million subscribers, and the subscriber base is likely to swell to 35-40 million by 2012. But a number of issues, from unsustainable pricing models, low margins, high taxes, are making it a huge struggle for the players. The average return-per-user from DTH subscribers varies from Rs 150-200. If a package costs Rs 100, a DTH player has to pay 10% to the government, 40-60% to the broadcaster and has only 30% to tackle costs, which include transponder costs (Rs 80 lakh a year), infrastructure, advertising, marketing, distribution and acquiring new technology costs. And yet, a DTH player cannot raise prices too, not for the basic package at least, because the industry hasn't yet got the volumes.

 

One way out is to allow DTH players to launch more value-added services—we have seen some of it happening, but Indian consumers are price conscious and revenues from other streams (pay-per-view, advertising) may not be enough to cut back losses, at this initial stage of growth. All this, at a time when cable TV—first off the block to get 100-odd channels in Indian homes—is cleaning up its act too, digitalising, beaming local content, improving quality. Though DTH has been growing on two parameters—quality of service and signal quality—and has seen subscribers flocking to the platform, fact is all the players are bleeding and are unlikely to break even soon. The Trai is looking into DTH players' demands, particularly a more rational tax structure, so that the nascent industry can shape up.

 

sudipta.datta@expressindia.com

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

REPORT CARD

This paper* discusses domestic politics around climate change in India as an entry point to understanding India's role in global climate negotiations:

 

I suggest there is broad agreement within India on three issues: India is being unfairly labelled a 'major emitter'; India has a considerable ongoing development burden; and India is already moving in the right direction on climate mitigation. However, on each of these issues there is a healthy under-current of domestic debate. Moreover, broad agreement on this perspective does not translate to strategic unanimity. Instead, I suggest there are three divergent positions within India: growth-first stonewallers, progressive realists, and progressive internationalists. For a renewed Indian climate politics, the two progressive groups will have to join forces. However, this will require stronger signals of good faith from the international community. This tour of Indian climate politics in the context of global negotiations suggests that almost two decades after negotiations began, cleavages in perception along North-South lines continue to stymie agreement. Economic competitiveness has now joined environmental integrity as the dominating metaphor for many industrialised countries. Fairness, understood in terms of historical and per capita emissions, continues to be an important benchmark for India, and perhaps for other developing countries, too. Agreement on the details of a climate deal, in all probability, will require further narrowing of these persistent differences in framing of the climate problem.

 

Navroz K Dubash; Toward a Progressive Indian & Global Climate Politics; Centre for Policy Research Climate Initiative, Working Paper 2009/1 (September)

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

SHAKING HANDS WITH CLENCHED FIST

 

"You cannot shake hands," Prime Minister Indira Gandhi said famously in a 1982 interview, "with a clenched fist." Ever since he took office, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram has been quietly working to un-clench the hands of Jammu Kashmiri secessionists and secure the support of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference for a peace deal. The Hindu recently broke news of a second round of secret meetings with key Hurriyat leaders, a sign that Mr. Chidambaram's initiative is making some headway. Secret diplomacy is a key weapon, sometimes an effective one, in the arsenal of states seeking to solve intractable conflicts. However, New Delhi's covert search for peace in Jammu and Kashmir has a less than luminous record. Despite two decades of sustained contact with various groups of secessionists, the results have been disappointing. As People's Democratic Party leader Mehbooba Mufti has pointed out, a purely covert engagement involves the risk that any agreement arrived at will be perceived to be a 'sell-out.'

 

The secret talks are intended to prepare the ground for a public engagement. But there is a major problem. The Hurriyat wants Kashmir's Islamist patriarch, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, as well as Pakistan and its jihadist allies, to endorse the dialogue. Islamabad, beset by internal crises, is in no position to agree to anything domestic Islamists can attack as capitulation to India. Mr. Geelani has rejected talks on ideological grounds. Past peace efforts floundered on the same rock. Little came, for example, of Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani's 2004 meeting with the Hurriyat. Pakistan rejected the process because it would have undermined its leverage in J&K. For his part, Mr. Geelani walked out of the Hurriyat before the talks. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sought to address the problem by authorising secret talks with Islamabad even as he met with Hurriyat leaders in September 2005. Diplomats Satinder Lambah and Tariq Aziz agreed on the broad contours of a solution. By 2006, however, it became clear that a beleaguered Pervez Musharraf was in no position to deliver on the five agreed principles. The Hurriyat, for its part, failed to come up with an agenda for talks. Dr. Singh then changed tack: he called a conference, involving all major parties in J&K, in an effort to build consensus on the way forward. The secessionists, unsurprisingly, resiled from promises to participate. Mr. Chidambaram evidently hopes his renewed engagement will break the impasse. Some influential voices in the policy establishment are believed to be sceptical about the chances of success. Both Mr. Chidambaram and Hurriyat president Mirwaiz Umar Farooq must be applauded for giving peace a chance. Given the complexities of the endeavour, there can be no guarantee of success — nor should one be sought. But the time has come to conduct the dialogue in the clear light of day.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

MAKE PICTURES SPEAK

 

If the objective is to persuade tobacco users to quit the self-destructive habit and to deter new users, emotive pictorial warnings alongside printed text on all tobacco products can be highly effective. The World Health Organisation recommends the deployment of "shocking" pictures that bring out the harsh realities of tobacco use. Evidence from several countries indicates that pictures that graphically depict the adverse health effects have the greatest impact. For instance, 67 per cent of smokers in Brazil and New Zealand and 44 per cent in Canada and Thailand wanted to give up the habit after pictorial warnings were introduced. In fact, a greater percentage of smokers wanted to see more information about the harmful effects of tobacco on the products, as a 2006 survey of ten countries revealed. Some countries are using innovative methods to enhance the effectiveness of the warnings. Brazil, for instance, is drawing from research on emotion to maximise negative emotional arousal; and Chile is using testimonial warnings from people who have suffered from tobacco use. The Indian government might not share the same enthusiasm, but it should do something radical about the set of pictorial warnings that will come out in 2010.

 

Consider the three pictorial warnings in current use: a scorpion, diseased lungs, and an X-ray of the lungs! This might be used in a case study of how not to communicate. The images confuse; they also mislead. Further, reducing the warning size to 20 per cent in principal display areas of cigarette packets is inexplicable. Pictures break linguistic barriers and can effectively communicate key messages to people deprived of education. The current month-long campaign on television and radio by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare shows how shocking pictures and tales of people suffering from oral cancer can effectively convey the vital message on the dangers of tobacco chewing. This intelligent campaign costs the exchequer a mere Rs.5 crore but spreading the same message through pictorial warnings will cost virtually nothing. Given the constant and intrusive impact on users, pictorial warnings on all tobacco products are the key to spreading the message. The government must put the public interest first and not succumb to industry pressure on a life-or-death matter.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

THE GAINS FROM MASKING REALITY

HOW CAN A MEDIA HAWKING EDITORIAL SPACE TO POLITICIANS AND THEIR PARTIES FOR PERSONAL USE, CAPTURE THE REALITY FOR ITS READERS AND ANALYSE IT WITH SENSITIVITY AND HONESTY?

MRINAL PANDE

 

To most of the smart whiz-kid managers planning to reinvent the print media as a lucrative multi-language business, the small-town market today is by and large an autonomous phenomenon, somewhat constrained by politics but not reducible to it. This theory has the genius of appearing to bow humbly before the reciprocal issue of how the vernacular media affect and shape local society and vice versa, while actually planning to straddle it, whip in hand.

 

The vernacular media establishment needs to watch out for such perfect-sounding inventions that never actually do what their labels claim, like diet pills or hair restoring substances. Attractive as the managerial dreams may look, the Hindi media themselves have so far not negotiated on their own terms the actual relationship between the uppity new investor and the class-specific vernacular readership. They lack a specific and clear system that can effectively firewall editorial in case the deal goes sour after an initial positive showing.

 

Many recent steps redefining news and its dissemination in the newspapers were taken hastily after bypassing the editorial department. They may have introduced lethal and invisible viruses within the system that may corrode and finally kill the newspaper. The vernacular media may be feeling cocky, having pulled themselves out of physical poverty under their own steam, but they have yet to learn how to deal firmly and decisively with another kind of poverty — that of the professional, ethical kind.

 

One is not being paranoid here. Not too long ago, some major dailies introduced a devilishly cunning scheme of offering what was innocently labelled 'Ad for Equity.' This met with loud applause from many managerial bosses all over. But before long the realty, aviation and automobile sectors went into a tailspin, and the scheme left the companies that had adopted it red-faced and holding bags of (economy class) air tickets, empty flats, unsold cars and so on.

 

A little later, during some of the Assembly elections in 2008, the local editions of several multi-edition Hindi dailies started displaying laudatory and frequently contradictory news items on their front pages about specific candidates contesting from the respective areas. With zero news value, none of these items merited such display, but through the election period the front pages and op-ed pages of some dailies continued to carry the mug-shots of particular candidates, even predicting a record win for him or her.

 

The dailies may or may not have collected some Rs.200 crore with this little duplicitous exercise in psephology, but a new idea of what has now come to be called 'political advertising' was planted across the country, triggering a trend. And soon one heard that the marketing and media marketing managers at several media houses were getting 'creatives' prepared about what was on offer, in time for the general elections. Several party functionaries who manned party 'war rooms' during the period, when quizzed, confessed to having been shown 'impressive' PowerPoint presentations by major newspapers, and in turn professing an interest in the offerings.

 

The hard copy version of one such offering made on behalf of one Hindi daily published from a rich western Indian State blatantly delineates the phenomenon. The script claims that some 36 Lok Sabha seats in two major cities in the State, including the State capital and the surrounding areas, were 'feeded' by the daily. The proposal then lays down a clear sequential map of activities it can spearhead to promote the party or individual candidates, quoting prices. At the local level it addresses the candidate, his or her supporters and well-wishers, the district-level party office, the local MLA or MLC or corporator, other local political leaders, the local advertising agency and the guardian Minister of the ruling party. At the State level it is the State political party office, Cabinet Minister and State-level political leaders, businessmen and industrialists and a State-level advertising agency. At the national level it addresses the central offices of political parties (media cells), national-level political leaders and Central Ministers from the State.

 

The working modalities include putting in place dedicated teams each day, comprising political or city reporters and correspondents, sub-editors, area advertisement managers and area sales managers, to do the needful. Fifteen days' general coverage is priced at Rs.20 lakh, while seven days of exclusive coverage is pegged at Rs.25 lakh. Along with this, specially prepared four-page supplements in colour, exclusive interviews, positive views of the voters, positive editorial analysis, "only positive coverage" and "no negative publicity of opposition candidate or party," and extra copies of the newspaper on payment basis, are on offer — at a price, of course. There is flexibility in making the payment: 50 per cent can be paid in cash and 50 per cent by cheque. The last frame in the presentation, ironically titled The Way Ahead, suggests that the daily would be willing to offer publicity on 'other occasions' also, apart from the election-time offer.

 

What a complex trade! Vernacular media readers are getting younger and more volatile and more demanding. But they mostly sit in small towns where an elegant bank with an ATM stands in the middle of shanties and huts with TV antennae, where after leaving the railway station or the airport one almost always plunges into the darkness of a grim, squalid, pot-holed road, where in the marketplace besides the glittering shop windows with Dior watches and Mont Blanc pens, the unlit windows of local shops lie empty. Private capital that has arrived in small towns, piggy-back riding the Hindi dailies, has only built shining sanctuaries for the rich. The Hindi readership has neither the means nor the intention to develop the rest of the city or 'cusbah'. Its children cling to dreams of escaping to a big city and making it big there.

 

How can a media hawking inviolable editorial space to politicians and their parties for personal use during elections, capture this reality for its readers and analyse it with any degree of sensitivity or honesty? To read many marketing-driven Hindi dailies today is increasingly like entering a mind with multiple personality disorders, where endless, fierce and frantic discussions continue over everything from Beijing's beastliness to Bt brinjal and Raj Babbar, next to cloyingly hagiographic accounts of how Rahul 'Baba' alone led his party to triumph in the byelections. Actually there are too many people now in the industry whose answer to the question, "what are the media for?" is, "to make money."

 

Certainly there is nothing wrong in a restructuring of the industry, making it more productive and vibrant. The Janata Party government began the process and the BJP and the Congress have all continued to support this process. The government-controlled audiovisual media were certainly too big and lumbering and arrogant and were easily pushed to the margins by the leaner and more efficient private players. But why have the hugely successful Hindi print media that have always been in private hands and quite free professionally, begun to trivialise their own base and con their readership for piffling short-term gains? If this trend continues, the readers will react, and the next round of closures will have more serious implications, not just for those who will lose their jobs but also for the readers' understanding of where they live and how their reality is inviolable and a part of the nation's reality.

 

Hindi newspapers inspired by the capitulation of their big brothers in the media business may dent the case for

India's vernacular press, but cannot demolish it. When it does its job, a professionally run vernacular paper, funded jointly by advertising and paid-for-circulation, remains the best bet as a scrutineer of democracy and the best guard for the inviolable reality of our public spaces.

 

 

(Mrinal Pande is a senior Hindi journalist and writer. This is the second of a two-part article. The first part was published yesterday.)

 

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THE HINDU

AN ACTION PLAN FOR THE FUTURE

ONLY A PROCESS OF REVERSE MIGRATION BASED ON THE GANDHIAN MODEL CAN SAVE INDIA'S CITIES, AND ALSO RURAL INDIA.

MOHAN DHARIA

 

A report prepared by the United Nations Development Programme reveals that in India's big cities more than 40 per cent of the people live in slums. Some of them have reasonable levels of income, but cannot afford other housing. For many reasons including the population load, slums are unhygienic. It is high time the root causes of unplanned and ugly urbanisation, and the destruction of rural life, are identified.

 

More than 40 per cent of Indians live in the urban areas and less than 60 per cent in the villages — and this dichotomy is growing. Even basic amenities such as water, streets, drainage, electricity, educational or medical facilities, and playgrounds are often not available.

 

On the eve of Independence, Kolkata and Mumbai were the only Indian cities with a population of more than a million. In 1980, the number of such cities was hardly 10. At that time, as the Union Minister for Planning this writer had insisted that without provision of adequate water, sufficient area for the construction of houses and infrastructure facilities, no city should be allowed to have a population of more than a million. But this was ridiculed. During the last 30 years, the craze for urbanisation under the garb of "growth" has spawned unplanned, ugly and congested cities in India. The only solution is to de-congest the cities, for instance Mumbai, moving out mills that make cotton, edible oil, vanaspati and so on that are dependent on raw materials coming from the rural areas, and stop any further influx into the cities. Simultaneously, population growth should be checked.

 

Satellite cities and towns where the raw materials are available should be created. These should be planned with facilities for housing, education and health. Commercial, industrial, educational and entertainment complexes should be built, surrounded by a green belt that is up to 2 km in breadth.

 

London witnessed such an experiment after the Second World War. The London Municipal Corporation succeeded in voluntarily moving out 15 lakh people to new modern satellite cities.

 

It is necessary to explore the basic cause of the influx from the rural areas. For want of employment opportunities, medical and educational facilities and infrastructure such as roads and communication in the rural areas, people prefer to come to the cities, particularly in search of employment.

 

Along with unplanned urbanisation, rural life is being destroyed. To prevent migration, the villages should be enriched. The 6,00,000 villages in the country should become self-reliant and have adequate employment opportunities, educational facilities, medical services, communication facilities and roads. They should become green and clean.

 

This may appear to be a dream. The organisation named Vanarai has sought successfully to prevent the influx into the cities. In fact, several families have returned from city slums to their own villages as these had become self-reliant. Only such a process of reverse migration based on the Gandhian model can save our cities, and also rural India.

 

Our land, water, cattle wealth, forests, the 7,000-km coastline, vast biomass resources, the bright sun, and species including medicinal plants are India's real strength. Ever since Independence, these natural resources have remained under-developed. By effectively developing them, it has become possible for Vanarai to achieve reverse migration.

Water is the key issue for any sort of development process. India gets a significant quantity of water from rain or the melting of Himalayan ice. Despite investing thousands of crores of rupees on major, medium or minor dams, India has not been able to harvest even 10 per cent of the water that is available. It is possible to conserve every drop of rainwater that falls, take adequate care of drinking water and still make water available for protective or seasonal irrigation through a scientific watershed management programme.

 

WASTED LANDS NOT WASTELANDS

Nearly half of India's geographical area of 32.8 million square km is degraded land or wasteland. These are not wastelands but wasted lands. It is possible to make them productive with modern technology and scientific micro-watershed management. It is also possible to increase productivity. Compared to India's rate of about 2,000 kg a hectare, countries such as China have a productivity of the order of 4,000 kg a ha. In some other countries this varies from 5,000 kg to 6,000 kg a ha. India has huge cattle wealth: there is one animal for every two persons. Here again productivity is low with respect to milk, wool, mutton, eggs and so on. There is tremendous scope to increase yields. Fisheries in inland water reservoirs and along the 7,000-km seashore holds significant potential. Efforts are needed to boost fisheries on a much wider, scientific scale.

 

Though 22 per cent of the land in India belongs to the Forest Department, nearly half of the forest land has no green cover. Similar is the case with natural resources including biomass and solar, wind and wave power. By developing natural resources, villages could be made self-reliant. And better basic education with contemporary computer literacy and medical facilities could be provided.

 

In villages like Gawadewadi near Pune, Varandh in the Konkan and Zari in Marathwada, Vanarai has achieved reverse migration. Many families have returned to their villages. They now earn better incomes and have a better quality of life in an environment-friendly atmosphere.

 

With due respect, this author disagrees with the opinion of many eminent scientists that India will suffer scarcity of water and food as a result of global warming. All natural resources including manpower in India can be fully developed. There is adequate drinking water and food in India. There cannot be any scarcity. On the contrary, India has the potential to feed other countries also to some extent.

 

The decongestion of cities by the creation of environment-friendly satellite cities, enrichment of villages and reverse migration are the means to save the urban areas and rebuild a clean and green rural India. This calls for vision, determination, unity and resolve on the part of all people.

 

(Mohan Dharia is a former Union Minister and a former Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission. He is the founder-chairman of the Confederation of NGOs in Rural India, and president of the Vanarai Foundation. E-mail: vanaraitrust@rediffmail.com)

 

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THE HINDU

THE "M" FACTOR IN BRITISH POLITICS

HASAN SUROOR

 

If there was a modern-day British version of the Faustian pact it would probably resemble the deal that the ruling party of the day (whether Labour or Conservative) does with Rupert Murdoch who owns some of the country's most powerful media outlets including Sky TV, The Times, The Sunday Times, the News of the World and — most important of them all — the sensation-mongering Sun. As the country's largest-selling newspaper which both reflects and presumes to shape white working class opinion it is seen by political parties as a useful ally to have while chasing "grassroots" votes.

 

In the run-up to every general election it has become a ritual for Labour and the Tories to try and outdo each other in courting the Sun — willing, Faust-like, to mortgage their soul to get its support. On the eve of 1997 elections, Tony Blair famously flew half way round the world to meet Mr. Murdoch to seek his blessings. And, lo and behold, within days the Sun was shining on him —switching support from the Tories to New Labour enabling the paper, later, to claim credit for the party's landslide victory.

 

In return for its backing, Mr. Blair effectively hypothecated his government's policies to the Murdoch press. Much of his Europe agenda, especially the decision to drop the election pledge of a referendum on joining the euro, was driven by his deal with Mr. Murdoch. The Sun's signature was writ large on many of Mr. Blair's domestic policies as well, notably his tough (and often) abusive rhetoric on immigration and Muslim extremism. It is widely believed that even the decision to invade Iraq was first cleared with Mr. Murdoch.

 

In addition, the Murdoch newspapers were pampered by feeding them with exclusive stories with the Sun memorably "scooping," in 2004, the report of the Hutton inquiry into BBC's allegation that Downing Street "sexed up" intelligence to justify invasion of Iraq. (The inquiry absolved the government of any wrongdoing and heavily criticised the BBC.) There was a joke at the time that if the Pope and the Sun's then political editor Trevor Kavanagh were both waiting to see Mr. Blair, he would first ask for Mr. Kavanagh to be sent in!

 

Twelve years later, in the run-up to another crucial election, the Sun has done a 180-degree turn and switched its support back to the Tories after their leader David Cameron persistently wooed Mr. Murdoch. The ditching of Labour has been followed by a series of highly personal attacks on Prime Minister Gordon Brown, including cheap shots at his poor eyesight which has badly affected handwriting. Through much of last week, the Sun's front-page was dominated by Mr. Brown's "error-strewn" letter to the mother of a young soldier killed in Afghanistan. In the end, though, the attacks became so crude that the paper's own loyal readers turned against it forcing it to admit that it mis-read the public mood.

 

Downing Street tried to play down a private telephone conversation between Mr. Brown and Mr. Murdoch over the row but, ironically, ended up confirming what one commentator described as the "successive [British] Prime Ministers' …worst-kept dirty little secret" — namely that they keep in regular touch with Mr. Murdoch. Offering an unintended glimpse of Downing Street's cosy relationship with the media magnate an official spokesman said: "He has regular communications with Rupert Murdoch… There is nothing unusual in the Prime Minister talking to Rupert Murdoch."

 

Meanwhile, there is much speculation about what the Sun has been promised by Tories in return for its support.

The Murdoch empire's wish-list was publicly laid out in a widely discussed speech recently by Mr. Murdoch's son James, Chairman and Chief Executive of his News Corporation. It included curbs on BBC's expansion and licence fee (BBC, you see, is Sky's main competitor); abolition of the media regular Ofcom; and a more friendly regime for pay channels such as Sky.

On all these counts, the Tories' response has been "yes, yes, and yes" with Mr. Cameron promising to freeze the BBC's licence fee, cut Ofcom down to size and abolish unnecessary regulation. Having been there and done it themselves, Labour ministers know what they are talking about when they talk of a "deal" between the Tories and the Sun.

 

Business Secretary Peter Mandelson who — with Mr. Blair and his spin doctor Alastair Campbell — was instrumental in getting the Sun to back New Labour in 1997 must have had his party's own experience in mind when he told BBC: "What the Sun can do for the Conservatives during the election is one part of the contract and, presumably, what the Conservatives can do for the News International (the Murdoch company which owns the Sun) if they are elected is the other side of the bargain."

 

EXAGGERATED CLAIMS

Critics say that politicians — too lazy to try and connect directly with the people — have allowed themselves to fall for the Sun's grossly exaggerated claims about its influence on voters. They point out that in 1997, New Labour was in such a strong position that it would have won anyway, even if the Sun had opposed it. This time, too, the wind had been blowing in the Tories' favour long before the Sun declared its support.

 

The fact is that it is the Sun which, sensing the public mood, has the habit of attaching itself to the potential winner. Perhaps it would have been easier to call its bluff had it not been part of the larger Murdoch media monopoly which has enough nuisance value to make life of any government difficult. And that's the secret of the power of "Murdoch factor" in British politics.

 

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THE HINDU

THE STRANGE DEATH OF ILLEGAL DOWNLOADING

SMALLER, SMARTER COMPANIES ARE SIMPLY OUT-COMPETING ILLEGAL FILESHARING.

VICTOR KEEGAN

 

Stand by for the death of illegal music downloads. It is already gathering pace, being one of the fastest growing — or contracting — activities on the web. It is not happening because of the music industry's rough justice (such as suing customers); nor because of new penalties for people caught downloading illegally — though doubtless they will claim credit.

 

It is happening because of an explosion of new companies offering tracks free, legally, without having to go to peer-to-peer sites and thereby avoiding the risk of getting bogus tracks or viruses. People are flocking to them simply because it is a much easier way of listening to music. None of these sites were started by the music industry, which has diverted energies, until recently, into propping up the ancient regime instead of preparing for the digital revolution. Virtually all of the payments systems for digital music — from iTunes to Nokia's Comes With Music (http://bit.ly/vicmus1) — have come from outside the music industry. What a wasted opportunity.

 

Two of the newbies, Spotify.com and We7.com, alone have gained at least 5 million new users in their first year, mainly people who previously downloaded illegally. They use so called "freemium" business models offering streamed tracks for free if you accept an advert or for nothing if you take out a monthly subscription. We7, a London company which is web-based, gets a lot of traffic from people who don't know it's there — they have found it by typing the name of a track into a search engine. This model could have a bright future as long as the music industry doesn't snuff it out by extracting too much income from licences from each track, something that hinders scaling and worries Spotify and We7. Steve Purdham, CEO of We7, points out that different music services are popping up based on the context in which they operate. He calls his service "better than free" because it is easier than downloading illegally. Other music services launched or in the pipeline include Rdio.com from the founders of Skype, Virgin Media, Sky Songs (http://bit.ly/vicmus2) and mog.com, which plans a $5 a month inclusive service. The moral is simple. We are not thieves, but if a supermarket leaves its doors open and shuts down the tills, it should be unsurprised if people help themselves. The music industry lets illegal downloading thrive because it didn't provide an easy, affordable way to pay. That was left to Apple's iTunes, the likes of Last.fm and now a new generation of sites, which offer music at prices that reflect more fully the near-zero cost of distribution. While the music industry was lamenting that users wouldn't pay for tracks, the same people were paying up to $5 a pop for ringtones on their phones. Why? Because phones have an easy payments system.

 

The music industry still complains of a billion illegal downloads every year, but has yet to prove that any significant economic damage is inflicted on it. This is partly because lots of those who have — and will continue to — illegally download wouldn't be buying them anyway and may not be listening to many of those they do download. It is often easier just to listen to the radio or internet radio (where you can tune into a track playing at that moment anywhere in the world). And some of the heaviest downloaders are the biggest buyers of new music. While the music industry has been complaining — successfully — to the government and the EU Commission that illegal downloads are destroying it, something rather curious has been happening. Are you ready for it? This year is the most successful in the U.K.'s history for singles sales. More than 117m have been sold — comfortably beating the previous record of 115.1m, set in 2008. And this is with Christmas to come. Yet the industry is still belly-aching about illegal downloads. I rest their case.

 © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009

 

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THE HINDU

NEW REALITIES FOR ANCIENT TIMBUKTU

THE AL-QAEDA HAS MOUNTED A STRING OF ATTACKS IN THE ISLAMIC MAGHREB AND THERE IS TALK OF THEM MOVING INTO SOUTHERN SAHARA.

ANDREW HARDING

 

I was standing in a blinding white patch of desert about four hours' drive west of Timbuktu. The air was shimmering appropriately in the heat. The camels were drifting by in their leisurely manner. It all felt suitably remote. Then my mobile phone rang.

 

Modern Mali is a contradictory sort of place. Crumbling mud houses with satellite dishes on the roof. Turbaned Tuareg tribesmen, texting. The small town of Timbuktu sits just above the sluggish brown Niger River, and just below the Sahara desert.

 

To stare out across the dusty rooftops towards the endless dunes, and the silence that rises from them is to feel somehow like you're in the middle of an ocean, rather than a continent. The streets here are made of sand and rubbish. There's one local doctor. No sewage system, and on the western edge of town, Colonel Gaddafi is busy having a rather grand hotel built. Officially this is one of the poorest places on Earth. But it doesn't quite feel that way. There's a quiet pride here — a sense that Timbuktu has not entirely lost touch with its ancient, glorious past, when these same streets were packed with university students, and the first dehydrated European explorers had not yet crossed the desert.

 

SMUGGLING ROUTES

Today, the salt caravans still arrive here from the mines to the north, just like they've done for centuries. A hundred or more camels take three weeks to lurch between oases from the mines of Taoudenni, four huge slabs of crystallised salt strapped to each animal. The miners spend the milder six months of the year scratching the surface of an ancient sea-bed with homemade axes. They live in salt huts, drink salt water, and die young.

 

Near the market in Timbuktu, I met a salt trader called Boujima Handak. He's 49, but looked about 70. Boujima told me he'd been waiting for a month for his latest consignment from the mines. Trouble with the camels? I asked. No, he said. The gearbox had broken. Lorries have started to make the round trip to the mines. They do it in a quarter of the time. In a few short years they've taken over about half the trade.

 

As a young man, Boujima once came so close to dying of thirst in the desert that he had to kill a camel and drink the water still trapped in its body. He shook his head and smiled at the memory. These days the lorry drivers carry satellite phones for emergencies. And now of course, it's not just lorries criss-crossing the Sahara. Smugglers use four-wheel-drives to carry guns, drugs and people to and from Algeria and the Mediterranean coast. The same smugglers' routes are now used by Islamic militants — mostly Algerians at the moment. They hide in the desert, do a little training and increasingly, it seems, try to earn money from kidnapping. As a result the American government is strongly urging its citizens to stay clear of the whole of northern Mali, including Timbuktu. The British government says the town is OK, but not the desert.

 

'CONTAINABLE THREAT'

I had lunch the other day at the house of a local police colonel. The governor of Timbuktu and the imam of the town's stunning 13th century mosque were also invited. The three men argued respectfully about whether or not it would be a good thing if oil were to be discovered in Mali.

Colonel Ascofare, a rather grand 61-year-old, seemed to settle the matter. "It would be a disaster," he declared thoughtfully. "Name me one African country that has benefited from oil. It ruins them. In Nigeria, the petrol costs more than it does here."

As for the terrorism threat, Col. Ascofare nearly choked on his lamb stew. It was, all the men agreed, ridiculous, wildly exaggerated, and very bad for business. The general view here is that the extremists, apparently now signed-up members of the al-Qaeda franchise, are a minor, containable threat. They did assassinate an army officer in Timbuktu in June, but most people think that was something to do with money and internal score-settling. Besides, most of the attacks have taken place in neighbouring countries, or at least deep in the desert.

 

Unsurprisingly though, the tourism industry has been badly hit. The Americans are staying away and numbers are down by nearly half on last year. Halis, our guide and translator, shrugged and tinkered with his blue turban. He was born in the desert. He's not sure when or where. Over the years he has built up a successful tourism business, traded in salt, married an American woman, and stayed put here in Timbuktu.

 

Last night, we all went out by camel to sleep in the desert. After dark, the sky fills up with an almost ridiculous number of stars. Halis passed round some tumblers of mint tea. "When I am away from this place," he said with earnestness, "I think about the desert and I cry."

 

© BBC News/Distributed by the New York Times Syndicate

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

 EDITORIAL

JUST STAND FIRM WITH US, CHINA

 

US President Barack Obama's solicitousness of his Chinese hosts should cause no surprise. Equally, no Indian outrage is called for on account of condescending references in the US-China joint statement to the situation in South Asia. However, insofar as supercilious mention is made in that document of India-Pakistan relations in the context of Kashmir, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be expected to set the record straight when he meets Mr Obama in Washington in a few days' time. But there is no call to froth at the mouth. We need to understand that the Americans are being extra nice to the Chinese because they need China at this juncture. This by no means suggests that remarks of a general nature made in the joint statement are likely to be converted into an operational script by either side. Much that has gone into the statement appears intended to make the Chinese chuffed — no more than that. It's all about dressy drollness, in a sense.

 

Mr Obama's return visit to Beijing ought to be viewed in the light of the changing balance of forces in the world. America can no longer be said to be a hyperpower. Being engaged in two wars simultaneously in Iraq and Afghanistan has taken a toll of its treasure and morale, and the crippling year-long recession from which it is just emerging has debilitated it. So the US is now only a weakened superpower, although still the only one to answer to that description. China, on the other hand, has emerged more or less unscathed from the recession. It has the money to contribute to help the revival of other economies and the credentials to be at the high table that may frame the post-downturn new financial order, if such a move seriously gets underway. But perhaps more than any of this, the Chinese have bailed out the debt-ridden American economy by purchasing one trillion dollars worth of US government bonds.

 

More, Mr Obama calculates that if he is to emerge as a genuinely new-look President — marking out the contrast with his predecessor, and achieve this when he is roughly mid-way through his term — he might need to harness Chinese diplomatic clout in turning the clock back with Iran and North Korea. Both are key objectives for Washington. In the event, Beijing wants payback by way of being treated as the new Moscow as far as appearances go. The US is happy to flatter China's vanity. This costs little.

 

In time, Washington will learn that China can't deliver politically. It doubtless carries clout with Pakistan and North Korea, states that are not deemed normal. But if Beijing helps Washington meet its requirements in these theatres, it may have little political leverage left with the America in this part of the world. As for Iran and Afghanistan, the Chinese are not quite in a position to swing the mood in these countries. Beijing's presumed influence over them is overstated. So, what about Kashmir, then? The Chinese and the Americans need to be informed they are out of jurisdiction, and that they parrot the position of Pakistan, which is not acceptable. Washington will need reminding that all actions carry a price tag. In 1998, President Bill Clinton, then leading a far stronger America, had slammed India on the nuclear and Kashmir questions while visiting China. He was angry with the Indian nuclear tests. But India just looked America in the eye. It was sure of its ground. Dr Manmohan Singh must convey the same élan.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

 EDITORIAL

LEGISLATOR HAAZIR HO!

VOTERS MUST HAVE POWER TO RECALL

SOMNATH CHATTERJEE

 

The recent incident in the Maharashtra Assembly where an aggressive physical effort was made to stop a legislator from taking oath in Hindi was a deliberate attack on the Constitution. We are all free to speak in our mother tongue and take oath in any of the languages included in the Constitution. Seeking to prevent someone from doing that in a place like the state legislature, and that too by physical intervention, was an action that amounted to devaluing the Constitution, which the legislators are supposed to protect.

 

Legislators seem to forget that there is more to winning elections than just enjoying the perquisites. They have a duty towards the Constitution, the nation and the people. The least they can do is to behave properly inside the House. But they are aware that once elected practically nothing can shake them from their position. This is one of the reasons why they begin behaving in a manner highly unbecoming of them.

 

In such a situation, or even otherwise, if a legislator is not seen doing his/her job properly, people should have the right to recall the MLA or MP they elected. I have been saying this for a long time but nobody seems to be in a mood to change the existing law.

 

As it is, the electorate chooses one or another candidate nominated by political parties. So, people practically have no choice. But with the right to recall becoming available, they will have some power that they can exercise on those they elect. Moreover, there are rules for impeaching the President and the vice-president. The legislators can bring no-confidence motions against the government and even against the Speaker. But the legislators, once they are elected, cannot be touched until the next election. Of course, there are rules for expulsion but there are limitations to that. Besides, if a legislator is expelled, the people of his/her constituency are ultimately going to suffer if a replacement is not envisaged.

 

The right to recall has been implemented in various countries — the United States, Canada, Switzerland and some Scandinavian countries, besides a few others. Doubts might be raised over the workability of the system as vested interests may engineer campaigns for recalling a certain legislator by manipulating the popular opinion. To check that, certain safeguards would have to be introduced in the law itself.

 

In the existing systems in the countries indicated above, a certain minimum percentage of people —from every segment of the constituency — should be in favour of recalling the candidate. Without this the process cannot be initiated. But the final question is whether the legislators themselves are willing to let go whatever advantages they feel they have in the current set-up.

 

Somnath Chatterjee is a former Lok Sabha Speaker

***

 

It's a good idea, but it won't work

 

The idea of right to recall is a good and romantic idea which is not applicable in our current system.

 

To begin with, our system does not leave scope for recall. We have a "first past the post" system and more than one thousand political parties. In such a scenario, a candidate is often elected by a minority of votes. This could be as little as five or seven per cent of the total votes cast, not to speak of the total number of registered votes in his constituency.

This would suggest that something like 95 per cent of voters were against the winning candidate. By definition, the right to recall involves a certain minimum percentage of people saying that they are not in favour of a certain candidate continuing in office.

 

In our system, clearly, that situation becomes a reality the moment a candidate gets elected since the winner often represents a very small per cent of the votes cast. Going by this logic, a large number of candidates would be fit cases for being recalled. In other words, the "representative legitimacy" of our elected candidates is often seriously in doubt.

 

Another reason which makes this idea less than practical is the fact that we have very large constituencies. This leaves huge scope for variations and manipulations. We must remember that while we imported the "first past the post system" from Britain, we have not been able to evolve a two-party system which, if implemented, would have made the idea of right to recall more amenable for implementation. A two-party system is almost a must for the right to recall being effective on the ground. The winner in this system does not suffer from low votes.

 

There could be two solutions to the problem of legislators either not performing as per people's expectations or resorting to activities like the one seen recently in the Maharashtra Assembly. Either we change the Constitution and follow the United Kingdom model or of other European countries. Else, we must be more honest and show more integrity in our conduct.

 

If vested interests are involved, no system will work properly. In the case of office of profit bill, for instance, the rules were changed with retrospective effect from 1959 to allow certain individuals carrying on with their public offices along with other positions of profit.

 

If we begin re-adjusting the laws in such a manner, then any system we introduce will be fraught with the risk of being manipulated.

 

Also, the right to recall, by its very nature, functions better in smaller democracies or in places where constituencies are smaller in size.

 

Subhash Kashyap is former secretary-general, Lok Sabha

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPED

MINORITY REPORT

BY NITISH SENGUPTA

 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's castigation of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) on October 29 for their audacity in appointing an interlocutor for the India and Pakistan dispute over Kashmir was very timely and appropriate. The OIC does not seem to understand that India is a country with a Muslim population of over 151 million, the third-largest Muslim community in the world after Indonesia and Bangladesh, and that Pakistan, a country with a much smaller Muslim population, does not really have any locus standi as far as Kashmir is concerned.

 

To project India's case on the Kashmir issue, one needn't go into the history of Kashmir. Just citing the previous United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan's announcement several years ago that the UN resolutions of 1949-50 on Kashmir are not valid in today's context, is enough. For some strange, unexplained reason, the Indian foreign office has not made use of this extremely significant statement.

 

In this connection one has to painfully admit that in the last two decades India has failed to counter Pakistan's propaganda in some of the orthodox Muslim countries, especially Saudi Arabia, and been unable to project itself as the home of 151 million Muslims. Public opinion about India in most Muslim countries, except maybe Indonesia, Turkey and Bangladesh, has become a victim of Pakistan's propaganda which day in and day out spreads the canard that Muslims in India are persecuted, and that their rights and privileges are seriously curtailed. Unfortunately, this is also the general belief of a number of Pakistanis. It was not so always, but has unfortunately become so in the past two decades, especially from the time of Zia-ul-Haq and his anti-Indian tirade.

 

India needs to seriously counter this vicious propaganda and project the truth. Public opinion in orthodox Muslim countries must be won over and Pakistan's bluff called. How one misses an Arab leader like Saddam Hussein at such a time; he was a strong supporter of India on all issues, including Kashmir.

 

One also needs to remember that in 1971 a very important geo-political change took place in the subcontinent. Bangladesh, with a large Muslim population, seceded from Pakistan after an armed struggle and became the People's Republic of Bangladesh. Thus, Pakistan lost its moral claim of being the champion of Muslims in the subcontinent under the legacy of the 1947 Partition. So how can Pakistan then claim any moral right to Jammu and Kashmir vis-à-vis India?

 

Since 1947 there have been four armed clashes between Pakistan and India over Kashmir. In 1971, the Pakistan Army was decisively beaten, both on the western and eastern fronts. But not only did India not press her advantage at the bilateral discussion at Shimla in 1972, it also agreed to return 93,000 prisoners of war and all territory seized from Pakistan without any conditions. This remains a unique event in world history. The correct quid pro quo would have been for Pakistan to give up all claims to Kashmir, or at least agreeing to the ceasefire line or the Line of Control between the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir. But, in its generosity, the Indian government did not press these points and decided to trust Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Thereafter, Pakistan did not raise the Kashmir issue for two decades.

 

It was during the National Democratic Alliance regime that India allowed Pervez Musharraf, on a visit to India, to raise the Kashmir issue after recognising him as Pakistan's President. Kashmir returned to the discussion table once again, that too at a time when Pakistan was sending terrorists to India, not only from Pakistan but also from Chechnya, Afghanistan and Sudan.

Kashmir was already in turmoil, 1989 onwards, as a result of political mishandling by successive governments in New Delhi. Terrorism had gained new ground and had a clear-cut agenda of ethnic cleansing, in the course of which the Pandit community was by and large compelled to leave the Valley. Mufti Muhammad Sayeed's period as Union home minister was particularly bad, and it was complicated further by George Fernandes serving as minister for Kashmir affairs, the two working at cross purposes.

 

India needs to do a great deal in her external publicity programme, especially to counter Pakistan's propaganda on the condition of Muslims in India. If some of the utterances by the captured "jihadis" are any guide, it is clear that they genuinely believe that the condition of Muslims in India is pitiable, that they are constantly persecuted, harassed and humiliated. While there are deeply unfortunate and shameful events like the Babri Masjid demolition, followed by the Mumbai riots of 1992 and the riots in Gujarat in 2002, these are exceptions, not the rule. Most Indian Muslims would agree that barring these, they live a life of dignity like all Indians. That they have equal rights and freedoms — political, social and religious. One need not go into the statistically-flawed and politically-prejudiced Sachar Commission report which sought to determine the status of Muslims in India only with reference to the number of jobs they hold in the government vis-à-vis the upper classes among Hindus, excluding the dalits.

 

The fact is that Muslims have made a remarkable mark in India, especially in businesses and professions. Nothing illustrates this better than Bollywood where they occupy a dominant position, as superstars, technicians and musicians. It is time some of our prominent Indian Muslims take the initiative in counteracting Pakistan's propaganda, and project the truth. A special responsibility rests on the Bollywood community. If some of them, say like the Khan trio, do some plain speaking, especially directed at Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, one can expect these countries to change their attitudes towards India considerably. One recalls the televised tête-à-tête that the late actor Feroze Khan had with Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan — he criticised Pakistani society, praised India, and said that he was longing to return to India to live an honourable life as a free citizen.

 

A lot of responsibility rests with progressive Indian Muslims, intellectuals, artists and politicians as well to disseminate the truth: that India has a large Muslim population of 151 million, and that Indian Muslims, therefore, have a natural interest in seeing that Jammu and Kashmir remains in India. It is only by conscious reorientation of India's PR machinery abroad that we can influence public opinion in some Muslim countries. Once this is done, it will surely be reflected in organisations like the OIC.

 

Nitish Sengupta, an academic and an author, is a former Member of Parliament and a former secretary to the Government of India

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPED

I BELIEVE IN PUJAS

NIKHIL DWIVEDI

 

God to me is happiness and peace of mind. I feel whatever I do gets noticed by God. It is like a relationship between a father and son. When I do something good, I can feel Him smiling at me. When I do something bad, I know He wants to punish me for it. I feel His presence everywhere. Be it smiles, tears, happiness or loneliness, He is watching all our emotions.

 

I am not superstitious, but I do believe in performing pujas on special occasions. I feel He bestows His blessings if we perform a puja before starting anything new in life.

 

He is the supreme power and you don't need to follow a particular religion to communicate with Him. God and religion are completely different entities. I'm a firm believer in karma. Whatever happens in our life is because of our good or bad deeds. I believe in the Gayatri Mantra. Whenever I feel scared or lonely I recite Gayatri Mantra at least thrice and feel confident and happy from within.

 

I don't pray everyday or fast, but I feel the presence of God around me all the time. I believe whatever happens, happens for good.

 

(As told to Shruti Badyal)

 

Nikhil Dwivedi is a Bollywood actor

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

COLUMN

LEBANON: A TWO-ACT TRAGEDY IN WEST ASIA

BY S. NIHAL SINGH

 

If Lebanon is the weathervane of the Middle East (what we call West Asia), does the formation of a government after five months of post-election wrangling portend a hopeful sign despite the gloom induced by President Barack Obama's failure to move Israel? Hazarding a guess in a region littered with landmines is a risky business, but the Opposition Hezbollah movement's agreement to join the government of Saad Hariri and accepting two Cabinet berths, is an indication that the Opposition is prepared to mark time while it awaits what the future brings.

 

By seeking to tackle the seminal Israeli-Palestinian confrontation head-on at the beginning of his term, President Obama's rude rebuff by Israel on freezing settlements has essentially resulted in an impasse. The Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has had to offer resignation from the Palestinian Authority because he was placed in an impossible situation. The pretence of a peace process that has not existed for years rings hollow. And Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking to draw attention away from the consequences of snubbing his benefactor and protector by casting around for a lifeline from Syria on the occupied Golan Heights.

 

Lebanon has always been buffeted by its neighbours and more distant powers as they settle scores among themselves. The Hezbollah movement was born out of Israel's invasion of the country in the 80s, and the 34-day Israeli offensive in 2006 flattening south Lebanon, resulting in 1,000 Lebanese deaths, mostly of civilians, led to a stalemate and made heroes of the movement. Arabs have always lost the wars they have fought with Israel, and for a supposedly ragtag guerrilla movement to fight the mighty Israeli war machine to a standstill was a signal achievement.

 

One consequence of the 2006 war was that Hezbollah secured a veto over government decisions in Beirut. And the five months of wrangling to form a national unity government by Mr Hariri was really a struggle over the terms Hezbollah would agree to coexist with the pro-US and pro-Saudi March 14 alliance, named after the Cedar revolution, for the time being. Mr Hariri's father Rafiq, the long-time Prime Minister and father of rebuilding Beirut on the ruins of the 1975-90 civil war, was assassinated in 2005 leading to the marshalling of pro and anti-Syrian demonstrations. The latter won, Syrian troops withdrew from Lebanon after 29 years and son Hariri's alliance of Sunni Muslims and Maronite Christians won 71 seats to the Opposition's 57. Hezbollah was allied with the Shia Amal movement and the Christian faction led by former General Michel Aoun.

 

Government positions are carefully parcelled out to the different factions based on religious persuasion. The President must be a Maronite Christian and the process of honing in on Michel Suleiman, the former Chief of Army staff, took much time. The Prime Minister is a Sunni Muslim, the Speaker of the National Assembly is a Shia. The percentages have been shuffled once in favour of Sunni Muslims to reflect the changing demography, but nobody is talking about another exercise in apportioning power by downgrading Christians further because the issue is too explosive.

 

The tragedy of the Middle East, being played out every day, is marked by two Lebanese events, the suicidal 15-year civil war and the murder of Rafiq Hariri. The latter led to the crystallisation of two opposing forces, the pro-Western and status quo movement and the Hezbollah seeking a new regional order, and a United Nations investigation into the assassination, culminating in the hearings at The Hague. In fact, the court's order to release four pro-Syrian generals because of insufficient evidence is a morale boost for Damascus, widely blamed in Lebanon for the Rafiq killing.

Indeed, the assassination of Rafiq Hariri was a body blow at Lebanon for a weighty reason. A self-made billionaire, he was close to Saudi Arabia and had the credibility and heft to marshal substantial funds for rebuilding Beirut. The gleaming and modern city centre, which I saw during my last visit, is a monument to a unique leader. It was his vision to restore Beirut to its pre-civil war glory of the acclaimed Paris of the East. And before the last turmoil caused by the Israeli invasion, Lebanon was returning to find favour with Arab potentates and common folk for its spectacular charms of sea and mountains.

 

How Lebanon's latest attempt at unity will work depends, in large part, on regional currents. Despite Syria's withdrawal of troops from Lebanon, it continues to exercise considerable influence on Lebanese affairs. Both Syria and Iran support Hezbollah in different ways although the Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has developed a cult following in the Arab world after frustrating the aims of the Israeli military offensive of 2006.

 

In a sense, Israel is now fighting with its back to the wall because it simply cannot afford publicly to insult the US President and prosper in the region. Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad has thrown a morsel in the French way in seeking a greater French role in the region. But it is unlikely that Damascus will fall for the Israeli bait of negotiations without preconditions, without securing all of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

 

How Prime Minister Saad Hariri steers Lebanon through these treacherous waters remains to be seen, but much will depend upon the future American role. The Obama administration has now to rebuild its regional strategy between the ruins of its policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and foundering hopes on a deal with Iran on its nuclear programme. Both the US and Israel have been seeking to wean away Syria from Iran without paying the price of Israel leaving the occupied Golan Heights. Despite its domestic turmoil, Tehran feels it is sitting pretty, with the majority Shias in command in neighbouring Iraq and the failure of President Obama's charm offensive in Israel, in the latter case the tail wagging the dog.

 

Left alone, Lebanon can reclaim its lost glory as a tourist haven for repressed Arab societies. But that is a precious condition the country cannot aspire to. The best Mr Hariri can achieve is to balance opposing forces in a manner that leaves him some room to take his nation forward. Lebanon can never be a Switzerland because the Middle East is not Europe.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

LIVING LONGER

 

Bangalore: Is it possible to live longer with a positive outlook? American researchers from the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at Yale University have found that it is. Their study was made up of 660 participants aged 50 and above found that individuals with a positive outlook lived up to 7.5 years longer than those who did not.

 

A positive attitude will not only help in enhancing the quality of your life, but also the length of it. Don't just exist. Live.

 

Dr Herbert Benson, an associate professor at the Harvard Medical School, says that positive thinking can bring about biochemical, molecular and physiological changes in the body that help treat stressful conditions.

 

You'll notice that positive people are healthier. This is because their attitude increases the white blood cell count in their body, boosting their immune system to battle infection and disease. Negative thinkers, on the other hand, are skirting with danger as they risk themselves to a host of diseases such as cancer, coronary heart disease, depression, high blood pressure and diabetes. Gloomy people have cells that age comparatively rapidly as well.

 

Another recent research by the Women's Health Initiative shows that women with a positive attitude had 14% less chances of dying of any disease, and 9% lower chances of getting heart disease. They also had a higher chance of living longer than pessimistic women.

 

One can develop a positive attitude by making a conscious effort. We ourselves determine and choose our attitudes. If we choose a positive one to herald our lives, we enjoy unlimited success, vitality, energy, fantastic relationships, love for everything around, and above all, we become an inspiring figure. Positive people are like magnets. They are potential leaders and motivators. Positivism is contagious.

 

We often tend to negatively interpret others' action or inaction; instead try and interpret them positively. Some have a belief system that the world is out to get them. Start with positive assumptions. If someone didn't return your call, it doesn't imply that they care less. Maybe it just skipped their busy mind.

 

Many a time, we get disappointed when we do things for others, and find that they aren't grateful or don't reciprocate. Do something because you want to give a little bit of yourself and not because you want something in return.


Ramesh Menon is a journalist and corporate trainer.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

PLAYING IT SAFE

 

The inner churning in the Bharatiya Janata Party since the loss of the Lok Sabha elections earlier this year has thrown up a number of startling events – expulsions, mini-revolts, interventions — but very little, it appears, of the much promised "introspection". The general dissatisfaction with both party president Rajnath Singh and party leader LK Advani, who is also leader of Opposition, remained, especially after Vasundhara Raje was forced to step down as leader of the BJP legislature party in Rajasthan after she lost the assembly elections this year.

Finally, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh was forced to step in and Mohan Bhagwat not only managed to quell the dissidence for now but also indicated that a new party president who did not belong to the expected list, would have to be found. Nitin Gadkari then is the surprise name doing the rounds. From Maharashtra's Vidarbha district, he is a low key leader who is known for his organisational skills and made some name for himself as urban development minister when the Shiv Sena-BJP were in power in the state. It was not easy for him to emerge out of the shadow of the Pramod Mahajan-Gopinath Munde clique which ran Maharashtra.


It shows that in spite of Gadkari  having no national presence and being unable to steer the party to victory in Maharashtra, the party found itself in a position where they had to pick someone like him. They could not go with the usual suspects like Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and Venkaiah Naidu because most of them had already played their hands and were too deeply involved in the top level politicking going on.


Bhagwat's solution was to find someone outside Delhi. A leader like Narendra Modi is too precious in Gujarat at this time, given that it is the one state where the BJP is still somewhat secure. Gadkari then is a non-controversial politician with some track record but little national presence, a bland choice to tone down the hysteria. He is also reputed to beaccommodating and practical.


The BJP may try to put up a brave public face but the fact remains that the RSS has made it obvious who is pulling the strings. All the losers in this round will be back in the ring once they stop licking their wounds. The party may have found an anodyne answer; the question is whether it will be enough.

 

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DNA

COLUMN

COPENHAGEN CAPERS

 

The Copenhagen climate summit to be held in the Danish capital in the second week of December seems to be heading for a crash landing, with both the developed and developing countries unable to reach an agreement. Danish prime minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen has suggested a politically and not a legally binding agreement.


Stalemate at Copenhagen would not mean the end of the world, but it means that even on issues where there is a consensus — everyone who counts in the poor as well as rich countries is agreed that there is a climate crisis which cannot be ignored — the willingness to work together is missing.


While this is to be decried, there is no wishing away the harsh reality that political leaders do not have the support of their people to take major decisions. This is so because not enough has been done to educate the general public. What the green activists have managed to do is to place the climate issue on the global agenda. The next step lies with the politicians to take it to the people.


The poor countries argue that the rich countries which have been the main polluters should help the others with financial aid and technology to change to green technologies and achieve curbs on carbon emissions. The rich want the rest of the world, especially emerging economies like China and India, to share the burden of transiting to an international green regime.


US president Barack Obama's statement that even the politically binding agreement to be reached at Copenhagen should become immediately operative does not sound convincing. The leaders of the world it would seem are not able to look beyond their political compulsions. This is not to deny or decry them.

 

The harsh truth is that there is a fear in both rich and poor countries that curbs on carbon emissions would mean curbs on economic growth. This triggers the fear in the rich countries that they would lose their affluence, and in the poor countries that they can never leave their poverty behind.


What the leaders and their army of scientific advisers will have to do is to find a way to explain that an environment-friendly economic growth would create more jobs and not less and that it is ensures sustainable development. The issue of climate has to be turned into one of economic wellbeing, which is understood by all rather than an intangible apocalypse. Once the people understand the issue, the politicians will fall in line.

 

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DNA

CRACK THE LANGUAGE CODE

E RAGHAVAN

 

In the early 1980s, the then leader of the Congress parliamentary party CM Stephen had circulated a note at one of his frequent press conferences. The note, in English, caused a reporter of a Hindi paper to politely suggest to Stephen that he should consider preparing such notes in the national language. "Sure", he said without batting an eyelid. "It will be in Malayalam next time". His remark unsettled the Hindi proponent who did not know how to react.


The Congress leader did not follow through with his promise and those of us who covered that beat had the benefit of reading the stuff the party put out in English. But the issue that the journalist raised then, and the way different leaders react to that kind of a suggestion, still leaves the question — what is our national language? — unsettled. The answer can be varied depending on whether you are a Hindiwala or not.


For those who come from the Hindi heartland, Hindi, of course, is the national language even though, for the rest of us, it is only an official language. English, with which they may at best have a working familiarity, is a global language, not national, even if it is also an official language. Languages other than Hindi are local, not national again.


And that is why language as an issue has continued to remain in focus from the time of Jawaharlal Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri. It gains some currency and concern once in a while, like when members of the MNS in the Maharashtra Assembly caused a ruckus over another member taking the oath in Hindi and not Marathi.

While in Maharashtra the issue has acquired another dimension — the dignity of the Marathi manoos — language has become a symbol of sub- regionalism in non-Hindi states to such an extent that the line between regionalism and parochialism is blurring. Whatever the dictionary meaning of these two words, the first represents a broader positive characteristic of pride in the language, culture and ethos of the region, while the latter, parochialism, is seen as being narrow and prejudiced. Often, there is quite a bit of confusion between the two and of late the prejudiced version, as was evident in Maharashtra, has come to represent sub-regionalism. Even Sachin Tendulkar was upbraided by ageing Shiv Sena supremo Balasaheb for claiming that he is a proud Maharashtrian, but an Indian first, and that Mumbai belonged to the country, not just Maharashtra.


Quite apart from fringe political parties and forces that thrive on the distinction between the local and the non-local, social activists and writers in local languages too seem to see language as the visible face of that sub-regionalism. That is why even a demand for jobs for locals takes on a linguistic hue, though there may be no question of cultural identity involved in those jobs.


The MNSs of the world are definitely wrong. There is no question about that; but their side of the story deserves some consideration too. In Bangalore, for instance, you can find non-locals, who are not temporary migrants but have made this their home, in many cases for more than a decade, not only managing to get along without a knowledge of the local language but actually taking pride in their inability to do so. Try that in Chennai or Trivandrum: you will find that you simply cannot get along even for a few weeks.


In Bangalore, like in Mumbai, the resentment against non-locals for their disinclination, even refusal, to integrate with the local cultural ethos, seen first in whether they try to learn Kannada or not, may become sharper.

A large part of this problem is economic. The locals seem to nurse a grievance that the non-locals have somehow cornered all the economic advantages the city offers; better jobs and better living standards. That is a perception more than reality. It is becoming a bit of reality because even low end jobs — masonry and carpentry — are increasingly taken over by those from the Hindi heartland. Those who need such services in fact prefer north Indian labour because they seem to have a relatively better work ethic and they are certainly less expensive.

This trend is quite contrary to what one witnessed in the first four decades after the country achieved its independence. In those decades it was usually the high-end and highly skilled jobs that drew migrants from all over the country to the city. Post liberalisation, when the labour market for knowledge workers exploded in the city and drew migrants in lakhs, no one complained because other services that supported the knowledge industry grew in the same proportion and offered opportunities for the less skilled at the lower end of the market.

Competition in this space and the reluctance of migrants to merge with the local landscape compounds the problem. The solution lies in those who make the city their home at least making an attempt to adapt to the local milieu. The most obvious is to learn a bit more than asking the locals to swalpa adjust maadi.

 

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DNA

PHYSICIAN, HEAL THYSELF

  

When the high priests have lost their sanctity and seminaries multiply without vision, it is time for a reformation in the temples of healing.


The Medical Council of India (MCI) is the oldest autonomous professional regulatory body in India, established by Act of Parliament in 1934. It is authorised to regulate the selection, training and certification of our future physicians and their competence and ethical behaviour when they become our care givers. But when we are told, for example, that an Indian woman is ten times more likely to die in childbirth than her counterpart in China, or 16 times more than in Russia, we cannot help wondering how well the MCI is fulfilling this regulatory authority.


A critical look at the MCI, and its siblings: At present, we have separate regulatory bodies for each of the health related professions such as medicine, nursing, and allied health sciences. They have gone their separate ways sometimes pulling in different, if not opposite, directions. The result is the present gross imbalance in the development of human resources among the different health professions. There is little synergy among these professions in resolving the health care crisis in the country. 


The rampant illegal payments for admission to private colleges of these professions continue to shock the public. Behind it, there are recurrent allegations of lapses in the initial recognition and continued oversight of new colleges. Our primary and secondary level health centres languish due to shortage or default of doctors and other health professionals, which is greatly responsible for the maternal mortality mentioned above. There is severe shortage of medical specialists as well. MCI has been so remiss in disciplining the profession that this once noble profession had to be brought under the Consumer Protection Act. Suffice it to say that there has been progressive loss of confidence in the efficiency, integrity, sagacity and social commitment of the MCI and the other councils. 


It is in this context that UPA government has made a radical proposal for replacing these councils with an "overarching" National Council for Human Resources in Health (NCHRH). We all have good reason to take a close look at this proposal. The legitimate concerns of individual professions are to be safeguarded by having separate sections under the National Council for each of the professions.


The other major change is the proposal to do away with the present jumbo sized inefficient councils, mainly made up of elected representatives from each profession. The sad truth is that these revered and so-called noble professions have failed in self-regulation. So it is proposed that the National Council is made up of just five members nominated by an appropriate collegium. 


In the present proposals, the government can give directions to the National Council only where national policy is involved. This safeguards the autonomy and independence of the regulatory body. There is a welcome emphasis on all-India standardisation of qualifications and accreditation through national exit examinations. In order to overcome the severe shortage of specialists, a pattern of specialist training similar to that in the US is proposed.

The way forward: These proposals are not perfect. But they can be built upon to bring about a well-conceived reformation. To avoid undue concentration of power and ensure a wide range of necessary expertise, the proposed five member NCHRH could be enlarged to seven or nine full time members. Apart from educational and professional expertise and organisational competence, a sound reputation for incorruptibility must be a basic requirement for the selection.

Traditionally professional councils are set up to promote the welfare and progress of the concerned professions and professional education to that end, along with professional propriety. But in the case of the health professions and sciences, the very raison d'etre for privileging them in a special way is their crucial importance to the health and well-being of the public. So the proposed NCHRH must include persons with proven track record in two hitherto neglected areas: advocacy for the interests of patients and promotion of a universally accessible and effective health care system. 


One singular failure of the present proposals is in perpetuating the bankrupt system for self-disciplining of the professionals, through elected boards from among themselves. The new disciplinary bodies must be so constituted that they will impartially and firmly discipline the professionals in matters of incompetence, negligence and unethical practices, all of which we encounter in our daily lives.


It is inevitable that such a startling restructuring of a venerable edifice will be firmly resisted by privileged interests. But the piteous state of the nation's healthcare demands a thorough reform of the regulation of health related professions.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

LIMITS OF POWER

EACH ORGAN OF STATE HAS A MARKED ROLE

 

THE Supreme Court has a ticklish issue on its plate. Justice Markandey Katju and Justice Asok Kumar Ganguly of the Supreme Court have ruled that a Constitution Bench should examine whether courts can frame laws to address pressing social problems. While hearing a petition of students of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, who questioned a September 2006 apex court order for implementation of the J.M. Lyngdoh Committee recommendations on reforming students' union elections, the judges raised three questions of vital constitutional importance. These are, the separation of powers of the different organs of the state under the Indian Constitution; the validity of judicial legislation and, if it is at all permissible, its limits; and the validity of and limits of judicial activism and the need for judicial restraint. These issues have in the past divided the highest court as brought out by a Tribune debate — Judges vs Judges — last year.

 

Over the years, the courts have issued directions on important issues ranging from introducing CNG buses in New Delhi to tackling sexual harassment at workplaces. In Visakha vs State of Rajasthan (1997), the apex court has issued various directives and ruled that these will be treated as a law under Article 141 of the Constitution until Parliament enacts a law on the subject. Though this remains a law today and Parliament is yet to act, the question remains: whether the court can convert itself into an "interim Parliament" and make law until Parliament enacts a law on the subject.

 

Significantly, the doctrine of separation of powers is integral to the Constitution. It is a concept that is fundamental to the idea of a popular democracy which functions on the basis of this doctrine among the three organs of the state — the legislature, the executive and the judiciary with their respective fields clearly delineated. Problems arise if any one organ oversteps its limits. As Parliament (or the state legislatures) is the chief repository of people's will, its members alone can enact laws to govern the nation (or the state). While the judiciary can punish those violating these laws and even quash bad laws, the question has arisen whether it can also frame laws. If the legislature and the executive have failed in their areas of operation, an over-powering judiciary is not the solution as this would erode the principle of the separation of powers. Many judgements of the Supreme Court have in the past, particularly on economic and social questions, have extended the reach of the judiciary, making things uncomfortable for the politicians who constitute the legislature. Often Parliament vs judiciary issues have marked their relationship over the years. Since many questions have come to the fore, let the Constitution Bench examine them and interpret the Constitution.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

A MATTER OF CONCERN

OBAMA HAS GIVEN AWAY A LOT ON S. ASIA

 

India has reason to be angry and disappointed by US President Barack Obama's outrageous granting of a monitoring role to China in South Asia, particularly between India and Pakistan, during his official visit to Beijing. If, as is being speculated, it was Chinese concessions on North Korean and Iranian nuclear issues that impelled the US to give China a role in the region, it nevertheless goes against Indian interests which necessitated a strong New Delhi reaction. India has consistently opposed any third-party intervention in Indo-Pakistan relations and it is appropriate that the official spokesperson has reiterated that a third-country role cannot be envisaged. The joint statement issued by President Obama and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao also provides for a bigger role for China in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This too cannot but rankle India considering that this country has been at the receiving end of a dangerous China-Pak nexus for long. If the Chinese are allowed to have their way they would undermine the authority of the Karzai regime in Kabul and could be more in tune with Pakistani interests. It is difficult to imagine that the US would be so gullible as to overturn its own well-thought-out position.

 

President Obama's new stand on an enhanced Chinese role in the South Asian region flies in the face of the views that US foreign policy experts have held for long that the US would not acquiesce in a future Chinese hegemony in the region. The edifice of a strong Indo-US strategic relationship in a way has somewhat got undermined by the outcome of the Obama visit to Beijing. It is yet too early to surmise that the US has abandoned its time-tested policy but the signs emerging from the Beijing summit are hardly reassuring for India.

 

With the forthcoming Obama-Manmohan Singh meeting in Washington, it is to be hoped that the US would allay Indian concerns against a greater role for China in South Asia which could prove dangerous for the region and the world.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

HIGHLY CORRUPT

INDIA HAS A ROTTEN REPUTATION

 

IT is a matter of shame for India that it still continues to be perceived as "highly corrupt" by global experts and business surveys. Transparency International has ranked it 84th among the 180 countries surveyed on a composite index drawing on 13 different expert and business surveys. Its score is a lowly 3.4, below other developing economies like Brazil (3.7) and China (3.6). If it tries to draw solace from the fact that Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Maldives and Sri Lanka have fared even worse, it should do a reality check and remember that the neighbouring Bhutan has a much better image with a score of 5.0. Nor is it any consolation that in the previous year, its score was 3.5. It should have improved much faster.

 

So, what is the reason behind this stigma? Simple. Corruption is indeed the order of the day. Its public officials and politicians have worked hard to spoil the image of the country. The malady has seeped so far upwards that the agencies supposed to keep a check on corruption seem to have thrown up their hands in despair out of sheer helplessness. With big fish having a free run, even the small fries feel encouraged to devise means to escape the net and the country continues to go in the direction of those like Haiti, Iraq, Myanmar and Somalia instead of clean states like New Zealand, Denmark and Singapore.

 

Some think that since the foreign direct investment is still pouring in, one should not be too bothered about what the rest of the world thinks about us. What is totally forgotten is that the money comes in only because India is perceived as a developing country from where good returns on the investment can be obtained. The inflow would have been far higher if only it did not have such a unsavoury reputation. An emerging economic power of the 21st century India cannot afford to carry the baggage of this kind of reputation.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

PRICE RISE IS ALARMING

ENSURE FOOD ITEMS AT REASONABLE RATES

BY JAYSHREE SENGUPTA

 

FOOD prices are going up sharply as anyone doing daily shopping for the household must know. All agricultural goods and allied semi-processed food items have shot up by 20 per cent in the last one month. Apparently, there is going to be no relief from the situation in the near future, and the government is awaiting the rabi crop which it expects to be good. More supply will be ensured by three to four months. Meanwhile, the price rise may continue.

 

Clearly, the rise in food prices, especially those of wheat, rice and sugar, shows that agricultural growth has been lower than expected. It is now well established that there has been a marked shortfall in the kharif crop and there has been a fall in the production of rice, wheat and sugarcane. In foodgrains alone, the shortfall has been 18 per cent. There has also been a lack of contingency planning regarding rice imports to cushion the price rise, especially for the vulnerable sections.

 

Support prices were raised in the last season and the Centre also fixed higher open market price for wheat and that is why the market prices are up so much today. Even if imports had been timely, there would still have been a rise in foodgrain prices, but since there has not been a substantial increase in the supply of wheat, rice and other essential food items, prices are climbing up every week.

 

With food prices being so high, it is not only hard on the average household budget but it also means that the

average household will be spending less on other consumer items. It would mean that the demand for industrial goods would stagnate or decline. The recent spurt in industrial growth in September may be good news, but consumer demand has to grow to sustain it. Industrial growth would also depend on export growth, which for the 12th consecutive month, has been falling. There has been hope among exporters that garments and textile exports would pick up but the latest news of corporate bankruptcies in the US has dampened that expectation because it is likely to affect the demand for Indian consumer goods. Even China is facing slack domestic demand because people, after having lost their jobs due to the global crisis, have started saving more when they have got back their jobs and spend less on consumer goods. The rise in the savings rate is not considered a good omen for the continuation of high industrial growth even in China.

 

All over the world people are saving more and spending less, especially in the western countries. In India, many companies are sitting on mountains of cash and are withholding investment because they are not sure whether to invest in capacity expansion or not. And due to the global crisis there are fewer opportunities for investing abroad. In addition, they are neither sure about future export trends nor of domestic demand expansion. Credit offtake from banks has dropped to single digit levels after 12 years and is a sure sign that demand is not picking up. Inflation will make people hold back their spending on non-food items of expenditure like white goods and other consumer durables.

 

Private investment, which is extremely important for high GDP growth, is thus likely to stagnate for sometime. The present crisis will come to a head if to control inflation the Reserve Bank of India raises interest rates which would result in a sudden shrinkage in investment prospects of private industry. The growth rate is bound to suffer as the investment pace slows down and if we add to it the slowdown in agricultural growth by as much as 6 per cent, it would be more realistic to hope for 5 per cent GDP growth rate for India.

 

The "aam admi" or the ordinary person, meanwhile, will have to live on the hope that the inflationary spiral of food prices would come down within three or four months. Some emergency measures that would assure the supply of essential food items at reasonable prices to low income groups would have to be taken by the government. This would add to the government's expenditure, which has been bloated after the stimulus package.

 

The world is now depending on various stimulus packages to prevent economies from collapsing. It will be quite a disaster to withdraw the Indian stimulus package. In fact, it would have to be enhanced in areas where armed conflict is taking place, especially in job creation and social infrastructure. In this context, the extension of NREGA in the Naxalite-infested areas would yield high dividends.

 

The government has pledged austerity and is trying hard to reduce the fiscal deficit because a long-term rise in

fiscal deficit is unsustainable and will lead to an inflationary spiral. It is contemplating withdrawal of some subsidies which again may lead to a price rise in the case of cooking gas and petrol.

 

In any case, the government will have to keep up the spending and create infrastructure and give jobs to people who have been affected by the global crisis. For continuing industrialisation in the countryside, investment in infrastructure is badly needed. This is because the driver of high growth in the past has been the service sector, which has been adversely affected by the global financial crisis. Not only has the outsourcing industry been affected but also the hospitality, airlines, media and transport sectors. Idle capacity, unemployment and huge losses are a regular feature of the service sector industries. To catch up with China, the industrial sector has to be nurtured and for it to be able to produce in a competitive manner, infrastructure has to be improved. The government also has little policy option regarding looking after the welfare of the lower income groups of the population.

 

And even though the Indian population, which is below the poverty line, has been decreasing over the years, in terms of absolute numbers it is huge and much higher than China's. For increasing the welfare of the common man and woman, the main item of concern should be food prices as their nutrition depends upon it. Most importantly, children should not be malnourished.

 

How can an average income earner, say of Rs 3000 a month feed his children in urban India? Even dal is beyond the reach of many. The children who are malnourished will grow up deformed and deficient in many ways and would not be able to reach their full brain potential. They will grow to be a fatigued and diseased labour force, which will again put India at a huge disadvantage against China's well-fed and well-trained labour force. All other things can wait but not food, which again poses an important question about priority. Shouldn't the government act immediately and bring about relief in the lives of the low-income people?

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

CYCLING IN CHICAGO

BY RAJNISH WATTAS

 

THE last time I rode a bicycle  was about 35 years ago as a college student. That is not counting the occasional, impulsive jaunts on the dhobi's or the mali's rickety, old bike. Those  sturdy work  horses in black steel of those times hardly ever underwent any changes in their basic design in the days of my youth.

 

And now while holidaying in Chicago the cycle of life seems to have caught up. On my evening strolls to the nearby   bike trail along Lake Michigan, is the place where the whole of Chicago seems to be descending on. Far from the automobile corrupted nation; it looks more like a nation on bike and roll!

 

Bikes are easily available on hire with different deals, and they come in all shapes and models ranging from the basic stuff for the shaky beginner like me to mountain bikes with an array of confusing gears to 'quadruped' bikes for two or four. There are even special bikes for parents who want to tag a baby carriage to their paddle machines. The bikers in varied groups whiz past you, like birds on a flight or glide gently like the sail boats that dot the expanse of blue waters of the lake — savouring the  joy of wind-whipped movement, with the forces of nature in complete freedom and abandon.

 

Then finally one day I get sucked in. "How much do you charge for an hour?" I ask the young student on a summer job managing the bike rental kiosk. "Only $10  an hour Sir, feels great … why don't you try one?" Why don't I, haven't done it in 30 years, I hesitatingly think to myself. "But you never forget it  ...there,  try our 'comfort' bike!" And there I am, shakily perched atop a bike which has paddle breaks instead of the hand ones to which I'm used to, but the bike girl won't take a no, and just launches me on with a big push. And seconds later, I'm on a roll, windswept, speeding and slowing with the undulations of the bike trail, turning and manoeuvring my way through  other bikers with a tinkle!

 

Memories of an era gone by come racing. A time when I was at school and we would race back on the cycles to reach home fast after school or battle the wind to reach in time for the first bell. But there was always time to stop to help out a classmate — especially a pretty girl — if there was a puncture or the chain got derailed, which was  not such a coincidence, always!

 

And now I hear a tinkle  again. Thank you Chicago

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

LEFT PARTIES MUST CORRECT THEIR MISTAKES, SAYS BARDHAN

 

How do senior communist leaders view the serious reversal their parties have suffered in West Bengal and beyond that how do they view the future the left parties now face? Those are the twin issues Karan Thapar discussed with the General Secretary of the Communist Party of India A.B. Bardhan. Excerpts from the interview:

 

Q: Let me start with a simple question: how devastating a blow have the left parties suffered in Bengal as a result of the Lok Sabha elections in May and the recent by-elections earlier this month?

A: They had a very serious setback, in fact the entire left movement suffered a set back. The CPI-M in the meanwhile had become the leading partner of the left front and in fact the defeat was a grim reminder of what went wrong with the left front.

What started as something against the left front government has now become generally an anti-left and anti-communist movement. That is I think a very dangerous trend.

 

Q: How do you interpret what happened? Is this a vote for Mamata Banerjee or as you have suggested a moment ago is this a vote against the left?

A: I don't think that is an endorsement of Mamata Banerjee's policies or programs because what they are is not known to the people as yet and I am not sure she knows that herself. It is a vote against the left, against the performance of the left front, against what they should not have done or what they have done.

 

Q: Many people are today commenting that it looks increasingly unlikely that the left parties can win in 2011.

A: No I don't want to be a prophet of doom; I think you will see that when the left front turns around, if mistakes are corrected, if there is a realisation that what was wrong needs to be corrected, if one realises that one's lifestyle, one's behaviour with people, one's arrogance is to be given up, people will still be behind the left because the left had a programme and the left had done a lot of good things in West Bengal. So that is the reason they were there for three decades.

 

Q: Let's then talk about what has brought the left parties to this dismal situation. One of the ministers has publicly talked about nepotism and corruption. Has that played a role?

A:  Yes it has, indeed, played a role and that cannot be denied but then one must be clear about the dimensions of the corruption. Corruption that is there for you to see in Karnataka or Andhra Pradesh or that you see in the Centre, that is not the type of corruption which is there. (In Bengal) the corruption has become more widespread, particularly among the lower ranks and the middle ranks.

 

Q: But those very top leaders of the CPM in whom you say you have faith are the ones who have been blind to their local and middle level leaders increasingly being corrupt?

A: Why should I (only) blame their blindness? I am saying that we also should have brought it to their notice.

 

Q: To what extent, in addition to corruption and nepotism, has arrogance become a problem, both the arrogance of Power as well as overconfidence?

A: It is arrogance which is more important rather than corruption. Corruption, as you say, or as I am saying, is retail and not wholesale. You can't put it you see in hundreds or thousands of crore.

 

Q: People may be fed up and it may be too late to even correct?

A: It is never too late to correct. You see I have been in democratic politics, politics where in six months things can change. Let me give you an instance because people are talking too much about it. In one seat in Kerala we lost by 16,000 votes in the assembly elections. During the parliament election it went up to 19,000 but this time there was a by-election there and it came down to 4,500.

 

Q:  Except that the difference is in Kerala the Left has a history of winning and losing and the corruption and the arrogance are missing. In Bengal, after 32 years, there is no challenge of defeat that you ever faced before.

A: That is what I think went into everyone's head. Those at the top may have been able to resist it but it is very difficult for people at the lower levels.

 

Q: After the May general election, when the left parties did very badly in Bengal and you were actually surprised by the extent to which your seats had fallen, the CPI formally suggested to the CPM that the left front government should resign and seek a fresh mandate. Today many others are saying the same thing. But in May when you proposed this what response did you get?

A: Formally I did not propose any such thing. I do not think you can say that I formally proposed it… I did suggest but then, you see, that was not the same thing…I didn't insist on that and I don't insist on it now.

 

Q: In May this was an informal suggestion that the Left front government should resign and seek a mandate. Not a formal suggestion. Today many people, ministers of the same government, are saying it publicly. What is your view today?

A: You are emphasizing too much on that suggestion and by repeating it you are making it as a fact. It is not so. So many things are spoken like that. Accha hoga aagar badal dhe. That does not mean that it is a very serious suggestion. I do not think I have made it (that way). Today I do not make it at all because I think now, for instance, to prepone the elections, now to resign, that would mean like running away from the battlefield and I do not want to resign now. Now I will face it. Now I want to battle it out. I might have lost but please note that there are constituencies in which I have got 50,000, 60,000, 80,000 votes. Those are not negligible votes. I hope to increase them.

 

Q: So today to call an early election would be like running away from the battlefield?

A: Yes. That is the next heading that will be given in the papers and that is the next thing that you will be speaking in the media.

 

Q: So, in other words, the position of the left parties in Bengal is a bit like an athlete who knows that he may not win the race, chances are that he won't win the race, but he has to continue to the finish otherwise it will be like cutting and running.

A: But you know many times such athletes succeed. And they succeed many times.

 

Q: Those are golden stories but most of the time those athletes don't win but they get respect for finishing.

A: I am not talking about only the respect. But they also sometimes win and I want to tell you communists are capable of that.

 

Q: That capability depends entirely upon large sections of the CPM, not just the leadership, realising what has gone wrong and acting to put it right. A big if is there.

A: Yes that is what is meant by a party. I might be good but if my party and my party ranks are not good then there is no point in me being good.

 

Q: I want to try and understand what you have said. In May it was an informal suggestion said as a way of speaking. But today you are against an early election because as you said it will look like running away.

A: And I want to fight.

 

Q: You want to fight?

A: Yes. I want to retrieve the situation and I want to fight.

Q: Let me then end by asking you a simple question: what do you believe will be the future that faces the left front government in Bengal between today and 2011 when the elections have to happen. In the next 18 months what do you think is going to happen?

A: We will establish closer links with the people, we will try to regain their confidence, we will take up their problems, we will try to put up certain issues which have been neglected.

 

Q: Give me an example of the sort of issues that have been neglected which you will now take up?

A: People might think that we have become wiser after the event, but I always say it is better to become wiser after the event then not to become wise at all.

 

Q: So in a sense, the future of the left parties and whatever chance or hope they have of re-winning power in 2011, depends very largely on this?

A: It does depend, not only on the general behaviour and approach towards the people, but also the way you reforge the links with you people again.

 

Q: And Buddhadeb Bhattacharya has to make sure that his government does it?

A: Don't write off the government.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

COOPERATE TO COMBAT TERRORISM

BY MIKE SMITH

 

SOUTH ASIA has probably suffered more than any other region in the world from the dreadful scourge of terrorism. People, whose lives and those of their friends and relatives, are irrevocably changed in an instant when a suicide bomber blows up a vehicle in a crowded market place or bus station, struggle to understand why there are groups that want to bring so much pain to innocent civilians. There are too many examples to recall them all.

 

A year ago the world witnessed the horrific attacks in Mumbai, watching helplessly as gunmen rampaged through hotels and the city's train station. Sri Lanka has suffered for decades from acts of terrorism, and time will tell if the government's military response and its implementation of necessary confidence-building measures will be adequate to finally put an end to violence.

 

And the international community living in the region is not immune to terror either. Just last month the offices of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in Islamabad were hit by a suicide bomber while in Afghanistan five UN staffers were killed in a guesthouse and again we in the UN family were forced to mourn colleagues who were simply in these places to do their job.

 

These are just the spectacular examples of violence that has permeated the region. And yet, law enforcement personnel in South Asia, who serve on the frontlines in implementing counter-terrorism measures, have very limited opportunities to interact at an operational level with their counterparts in the region.

 

Funding, explosives and technical know-how, all critical elements of a terrorist attack, flow too easily across borders. Those who fight terrorism in the region need to be able to collaborate with their counterparts in other countries if they are to have any hope of disrupting an attack and capturing those who plan it.

 

There is also lack of a common vision in the region for confronting terrorism in a manner that fully incorporates respect for the rule of law, human rights and human dignity, thereby increasing the chance for success in the long term.

 

In an effort to remedy these shortfalls, the United Nations, in association with the Government of Bangladesh and the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI), organised a meeting (8-10 November) that brought together working-level law enforcement experts of the region.

 

Police officers and prosecutors from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – along with observers from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) – met for three days in Dhaka, sharing their experiences and lessons they learnt in fighting the very real threat of terrorism.

 

The regional workshop gave them an opportunity to enhance their counter-terrorism capacities by discussing the role of the police and prosecution services in combating terrorism and the challenges they face in leading effective investigations and prosecutions. Part of the discussion focussed on the way in which a counter-terrorism approach based on sound legal procedures and respect for the rule of law can strengthen international cooperation, making it more likely that terrorists will be properly brought to justice.

 

Of course one meeting, even a successful one like this, achieves little on its own. What will truly drive progress in combating terrorism is a sustained commitment on the part of governments to enact legislation, to build institutional structures and operational mechanisms that can make front-line law enforcement officers and prosecutors effective.

 

What is also critical is an effort by all governments to overcome mutual distrust and political difference sufficiently to allow their agencies to cooperate so they can all better address the common enemy – the terrorist groups.

 

Courtesy: UN Information Centre, New Delhi

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

SILLY POINT

 

Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray has queered his own political pitch by hurling a bouncer at Sachin Tendulkar in an editorial in Sena mouthpiece Saamna, over Sachin's recent "Mumbai is for all" statement. During an interaction with media, Sachin also said he is an Indian first although he's extremely proud of his Maharashtrian roots. What he said should be echoed by every Indian. It's a simple and correct viewpoint which otherwise should not raise any eyebrow and can only be applauded. Yet, Thackeray has a massive problem because the statement has hit where it hurts him the most. It has gone against the narrow agenda of Shiv Sena and also Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) which they have been pursuing in the name of upholding the cause of Maharashtrians. Expectedly, people from all walks of life have hit Thackeray's bouncer for a six and defended Sachin – not merely because they love him but because the very spirit of what Sachin said is unassailable. No one would have batted for Sachin simply because he's the greatest icon, had he said something wrong. Sachin plays for India, and takes enormous pride in the fact that he represents his country. Twenty years on, he still cherishes the moment when he first donned the India cap as a blushing 16-year-old. Obviously, to him India comes first. After 26/11 attacks too, Sachin had said it was an attack on India, not Mumbai. The recent statement also had a similar patriotic spirit. All these reflect his broad way of thinking and big heart to rise above narrowness and geographical boundaries. By reacting against his statement, Thackeray has only 'played on' and it is he who seems to have lost whatever was left with him.


Without a doubt, Thackeray has used his criticism to project his party as the real champion of the cause of 'Marathi manoos'. It's also a reflection of his frustration at the rapid crumbling of his political ground following the emergence of MNS, which has made a huge total out of its tirade against migrants from other States, especially North Indians. MNS has eaten away a large chunk of Sena's vote base, which resulted in the poor score by the latter in the parliamentary and Assembly polls. Ironically, the same Balasaheb who compares Raj Thackeray with Jinnah and accuses his nephew of trying to divide Marathis, seems to be in competition with him to show who is a bigger champion of the Marathi chauvinism. His attack on Sachin was influenced by this one-upmanship. Parties like Shiv Sena or MNS cannot discount the fact that every Indian citizen is free to go anywhere in the country, and that Mumbai, despite the fact that it's the capital of Maharashtra, is the country's commercial capital to which migration of people from other areas is natural. In the end, such bigotry is bound to be rejected by the civil society and can never have a broad support base for long, although it may have temporary gains. While the patriotic fervour in Sachin's statement has strengthened India's unity, Thackeray's comments have indeed left him isolated on a sticky wicket.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

FIRE SERVICE

 

Always to respond first in crisis, be it natural or man-made disasters, this important organization has not got the due which it so rightly deserves. A number of constraints, be it shortage of equipments or adequate manpower have been hindering its development. But in spite of it this organization has been rendering a yeoman's service for over the past 50 years. The State Fire Service Organization has time and again displayed its capabilities at the time of crisis. The dedicated personnel of the organization have saved a number of lives and property in its 50 long years of existence. But the irony is that the authorities in the helm of affairs have not taken adequate steps to modernize this vital sector. The State is yet to be fully covered by the Fire Service Organization. There should be one fire station in every 10 kilometres in urban areas while there should be one in every 50 kilometres in the rural areas. The state comes no where near it. In fact the State requires over 1,400 fire stations to perform its duty in the best possible manner. Along with it the fire stations need the latest fire fighting equipment and other tools to give tooth to their rescue act. The seismic threat in the region has made it imperative that the Fire Service Organization is on their toes.


Considering the spurt in instances of natural and man-made disasters, now the authorities are planning to initiate a host of measures to upgrade this important organization. Plans are afoot to attach five companies of the State Disaster Response Force with the State Fire Service Organization. The Government is also considering attaching fire tenders to police stations in rural areas. By 2020, the Government intends to set up 250 fire and emergency service stations with around 5,000 personnel in service. The plans unless translated into reality won't mean anything. Instead of chalking up grandiose plans the Government should make funds available to the organization on a priority basis so that it can prepare itself to tackle the ever rising challenges. The vacant posts should be filled up immediately. Mock drills need to be carried on at regular intervals to hone the skills of the fire fighters. To serve the people better at the time of grave crisis the fire fighters do need the support of the society. The people should remember that they should cooperate with the dedicated team of fire fighters at the time of crisis instead of venting their ire at the first responder of crisis.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

PEACE PROSPECTS IN ASSAM

SHIBDAS BHATTACHARJEE

 

The surrender of two top ULFA leaders before the Border Security Force (BSF) was seen as a major success for the security forces that are in operation not because of this particular incident but because of its significant implication. In fact, this brought to the light once again that the ULFA has been divided into two factions – one led by 'c-in-c' Paresh Baruah, who is and against peace talks with the Government of India, and the other comprising top leader of the outfit like Sashadhar Choudhury and Chitrabon Hazarika who are in favour of peace talks. Intelligence agencies said Bangladesh security agencies recently raided some hideouts of the leaders of the outfit, prompting the cadres to flee. Internal clashes among ULFA cadres is also said to have forced some ultras to flee. This particular incident was also important considering the fact that the new Awami League government of Sheikh Hasina had assured New Delhi of all support and cooperation to evict Indian separatists, if any from Bangladesh soil. ULFA general secretary Anup Chetia is under detention in Dhaka after his arrest in 1997. Though Chetia, arrested on charges of entering the country without passport and possessing satellite phone, completed his jail term in 2005, he is in detention due to the absence of any extradition agreement between the two countries despite New Delhi's formal appeals to hand him over for trial in India.

Now fresh overtures to bring the banned outfit for direct peace talks are apparently in response to the negative feedback from ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa in his communique to writer Mamoni Raisom Goswami, convener of the People's Consultative Group (PCG). Rajkhowa's letter to Goswami reiterated ULFA's three major demands. These include the topic of sovereignty on the agenda for talks, the release of five jailed leaders to facilitate in-house consultations before coming for direct talks and the announcement of information about the "status of some senior ULFA functionaries who went missing during Bhutan's military offensive in December 2003. Although New Delhi is understood to be reluctant to take the risk of releasing five jailed ULFA leaders before receiving a "direct and clear communication" from the outfit about its commitment to peace, it is being suggested that the Government could facilitate "prior consultation" between ULFA's underground leadership and their jailed comrades. Notwithstanding the apparent deadlock in the peace process between the Centre and ULFA, Dispur is "hopeful" of the efforts initiated, among others, particularly of the positive approach of the arrested or surrendered leaders of the banned outfit including the No 28 battalion. On the other hand, people of this State believe that the derailed peace process will be brought on the track by discarding the rigid stand adopted by the two sides for the greater interests of the State.


But unfortunately in the wake of repeated serial blasts, engineered by ULFA in Assam and increased militant activity the Centre had to decide to withdraw its militant surrender policy and go after the Bangladesh based underground groups after the Lok Sabha elections. Visiting Assam a day after the Gauwhati serial blasts made clear that the government policy on militant surrender was not working. They pointed fingers at the Army for routinely encouraging such surrenders. It was only then decided that both the Army and the State police should go after the militant groups particularly ULFA after the Lok Sabha elections and withdraw the policy of surrender. Three groups - ULFA in Assam, NSCN (I-M) in Tirap-Changlang sector in Arunachal Pradesh and Dima Halam Daoga (Jewel faction) in North Cachar Hill district—were active in the North East. The trio was briefed on the support given by pan-Islamic groups to ULFA in Bangladesh as well as the growing influence of the Pakistani intelligence agencies.


However, it is a reality now that the ULFA lost its popular support as the years progressed since its inception in 1979. In fact the people of the State are really fed up with the decade long violence and' bloodshed which have virtually cut the State from the mainstream of development. It is true that due to the negligence of the Centre as well as the State government, Assam could never make full use of its resources which is a matter of great disappointment for the people. But this cannot legitimise any kind of violent activity of killing innocent people and destroying public property. Moreover, it brought the burden of more expenditure, namely security expenditure which has been an excuse of the State government's non-performance for a long time. On the other hand, the people of Assam no longer think ULFA's demand for sovereignty justified because it is a reality that Assam cannot have a separate identity remaining outside the federal structure of the country. So the people who earlier laid much store on ULFA's battle, realized their folly and gave up to believe the idea that there can be no alternative to peaceful democratic process if the State really wants to progress. It has already changed its political idiom, and talks about joining the mainstream, swimming with other States which left it behind over the years when it grappled with insurgency and military operations. Moreover, as the years went by. ULFA lost its umbrella like character which gave birth to various other insurgent outfits, mainly on sectional basis. This was indeed a new development which made ULFA's status in the State weaker. In fact, the rise of Bodo militant outfits changed the atmosphere of insurgency as through their subversive activities they soon became the centre of importance for both New Delhi and Dispur.


It is quite obvious that both the Government of India and the ULFA have come a long way and it is time to adopt flexible attitude to create a new hope for a peaceful and negotiated settlement. But no one at the present juncture can give any surety that peace will be restored in the State after settlement of the ULFA problem. There is no surety that terrorist activities in the State can be prevented completely after this because the terrorist activities not only in Assam but in the other parts of the north eastern region are related to cross-border terrorism from both Pakistan and Bangladesh. In fact, terrorism in India is no longer Kashmir-centric as the main objectives of the agencies that want to spread violence and make bloodshed in the country seem to adopt the policy to include as much area as possible in their terror net. The Government of India is very much aware of the fact that Bangladeshi immigration has not only changed the demographic structure of the northeastern region but put forward a threat to the internal security of the region. India's soft attitude towards Bangladesh has not changed yet. It is really unfortunate that the issues of much concern for India that are related to the anti-India policies of Bangladesh have become political issues in our country to be utilised for poll prospect. On the other hand, the issue of militancy is always related to the issue of development, particularly job orientation. The despondency of the millions of unemployed in the State is a matter of great concern because it may initiate a new phase of terror. The government should give top priority to this issue and make sincere efforts to solve this problem. Only this can brighten the peace prospects and defeat the evil design to keep Assam a backward State.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

THE VALUE OF PHILOSOPHY

DR MAINA SARMA

 

The present age is described by many as the age of uncertainty and confusion. Many of us are uncertain about so many things around us. We are uncertain about the best form of government, about the best economic and social system; about what things are right and what things are wrong. We seem to be confused whether people are better behaved today than they were at the time of our forefathers and so on and so forth. This spirit shows itself not only in the actual state of public affairs but also in the general attitude towards fundamental values in personal and social life. Scientist like Max Planck says that these symptoms mark the beginning of a great renaissance, but there are others who see in them the tidings of a downfall to which our civilization is destined. At any rate, this seems to be a transitional age, and is full of danger as well as promise, rich in possibilities. The times of certainty are also the times of stagnation. When we know what to think we cease to think. Evidently, it is a time for reflective thinking, and this is just what philosophy is. No dates, formulas or rules need be memorized. Without relying on unnecessary jargon and technicalities, philosophy lands us into central, profound areas of human concern. The only important prerequisite is an enquiring mind. Philosophical questions grow out of a kind of thinking that we do when we ask ourselves whether something we believe or accept is reasonable to believe or accept.


The idea of philosophy as a rational questioning of our beliefs is as old as human civilization itself. It is developed above all from Socrates in the Athens in the fifth century B.C. He entered into dialogue which was his preferred way of doing philosophy and numbed those he talked to, because his object was, atleast in the first instance to show that they did not know what they thought they did. With the ultimate aim of obtaining knowledge, philosophy challenges and makes people realize that what they take for granted is not necessarily true.

The value of philosophy is, in fact, to be sought largely in its very uncertainty and critical attitude. There is not a straight answer to the questions of philosophy. Philosophers like Socrates do not rush into saying that they know this or that –they step back and think about things. But here a skeptical worry surfaces. Is philosophy for that very reason does not matter? Philosophy matters a lot to make us aware of the importance of some questions, to examine all the approaches to them, and to keep alive that speculative interest in the universe which is apt to be killed by confining ourselves to definitely ascertainable knowledge.


There is no more important exercise of human rationality than philosophical reasoning. It can reach to the foundations of our beliefs, thoughts and expose them for what they are, solid and shaky, good or bad. A belief whose reasons have been examined deeply enough to reach the level of philosophical questioning rests on a firmer foundation than one that has been examined less thoroughly. This makes philosophy knocking at everyone's door though this does not mean that everyone should become a professional philosopher. Every human being, befitting the name, wants assurance that our beliefs are well grounded.


None can thus escape philosophy once they start questioning themselves, their assumptions, beliefs and practices. The question as to whether one shall or shall not enter upon the domain of philosophy was settled long ago by Aristotle when he said, "Whether we will philosophize or whether we won't philosophize, we must philosophize." Consciously or unconsciously everyone frames for himself a theory of the relation of the individual to the universe and on his attitude to that question his whole life and conduct, public and private depends. In the present time, philosophy cannot afford to be packed off to the sidelines of intellectual life.It must regain its place in the heart of our life making us aware of our goals, the reasons for pursuing them, and giving us consistency in their pursuit. It has to help us to match our reasoning to the reality confronting us. This cannot be possible without a rigorous examination even of the things we take most for granted. T he man who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the co-operation or consent of his reason. To such a man the world tends to become definite, finite, obvious; common objects rouse no questions and unfamiliar possibilities enlarging our thoughts are contemptuously rejected. As soon as we begin to philosophize, a new horizon of possibilities opens up enriching our intellectual imagination and removing the somewhat arrogant dogmatism which closes the mind against speculation.


Philosophy as a way of sharpening our thinking is a cleansing act, an act of purifying the intellect. By imposing its strict demand for consistency, philosophy tightens up our standards of knowledge guiding us in concrete real life situations. It is because of this, educationists favour introductory classes in philosophy even for those whose primary intentions are to study other subjects. The pencil needs to be sharpened before it can write with sufficient care about other topics. Philosophy as a critical survey of existence from the standpoint of value, provides the kind of insight, the most concretely needed thing of the present time. An engineer today whose knowledge is restricted only to technical matters of engineering, or a physician whose competence extends only to the subject matter of medical training, is ill-prepared to understand even the basic problems that face his profession. There is thus a demand for a new ethical, legal, economic and political wisdom, a new wisdom in the affairs of government which can prove as an useful antidote to the arrogance produced by dwelling on the apparent progress of the society in the fields of science, economics etc. If we are truly to love wisdom (the word "philos" in Greek means the love of wisdom), we cannot afford to live in a world of illusion. Our anguished time will cry aloud for new visions. If by philosophy we mean the search for wisdom, the appraisement of values, and careful logical analysis of concepts, it seems to be just what the world needs now for the preservation of the life of humanity.

                                                         
(Published on the occasion of World Philosophy Day)

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

A LESSON FROM SAMSUNG

 

Samsung's decision to locate its new airconditioning plant in Chennai, closing factories in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, bears a telling lesson: tax breaks play a limited role in location of industry and efficient infrastructure, skilled manpower, connectivity to sea ports and airports and ease of doing business matter more.


The Centre should end area-based tax exemptions given to the hill states in the coming fiscal year, though these states and companies that have set up shop in these states could clamour for a further extension. Smooth transition to a goods and services tax regime requires removal of tax exemptions. The Centre could grant special states special subsidies though, to help them compete on social and physical infrastructure.


Tax exemptions are distortionary and lead to inefficient resource allocation. Tamil Nadu has been a draw for global automakers such as Hyundai, Ford, BMW and Nissan and component manufacturers, sans exemptions and giveaways from the Centre. Last year, the government withdrew duty exemptions to industrial units engaged only in peripheral activities (including repacking and relabelling) in HP and Uttarakhand to curb rampant misuse of exemptions. Companies were also directed to file returns every quarter to assess the impact of exemptions on industrial development. A welcome step, though the spinoffs of tax incentives to the economy cannot be easily quantified.


The largesse comes at a price. Area-based exemption to the North-East, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir cost the government over Rs 10,000 crore in FY09 against Rs 8,000 crore in FY08. For long, the Centre has signalled its intention to withdraw these incentives. But it has buckled under pressure to extend them. The exemptions in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh were to end in March 2007. But these states got a reprieve, with the Centre giving a three-year extension.


With an end-date set, there is no logic for continuing the benefit, especially with the economy showing clear signs of revival. The north-eastern states and Jammu and Kashmir get a special dispensation and the exemptions are in the form of refunds. Moreover, they are also open-ended with no end-date being set for them. The policy of open-ended exemptions must go.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

UNFAIR COMPETITION

 

The government is reportedly toying with the idea of restricting the mandate of the Competition Commission of India (CCI) to sectors where it would not come in conflict with an existing sectoral regulator. That is a ridiculous idea, and the government should not waste time on it.


The proposal has been floated by some powerful people, including those in sectoral regulators, and are keen to protect their fief and perhaps even enlarge it. Competition matters should not be decided by sectoral regulators, but mainly and solely by the CCI. This does not mean we are suggesting that the CCI should be converted into a super-regulator.

Rather, decision-making would be better informed and sound if the CCI draws upon the understanding, expertise and opinion of the sector regulators such as the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on specific issues concerning the industry when it presides over a case of M&A or violation of fair play.


Even as that be the case, the CCI should be strengthened to incorporate multi-disciplinary expertise that will enable it to act independently (not necessarily autonomously) to consider the impact of inter-play of market forces on society at large. Sector regulators would tend to take a myopic and, perhaps ill-informed, view on such issues.


In any case, the mandate of the sector regulators includes tariff setting, ensuring high standards of service and protecting the health of the sector. This is enshrined in the constitution of regulators such as Trai and the State Electricity Commission. In sectors such as telecom, even the ministry sets conditions for allowing consolidation; and Trai has recently questioned the need for many of these restrictions.


Clearly, attempts are underway to thwart CCI from playing its stated role. The government would be better advised to foil such moves by announcing a timeline for notification of merger control provisions of the Act (Sections 5 & 6), continuing with its October 14 Ordinance for immediate winding up of MRTP Commission and transferring undecided cases to Competition Appellate Tribunal and National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission in a move to strengthen the competition panel.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

 

BOW-RACK OBA-MAO

 

The 44th US president's willingness to get along with all people is, say his critics, being carried to extremes. Photographs of President Obama bowing to Emperor Akihito during the recent state visit to Japan have irked conservative Americans.


While the president's aides say Mr Obama was just observing protocol, conservative critics say other American heads of state in Tokyo have not bowed to anyone. Some Americans wonder why their president should at all bow to the Japanese emperor who would have been their emperor if Nippon had won the war which started with the attack on Pearl Harbor!


They also remember that after the US won World War-II, it was General Douglas Macarthur who helped modernise Japan by moderating the concept of the divinity of the emperor. A columnist on Fox TV, with whom the Obama Administration has had a running feud, has stated that the 44th president had also bowed to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. The president's aides then said that the much-taller Obama was not bowing but stooping to shake the hand of the ailing Saudi king.


US attitudes to royalty have to a certain extent been reflected in a two-line poem which a Chicago gangster in a Wodehouse novel recites while glaring into his beer in a British pub: "I don't care if he wears a crown/He can't keep kicking my dog around."


Obama, of course, has always been more popular elsewhere in the world than in the US. One factor could be that the rest of the world compares him favourably with his predecessor who invaded Iraq under the pretext of pre-empting the use of weapons of mass destruction that simply did not exist. So much so that during the ongoing visit to China, a CNN correspondent shot a picture of a shop selling T-shirts where the 44th US president was shown wearing a Red Army uniform above a caption saying, "Serve the people, says Oba-Mao"!

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

CRY FREEDOM IS SOUND MUSIC

MANOJ NAIR

 

The transition of the music culture from disc to disk is a fascinating one. Music as we heard it has taken leave and has been replaced by music as we rip it. You listen to it on your desktop, laptop, iPod, etc. CDs are finding it difficult to vacate shelf space of stores as there aren't many takers for them, as music files in for listeners on the www.


Nobody had seen the revolution coming in when MP3 files surfaced in the mid-nineties. They, particularly the recording industry, had not imagined what was to hit them. The recording industry was asking for it when it began promoting boy bands, creating an abyss in the process for other forms of pop music.


As the recording industry and radio stations began blindly promoting bands like Backstreet Boys and Blue, other talented artists had to back out and look for some backing elsewhere to get their music heard.
That was when Napster made its entry to set off the tumultuous transformation. Its model of picking hitherto unheard-of groups and bands came for free and travelled between hard disks, infuriating the recording industry that had no empathy for MP3.


Soon, an animated pink pig began making the rounds of inboxes. Netizens picked the link, making oink.cd one of the most popular peer-to-peer sharing site with around 1,80,000 members. But Oink could not grunt for long and the website had to be shut down in 2007, its founder 24-year-old Alan Ellis was arrested as part of an Interpol operation.


"I don't sell music to people, I just direct them to it. If somebody wants to illegally download music, they are going to do it whether my site is there or not," Ellis told a newspaper. Which is very much true because the popularity of BitTorrent, a download software, began climbing up bit by bit in places like India where several international albums are not released.


A diffident record industry fails to recognise the merit in Ellis' defence because what we know as the business of music is moving far from the business of producing music that was about selling CDs in plastic cases. According to musician David Byrne, that's not bad news for music, and it's certainly not bad news for musicians.

The internet is not just changing the way music is sold, it is also changing the way music is made. Take the case of DJ Shadow who used a combination of mediums and methods to compose strange and sundry, but elaborate, pieces that crisscrossed between mood and meter in symphonic coordination. Yet another revolution. This was when music began to be made from loops of unconnected samples of different instruments often picked from the internet, throwing open the doors to yet another debate: is the use of samples infringing copyright?

"Music history is one of creative borrowing," says Greg Kot in his book, Ripped: How the wired generation revolutionised music. To prove his point, he quotes musician Steve Earle, "Good songwriters borrow, great ones steal." His statement was confirmed by the current darling of the sample generation, Danger Mouse, who dared to make his now seminal The Grey Album popular by spreading his samplings on the web. His success includes some chartbusting numbers via collaborations with Gorillaz, a UK band with fictitious members.

With such an onslaught of independence on the internet, the record industry doesn't stand a prayer. And in the process of democratising the world of music, these free musicians and their fans are using music as part of the social fabric. It is gaining a kind of social currency as it streams from hard disk to hard disk with varied thought process, ideas and ideologies working in loops.


The fans who had turned into gatekeepers of music were now turning out multiple versions of the same song. The big alteration in the ecosystem was initiated by Beck's three versions of the same album, Guerro. One, the original studio version; the second, another containing remixes of songs from the original by other artists and a third, which was a revelation, contained different versions of the songs remixed by fans.


Purists may moan that the end of physicality of things has strangled two other art forms associated with music: album cover art and sleeve notes. In one stroke, they say, the net generation has sung the dirge of both visual art and the literature linked to albums. Oil may return to canvas and words to paper as the transition is making sound music for artists and fans. The recording industry, however, is facing the chant of change or die.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE RESPONSIBILITY OF ASIA'S RISE

JANMEJAYA SINHA

 

For at least a decade now, the world has been preparing for the emergence of Asia. Many have dubbed the 21 century as Asia's and many countries in the continent are working to make this true. On a review of some basic economic statistics, the shift in world economic power over the next 10 years will be stark. By 2013, the EU, Asia and the US will be equal-sized economic blocks contributing roughly 25% of global GDP. In contrast, in 2000, EU formed 32%, the US 28% and Asia 20% of global GDP. By 2020, China, Japan and India will be with the US and Germany at the top five economies of the world. Together, the three Asian countries will form 27% of global GDP. What is even more significant will be the accompanying shift in consumption patterns.


Today, 5% of the world's consumers — or, the US population — provide $10 trillion of global consumption. All of Asia, with about 45% of the world's population, adds up to only $7 trillion. But by 2020, Asia will consume $21 trillion of global produce, 140% of the US at that time, which will be consuming $15 trillion.

Thus, over the next 10 years, Asia will consume $15 trillion more than it does today, much more than three times the $5 trillion that the US will add over the same period. This will be a dramatic shift in global consumption patterns that can be ignored by companies at their own peril. The population dynamic will, if anything, only make this impulse stronger: Asia's average age will rise from 29 to 32 in the next 10 years while it will go from 40 to 43 in Europe and 37 to 38 in the US.


There have always been strong companies in Asia, even today, if you sort through billion-dollar-revenue companies globally and correct them for double holding of some groups, you find about 12,500 companies of which 3,500 are from Asia. This share is bound to rise in the next 10 years. In fact, as Boston Consulting Group's research on the top 100 companies from rapidly-developing economies (RDE) has shown, more than 70% of these companies are emerging from Asia. Given the rapid growth of Asian economies, this is not surprising.

As illustration, India had about 25 billion-dollar companies in 2000 and today, the figure has grown almost seven times to about 160. This growth is accompanied by an increase in its importance on vital issues for the planet's survival. Today, while carbon emissions per head are really low in Asia, it is still the largest contributor to carbon emissions with the fastest growth rate. The demand for safe water by populations emerging out of extreme poverty and deprivation in many countries has not been met and will be the most critical shortage it will need to tackle in the years ahead.


Yet, Asia as a continent or a region is large, diverse, spatially spread, and at different levels of maturity. The idea of Asia has been slow to develop for itself despite the attempts of some regional groupings such as Asean and Saarc. The relations between many countries are soiled by bitter histories and the maturity that wealth brings in such discourse is largely lacking. On balance, the debates between countries with similar histories in Europe is much more mature and balanced. There is much jingoism and a poor appreciation of common purpose for the planet and, in fact, for the region itself. Asia, for good reason, till now has seen itself at the fringe of the global economy and has been focused quite substantially on selling to the American consumer and competing with one another to do so.


If you look at trade patterns, over time the share of inter-Asian trade has risen from 31% in 1990 to 45% in 2008. This is a very large number already and will grow even further in the coming years. The popular psyche still suffers from a colonial hang up and within the region itself, each country has a need for respect which suggests a fundamental immaturity or a lack of real self-confidence in its dealing with each other. This could work in the old world order as all of Asia fought each other to capture the American consumer, in the era that is coming upon us, where the consumer will be Asia itself — will the old ways work?


Asian economies and political leaders have to get ready to bear the heavy responsibility of global leadership. This is a big challenge because there is such great poverty, old enmities, disputed borders and a history of great economic competition. To begin with, there is a need for enhanced regional collaboration based on enlightened self-interest and a recognition of the medium-term imperatives. This is important for Asia's own development. If you dig deeper into EU and the US as a block, one is a unified country and the other is a fairly well-integrated community with a common currency and free factor flows within the region.


I believe there is a need for a new idea of Asia: one that is less jingoistic, with a better understanding of common purpose and with some statesmanship from the bigger countries. China, Japan and India will need to show a leadership that will have to at least acknowledge that their power might be frightening to their neighbours. A new paradigm will need to be evolved in how they deal with each other. A common vocabulary developed to discuss issues on which there is a large agreement and a rhetoric that is less threatening and more cooperative on issues on which there is less agreement. This is going to be a long journey given the national trade-offs between liberty and economic progress that have been made in different countries and which are now institutionalised.

Japan and India have democratic systems that have often caused gridlock and slow agreement on economic policy. China with growing affluence will need to find ways to open its political system over time. Business leaders and the population at large have the most to gain from the emerging Asia. They need to coax the political leadership and the media into a less strident vocabulary for discussion. Asia needs it and, in fact, so does the world. Asia has to rise to the leadership challenge that its destiny provides it in the 21 century.

(The author is chairman (Asia Pacific) of The Boston Consulting Group. Views are personal.)

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

BRING INNOCENCE INTO YOUR LIFE

PARAMAHAMSA NITHYANANDA

 

Innocence means purity of the inner space, not being affected by thoughts, our engraved memories. Even if you are not expressing your emotions like anger, greed and lust, if they are present in your inner space, you are not as yet a total and innocent person. Socially, you may be pure.


On the other hand, if you express your anger, lust and greed but nothing touches your inner space and you live like an innocent child, then be very clear, you are a pure being.


If you watch children, their eyes will be filled with wonder and freshness all the time. They don't hold any opinion about anything. They are ready to receive. Their readiness is expressed in their glowing eyes. We lose this glow as we grow older. Our knowledge might increase tremendously, but this knowledge should not dull us in any way.


If you just look at life without any opinions or fixed ideas, then you are like an empty teacup into which brewed tea can be poured. You receive because you hold nothing, because you are empty. Then you never lose your enthusiasm. You are never bored. You are like a child, innocent and fresh.


A young girl was writing something on a piece of paper. Her father asked her what it was.


She said, 'I am writing a letter.'


He asked, 'To whom?'


'To me,' she replied.


'What does the letter say?' he asked. She replied, 'How do I know? I have not mailed it and I have not received it yet!'


There is so much freshness behind innocence. Life becomes an unfolding mystery every moment with it. Mind is the culprit, which typecasts life. The mind constantly wants life on its own specific terms. Innocence embraces life with life's own terms. But the mind does not allow life to find a gateway to enter with its mysteries. With innocence, life is welcomed to share its mysteries.


If you watch children's eyes, they will be clear and empty and innocent. This is why they are in bliss. As you grow up, your eyes become filled with knowledge. Then you may have sight, but not insight; because you see through your eyes filled with opinions, judgments and beliefs. It is filtered and clouded. You see through the filter of your beliefs and conditioned memories. There is nothing new to learn from what you see because it becomes a repetition of your past memories. The learning is missed.


Try to see with empty eyes. Then everything you see goes deep and causes fresh insight. Life becomes an eternally unfolding mystery. The very nature of your questioning changes. You retain your innocence. Be Blissful!

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

EROSION OF BRAND HALO IS NOT THE CASE

 

Much has been written about and is still being written about the tariff wars in Telecom industry in recent weeks. Importantly often the discussion starts to engage the notion of brands. At its simplest Brand is a promise to the customer of a quality of service with meaningful differentiated dimensions ahead of a generic or commodity version of the same. Brands will have a place as long as that differential exists and commands a premium.


While engaging on a discussion connecting pricing and brand stature one must also consider the industry. In some industries the price comes down over time as an inherent feature. Take consumer electronics for instance. The price of say a computer with certain specifications or a TV with certain specifications comes down over time. It does not mean that this industry is losing its halo or its brands are.


In the telecom industry, prices have been coming down since the industry's inception. Various factors have played a role – rapid growth of scale, emergence of innovative business models, and more recently hyper competition. If you were to accept the reduction of price table as a barometer of brand halo or stature then you would reach the conclusion that brand halos have been eroding in this industry for a decade. But one look at amount of media coverage not just for the companies and the industry, but the ranking of brands themselves in various lists across publications will tell you this is not the case.


And finally let's not forget what the consumers at large are paying for. The collective revenue share of top 3 brands is higher than it was a year ago. To me the halo or Brand Stature as I prefer to call it is very much intact. Of course one cannot take it for granted and must continue to nurture it.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

INTERESTS OF CONSUMERS HAVE LONG BEEN IGNORED

 

In the telecom world, the interests of consumers have long been ignored by the big players. Clearly, not doing customer-centric tariff innovations hurts the customers. In keeping with the Tata's commitment we've clearly taken the lead in putting consumers' interests first; and as the numbers show, customers love it! To consider the interest of consumers as being counter productive to that of service providers is in itself fairly myopic.


Radical innovations and breakthroughs would not have happened if companies had continued to look at market share and not mindshare e.g. allowing buyers to return goods bought with no questions asked. History bears testimony to the impact that these measures have had, in the long run in driving acceptance, penetration and adoption of these brands.


Customers always reward innovation. Brands that fail to innovate and excite consumers lose mindshare, market share and relevance. A brand is not a static entity. It is a dynamic reflection of customer preference and must consistently be relevant to consumers to earn their loyalty. You have to constantly reinvent and innovate to deliver true customer delight. We wanted to engage and delight customers -- and our pay per second and pay per call plans have done just that.


With 'number portability' round the corner, it is pertinent to touch upon another key aspect of loyalty. Most of the so-called loyalty programs are based on the premise of "take & give", i.e. take from customers - by way of spend, and give some of it back in terms of reward. Such loyalty is actually fairly transactional and has no exit barriers, once the points have been redeemed. On the other hand, when brands start to stand up for the customers and deliver on customer centric value, they operate on "give & get", i.e. give better value to customers, who then reward these brands through favorable behavior.


This loyalty is true loyalty. It is emotional, more enduring, and indeed profitable in the long run.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

HAS TELCO TARIFF WAR HURT BIG BRANDS?

 

Interests of consumers have long been ignored

In the telecom world, the interests of consumers have long been ignored by the big players. Clearly, not doing customer-centric tariff innovations hurts the customers.

 

In keeping with the Tata's commitment we've clearly taken the lead in putting consumers' interests first; and as the numbers show, customers love it! To consider the interest of consumers as being counter productive to that of service providers is in itself fairly myopic.


Radical innovations and breakthroughs would not have happened if companies had continued to look at market share and not mindshare e.g. allowing buyers to return goods bought with no questions asked. History bears testimony to the impact that these measures have had, in the long run in driving acceptance, penetration and adoption of these brands.


Customers always reward innovation. Brands that fail to innovate and excite consumers lose mindshare, market share and relevance. A brand is not a static entity. It is a dynamic reflection of customer preference and must consistently be relevant to consumers to earn their loyalty. You have to constantly reinvent and innovate to deliver true customer delight. We wanted to engage and delight customers -- and our pay per second and pay per call plans have done just that.


With 'number portability' round the corner, it is pertinent to touch upon another key aspect of loyalty. Most of the so-called loyalty programs are based on the premise of "take & give", i.e. take from customers - by way of spend, and give some of it back in terms of reward. Such loyalty is actually fairly transactional and has no exit barriers, once the points have been redeemed. On the other hand, when brands start to stand up for the customers and deliver on customer centric value, they operate on "give & get", i.e. give better value to customers, who then reward these brands through favorable behavior.


This loyalty is true loyalty. It is emotional, more enduring, and indeed profitable in the long run

 

 

Erosion of brand halo is not the case

Much has been written about and is still being written about the tariff wars in Telecom industry in recent weeks. Importantly often the discussion starts to engage the notion of brands. At its simplest Brand is a promise to the customer of a quality of service with meaningful differentiated dimensions ahead of a generic or commodity version of the same. Brands will have a place as long as that differential exists and commands a premium.


While engaging on a discussion connecting pricing and brand stature one must also consider the industry. In ome industries the price comes down over time as an inherent feature.


Take consumer electronics for instance. The price of say a computer with certain specifications or a TV with certain specifications comes down over time. It does not mean that this industry is losing its halo or its brands are.

In the telecom industry, prices have been coming down since the industry's inception. Various factors have played a role – rapid growth of scale, emergence of innovative business models, and more recently hyper competition. If you were to accept the reduction of price table as a barometer of brand halo or stature then you would reach the conclusion that brand halos have been eroding in this industry for a decade. But one look at amount of media coverage not just for the companies and the industry, but the ranking of brands themselves in various lists across publications will tell you this is not the case.


And finally let's not forget what the consumers at large are paying for. The collective revenue share of top 3 brands is higher than it was a year ago. To me the halo or Brand Stature as I prefer to call it is very much intact. Of course one cannot take it for granted and must continue to nurture it.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

NO SLOWDOWN IN SILVER DEMAND

NIDHI NATH SRINIVAS

 

We have always believed silver spoons, silver coins and silver tongues are desirable. Now that gold is hot-makingly expensive, is cheaper cousin silver a better deal? And what's all this talk about digital cameras hitting silver prices? ET helps you join the dots.


Silver is easier to figure if you see it as a market with two intertwining strands. Its demand, supply and prices each have two independent dynamics at work. The dichotomy and influence of these strands on each other makes this market no place for old men.


Consider supply. The world gets silver from silver mines, and what governments and people sell. In 2008, supply crossed 28,500 tonnes. Silver mines accelerate production when prices are attractive. People and governments too sell their family silver when prices are attractive. When prices plummeted after the financial crisis last year, scrap sales plummeted too. But the world also gets a huge quantity of silver as a by-product of lead, zinc, copper and gold mines. As these mines are focused on the price of their primary metal, they continue to produce silver irrespective of its price signals. Put together, you can never bet silver supply will directly respond to price.


There is a similar dichotomy at work in demand as well. On the one hand, silver is bought as a precious metal to hedge against inflation, currency fluctuations and general economic malaise. So whenever there is fear and panic in the market, people gravitate towards silver. On the other hand, silver is simply another raw material used by factories in making everything from camera films to jewellery, electronics, batteries, hi-tech clothing and radio frequency tags.


Actually half the silver sold is consumed like this. When factories slow down, as they did in the last one year, silver's demand drops too. So demand for silver is a see-saw between its avatar as a precious metal and its day job as an industrial metal. The global recession which wrote off silver's industrial consumption also re-ignited its bullion demand.


How money flows into silver is an equally motley mix. Investors — these could be households, wealthy individuals, exchange traded funds and institutions — believe silver is a store of value and buy it in the form of paper, coins and bars. Ignoring silver's physical demand-supply fundamentals, they trade in silver the way they would gold and closely track the price relationship between the two.


A few far-sighted investors are not bothered about the gold-silver connection. Instead, they are putting their faith in silver's physical demand-supply fundamentals. Though demand for silver to make photography films has sharply dropped in the age of digital cameras, these investors believe supply would not keep pace with total industrial demand in the coming years. While a lot of above-ground silver would continue to re-enter the production cycle each year, investors are hopeful the world will find new commercial uses to suck it out too.


The punters, however, believe silver is simply a shorter route to profit than gold. They speculate on short term price movements on commodity exchanges and use both long and short instruments to gain exposure to silver price. Punters know that in terms of value, the physical gold market is much bigger than silver. Being smaller makes the silver market less liquid and more susceptible to volatility. In short, it is perfect for getting over-the-top money if you have the courage to bet on it. The combined motives and trading strategies of investors and speculators keep the silver market full of frenetic activity.

Where does that leave you? With two choices obviously! You could put your faith in silver as a precious metal and hope its value will rise in line with gold. Or you could see it as just another metal that sometimes even moves in tandem with copper and is currently plagued by lack lustre physical consumption. One thing is certain. Both ways will bring you plenty of edge-of-the-seat excitement.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

SHARING SPECTRUM: IMPROVING TELECOM SERVICES REQUIRE PROACTIVE PLANNING

JAIDEEP MISHRA

 

There's welcome loud thinking of late on matters telecom, and Trai, the regulator, has put out a consultation paper on policy design for the radio frequency spectrum so essential for mobile telephony. The paper mentions that in August, the national telecom subscriber numbers added up to 456 million, mostly wireless connections of course. It projects a billion-plus subscriber base within five years. Hence the need for proactive policy on spectrum, so as to manage the huge addition of subscriber numbers likely in the months ahead.


Meanwhile, mobile operators in India have been complaining of severe "spectrum shortage," for years. It does not help that in the 15 years we have had wireless services here, there's been administrative allocation of spectrum, in fits and starts, and not exactly transparently either. Anyway, India is now the fastest growing telecom market, and what's required is a forward-looking spectrum policy to boost spectral efficiency and innovation across the board.


The Trai paper does posit the idea of spectrum trading and attendant sharing of the vital resource. What's surely required is real-time secondary market activity for proper spectrum management, to better accommodate the fast-growing volume of telecom traffic in the cards. Back to back, the policy change would encourage the design of novel handsets and telecom equipment especially meant for co-operative sharing of spectrum. With pathbreaking policy, the telecom sector here as a whole could emerge as the most innovative anywhere.

The current policy is to mandate exclusive licensing of a specific block of spectrum for different operators, as has generally been the case the world over. However, the fact remains that with exclusive access to spectrum, some cellular capacity would always sit idle when the calls underway require less than full capacity, as happens more than 98% of the time in mobile operations. Also, except in metro-service areas of dense usage, spectral resources are more likely to be deployed sub-optimally. Hence the scope for real-time sharing.


The experts point out that it has been well demonstrated that dividing a particular block of spectrum into separate exclusive tranches comprehensively reduces the amount of traffic read cellular phone calls per minute. It is true that licensing began in the early days of wireless devices to see to it that, say, a radio broadcaster or other spectrum users could carryout transmission sans interference. But new technological developments do allow real-time sharing of spectrum without compromising on service quality. Unlicensed spectrum (such as in WiFi networks) already allow a degree of local spectral sharing, but the quality of service available and its reliability cannot always be guaranteed.


The paper throws up several questions about the rationale and logistics for trading and sharing of spectrum. Is trading required for spectrum consolidation? How precisely should the trade take place and at what price? Further, what ought to be the criteria to permit sharing?


Now the prevailing practice has been to levy an upfront spectrum usage fee and an annual share based on the amount of spectral resources "held". Going forward, it should be possible to work out incentive fees for improved efficiency in spectrum usage. The objective should be to better manage the supply and demand of spectrum, and also encourage the shift to more spectrally efficient equipment, and generally speaking, policy induce less congestion and better quality in the network.


But in parallel, what's necessary is real-time sharing and trading of spectrum as a matter of policy, to ease constraints and routine spectral bottlenecks. After all, commercially viable technologies have evolved in recent years, for real-time secondary markets in spectrum. The widely used global positioning system (GPS) technology, with which devices can workout their location, can be also used for the purpose of trading and sharing. Using GPS, it is possible for a licensee to use the location information to estimate when any two devices might interfere.


The result can then be used to give the green signal–in split second accuracy–to a secondary device to transmit voice or data, so as to phenomenally increase radio-frequency reuse. The experts visualise other technological possibilities for spectrum share in real-time. For instance, software radio makes it possible for telecom devices to 'jump' from one frequency band to other with speed, in search of better quality. So if a secondary device is not getting the desired quality of service in any particular band, it can always jump search. There are still other emerging technological possibilities for trading and sharing of spectrum. The new internet payment systems can enable and fastforward change as well. Which is all the more reason for the policy change.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'MY FILMS ARE ABOUT SOCIAL CHANGE, HENCE THEY ARE DOCU-FEATURES'

ASHOKE NAG

 

White Pine Pictures' president and founder, Peter Raymont, has produced and directed over 100 documentary films and series. He has received over 35 awards. Raymont is also executive producer of the hit CBC drama series, The Border, currently in production on its third season. Seasons one and two are now airing across Europe and have been licensed to ION in the US. Raymont lives in Toronto, Ontario. He was in Kolkata for the 15th Kolkata Film Festival and gave an exclusive interview to ET.


Is there support for film making in Canada?

Yes, there is support for the arts in Canada. That's quite unique. But, there is a perception in the audiences that films have to be entertaining. I'm an activist. Entertainment is not my first priority. Art should be like a hammer. The government of Canada has brought me to Kolkata Film Festival. That's a proof of the support it extends.

How difficult is it for a film maker like you who makes a different genre of documentary films?

In any case it is difficult to show Canadian films in Canada. Everything has been taken over by Hollywood. But, there are theatres which screen documentaries of this nature. They are getting into these theatres. And, that's happening in Canada, in the US and across Europe. We are also churning out digital prints, which are more convenient for exhibiting.


Why haven't you made feature films at all?

Actually, my documentaries have the length of a feature film. They span 80-90 minutes. They are feature length without known actors. The actors are real people who are in them. There is great drama in ordinary people's lives. You can't make something as dramatic and compelling, for instance, as the happenings in Rwanda or Chile. These feature docus can help you make a living. In fact, my production company, White Pine Pictures, has 20 employees.

 

Which film school did you graduate from and when did you make your first film?

I graduated from Queen's University, Ontario with film studies and politics. I made my first film as a 19-year-old and joined the National Film Board as editor. The NFB was started by John Grierson, the documentary film maker who inspired me. Grierson made his first documentaries in Scotland and England. He believed that political action can change things. I grew up in the 60s and during the Vietnam War, I was a teenager. The atmosphere was politically very active. Many, in my generation, became writers, journalists, film makers or social activists. I was drawn to films. I enjoyed making films. I saw it as a tool for social change rather than an entertainment media. My films are about social change.


Which film directors, other than Grierson, do you admire?

Robert Flaherty, the American documentary film maker, Fred Wiseman and Donald Britain of Canada. I was also inspired by the vision of Kazan, Godard and Stanley Kubrick.


Have you watched Indian directors?

I have watched and admired (Satyajit) Ray's films. They are very human and personal. It was an important experience for me in film school. In fact, I met him in Toronto when I was in film school. Ray was speaking at a Canadian university. I rented Ray's Trilogy and watched them again on the plane on my flight to Calcutta. I found them so human, powerful and emotional still. They stand the test of time.


Ray has also made a few documentaries.

I wish I could see some of them. I think Ray's feature films, too, have a documentary sensibility. All his films also end with hope. I have also seen the films directed by Indian-Canadian director Deepa Mehta. She lives in Toronto.

What are you working on now?

I'm making a film now about the international criminal court in the Hague. The central character is the chief prosecutor of the court, who is an Argentinian. I am shooting in Congo in Africa, at the UN in New York and in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It's about the new world order and international justice. There is crime everywhere. It's also there in India and Africa. You can and should be tried and taken to court.


You travel a lot to make your films. You must have shot in many places by now.

I have made docus in various places. In recent years, I've also shot in Greece, Sydney and Melbourne.

Sometimes, you must be taking a lot of risk in venturing into the sort of themes you do.

I won't say it's devoid of risk. But, I have to handle it smartly.


Is there censorship in Canada?

There's no censorship in Canada.


Is it relatively difficult for younger film makers to raise funds for making films now?

That's true. They face a lot of difficulty. There are so many who graduate from film school. The job avenues are relatively limited. Only the best succeed. There are many documentary film makers whose productions are made through my company.


Do you also feel bogged down occasionally?

I like to keep going. I also made a drama series on TV called the Border. It deals with happenings on the US-Canada border. Smuggling, terrorism..... I would love to make a documentary on Calcutta and India.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

BORN-AGAIN CSE TO DOUBLE ITS TURNOVER

ANURADHA HIMATSINGKA

 

Two years since it was demutualised, the Calcutta Stock Exchange (CSE) has declared a dividend of 700% for its shareholders for the year ended March 31, 2009. In recent months, the exchange has taken several initiatives to galvanise trading operations. And there is a lot more in store as ET found out in a freewheeling chat with CSE chairman Udayan Bose.


Has the Securities & Exchange Board of India (Sebi) approved CSE's proposal to trade on NSE's cash and derivative segment?

Sebi has approved the NSE membership registration of CSE's subsidiary — CSE Capital Markets (CCML). CCML's trading rights will allow CSE member brokers to trade on NSE's cash and futures and options (F&O) segment as sub brokers. This will not only give thousands of small CSE brokers another national platform to trade on apart from the existing BSE platform but will also boost CSE's revenues.


Is the Sebi approval for CCML's membership registration different from CSE's agreement with the BSE which allows member brokers to trade on the latter's platform?


Unlike our agreement with BSE which allows member brokers to issue contract notes, CCML's trading rights will not allow our member brokers to issue contract notes. If we need to bring both the agreements at par, we will have to enter into an agreement with NSE to avail its trading platform under Section 13 of the Securities Contract & Regulation Act (SCRA), enabling CSE member to issue their own contract notes.


Have you been able to resolve some of CSE's land-related problems?

We have been able to settle the contentious land issue. According to an agreement with the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC), we will retain some three acres of land adjacent to ITC Sonar on the Eastern Metropolitan (EM) bypass. This land will be in addition to five acres in New Town-Rajarhat allotted to the exchange by West Bengal government for Rs 5 crore per acre. We are thinking of setting up a CSE Tower in Rajarhat and relocate to the new building. The tower is expected to house it all — from forex to nascent insurance schemes and from bonds to innovative deposits under one roof. We will have a city office as well, but we may renovate the city premises and probably give it on lease. We have not taken a decision on the use of the EM Bypass property.

What initiatives have been taken by the new management over the past one year to vitalise the exchange?
CSE's risk management system has been strengthened and the margins rationalised. It has also made the risk management on CSE-BSE segment much stronger in collaboration with BSE team. The exchange recently introduced a listing amnesty scheme, which gave companies an opportunity to update their compliance with the exchange without attracting penalty to woo back companies to the exchange. The listing amnesty scheme will be valid till December 31, 2009. We are also offering intranet trading facilities to our member brokers.


What are the future plans of the exchange?

Going forward, the focus will be to boost CSE's turnover in the near future. From the time I took over in December 2007 when the exchange's turnover was around Rs 25 crore a month, it has now jumped to Rs 525 crore a month. We want to achieve a turnover of Rs 1,000 crore a month in the next six months. We also intend to revamp the C-STAR platform by upgrading the C-STAR software in the near future. Of a total of 877 registered members, only 100 odd members are currently active. The request for surrendering membership has come to naught. In fact, CSE has started receiving requests from inactive members to activate their terminals and start business.


THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

NO HURRY TO CHANGE TRADE TIMINGS: NSE

ASHWIN J PUNNEN

 

Ever since the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) allowed stock exchanges to extend trade timings, market players have been wondering whether the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) and the National Stock Exchange (NSE) will go ahead and change the timings. Ravi Narain, MD of NSE, the largest exchange in the country, in an interview with ET Now, said that NSE is not in a hurry to change the timings, instead wait for a consensus to emerge among market participants.


The market is quite curious to know what is going to be the NSE's stand on extending the trade time. Are you going to change trade timings?

The proposal to change the market timings came from the market itself, where it was felt that there is a need to capture global cues which may impact prices here. But there are some serious concerns now. One concern is about the facility to transfer money for the margins purpose within the banking system, especially from upcountry investors. The second concern is about the back-office system of small brokers. The other issue is the problem faced by mutual funds to calculate their NAVs. These are legitimate issues that need to be looked upon before we extend the timings.


Have you started getting responses from market participants as well as other exchanges?

The process will start soon. We have already started talking to other exchanges on this issue. Some segments of the market are interested in having longer hours, but the bulk of the market seems to be in retaining current timings. We will wait for the consensus to emerge; it is not as if the decision has to be taken immediately. There is no tearing hurry, nothing is happening tomorrow morning. If the market feels that there is serious issue over extending trade hours, then why would exchanges change the timings? Ultimately, exchanges are for the benefit of the market. If the market feels that this move is of benefit then we will do it, but if the market feels that there is a serious concern, then we would respond accordingly.


Sebi has recently approved guidelines for an SME exchange. When will NSE launch the new platform?

We have started applying our mind to the guidelines and framework put out by Sebi. We are trying to understand the space better before we start the work. As of now, we are not ready. But soon we will start the work on launching the separate trading platform that will help smaller companies raise capital from the market.


Norms for IDRs are in existence for sometime, but we have not seen any IDR listing. What is the issue there?
The first IDR listing will be the hardest one. There is a very real possibility of the first IDR happening in the near future. My sense is that when the first IDR is done, and then there will be a spate of IDR listings. I am quite optimistic. I think, initial round of IDRs is likely to be from large global companies looking for visibility and statement presence in India rather than capital raising programme. There are some enquiries from companies looking to raise funds, but my sense is that real enquires will start after the first IDR listing.


Do you think the recent decision to allow exchange system for selling mutual fund products will help increase the reach of the MF industry?

It's a great initiative. Anything, which adds to the distribution clout of the mutual fund industry, will help both the industry and investors. Here is a ready and tested distribution platform for mutual funds to reaching out to investors. And I am sure, the mutual fund industry will benefit immensely, as they could penetrating to every part of the country and serve investors better.

Sebi has given flexibility for exchanges to change the expiry date for F&O contracts. Is there any plan to change the expiry date?


We are very comfortable with the current expire date and there is no plans to change it. And the feedback back we have received from our trading members is that there is no need for a change of the present expiry date for F&O contracts. So, there is no reason for us to make any changes there.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

JUST STAND FIRM WITH US, CHINA

 

The US President, Mr Barack Obama's solicitousness of his Chinese hosts should cause no surprise. Equally, no Indian outrage is called for on account of condescending references in the US-China joint statement to the situation in South Asia. However, insofar as supercilious mention is made in that document of India-Pakistan relations in the context of Kashmir, the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, will be expected to set the record straight when he meets Mr Obama in Washington in a few days' time. But there is no call to froth at the mouth. We need to understand that the Americans are being extra nice to the Chinese because they need China at this juncture. This by no means suggests that remarks of a general nature made in the joint statement are likely to be converted into an operational script by either side. Much that has gone into the statement appears intended to make the Chinese chuffed — no more than that. It's all about dressy drollness, in a sense. Mr Obama's return visit to Beijing ought to be viewed in the light of the changing balance of forces in the world. America can no longer be said to be a hyperpower. Being engaged in two wars simultaneously in Iraq and Afghanistan has taken a toll of its treasure and morale, and the crippling year-long recession from which it is just emerging has debilitated it. So the US is now only a weakened superpower, although still the only one to answer to that description. China, on the other hand, has emerged more or less unscathed from the recession. It has the money to contribute to help the revival of other economies and the credentials to be at the high table that may frame the post-downturn new financial order, if such a move seriously gets underway. But perhaps more than any of this, the Chinese have bailed out the debt-ridden American economy by purchasing one trillion dollars worth of US government bonds. More, Mr Obama calculates that if he is to emerge as a genuinely new-look President — marking out the contrast with his predecessor, and achieve this when he is roughly mid-way through his term — he might need to harness Chinese diplomatic clout in turning the clock back with Iran and North Korea. Both are key objectives for Washington. In the event, Beijing wants payback by way of being treated as the new Moscow as far as appearances go. The US is happy to flatter China's vanity. This costs little. In time, Washington will learn that China can't deliver politically. It doubtless carries clout with Pakistan and North Korea, states that are not deemed normal. But if Beijing helps Washington meet its requirements in these theatres, it may have little political leverage left with the America in this part of the world. As for Iran and Afghanistan, the Chinese are not quite in a position to swing the mood in these countries. Beijing's presumed influence over them is overstated. So, what about Kashmir, then? The Chinese and the Americans need to be informed they are out of jurisdiction, and that they parrot the position of Pakistan, which is not acceptable. Washington will need reminding that all actions carry a price tag.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

AMERICANS LIVING IN A FOOL'S PARADISE?

BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

 

If you follow the debate around the energy/climate bills working through Congress you will notice that the drill-baby-drill opponents of this legislation are now making two claims. One is that the globe has been cooling lately, not warming, and the other is that America simply can't afford any kind of cap-and-trade/carbon tax.

 

But here is what they also surely believe, but are not saying: They believe the world is going to face a mass plague, like the Black Death, that will wipe out 2.5 billion people sometime between now and 2050. They believe it is much better for America that the world be dependent on oil for energy — a commodity largely controlled by countries that hate us and can only go up in price as demand increases — rather than on clean power technologies that are controlled by us and only go down in price as demand increases. And, finally, they believe that people in the developing world are very happy being poor — just give them a little running water and electricity and they'll be fine. They'll never want to live like us.

 

Yes, the opponents of any tax on carbon to stimulate alternatives to oil must believe all these things because that is the only way their arguments make any sense. Let me explain why by first explaining how I look at this issue.

 

I am a clean-energy hawk. Green for me is not just about recycling garbage but about renewing America. That is why I have been saying "green is the new red, white and blue".

 

My argument is simple: I think climate change is real. You don't? That's your business. But there are two other huge trends barrelling down on us with energy implications that you simply can't deny. And the way to renew America is for us to take the lead and invent the technologies to address these problems.

 

The first is that the world is getting crowded. According to the 2006 United Nations population report, "The world population will likely increase by 2.5 billion... passing from the current 6.7 billion to 9.2 billion in 2050. This increase is equivalent to the total size of the world population in 1950, and it will be absorbed mostly by the less developed regions, whose population is projected to rise from 5.4 billion in 2007 to 7.9 billion in 2050".

 

The energy, climate, water and pollution implications of adding another 2.5 billion mouths to feed, clothe, house and transport will be staggering. And this is coming, unless, as the deniers apparently believe, a global pandemic or a mass outbreak of abstinence will freeze world population — forever.

 

Now, add one more thing. The world keeps getting flatter — more and more people can now see how we live, aspire to our lifestyle and even take our jobs so they can live how we live. So not only are we adding 2.5 billion people by 2050, but many more will live like "Americans" — with American-size homes, American-size cars, eating American-size Big Macs.

 

"What happens when developing nations with soaring vehicle populations get tens of millions of petroleum-powered cars at the same time as the global economy recovers and there's no large global oil supply overhang?" asks Felix Kramer, the electric car expert who advocates electrifying the US auto fleet and increasingly powering it with renewable energy sources. What happens, of course, is that the price of oil goes through the roof — unless we develop alternatives. The petro-dictators in Iran, Venezuela and Russia hope we don't. They would only get

 

richer.


So either the opponents of a serious energy/climate bill with a price on carbon don't care about our being addicted to oil and dependent on petro-dictators forever or they really believe that we will not be adding 2.5 billion more people who want to live like us, so the price of oil won't go up very far and, therefore, we shouldn't raise taxes to stimulate clean, renewable alternatives and energy efficiency.


Green hawks believe otherwise. We believe that in a world getting warmer and more crowded with more "Americans", the next great global industry is going to be ET, or energy technology based on clean power and energy efficiency. It has to be. And we believe that the country that invents and deploys the most ET will enjoy the most economic security, energy security, national security, innovative companies and global respect. And we believe that country must be America. If not, our children will never enjoy the standard of living we did. And we believe the best way to launch ET is to set a fixed, long-term price on carbon — combine it with the Obama team's impressive stimulus for green-tech — and then let the free market and innovation do the rest.

 

So, as I said, you don't believe in global warming? You're wrong, but I'll let you enjoy it until your beach house gets washed away. But if you also don't believe the world is getting more crowded with more aspiring Americans — and that ignoring that will play to the strength of our worst enemies, while responding to it with clean energy will play to the strength of our best technologies — then you're wilfully blind, and you're hurting America's future to boot.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

LEBANON: A TWO-ACT TRAGEDY IN WEST ASIA

BY S. NIHAL SINGH

 

If Lebanon is the weathervane of the Middle East (what we call West Asia), does the formation of a government after five months of post-election wrangling portend a hopeful sign despite the gloom induced by the President, Mr Barack Obama's failure to move Israel? Hazarding a guess in a region littered with landmines is a risky business, but the Opposition Hezbollah movement's agreement to join the government of Saad Hariri and accepting two Cabinet berths, is an indication that the Opposition is prepared to mark time while it awaits what the future brings.

 

By seeking to tackle the seminal Israeli-Palestinian confrontation head-on at the beginning of his term, President Obama's rude rebuff by Israel on freezing settlements has essentially resulted in an impasse. The Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has had to offer resignation from the Palestinian Authority because he was placed in an impossible situation. The pretence of a peace process that has not existed for years rings hollow. And Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking to draw attention away from the consequences of snubbing his benefactor and protector by casting around for a lifeline from Syria on the occupied Golan Heights.

 

Lebanon has always been buffeted by its neighbours and more distant powers as they settle scores among themselves. The Hezbollah movement was born out of Israel's invasion of the country in the 80s, and the 34-day Israeli offensive in 2006 flattening south Lebanon, resulting in 1,000 Lebanese deaths, mostly of civilians, led to a stalemate and made heroes of the movement. Arabs have always lost the wars they have fought with Israel, and for a supposedly ragtag guerrilla movement to fight the mighty Israeli war machine to a standstill was a signal achievement.

 

One consequence of the 2006 war was that Hezbollah secured a veto over government decisions in Beirut. And the five months of wrangling to form a national unity government by Mr Hariri was really a struggle over the terms Hezbollah would agree to coexist with the pro-US and pro-Saudi March 14 alliance, named after the Cedar revolution, for the time being. Mr Hariri's father Rafiq, the long-time Prime Minister and father of rebuilding Beirut on the ruins of the 1975-90 civil war, was assassinated in 2005 leading to the marshalling of pro and anti-Syrian demonstrations. The latter won, Syrian troops withdrew from Lebanon after 29 years and son Hariri's alliance of Sunni Muslims and Maronite Christians won 71 seats to the Opposition's 57. Hezbollah was allied with the Shia Amal movement and the Christian faction led by former General Michel Aoun.

 

Government positions are carefully parcelled out to the different factions based on religious persuasion. The President must be a Maronite Christian and the process of honing in on Michel Suleiman, the former Chief of Army staff, took much time. The Prime Minister is a Sunni Muslim, the Speaker of the National Assembly is a Shia. The percentages have been shuffled once in favour of Sunni Muslims to reflect the changing demography, but nobody is talking about another exercise in apportioning power by downgrading Christians.

 

The tragedy of the Middle East, being played out every day, is marked by two Lebanese events, the suicidal 15-year civil war and the murder of Rafiq Hariri. The latter led to the crystallisation of two opposing forces, the pro-Western and status quo movement and the Hezbollah seeking a new regional order, and a United Nations investigation into the assassination, culminating in the hearings at The Hague. In fact, the court's order to release four pro-Syrian generals because of insufficient evidence is a morale boost for Damascus, widely blamed in Lebanon for the Rafiq killing.

 

Indeed, the assassination of Rafiq Hariri was a body blow at Lebanon for a weighty reason. A self-made billionaire, he was close to Saudi Arabia and had the credibility and heft to marshal substantial funds for rebuilding Beirut. The gleaming and modern city centre, which I saw during my last visit, is a monument to a unique leader. It was his vision to restore Beirut to its pre-civil war glory of the acclaimed Paris of the East. And before the last turmoil caused by the Israeli invasion, Lebanon was returning to find favour with Arab potentates and common folk for its spectacular charms of sea and mountains.

 

How Lebanon's latest attempt at unity will work depends, in large part, on regional currents. Despite Syria's withdrawal of troops from Lebanon, it continues to exercise considerable influence on Lebanese affairs. Both Syria and Iran support Hezbollah in different ways although the Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has developed a cult following in the Arab world after frustrating the aims of the Israeli military offensive of 2006.

 

In a sense, Israel is now fighting with its back to the wall because it simply cannot afford publicly to insult the US President and prosper in the region. Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad has thrown a morsel in the French way in seeking a greater French role in the region. But it is unlikely that Damascus will fall for the Israeli bait of negotiations without preconditions, without securing all of the Golan Heights.


How the Prime Minister, Mr Saad Hariri, steers Lebanon through these treacherous waters remains to be seen, but much will depend upon the future American role. The Obama administration has now to rebuild its regional strategy between the ruins of its policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and foundering hopes on a deal with Iran on its nuclear programme. Both the US and Israel have been seeking to wean away Syria from Iran without paying the price of Israel leaving the occupied Golan Heights. Despite its domestic turmoil, Tehran feels it is sitting pretty, with the majority Shias in command in neighbouring Iraq and the failure of President Obama's charm offensive in Israel, in the latter case the tail wagging the dog.

 

Left alone, Lebanon can reclaim its lost glory as a tourist haven for repressed Arab societies. But that is a precious condition the country cannot aspire to. The best Mr Hariri can achieve is to balance opposing forces in a manner that leaves him some room to take his nation forward. Lebanon can never be a Switzerland because the Middle East is not Europe.

 

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

LEGISLATOR HAAZIR HO!

 

The recent incident in the Maharashtra Assembly where an aggressive physical effort was made to stop a legislator from taking oath in Hindi was a deliberate attack on the Constitution. We are all free to speak in our mother tongue and take oath in any of the languages included in the Constitution. Seeking to prevent someone from doing that in a place like the state legislature, and that too by physical intervention, was an action that amounted to devaluing the Constitution, which the legislators are supposed to protect.

 

Legislators seem to forget that there is more to winning elections than just enjoying the perquisites. They have a duty towards the Constitution, the nation and the people. The least they can do is to behave properly inside the House. But they are aware that once elected practically nothing can shake them from their position. In such a situation, or even otherwise, if a legislator is not seen doing his job properly, people should have the right to recall the MLA or MP they elected.

 

As it is, the electorate chooses one or another candidate nominated by political parties. So, people practically have no choice. But with the right to recall becoming available, they will have some power that they can exercise on those they elect. Moreover, there are rules for impeaching the President and the vice-president. The legislators can bring no-confidence motions against the government and even against the Speaker. But the legislators, once they are elected, cannot be touched until the next election. Of course, there are rules for expulsion but there are limitations to that. Be-sides, if a legislator is expelled, the people of his constituency are ultimately going to suffer if a replacement is not envisaged.

 

The right to recall has been implemented in various countries — the United States, Canada, Switz-erland and some Scandinavian countries, besides a few others. In the existing systems in the countries indicated above, a certain minimum percentage of people —from every segment of the constituency — should be in favour of recalling the candidate. Without this the process cannot be initiated. But the final question is whether the legislators themselves are willing to let go whatever advantages they feel they have in the current set-up.

 

Somnath Chatterjee is a former Lok Sabha Speaker

 

It's a good idea, but it won't work
The idea of right to recall is a good and romantic idea which is not applicable in our current system. To begin with, our system does not leave scope for recall. We have a "first past the post" system and more than one thousand political parties. In such a scenario, a candidate is often elected by a minority of votes. This could be as little as five or seven per cent of the total votes cast, not to speak of the total number of registered votes in his constituency.

 

This would suggest that something like 95 per cent of voters were against the winning candidate. By definition, the right to recall involves a certain minimum percentage of people saying that they are not in favour of a certain candidate continuing in office. In our system, clearly, that situation becomes a reality the moment a candidate gets elected since the winner often represents a very small per cent of the votes cast. Going by this logic, a large number of candi-dates would be fit cases for being recalled. In other words, the "representative legitimacy" of our elected candidates is often seriously in doubt.

 

 

Another reason which makes this idea less than practical is the fact that we have very large consti-tuencies. This leaves huge scope for variations and mani-pulations. We must remember that while we imported the "first past the post system" from Britain, we have not been able to evolve a two party system which, if implemented, would have made the idea of right to recall more amenable for implement-ation. There could be two solutions to the problem of legislators either not performing as per people's expectations or resorting to activities like the one seen recently in the Maharashtra Assembly. Either we change the Constitution and follow the United Kingdom model or of other Europe-an countries. Else, we must be more honest and show more integrity in our conduct. If vested interests are involved, no system will work properly. In the case of office of profit bill, for instance, the rules were changed with retro-spective effect from 1959 to allow certain indi-viduals carrying on with their public offices along with other positions of profit. If we begin re-adjusting the laws in such a manner, then any system we introduce will be fraught with the risk of being manipulated.

 

Subhash Kashyap,Former secretary-general, Lok Sabha

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

MINORITY REPORT

BY NITISH SENGUPTA

 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's castigation of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) on October 29 for their audacity in appointing an interlocutor for the India and Pakistan dispute over Kashmir was very timely and appropriate. The OIC does not seem to understand that India is a country with a Muslim population of over 151 million, the third-largest Muslim community in the world after Indonesia and Bangladesh, and that Pakistan, a country with a much smaller Muslim population, does not really have any locus standi as far as Kashmir is concerned.

 

To project India's case on the Kashmir issue, one needn't go into the history of Kashmir. Just citing the previous United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan's announcement several years ago that the UN resolutions of 1949-50 on Kashmir are not valid in today's context, is enough. For some strange, unexplained reason, the Indian foreign office has not made use of this extremely significant statement.

 

In this connection one has to painfully admit that in the last two decades India has failed to counter Pakistan's propaganda in some of the orthodox Muslim countries, especially Saudi Arabia, and been unable to project itself as the home of 151 million Muslims. Public opinion about India in most Muslim countries, except maybe Indonesia, Turkey and Bangladesh, has become a victim of Pakistan's propaganda which day in and day out spreads the canard that Muslims in India are persecuted, and that their rights and privileges are seriously curtailed. Unfortunately, this is also the general belief of a number of Pakistanis. It was not so always, but has unfortunately become so in the past two decades, especially from the time of Zia-ul-Haq and his anti-Indian tirade.

 

India needs to seriously counter this vicious propaganda and project the truth. Public opinion in orthodox Muslim countries must be won over and Pakistan's bluff called. How one misses an Arab leader like Saddam Hussein at such a time; he was a strong supporter of India on all issues, including Kashmir.

 

One also needs to remember that in 1971 a very important geo-political change took place in the subcontinent. Bangladesh, with a large Muslim population, seceded from Pakistan after an armed struggle and became the People's Republic of Bangladesh. Thus, Pakistan lost its moral claim of being the champion of Muslims in the subcontinent under the legacy of the 1947 Partition. So how can Pakistan then claim any moral right to Jammu and Kashmir vis-à-vis India?

 

Since 1947 there have been four armed clashes between Pakistan and India over Kashmir. In 1971, the Pakistan Army was decisively beaten, both on the western and eastern fronts. But not only did India not press her advantage at the bilateral discussion at Shimla in 1972, it also agreed to return 93,000 prisoners of war and all territory seized from Pakistan without any conditions. This remains a unique event in world history. The correct quid pro quo would have been for Pakistan to give up all claims to Kashmir, or at least agreeing to the ceasefire line or the Line of Control between the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir. But, in its generosity, the Indian government did not press these points and decided to trust Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Thereafter, Pakistan did not raise the Kashmir issue for two decades.

 

It was during the National Democratic Alliance regime that India allowed Pervez Musharraf, on a visit to India, to raise the Kashmir issue after recognising him as Pakistan's President. Kashmir returned to the discussion table once again, that too at a time when Pakistan was sending terrorists to India, not only from Pakistan but also from Chechnya, Afghanistan and Sudan.

 

Kashmir was already in turmoil, 1989 onwards, as a result of political mishandling by successive governments in New Delhi. Terrorism had gained new ground and had a clear-cut agenda of ethnic cleansing, in the course of which the Pandit community was by and large compelled to leave the Valley. Mufti Muhammad Sayeed's period as Union home minister was particularly bad, and it was complicated further by George Fernandes serving as minister for Kashmir affairs, the two working at cross purposes.

 

India needs to do a great deal in her external publicity programme, especially to counter Pakistan's propaganda on the condition of Muslims in India. If some of the utterances by the captured "jihadis" are any guide, it is clear that they genuinely believe that the condition of Muslims in India is pitiable, that they are constantly persecuted, harassed and humiliated. While there are deeply unfortunate and shameful events like the Babri Masjid demolition, followed by the Mumbai riots of 1992 and the riots in Gujarat in 2002, these are exceptions, not the rule. Most Indian Muslims would agree that barring these, they live a life of dignity like all Indians. That they have equal rights and freedoms — political, social and religious. One need not go into the statistically-flawed and politically-prejudiced Sachar Commission report which sought to determine the status of Muslims in India only with reference to the number of jobs they hold in the government vis-à-vis the upper classes among Hindus, excluding the dalits.

 

The fact is that Muslims have made a remarkable mark in India, especially in businesses and professions. Nothing illustrates this better than Bollywood where they occupy a dominant position, as superstars, technicians and musicians. It is time some of our prominent Indian Muslims take the initiative in counteracting Pakistan's propaganda, and project the truth. A special responsibility rests on the Bollywood community. If some of them, say like the Khan trio, do some plain speaking, especially directed at Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, one can expect these countries to change their attitudes towards India considerably. One recalls the televised tête-à-tête that the late actor Feroze Khan had with Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan — he criticised Pakistani society, praised India, and said that he was longing to return to India to live an honourable life as a free citizen.

 

A lot of responsibility rests with progressive Indian Muslims, intellectuals, artists and politicians as well to disseminate the truth: that India has a large Muslim population of 151 million, and that Indian Muslims, therefore, have a natural interest in seeing that Jammu and Kashmir remains in India. It is only by conscious reorientation of India's PR machinery abroad that we can influence public opinion in some Muslim countries. Once this is done, it will surely be reflected in organisations like the OIC.

 

Nitish Sengupta, an academic and an author, is a former Member of Parliament and a former secretary to the Government of India

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

AN EVERYDAY AMERICAN GIRL

BY MAUREEN DOWD

 

Of course, the subtitle of Sarah Palin's book is An American Life. Because she is the lovely avatar of real Americans — ordinary, hard-working, God-fearing, common-sense, good, real Americans.

 

If you are not living an American life, you are, to use a Palin coinage, living "bass-ackwards".

 

Palin is so determinedly American that when she went into labour with Willow on the Fourth of July while kayaking on Memory Lake in Wasilla, she writes, "I so wanted a patriotic baby that I paddled as hard as I could to speed up the contractions, but she held out until the next day."

 

I approached reading her book with trepidation, worried I might learn that I am not a real American, dang it, just another dreaded, jaded "enlightened elite".

 

I was born and live in Washington, DC, after all. Now you'd think that this would be a rather patriotic city to call home, but Palin paints it as a cross between Sodom and Dante's Fifth Circle.

 

Here is what the former Alaska governor censoriously writes about "shenanigans" in two capital cities: "Politically, Juneau always had a reputation for being a lot like Animal House: drinking and bowling, drunken brawls, countless affairs, and garden variety lunchtime trysts. It's been known at times to be like a frat house filled with freshmen away from their parents for the very first time. At other times, the capital city's underside was even darker: clandestine political liaisons and secret meetings, unethical deeds and downright illegal acts."

 

She concludes: "In short, it was a lot like Washington, DC." Indeed, Sarah explains that the reason she wanted to join the McCain campaign was because she and Todd could contribute something rare and special: "We are everyday Americans. We felt our very normalcy, our status as ordinary Americans," she writes, "could be a much-needed fresh breeze blowing into Washington, DC."

 

It is also real hard to be a real, ordinary, hard-working American if you are part of "what used to be called 'mainstream' national media," as Sarah scornfully writes. "The time has come to acknowledge that it is counterfeit objectivity the liberal media try to sell consumers," she says. "A period in the great American experiment has passed."

 

I was beginning to panic. I pored over the book to see if there was anything that I shared in common with this apotheosis of traditional American values.

 

We both had what Palin calls "a love of the written word" and we both won Veterans of Foreign Wars writing contests as children.

 

We both read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Animal Farm. We both came from families that loved Ronald Reagan, drove Ramblers and watched The Lawrence Welk Show and The Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights.

 

Palin's father offered to let her hold some moose eyes. My dad came from Ireland, where they ate sheep eyes soup.

 

Sarah and I both banged on the upright piano in the living room and twirled around to The Sound of Music.

 

We both grew up loving Hershey's bars and bacon and steak. As Sarah explains her carnivore philosophy: "I always remind people from outside our state that there's plenty of room for all Alaska's animals — right next to the mashed potatoes."

 

She hunted moose, and I hunted for Bullwinkle on TV.

 

We both belonged to the scouts, were baby sitters and kept diaries. (Of course, I was writing about making Jiffy Pop, and she, stacking firewood.)

 

We both now have stressful lives where we sometimes, as she puts it, want "a wife" to organise things. And we

both went through an Ann Taylor period before discovering Dolce & Gabbana at consignment shops. I can empathise with Palin, bless her heart, when she observes: "After a while some of the giddy gets knocked right out of you."

 

I must be somewhat American because I agreed with Palin that she was undercut by Nicolle Wallace, one of the

aides sent by John McCain to do the My Fair Lady makeover.

 

Wallace had had a contract at CBS News and was determined to get the big interview for Katie Couric, even if it meant leading the lamb to slaughter, telling Palin that "the Perky One", as Palin called Couric, was insecure (presumably because of her low ratings) and that she would do a short-and-sweet chat about balancing motherhood and a career.

 

But Palin should have been smart enough to know that Couric has had a reputation for decades for being a tough interviewer, and that she wasn't going to whiff on a chance like that. And despite Palin's all-American paranoia, it is common practice to ask presidential candidates what they read.

 

I also agree with Palin that the McCain high command should not have barred the Palin kids, including media darling Piper, from the stage the night of McCain's concession speech. Nobody puts Piper in a corner.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

COPENHAGEN TRANSIT

UPSHOT OF THE APEC SUMMIT

 

THE fanfare may not lead to a momentous agreement on climate change, and Copenhagen may turn out to be a dress rehearsal, after all. If the trend of the discussions at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit is any indication, the meeting in December will at the most yield a tentative roadmap, subject to a formal enunciation at yet another summit in Mexico City next year or later still. Barack Obama and the rest of the great and the good appear to have reconciled themselves to the fact that the thorny issues relating to climate change will have to be shelved for a "final deal". The conference in Copenhagen, therefore, is likely to produce nothing more substantial than a statement of intent, at least finetuned at the high table of summitry. The leaders would hate to concede that as a failure; but considering the hope aroused most importantly at the level of the developing nations, at least an essay towards a solution was widely expected. The upshot of the Asia-Pacific summit is clear enough: any agreement on environment will be a two-stage endeavour. Even if the contours are outlined in Copenhagen, it will be some time before the world can expect a comprehensive agreement on greenhouse gas emissions. Even before the leaders gather in Denmark, they have managed to send out the message that the negotiations will be no more than a much-vaunted diplomatic discourse.


The Danish Prime Minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, summed up the attitude when he remarked at the conclusion of the Apec conference that insufficient progress had been made between the main players to make a final pact possible next month. A decidedly discouraging statement from the leader who will chair the conference in December. He at least expects a binding political agreement, iterating the commitment of the 191 countries to a comprehensive deal that will succeed the Kyoto protocol on emissions. The goalposts on the reduction of emissions shall remain to be sorted out. Environmental groups, most importantly in the developing countries, are quite justifiably disheartened with the outlook. The opportunity may slip in Copenhagen. It may slip yet again in Mexico City next year or even later in some other part of the world. Though climate change tops the agenda of the Obama-Hu talks in Beijing, the USA and China may remain as the unknown quantities for sometime yet. Copenhagen is almost certain to place the matter in suspended animation. Of legwork, there has been little; and of progress there seems little hope.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

OVERBLOWN BOW

BETRAYS IGNORANCE, ARROGANCE


BOWING is to the Japanese what a namaste with folded hands is to Indians or a handshake (maybe a peck on the cheek too) is in western cultural norms ~ an accepted form of greeting. Perhaps a bit more respectful, but certainly it does not equate with kneeling or curtseying before royalty. In short, bowing is far from the display of deference that some in the United States are making it out to be in slamming Barack Obama for following traditional local custom when meeting Emperor Akihito a few days ago. So pricked has been the American bubble of superiority that TV channels have re-run that footage several times over. "I don't know why President Obama thought that was appropriate. Maybe he thought it would play well in Japan, but it's not appropriate for an American President to bow to a foreign one" said one political pundit, while another declared, "Its ugly, I don't want to see it. We don't defer to kings or emperors". Such criticism might find much resonance across that country, but for the rest of the world it serves to highlight customary American ignorance of the social mores of others, and worse, an inherent arrogance to ridicule them.


That needless uproar cannot be seen in isolation. For in so many spheres do the Americans deem their way of life streets ahead of others. It is that attitude that prevents US troops from joining UN forces unless the commanders are American, insisting their flag flies from a taller mast. Manifestations of that arrogance were seen in Vietnam when villages were set ablaze, vast swathes of forest and farmland were destroyed by "agent orange" because foliage facilitated Vietcong movement. A story that runs through My Lai, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, one that has been articulated through the desecration of Holy Books and what have you. The image of the Ugly American keeps popping up every now and then. Even though the USA is fast losing its claim to be a superpower ~ its economy is tottering, its social fabric is in tatters, and the god-almighty dollar no longer reigns supreme. Not even does its military muscle dominate: witness Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama's realisation of changed realities does not seem to have permeated American thinking, else the present controversy would never have arisen. Maybe not every American flaunts that "attitude", far too many do.

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

RURAL CONFESSIONS

CRUEL COMMENT ON LACK OF GOVERNANCE


THIS is confession time for the Left Front. Smaller partners are making brave statements about the rapidly declining relevance of a ruling coalition that has been battered in successive elections, now forced into silence. In a sense Alimuddin Street has no control over its own ministers. Evidence of this had come from Abdul Rezzak Mollah after the Vedic Village scam. Now after years of the Left Front's tall claims about the success of its decentralised administration reflected in the functioning of panchayats, the minister in charge of the department acknowledges that the rural bodies are dens of corruption with huge sums of Central funds remaining unused or getting diverted and most development schemes suffering from lack of transparency and accountability. One reason for Mr Anisur Rahman's disarming candour at an all-party meeting could be the fact that power has changed hands in large parts of rural Bengal after recent elections and this is one way in which he can bail his party out. If that is so, it is opportunism at its worst. No one would be convinced that the evils of neglect, incompetence, nepotism on political lines and misuse of development funds are of recent origin. The Left has much to answer for not only in areas like Lalgarh where sheer despair has paved the way for Maoist-inspired unrest but also in specific matters like preparation of BPL lists which have been tainted by political interference.


Never has a government been so lacking in credibility. Five months after the Chief Minister visited areas in South 24-Parganas hit by cyclone and pledged Rs 50 crore for house building, the bulk of the money remains unspent because Writers' Buildings has been flooded with allegedly fake applications. It is difficult to explain why it has taken so long to scrutinise the applications. That a measly one-tenth of the sanctioned funds has been spent after five months of Aila is a cruel comment on the kind of governance Bengal has. To that extent, the distribution of foodgrain under a central package may run into more hurdles because the state finds it impossible to produce credible BPL and APL lists. The question is whether the Left feels that there is enough time till 2011 to make amends or whether it has been paralysed by the electoral disasters. If the dithering causes governance to take a back seat, the state industries minister's firm rejection of demands for advancing the assembly poll sounds all the more pathetic.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

BIRDS TALK TO SIGNAL PREDATORS!

 

LONDON, 18 NOV: Birds are more clever than you thought ~ the avians can talk out of the corner of their mouths in a bid to scare off predators, says a new study.


An international team, led by the University of California, has carried out the study and found that birds can direct their voices towards the potential threat, even if they are at a right angle to them.
In fact, the "remarkable sophistication" of their call helps the birds to signal to the predator that they should leave their area.


In their study, researchers found that two small American songbirds, the house finch and the yellow rumped warbler, could pull off the trick. ;PTI

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

MIDDLE EAST DOLDRUMS

AMIDST THE FALTERING US INITIATIVES

SALMAN HAIDAR

 

MR Barack Obama came to the Presidency with two striking diplomatic initiatives in hand, one for Afghanistan, the other for the Middle East. Both, especially the latter, are problems that appear virtually insoluble, so to be resolved do something decisive about them was bold and stirring, fittingly ambitious tasks for a new President bent on change. Special envoys were appointed to each of the regions, weighty figures with proven records as peacemakers, and much was expected of them. Mr Obama's initiatives were warmly welcomed, not least in the regions concerned, and US diplomacy has been very active in pursuing the goals outlined by the President. But despite all the effort, and notwithstanding some small gains, the results have been disappointing. Harsh regional realities have re-surfaced and have kept intact the barriers that Mr Obama sought to remove. It is not Washington that has been able to call the tune but local personalities, and the US initiatives now seem to be faltering.


In the Middle East the hope was that a determined push by the USA would at last get the stalled peace process under way. A slight shift of approach, a righting of the balance between Arabs and Israel, was implied in the fresh initiative of Mr Obama. Broadly, the idea in successive peace plans over the years is for Israel to trade land for peace and security. This would require withdrawal to its 1967 borders in exchange for full Arab recognition and readiness for normal relations. Pragmatic ways of dealing with the vexed question of the refugees and their right to return would have to be found. A two-state solution for Palestine would be an essential part of the package, combining Palestinian areas in the West Bank and Gaza into a sovereign entity with its capital in East Jerusalem. Each of these issues has a long and troubled history and cannot be simply decided at a stroke, but this is the path that has to be traversed towards a final settlement.

 

DISCOURAGING SIGNS

Despite the sustained effort over the last few months, the signs have been discouraging. The USA has pushed hard without being able to achieve anything significant. Under its hardline Prime Minister Mr Netanyahu, who came to office a few weeks after Mr Obama, Israel has backed away from making the initial moves that could open the way to a purposeful negotiation. The immediate sticking point is the matter of the Israeli settlements in Palestine. Mr Obama himself, speaking at the UN to considerable Arab acclaim, had called for a complete halt as a first step. But this has not been accepted by the Israeli government. A scaled down programme is the best it has been ready to offer, under which fresh settlements would be kept in abeyance but the substantial building activity already sanctioned would continue; nor is East Jerusalem within the ambit of these measures.
Secretary of State Mrs Clinton was in Israel just a few days ago, on her latest visit to the region, but she was unable to persuade the Israeli authorities to fall in line. In these circumstances, the comprehensive high level Arab-Israel talks, which were hoped for, have had to be set aside for the present. Instead, during the Secretary of State's visit Israel came out with the alternative of holding lower level discussions on a few specific issues. The idea was to build up more slowly to a full-fledged exchange on basic questions, when the situation became conducive. In the course of a meeting with Arab leaders Mrs Clinton commended this approach even though it represents a considerable climbdown from the initial US demand. Not surprisingly, her Arab interlocutors were skeptical and showed little readiness to take this course. Indeed, there have been comments to the effect that in this important matter, the USA had been outfaced by Israel, though perhaps it would be more correct to say that this has been a harsh exposition of the shape of local realities.


To add to the complications, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestine Administration has found it necessary to announce that the lack of progress in the peace process has compelled him to resign from his post. He is regarded as a moderate and a peacemaker and enjoys wide international backing, including from the USA, which has urged him to remain in office and withdraw his decision. Groups of his supporters have demonstrated in his favour and asked him to remain. On more than one occasion in the past he has made similar threats to leave, in frustration at lack of progress towards peace, but has been persuaded to stay on. So there are many overlapping factors to take into account and it is not clear what shape Mr Abbas's decision will take in the near future. But yet his readiness to quit cannot be helpful to the hoped for peace process and has added to the general sense of pessimism.


GOLDSTONE REPORT

THE atmosphere in the Middle East has also worsened as a result of the Goldstone Report on Gaza. Justice Goldstone is a respected jurist from South Africa who headed a fact-finding mission appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate international human rights and humanitarian law violations related to the Gaza war. The report, which was published on 15 September, has been very critical of both sides, but especially of Israel for deliberate attacks on civilian targets. Although that country and its partisans have been very critical of the report and have said it is badly flawed and biased, its credibility has not been damaged and the extensive evidence gathered by the team backs up its conclusions. The report calls for both Israel and Hamas to conduct credible investigations of their responsibility for violations of law during the conflict, and asks the UN Security Council to set up a team of experts to monitor this process. This recommendation has been endorsed by the General Assembly but faces strong opposition from the USA and Israel when it comes to pursuing it in the Security Council. How the situation at the UN works out remains to be seen but this is a factor that makes it seem less likely that the parties will be able to sit together across a negotiating table anytime soon.
In India, we are now accustomed to coming up with a quiet response to Middle East events. The days of our passionate engagement in matters of war and peace in that region, and of the rights and wrongs of situations, seem far behind us. Yet we would do well to come up with more convincing responses than the sotto voce remarks of our spokespersons. Our own public, and our aspirations to a weightier international role, need no less.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

TOKEN UNIVERSITY

 

The chief minister of West Bengal moves in mysterious ways. In the first half of 2007, the government of West Bengal, at the behest of the chief minister, appointed a committee of experts to look into the question of granting autonomy to Presidency College. The experts recommended that the college should not be granted autonomy, and should remain under the aegis of the Calcutta University. Now the chief minister has welcomed a proposal put forward by the governing body of Presidency College to make it a university and steps are being initiated to implement this proposal. The logical question is: what has happened in the last two-and-a-half years for this dramatic reversal of views? There is no answer forthcoming from the government. Within the college very little has changed between 2007 and now. Thus the shift in the government's position remains something of a mystery. Unless the chief minister wants to see the granting of university status to Presidency College as his departing gift to his alma mater.

 

The matter of making Presidency College into a university has been in the air since 1972. The argument then was that the college was a centre for academic excellence and had been so for some time. Its dependence on Calcutta University had become a hindrance to the pursuit of excellence for a number of reasons and therefore it should be freed from this shackle and made into an autonomous institution, if not a university. From 1972, this proposal has had no takers and the situation in the college, thanks to the policies of the Left Front government, has gone from bad to worse. The Left Front government has destroyed Presidency College as a centre for academic excellence. The present proposal, welcomed by the chief minister, is an attempt to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted. In principle, the proposal to make the college a university is welcome. But in practical terms, if the college is to retrieve its position as a centre for excellence, it has to be rebuilt de nuovo, especially in the spheres of recruitment of faculty and mode of teaching. The faculty should be selected by independent experts and should be qualified to teach honours and MA classes; classroom lectures should be backed by a tutorial system as it once was in Presidency College. The mere granting of university status will do nothing to restore the lost reputation of Presidency College.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

WILFUL EXIT

 

The Indian woman's free will is an elusive entity. The Supreme Court has ruled that a wife who walks out of her matrimonial home "willingly" is not entitled to maintenance. At least, that is what the court has ruled in one specific instance, upholding the ruling of the Punjab and Haryana High Court that denied maintenance to a woman who had left her husband and had filed a complaint against him for demanding dowry. She had moved court asking for divorce on the ground of cruelty, while her husband had filed a petition for the restitution of conjugal rights. This was in 1998. Five years later, the court dismissed her plea for legal separation. No doubt the court in its wisdom had found that her husband was not cruel and that she should have responded to the direction to return to him. She had also left her children behind. It is to be assumed that the husband's petition for her return and the fact that she had left her children behind had nothing to do with the dismissal of her plea. This is important, because a general application of the principle behind the court's ruling may pose a grave danger to women forced to leave their husband's homes without even their children. When this woman applied for divorce and maintenance a year later on the ground that she was living separately, the divorce was granted but not the maintenance.

 

There are numerous instances in which women fear for their lives in their in-laws' homes, but have no certainty of food and shelter outside it. In many such cases, the woman leaves home, even if she has to leave her children behind, hoping to somehow bring them out if and when she finds a secure shelter. While the act of walking out is technically "willing", the result of an independent and possibly secret thought process, can this will be described as "free"? The convolutions of the law, the right of the husband to demand the restitution of conjugal rights — given the dangerous psychology of violent men who desire the presence of their most favourite victims — and the cultural baggage a mother trails, incarcerate women within numberless invisible walls. Of course, all this does not mean that women do not try to manipulate the law or exploit their husbands. Such realities merely indicate the care with which the law must step when a woman petitions for maintenance after "walking out" of her marital home.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

FROM DREAM TO REALITY

BENGAL'S CRISIS HIDES IN IT THE POTENTIAL FOR CHANGE

N.K. SINGH

 

This newspaper recently hosted its annual debate on whether a resurgent Bengal was an impossible dream. Not surprisingly, the verdict of the 600-odd listeners went against the motion. This has as much to do with tangible societal gains as with an enveloping sense of crisis which embeds enormous opportunities. The glorious past of Bengal needs no persuasion. It was integrated with the rest of the world through trade and interchange of knowledge. Ironically, much of Bengal's glory dimmed post-Independence, and for a good three decades the state remained in the shadows, for reasons complex and mostly man-made.

 

The current low-level equilibrium emanates from a combination of failed policies and promises, the inability to attract talent and capital, together with a growing sense of despondency. The restlessness for change to a new economic and political order has gripped the psyche of West Bengalis. The growing disconnect between the urban and the rural and rising inequality add to the unease and to the quest for rapid change. However, an objective assessment must be cognizant of multiple spheres.

 

First, the problems of Bengal are generally not atypical of the problems of India: primarily about how to create employment, improve efficacy and the quality of the public delivery system, minimize corruption, create an environment which fosters innovation and enable the realization of demographic dividends. To overcome the vested lobbies, it is necessary to redo our rules and regulations, particularly regarding labour and manufacturing, in creating high growth, high employment and a more egalitarian social order. And to change mindsets in tune with contemporary challenges. A lot of issues that are being argued against Bengal are equally true of India, be it issues of human development, governance or corruption. Bengal mirrors India's problems as India mirrors Bengal's problems.

 

Second, the other issue that needs specific mention is that life is bigger than mere gross domestic product numbers. Growth and outcome cannot be measured merely by changes in the GDP numbers. The expensive costumes of Carla Bruni, the wife of President Nicolas Sarkozy, or what Paris Hilton secures from the exclusive designers, Louis Vuitton or Chanel, may have added to the GDP numbers of France but has not contributed to the index of French happiness.

 

That is why President Sarkozy appointed a commission comprising two Nobel laureates, Amartya Sen and Joseph Stiglitz, who, in their report, pointed out that the outcome of growth cannot be measured by quantifiable numbers alone but through a broader index of happiness. This inter alia implies a cohesiveness of society, levels of tolerance, communal harmony and the social mobility of the population. No one can make the accusation that the societal evolution of Bengal has been based on narrow, regional chauvinistic lines. These are not variables that can be quantified and captured by GDP numbers.

 

Third, on growth rates, from 1970 to 1980, Bengal grew at 3.2 per cent compared to the Indian average of 3.1 per cent; between 1980 and 1991, Bengal grew at 4.2 per cent compared to India at 5.6 per cent, a notch lower. But, then, consider the next 20 years — from 1990 to 2001, West Bengal grew over 6.7 per cent, whereas India lagged behind at 5.7 per cent. Similarly, between 1993-94 and 2004-05, Bengal's growth at 8.55 per cent was well over India's average growth of 6.8 per cent. True, it is only in the post-2004 period that growth rates in Bengal have been somewhat slower than India's growth rates, which shot up exponentially during this period. On other parameters, for instance, health and education, it has made significant progress. On education, the state ranked second and seventh in the categories of construction of classrooms and appointment of teachers under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. Similarly, in the percentage of children between Class III-V who can read, it ranks eighth among the states, while in arithmetic it ranked second. Regarding health, Bengal, with its infant mortality rate of 37 per cent, is well below the national average of 55 per cent; in child mortality rates, 12.2 per cent against the Indian average of 18.4 per cent, and in mortality under five, at 59.6 per cent compared to the all-India average of 74 per cent.

 

In land reforms, it has made important strides,being the only state which distributes land to landless peasants more than it acquires. On decentralization and the panchayati raj, it is a trailblazer, having initiated action on devolution to local institutions many years prior to the constitutional amendment that empowered the rest of India.

 

Fourth, the word 'resurgent' implies 'to rise again'. The ingredients for such a rise in Bengal are available, provided we can build on these ingredients in the demographic differential of the population of the state and the geographic contours of its territory. Growth in India has largely been an urban coastal story. Although Bengal's population is largely rural, it is urbanizing faster than the rest of India. We all know the geography of Bengal, and that in addition to coastlines it has rich inland waterways which can help not only in transport but also in faster integration with peripheral economies.

 

If Bengal is able to overcome the current disputes in land reforms and find rural consensus in alternative land use, it can regain its position as the most industrialized state that it was in the Sixties and even up to the 1980s, when it produced more than 10 per cent of the country's industrial output. It is true that the backbone of industrialization lies not so much in large industries, but in thousands of medium- and small-scale ones. These can become a manufacturing hub providing meaningful employment to the young, and also alternative economic activity to those currently occupied in agriculture. Indeed, this would require a new set of laws relating to labour, manufacturing, urbanization and, above all, a vastly improved rural connectivity. But the problem is the potential of Bengal to become the manufacturing hub of India and to provide its economy with what economists call India's missing middle. Having achieved success in education and considering its past reputation as a knowledge and culture centre, it can emerge as a new knowledge hub, and by providing greater autonomy to institutions for higher learning it can attract the best and brightest across India for learning, research and teaching. No one needs to be persuaded that Calcutta and Bengal have an awesome history in knowledge leadership, and can transcend others in becoming once again a global centre of excellence in education. These can be trigger-points and catalysts for re-igniting the growth momentum.

 

Fifth, the ingredients for a renaissance movement may not still be in sight, but resurgence in the etymology of the word was repeatedly used from 1768 onwards "to imply one who rises again". And Tucker, for the first time, mentioned "we who are alive shall be caught in the clouds together with the resurgence". Resurgence is to repeat and to do what has been achieved. For the reasons cited above, the stage is set for Bengal to be resurgent once again. Consider a January 2009 report of the World Bank entitled, "The Investment Climate in 16 Indian States", which ranks West Bengal as a decent sixth among the major states of India in terms of business climate. Equally impressive is the fact that Bengal ranks higher than some of the hitherto leading states like Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Maharashtra in having a better investment climate. According to the report, the variables that impact business climate in which Bengal is above the national average are infrastructure, institutions, cost of power, tax administration, availability of technology, proximity to customers, transparency, trade financing and availability of inputs. This goes to show that, notwithstanding the recent controversies on land acquisition, Bengal still offers better investment opportunities compared to many other states, and one can see the bright spots.

 

Yes, one has to accept that we all perceive a sense of crisis. The ongoing violence in rural areas, the conflict between Maoists and cadre- based Leftist parties, failed industrialization, broken promises by the Videocon Group, the walkout by the Tatas, rising unemployment, increasing anarchy — are clear signs of crisis. There is no denying the fact that Bengal is at a crossroads. This is because, on the one hand, economic opportunities are enormous if the transition is successful and orderly. The price of failure, on the other hand, is inordinately high. And yet, because there is change in the air and because the foundation has already been laid, the prospect of a resurgence is much brighter than at any time in the past. The present crisis embeds in itself the opportunity of change. India cannot prosper without a prosperous Bengal. And a prosperous Bengal will make for a prosperous India.

 

THE AUTHOR IS A MEMBER OF THE RAJYA SABHA

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

STILL THE SAME

DIPANKAR BOSE

 

More than a year has passed since the world was rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Stock markets crashed and credit stopped all over the globe. Employment dropped sharply, first in finance, then in the real sectors. Predictably, the advanced economies (where the crisis originated) have somewhat absorbed the shock while the weaker ones, such as Russia, Iceland, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Greece are still paying a high price. And Asia has been suffering a steep fall in exports.

 

Going by the criterion of credit flow or revival of the markets, the world economy has come a long way, though quite unevenly. The human suffering in the weaker economies is still very high, and people have been left without much hope for an early revival. In terms of employment or wage rates, even the advanced countries fare poorly. Take the United States of America, which has registered a growth of 3.5 per cent in the third quarter of 2009, thanks to a $787 billion stimulus package. This, of course, is no mean achievement considering the colossal scale of the crisis. Yet, the unemployment rate was 9.8 per cent in September, and it is still rising while wages are falling all over because of the weaker bargaining position of labour. Since December 2007, 6.9 millions have lost their jobs, and if the young people joining the army of job-seekers are taken into account, the total comes to about 9 million.

 

The rich and the mighty take good care of the law, as a rule, before embarking on any project. The US has not been an exception to this general rule. The Great Depression produced a number of safeguards against excessive speculation, epitomized by the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which debarred the use of commercial bank deposits by investment banks, thereby protecting household savings from the clutches of speculation.

 

OLD GAME

These lessons were forgotten over the next 50 years, and the safeguards began to be dismantled with the enactment of the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act in 1982 by President Reagan. Finally, in 1999, the Glass-Steagall Act was annulled under President Clinton, paving the way for a complete deregulation of the financial market. Thus, both the Republicans and the Democrats had contributed to the genesis of the meltdown.

 

The irony is that those who caused it, whether in the government or in finance, on either side of the Atlantic, are not paying for it. Thanks to the massive stimulus packages, more of which have been spent on bailing out the banks rather than on infrastructure and thereby on job creation, finance has begun to play its old game of lavishly rewarding the bank executives for delivering big short-term profits but not punishing them even if bigger losses are suffered later. This automatically encourages high risk-taking, the bane of the system. Thus, one of the most important factors that generated the crisis has returned. And it is perfectly legal because the law has remained the same. Neither has the Glass-Steagall Act been reinstated nor has the Garn-St. Germain Act been annulled. Only the Federal Reserve has been given more power to oversee the financial institutions. So, everything depends on who controls the Fed.It seems that the finance-industry complex is using President Obama's charisma and message of 'hope' to fool the American people and to continue with its old game. And so the seeds of another crisis are being sown.

Any change in law would need the Congress's approval. And herein lies the rub. Let alone a change in law, even getting another stimulus package passed by the Congress would be difficult for Obama, given the opposition of almost all the Republicans and the conservative Democrats. And all this, because the political-economic power structure has not altered despite the worst financial recession in the last 60 years.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPED

NEW EXPERIMENTS TO CURE AN OLD MALAISE

Higher education may not be a priority with the Maharashtra government, but new reforms are changing university administration in the state, writes B. Venkatesh Kumar

 

An Indian born US citizen, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, having won a Nobel prize, has brought immense happiness to us as a nation, and in particular to the academic community. That the Nobel laureate was an undergraduate student at one of India's leading state universities — Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda — is even more gratifying. In fact, our state universities have always been home to some of the most outstanding students who have come to occupy positions of high professional and academic standing in later life.

 

While good students are still persuaded to go to the state universities for higher education, sadly their numbers are fast declining. The abysmal state of affairs in these universities is a cause for great concern. With the newer Central universities coming in, and with many other universities — world-class, private, foreign — in the pipeline (if Kapil Sibal has his way), a serious challenge is going to be posed to existing state universities.

 

Not only will the new universities attract good quality students, but they will, even more so, attract many good quality faculty from the state universities. These faculty members will move for a variety of reasons — and foremost among these will be the freedom to pursue intellectual pursuits without getting bogged down by the archaic governance structure that impedes the functioning of state universities. Monetary and other professional benefits, post the recommendations of the sixth pay commission, would also add to the reasons in some ways, but will not be the sole criterion.

 

This is not to say that all Central universities attract good quality students and faculty. For a variety of reasons, barring some really well-known and well-established Central universities, a number of them are still struggling to attract the very best. In some cases, Central universities (especially in the northeastern region) have not been able to attract a mix of pan-Indian and academically engaging students or a bright faculty because of their remote locations and lack of proper infrastructure and medical facilities.

 

On the contrary, one would find, even today, that there is still some attraction left in the state universities. A lot of students from rural and mofussil areas, and even from the Northeast, continue to come to state universities located in urban areas.

 

Therefore, while too much attention is being focused on Central universities in terms of expansion and liberal funding, it is equally important that some of India's leading state universities, which have had a legacy of imparting liberal education and of developing an atmosphere for intellectual pursuit, should be revived.

 

While some serious efforts have been made by the human resource development ministry, along with the University Grants Commission and the Planning Commission, to help state universities in a variety of ways, unfortunately, most state universities continue to suffer. In fact, the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, in his 150th anniversary address at the University of Mumbai aptly summarized the current state of affairs: "Our university system is, in many parts, in a state of disrepair. We need better facilities, more and better teachers, a flexible approach to curriculum development to make it more relevant, more effective pedagogical and learning methods and more meaningful evaluation systems. The quality of governance of many state educational institutions is a cause for concern. I am concerned that in many States, university appointments, including that of Vice-Chancellors, have been politicized and have become subject to caste and communal considerations. There are complaints of favouritism and corruption. This is not as it should be. We should free university appointments from unnecessary interventions on the part of governments and must promote autonomy and accountability. I urge states to pay greater attention to this aspect. After all, a dysfunctional education system can only produce dysfunctional future citizens!"

 

One of the urgent ways in which state universities can be revived is by addressing the most important issue of the governance of universities. This issue has been raised and addressed in the recommendations of the National Knowledge Commission and, subsequently, in the Yash Pal committee's report as well. In spite of these issues being deliberated, the efforts towards such reforms that have been undertaken by the state governments are found wanting.

 

However, Maharashtra is an example that many states could usefully emulate. But for that to happen you require enlightened governors who are also sensitive to the changes taking place in the realm of higher education at the national level. The governor of Maharashtra, S.C. Jamir, in his capacity as chancellor of universities, has played a landmark role in institutionalizing a process of governance through which the standards of selecting a vice-chancellor have been raised enormously. This has been made possible with the support of the state cabinet through which the Maharashtra Universities Act 1994 was amended, and a new process has been put in place — this despite the fact that higher education does not figure anywhere as a priority for the Maharashtra government.

 

The new process is a huge improvement over the previous one. It institutionalizes a system in which there are definite timelines for completing the process of selecting vice-chancellors. It also delineates clearly the persons of eminence who will be a part of the search committee. A cursory look at the names of the chairpersons of the search committees in case of the universities of Mumbai (André Béteille), Pune (B.N. Srikrishna), Kolhapur (Yoginder K. Alagh) and Nashik (N.R. Madhava Menon), for which the process of selecting vice-chancellors has commenced, reveals that the level of the search process has been clearly raised. In addition, members of the search committees also include existing directors of the Indian institutes of technology and the Indian institutes of management. Further, the search committee will be assisted by a nodal officer identified by the chairperson or an external member who will provide all administrative and logistic support to the search committee. This nodal officer will be from the institute with which the chairperson or the external member is associated. This is an additional, but extraordinary, step as it will truly insulate the process of selection from the state government, the governor's secretariat and the concerned university, as well as minimize the interference of interested parties.

 

The intentions are clearly visible and seem to be geared at selecting the best. In addition to these initiatives, reforming the composition of the syndicate, academic council and senate is equally important. Together, these changes will set the benchmark for maintaining high standards in the overall governance of universities. One hopes that other states, as well as the mandarins in Shastri Bhavan, are taking note of these momentous changes happening in a state that is known to encourage education barons.

 

The author, a former political scientist with the University of Mumbai, is currently a professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

SHOCKING LAPSES

"THE HEADLEY SAGA SHOWS LOOPHOLES IN SECURITY."

 

Investigations into the activities of American Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operative David Coleman Headley and his Canadian accomplice Tahawwur Hussain Rana have revealed shocking details of the ease with which foreigners with terrorist links are able to enter and operate in India. Reports in the media have drawn attention to the way in which Headley struck up friendships with people, whose social standing provided his activities with cover. He stayed in top hotels and apartments and travelled widely across India on reconnaissance missions. And he was able to do so without providing vital personal details in forms filled at hotels or registering at the Foreigners' Regional Registration Office (FRRO), as required under visa rules.


  But more shocking than the duo's activities in India is the manner in which Indian authorities violated rules and facilitated their operations in the country. Rana and his wife were issued multiple entry visas under the discretion of the consulate general in Chicago in clear violation of rules that require their visa application to be cleared by the Union home ministry. They were exempted from having to register with the local police as Pakistani citizens travelling in India are required to. Headley and Rana seem to have befriended prominent personalities too like Rahul Bhatt, son of film director Mahesh Bhatt, and other members of the film fraternity. It raises serious questions on the role that Indian officials and ordinary citizens are playing, unwittingly or otherwise, in ignoring basic security issues.


If it were not for the FBI's arrest of the duo in Chicago, Indian intelligence and security agencies would have remained in the dark about their well-established network. The Headley-Rana saga indicates that serious loopholes remain in India's intelligence gathering and security apparatus. It is well known that people with influence or the right contacts can get away with almost anything in this country, including brazen violation of rules that apply to ordinary people. It is this culture that Headley and Rana exploited to the hilt to play the roles they did in terrorist attacks in India. This culture of rules not applying to people with influence and money must end if our security measures against terrorism should be water-tight.  Funds allocated for internal security for 2009-2010 have been raised substantially. But this will be of little use, if terrorists can get their friends in various positions of power to facilitate their activities in this country.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

RIGHT REVIEW

"JUDICIAL ACTIVISM CALLS FOR A HARD, SECOND LOOK."


The decision by a two-judge bench of the supreme court to refer to a Constitution bench some questions about the judiciary's power to in effect lay down legislation to deal with social issues that are raised before it shows that a recent judicial trend which has received much public attention has now engaged the attention of the court itself. The matter arose when the court was examining a verdict given by another bench in 2006 which had directed the implementation of the J M Lyngdoh committee's recommendations on college and university union elections.  The bench has felt that the earlier bench should have referred the report to parliament for necessary legislation or to the universities for necessary action. In many other cases also the courts have created laws and invited favourable or adverse comments depending on the popular appeal of the views expressed by them.
But encroachments by the courts into the domain of the legislature are a violation of the constitutional scheme of parliamentary democracy. A clear separation of powers between the judiciary, the legislature and the executive is vital for the health of the system. If the legislature fails in its ordained function of creating laws that is no reason for the judiciary to step into the vacuum. The failure of the legislature has to be addressed and remedied by the people who elect it. The judiciary can only interpret the laws created by the legislature and punish those who violate it. The problem is that sometimes interpretation creates a new law. Even where interpretation is not involved, as in the case of the report cited by the bench, courts take it upon themselves the responsibility to reform society. This is clearly beyond the brief of the judiciary.


 Therefore what goes by the name of judicial activism does call for a hard look. Courts will have to be responsive to society, and the judiciary and its perspectives have to evolve with the times. But the judiciary should only function within the broad parameters of the Constitution. It is not when the organs of the state blur into one another but when they are distinctive, mutually supporting and complementary that they produce a system of checks and balances. Therefore the supreme court has done well to turn the searchlight on itself and explore the limits of its powers.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

THE US-CHINA TANGO

THE POLITICAL AND STRATEGIC FOOTPRINT OF A RISING CHINA ACROSS THE WORLD, TESTIFY TO ITS MAMMOTH SHARE IN THE GLOBAL ECONOMY.

BY ALKA ACHARYA

 

US President Richard Nixon had described his visit to China in February 1971 as the 'week that changed the world'. Echoes of that sentiment appeared to resonate in the background when Hu Jintao hosted Barack Obama in Beijing during the latter's first visit to Asia this week. And as both leaders delivered their separate statements to the world media and issued their first joint statement, which left no critical issue of our times untouched, there appeared to be very little doubt that this is indeed the most important bilateral relationship on the international stage today.


The coming decades may well assess this admittedly high on symbolism meeting, as yet another historic turning point in the changing dynamics of post-Soviet world order. To be sure, the yin and yang of containment and engagement that characterises America's China policy palpably lurked in the background. There is however no gainsaying the general and specific milieu in which the visit between the 'troubled superpower and the coming megapower' has taken place.


DECISIVE ROLE

The enlarging political and strategic footprint of a rising China across the world, no less than its colossal carbon footprint, testifying to its mammoth share in the global economy, has ensured that it will play a decisive role in any emerging power equation in the coming decades.


 Equally, the immediate context of the ongoing global financial crisis, and Obama's appreciation of China's supportive role in that regard, underscored the increasing interdependence and interconnectedness between the first and third largest economies – as also the other countries of the world. It is also not difficult to comprehend the rationale behind Obama's declaration that he had no intention of containing China's rise, and that in an interconnected world, "power is no longer a zero-sum game."


Obama arrived in China after 'bowing' to the Japanese monarchs and conveying a renewed American commitment to redressing economic imbalances at the APEC Summit meeting in Singapore.


He was well aware of the general skepticism regarding US 'protectionist' policies over the past year, as also the fact that China has been considerably more appreciated and lauded during this time. Chinese leaders are equally cognisant of the new US administration's attempt at recasting the American role in the Asia and Pacific.
There is however a major difference. Across the broad swathe of Asia, from Central Asia at one end to the Pacific at the other, China's role is rapidly transforming from not just a driver, but shaper of agendas – economic, political and increasingly security/strategic.


 Obama's appropriate acknowledgement of these shifts—for which he is being pilloried back home—has ensured that even as the US rebuilds and revitalises its traditional alliances, they will now have to work in tandem with the Chinese.


It was only to be expected therefore that befitting their status, the substance of bilateral discussions between Presidents and Hu comprised just about every issue of bilateral and global concern - from regional hotspots Iran and North Korea, Afghanistan and Pakistan to the complex threats from global terrorism, from shouldering the responsibilities for dealing with climate change to tackling what is seen as a looming world food crisis.

 On the bilateral front, discussions revolved around the irritants arising out of trade disputes involving a range of products to revaluing the yuan, to questions on Tibet, the Dalai Lama, human rights and religion. Obama in fact did place on record the US desire to see the negotiations between Beijing and the representatives of the Dalai Lama begun at the earliest.


They agreed to give greater focus to their Strategic Economic Dialogue and Beijing has also agreed to a new round of dialogue on 'rights' issues with the US early in 2010. That will probably be Obama's reply – howsoever unsatisfactory – to domestic criticism of his refusal to meet the Dalai Lama before his visit to Beijing. 

POSSIBLE OUTRAGE

Any possible outrage in India arising out of the reference to South Asia in the joint statement and Obama's acknowledgement of China's potentially useful mediatory role in India-Pak relations, needs to be tempered by a hard reality check with regard to the entirely different nature of the Sino-US strategic importance compared to the Indo-US strategic ties.


South Asia is well on its way to being acknowledged as the hub of global terrorism and will, not surprisingly, figure in the discussions of two global powers of the day, especially if one of them is a neighbour to this hot spot. Equally, Obama will undoubtedly be informed by the Indian prime minister when he visits the US shortly, that given China's 'special' relationship with Pakistan and their rather suspicious conventional military and nuclear cooperation, India will not countenance any such mediation, if indeed it is being conceived. And China for its part will have to ponder on the implications of what will certainly be seen in India as Sino-US collusion on South Asia, for the Sino-Indian strategic partnership.


Harmonious India-China ties are crucial for the realisation of the Asian century. Analysts speculate that a rising India will make the triangular US-China-India relationship also of no mean importance in the reshaping international relations. That may well be so – but it is merely a scenario – and more importantly, a scenario which critically hinges on India's rise materialising decisively over the next decade or so.


(The writer is an associate professor at school of international studies, JNU)

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

MISSING LINKS IN PPP FOR EDUCATION

THE NEW MODEL IS EXPECTED TO MEET AT LEAST SOME OF THE NEEDS OF QUALITY EDUCATION.

BY M R NARAYANA

 

 India's public school education is provided through a network of primary, upper primary and secondary (including higher secondary) institutions run by the Central and state governments, and rural and urban local bodies.

 

These institutions are owned, managed and financed through budgetary resources. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and mid-day meal programme are the most popular national programmes in school education. 


Public sector is most dominant at lower levels of education as it is responsible for almost 90 per cent of primary, 72 per cent of upper primary, and 42 per cent of secondary education.


Given wider and freer access with instructional and non-instructional incentives and subsidies, public sector will have to be the essential source of school education, especially for the rural poor and other vulnerable and marginalised sections of society. This underlines the needs for strengthening public school education to accomplish the objectives and targets of 'inclusive growth' under the on-going 11th Five Year Plan.


Most recently, the Union ministry of human resources development has come up with new national policy proposals on strengthening public school education through public-private partnership (PPP) arrangements. it has important implications for the future ownership, management and financing of public education system and deserves informed public debate by all stakeholders.


EXISTING MODEL

Private education sector (comprising aided and unaided institutions) is widely appreciated for its complementary and supplementary contributions by building physical infrastructure and provisioning of services in both rural and urban areas. Aided schools are governed by grants-in-aid policy of the state governments as in Karnataka. In general, aid is limited to expenditure on salary and wages. Admission and fee structure are regulated by the government in aided schools. In fact, an aided school can be considered as a standard model of existing PPP in Indian school education.    


In essence, the new proposals are aimed at private financing of infrastructure facilities (e.g., office buildings and classrooms, water, sanitation and power), support services (e.g., ICT for teaching-learning activities, labs, transport and food), and education services (e.g. recruitment but not appointment of teachers and staff) in the existing and/or new public schools.


Financing and management of these facilities and services may be bundled or unbundled. Options are open for the government to provide land on long term lease basis. Private costs are proposed to be paid by the government on unit cost or per student basis. If a plausible model of PPP is BOOT (build, operate, own and transfer), then the government may claim the ultimate ownership of all assets created.  


The new proposals mainly aim at different methods of cost-sharing between public and private sectors. They seem to have been heavily drawn from PPP models for economic infrastructure, such as, roads and highways, bridges, power and telecommunications. They are built on cardinal principles of corporate governance in terms of resource efficiency, accountability for performance; risk sharing, quality monitoring and flexibility.

However, reality demands that social infrastructure like public school education and economic infrastructure like pubic road construction are inherently different and cannot be equated for privitisation purposes.
New proposals implicitly neglect the critical issues relating to cost recovery, except for payment of private costs by the government though budgetary resources or through cross-subsidisation by allowing private sector to charge differential fee to the management quota students. This implies that students and parents would not be burdened with any additional costs in schools under PPP. In a way, this needs to be a guarantee clause in all the new proposals. Otherwise, access, affordability and equity objectives of public school education would be questionable and cannot be ensured. 


PPP model has gained credence because of lack of adequate public resources to meet the growing needs of quality school education.  At the same time, no new proposal would free the government from financing school education. Thus, a stronger proposal is needed to justify the different methods of PPP by way of estimation of their relative public costs and benefits including cost savings. This needs financial database on private education to be newly created in India as well as in Karnataka. 


Privitisation is becoming more global in India. Higher education is being opened up for global investments and competition. GATS in education under the WTO may not include school education.

 

(The writer is professor of economics, ISEC, Bangalore)

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

'HING' BRINGS THE ZING

HOW COULD HE HAVE OVERLOOKED THE ART OF CREATING DISTINCTIVE TASTE?

BY AMBUJA NARAYAN

 

He could reach out to the nook and corner of the world, cut and paste any information at the click of the mouse. He assumed that he was in total command with his skills, time and of course, money.


However, at the end of the day, he would feel as helpless as a trapped mouse, staring at the screen, sliding his mom's 'saambar' recipe up and down. His gastronomic growling wouldn't allow him to concentrate on his work anymore.


Ever so often he had attempted to work out a palatable fare for his dinner, adhering to his mom's instructions step by step but wondering  why it was not the same as his mom's consistent quality. Something was  missing. The thought made him more homesick. Occasional visits to the nearest India eatery only left a big whole in his pocket paying for the ubiquitous saambar in dollars thereby increasing his craving for mom's preparations.
During his weekly international tele talks with his family, his mom's enquiries about his culinary accidents just left lumps in his throat. Nevertheless, he boasted about his expertise in salads, anaemic looking rasams, pathetic bhelpuri etc. But he wouldn't admit the total disaster with his saambar preparation. What could be the reason? His computer didn't figure out a solution. Not even the Google search. Days rolled by…


'Eureka!'- suddenly mom's kitchen scene flashed in his mind. That was her finishing act of 'voggarane' over the prepared 'Huli.' That's it, he exclaimed jumping with joy. His nostrils flared up. Rubbing his palms vigorously he reached out to prepare the 'vagar or chonk.' How could he have overlooked the tampering of dishes which is the  science and art of creating distinctive taste which leaves one drooling for more? 


To achieve this a certain measure of oil has to be heated to the correct level in that special ladle made for 'tadka.' Mustard or other spices have to crack just right and 'hing' either in powder form or tiny bits have to be thrown in to sizzle and the whole foaming thing has to be poured over the ready product. Instantly the aroma would be irreristable creating the hunger pangs. 


Why hadn't his mother not specified this fine art of 'voggarane?' Was it taken for granted or did she want him to decipher it by trial and error? Anyway, he knew now. If you want some zing in your saambar do not forget the hing he told himself. Ferula Assafoetida will bring zing to your diet and has medicinal properties too. That's it my boy. Enjoy the saambar!

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

WRONG ON WATER

 

Noisy populist politicians have won the day and the citizenry appears delighted. Resorting to strident rhetoric, MKs from assorted parties join a zealous crusade to eliminate the much-maligned drought levy. Concerted media campaigns and demagogic distortion helped portray the levy as a brutal tax. Great glee has, consequently, been engendered now that the monster appears slain.

 

Yet too few have given any consideration to its substitute - draconian hikes in water prices for everyone, without exception.

 

It is hard to believe that so many folks fell for what started out as a PR maneuver by several shortsighted parliamentarians and has turned into a costly folly for every household in the land. A progressive moderate levy has been replaced by a regressive drastic price rise imposed via the back door, with no one watching or objecting.

 

Much was unwise and unworkable in the now-shelved drought levy. It hinged on the number of residents per dwelling and lumbered the local authorities with the bureaucratic chore of collecting data and collecting payment. Yet other than the technical awkwardness of the model, the basic idea was sound.

 

There's no denying that this country is parched. Our last ultra-wet winter was in 1991-2. The past six winters were so dry that Lake Kinneret is shriveling up. Water desalination is scandalously behind schedule.

 

The drought levy was designed to discourage waste, while still offering basic water allocations per person at minimal cost. Beyond that allowance, prices were to go up according to the number of inhabitants per housing unit.

 

Thus inordinate water use would essentially be fined. This is socially just and makes sense, even if the entire scheme was complicated and cumbersome.

 

Yet recent none-too-impressive rainfall sufficed to lend the impression that the water shortage was over. This was abetted by tendentious news reports, including one about a Pardess Hanna man sent a NIS 9,000 bill. It so happens that he cultivates a lavish, extensive garden. But the implication was that any average family is liable to be required to shell out as much.

 

THE GOVERNMENT succumbed rather dramatically to the campaign. Perhaps it had good reason to do so. In place of the drought levy, after all, the Treasury has secured a more promising revenue source.

 

We have been spared the drought levy which would have cost standard households a paltry monthly amount at most, whereas its brunt would have been borne by the super-rich with private swimming pools and vast lawns.

 

Instead, a dual-phase water price increase will be instituted. A 25% price rise is slated for January, followed by another 15% increase in June 2010. An additional unspecified "minor" increase is due in January 2011.

 

Thus, by roughly this time next year, we are sure to pay nearly twice as much as we do now for our water - from the first drop, regardless of the sort and size of household we maintain.

 

So far this has provoked barely a squawk, apparently because the populace is still elated about ridding itself of

 

the comparatively insignificant drought levy. The Treasury has been quick to explain that there is no choice but to charge us much more for our water because of the need to construct more desalination plants.

 

But this argument is disingenuous. We anyway pay high taxes, which, we are told, are always at least partly earmarked to bankroll large-scale national development projects. Desalination plants are precisely the sort of projects for which we pay. There is no justification to double-tax us and charge again for the same projects, this time via the price of the most elementary and vital commodity of all.

 

Moreover, no amount of desalination will do away with the need to impose discipline on the way we consume water. Desalination is an energy-guzzling process which comes at a hefty price. Responsible conservation will never become superfluous in our arid region. Paying incrementally more for higher water use is one way to educate the public that squandering is costly.

 

Politicians who championed the greater good, even at the expense of personal popularity, wouldn't have hesitated to say these things. But most of ours evidently lack such principles.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

FUNDAMENTALY FREUND: IT'S ANNEXATION TIME

MICHAEL FREUND

 

Flu season may be upon us, but it appears that Mahmoud Abbas has come down with a far more serious ailment. Based on his peculiar behavior of late, the Palestinian leader is clearly suffering from political schizophrenia.

 

Just a few weeks after threatening to resign from his post as chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Abbas has now indicated that he intends to pursue a unilateral declaration of statehood.

 

"The Palestinian leadership calls on the world to support this step," said chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat on Monday, as Abbas left for Egypt before heading off on a tour of South America to drum up international backing for the move.

 

And so, the man who barely a month ago was ready to throw in the towel has now decided to throw down the gauntlet. First he vows to sail off into retirement, and then he tries to crown himself president of an independent state, in the process tossing aside any chance of a negotiated peace.

 

Abbas's volatile and unstable behavior should put to rest once and for all the notion that he is a viable partner with whom Israel can reach a lasting agreement. Despite being 74 years old, he still hasn't decided what he wants to be when he grows up, let alone figured out where he is going.

 

But the chairman's volatility is more than just a quirky personality issue or an unruly psychological phenomenon. It is a potent and dangerous reminder of the ease with which the Palestinians can generate international pressure on Israel in an attempt to squeeze out further concessions.

 

Indeed, the Palestinian leader's zigzag has had the effect of casting the spotlight sharply on the contentious issue of the fate of Judea and Samaria. If Abbas succeeds in winning United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, it will further upgrade the perceived illegality of the settlements to an entirely new level in the eyes of the world.

 

Furthermore, it will mark the end of the peace process as we know it, which has been predicated on the basic assumption that the two sides would negotiate the final outcome with each other rather than predetermine it.

 

Abbas's attempt to vault towards statehood on his own, with utter disregard for Israel and its position, is a sure enough sign that he wishes to bury any chance of returning to talks.

 

For far too long, Israel has been overly vulnerable to such machinations and games. By leaving the status of Judea and Samaria open for discussion, the Jewish state has given the Palestinians too much leeway for mischief-making and malice, which they have only been more than happy to exploit.

 

In light of Abbas's latest charade, it is clear that Israel needs to put an end
to this farce, once and for all.

 

We need to send a clear message to our foes, one that will put them on the defensive and strengthen Israel's hand. And there is no better place to start than with our own unilateral measures, chief among them the annexation of all the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.

OVER THE past 16 years, nothing has been gained by keeping the settlements issue on the table. Nor has dangling the possibility of expelling masses of Jews from their homes along the lines of Gush Katif brought the Palestinians any closer to making a deal.

 

Instead, it has only served to whet the Palestinian appetite for more land, and subjected hundreds of thousands of Israelis to intolerable uncertainty regarding their future.

 

Hence, Israel should move ahead with steps to formally and legally incorporate all of the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria into the Jewish state. This will serve as a tangible and reasonable response to the Palestinian attempts to circumvent the bilateral negotiating process.

 

More importantly, it will at last delineate the Israeli stance on the final disposition of these communities. This will effectively close off the troublesome debate within Israeli society over the future of the settlements, which has bred so much division and disunity, and ultimately enable us to present a more unified stance vis-à-vis the rest of the world.

 

In recent days, a number of leading Israeli politicians have thankfully begun to voice such proposals. The talented and articulate environment minister, Gilad Erdan of the Likud, told Israel Radio on Tuesday that if the Palestinians adopt a unilateral stance, then Israel should also consider "passing a law to annex some of the settlements."

 

Likewise, Likud MK Danny Danon called for annexing all of Judea and Samaria with the exception of the Arab-inhabited cities.

 

Of course, annexation should not merely be viewed as a tit-for-tat response to unilateral Palestinian moves, for that casts it in a negative light, presenting it as merely a punitive or retaliatory measure.

 

In reality, annexation is justified for the simple reason that this land belongs to us, and to nobody else. The act of asserting Israeli sovereignty over the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria would mark the closing of a historic circle, reviving our formal dominion over these areas after an interlude of nearly 2,000 years.

 

These areas are ours by Divine right, and we should not shy away from asserting as much. The Palestinians do not hesitate to invoke their beliefs, so why on earth should we? Just think how refreshing it would be to hear an Israeli leader stand up and declare this most elementary of truths to the world: that the Land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel because the God of Israel said so.

 

Who knows - maybe if we finally stand on principle and start affirming our faith, then perhaps we will at last begin to earn the respect and support that we so rightly deserve.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

WASHINGTON WATCH: VOTE FOR ME, I'M A LOSER

DOUGLAS BLOOMFIELD

 

Vote for us because we're a bunch of losers. It's hardly a winning slogan for a president and party seeking reelection, but it pretty well sums up the platform of the on-again, off-again candidacy of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

 

Elections he called for January have been postponed indefinitely, and he has threatened to pull a Sarah Palin and resign early, but the conventional wisdom says he's bluffing.

 

That's because if he quits early, the presidency goes to his arch Hamas foes. Parliament speaker Abdel Aziz Duaik, a senior Hamas figure released in June from an Israeli prison, would become the new president with the advantage of incumbency when elections are held. It will also mean that Israel, the United States and major European countries won't deal with the PA because Hamas refuses to recognize Israel, honor past PA agreements and renounce violence.

 

Contrary to most media reports, it appears Abbas didn't rule out running for a second four-year term but actually said, "I do not want to run." Sounds like, "Please twist my arm." Abbas is a weak leader of whom it was once said he couldn't deliver a pizza, much less a peace agreement. And that's part of his dilemma. His message to voters is statehood through a negotiated two-state solution and peaceful coexistence, while Hamas says armed resistance by the Islamists, not negotiations, has driven the Zionists out of Lebanon and Gaza and is the only way to end the hated occupation.

 

Abbas has no dramatic peace achievements to offer voters or even non-dramatic ones, since he steadfastly refuses to sit down with the Israelis until they agree to a total settlement freeze, return to the pre-1967 borders and resumption of talks where they left off with the previous Israeli government.

 

ABBAS'S THREAT to leave office along with threats to bypass negotiations and unilaterally declare statehood are a heavy-handed attempt at shock treatment by a leader ready to blame everyone else for the lack of progress toward peace.

 

Abbas has a plethora of excuses: Washington's refusal to force Israel to accept the total settlement freeze, Israel's unwillingness to pick up where talks halted with the previous government, Hamas's rejection of the Egyptian-brokered reconciliation deal with Fatah, and disappointing support for the PA from the Arab world.

 

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly tossed cold water on talk of the statehood declaration, saying it "has to be achieved through negotiation" with Israel. Hamas, for its part, had a separate objection: If you're going to declare statehood, it told Abbas, make sure it covers everything from the Mediterranean to the Jordan, eliminating Israel.

 

Israel responded with threats of unilateral action of its own, including annexation of big chunks of the West Bank and a halt in the transfer of taxes collected for the PA.

 

The US Congress can be expected to respond with a cutoff in all aid and other restrictions of its own.

 

Abbas wants to resuscitate a comatose peace process - but only on Palestinian terms.

 

In addition to forcing an Israeli settlement freeze, Abbas wants Obama to propose a detailed American peace plan.

 

He also is seeking a large-scale release of prisoners held by Israel, but that could help Hamas more than Abbas because Hamas has what Israel wants, Gilad Schalit, and Binyamin Netanyahu would have to make his deal with Hamas, which would then reap credit for the swap.

 

That poses a dilemma for Netanyahu, who wants to be the one who brought Schalit home, but he doesn't want to do anything that will benefit Hamas.

 

ABBAS CRAWLED out on a limb with Obama in demanding a total settlement freeze; Israel refused and Obama climbed back down. If Abbas refuses to follow, he has no negotiations to point to, but if he does he loses face among voters who will see him as weak and caving in to Israel even before the talks can begin.

 

However, Abbas is not without some bragging rights. He can remind voters that the West Bank, unlike Gaza, has a healthy and growing economy, no domination by Islamic extremists, improved security cooperation with Israel and growing international stature. Nonetheless, he presides over a weak, dysfunctional and deeply divided Palestinian Authority.

 

Abbas may blame Obama for raising expectations and Netanyahu for not meeting them, but his biggest problem is at home. The Palestinian national movement is bitterly divided between those who want to build a secular national state alongside Israel and those who want to destroy Israel and establish an Islamic republic from the sea to the river.

 

The stagnation is also a problem for President Obama, who made relaunching the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and building momentum toward a conflict-ending agreement a top foreign policy goal for the first year of his presidency. But unless there is a dramatic breakthrough in the next three weeks, his trip to Oslo (an ironic locale in this case) to accept his Nobel Peace Prize on December 10 will be a disappointing one.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

CANDIDLY SPEAKING: VIGILANCE WANTED, APPLY WITHIN

ISI LEIBLER

 

Neither right- nor left-wing organizations can guarantee total immunity against infiltration by fanatics and extremists. Their real test of moral integrity can be determined by the degree to which they isolate, condemn and purge such elements from their ranks.

 

It is thus wrong to blame the Labor Party for spawning far-left Israeli defamers of the Jewish state. These extremists were in fact deviants from a social democratic movement which made a formative contribution to the foundation of the state, despite having today sadly degenerated into a caricature of its former glory.

 

Those who besmirch Labor Zionists may be unaware that our founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, ferociously and ruthlessly purged extremists from his party, Mapai, which dominated Israel in its formative years. Ben-Gurion and other Labor leaders would never have tolerated those who today defame the IDF and pave the way for the global criminalization of Israel and the odious Goldstone Report. Nor would they have buried their heads in the sand and ignored the academics in our midst who have the gall to exploit universities as launching pads to defame and delegitimize the state and even call for global international boycotts of their own institutions. Ironically, Labor was far more effective in dealing with renegades and the mad Left than Likud under whose regime the post-Zionists emerged from the closet and bloomed.

 

Since the tragic assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, some of the far-left radicals have developed a penchant for accusing communities on the Right with collective responsibility for the crimes of individual extremists. They have been especially inclined to vent their spleen on their prime adversaries, religious Zionists, whose uninhibited patriotism and devotion to the state is manifested by the inordinately large proportion of their youngsters serving as role models in IDF combat units.

 

In the hyper-emotional climate of Israeli politics and religious fervor, it is not entirely surprising that a number of criminals motivated by extremism did indeed emerge from this sector. I have written previously about the danger posed by a handful of radical rabbis who endorsed the right to violently resist government decrees which they determined clashed with the will of the Almighty. These extremist zealots were condemned by responsible rabbinical and religious Zionist political leaders. But in retrospect, they should have been dealt with more ruthlessly.

 

NEVERTHELESS, it is outrageous to stigmatize the entire religious Zionist community for crimes committed by a few individuals, many of whom had no relationship with religious Zionism. For example, the mass murderer Baruch Goldstein may have been "observant." But he had no ties to religious Zionism and was simply a lone demented killer who probably unraveled after absorbing the radiant hatred from Arabs surrounding him.

 

On the other hand, prior to perpetrating his evil deed, Yigal Amir, Rabin's loathsome assassin, on the surface displayed all the positive characteristics of a religious Zionist role model. Had he not misunderstood or been influenced by the hysterical ravings of a few zealots or extremist rabbis, he may never have been transformed into a murderer.

 

After the assassination of Rabin, the religious Zionist movement relentlessly purged extremists from its ranks. However in the wake of the trauma of the Gaza disengagement, new wild extremist fringe groups emerged. Some sought to break away from the state, alleging it had betrayed them, identified with anti-Zionist haredim and refused to serve in the IDF. To this day, we still hear about unhinged rabbis babbling about killing non-Jews. Regrettably they are sometimes dismissed as madmen rather than prosecuted.

 

But renegade rabbis had no bearing on the sick and demented alleged serial murderer Ya'acov Teitel, whom religious Zionists and the settlers are falsely accused of having nurtured. The truth is that Teitel already had a shady record before arriving here from America and was simply an insane lone killer who even proclaimed that God would be happy with his depraved actions.

 

OF LATE, groups on the far Left have intensified campaigns primarily directed towards discrediting and defaming settlers and religious Zionists under the guise of commemorating the memory of Rabin.

 

As one who was privileged to know Rabin, I consider it nauseating to observe post-Zionists and extremists who detested Rabin now abusing his memory in order to promote their policies and attempt to silence their opponents.

 

Rabin's "gamble" with the Oslo Accords proved to have been a disastrous failure. But he was a consummate Zionist and few would deny that his sole motivation throughout his political life was to promote peace and the wellbeing of the nation. He would have despised and regarded with utter contempt many of those on the far Left who today claim to be promoting his legacy.

 

Admittedly, prior to his assassination, in the course of the bitter political debate, Rabin developed a love-hate relationship with the settlers and when condemned by them occasionally responded by employing vulgar language. But I vividly recollect a particular conversation in which he virtually predicted the Baruch Goldstein scenario by warning about uncontrollable extremist fanatics but accompanied these remarks with words of love and admiration for religious Zionists whom he regarded as amongst the most dedicated patriots in the land.

 

Needless to say, stereotyping or extending collective guilt to an entire community for the crimes of individuals is despicable, irrespective of whether it applies to religious Zionists, settlers, haredim, Russians, Ethiopians or any minority.

 

Only a few months ago, after a shocking case of child abuse in the haredi community, there were efforts to falsely stigmatize all haredim as child abusers. There were also irresponsible media outbursts trying to collectively bracket Russian olim with the alleged brutal slayings by Dimitry Kirilik.

 

As Jews we should be especially sensitive to such pernicious practices. Since time immemorial, highlighting the criminality of an individual Jew in order to defame entire Jewish communities was a central feature of anti-Semitic incitement. It is thus rather sickening in our time to see Jews using similar techniques against Jews.

 

In these difficult times we must strongly condemn the stigmatization of any group and also remain vigilant against any manifestations of extremism or incitement whether from the Right or the Left. That also applies especially within the religious arena in which the explosive fusion of nationalist extremism combined with zealotry has the potential of being transformed into the most brutal forms of violence and mayhem.

 

In this regard, the silence and failure of mainstream rabbis to condemn insubordination and refusal to obey orders by a handful of religious soldiers under the influence of a few radical spiritual leaders is highly disconcerting.

 

ileibler@netvision.net.il

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

A WHEELLESS CART BEFORE A LAME HORSE

ZALMAN SHOVAL

 

One should never underestimate the propensity of the Palestinians for shooting themselves in the foot, to wit, the situation Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has put himself in with regard to the peace process. True, this may not have been entirely his fault - mixed signals from abroad also had something to do with it, but Abbas seems to be bent on doing everything to get himself into an even deeper hole by adopting ever more intransigent positions. Then there was his zigzagging on the Goldstone Report, after first having asked Israel during the Gaza war to "smash" Hamas.

 

Now someone has come up with the idea of unilaterally declaring Palestinian statehood. Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayad had earlier broached the idea of building up Palestinian governance - a plausible concept in itself - but what the Palestinian functionaries around Abbas intend now is something completely different, amounting to putting a wheelless cart before a lame horse.

 

They had tried it before; back in 1999 Yasser Arafat, who as a result of the Oslo agreement was back in the country, announced that the Palestinians would forthwith declare their independence - only to be quickly disabused of this idea when the US and most of the Europeans made it clear to him that the declaration would not be recognized by the international community.

 

In the present case, there will probably be a replay of this scenario, there being indications that neither the US nor most members of the European community as well as others would legitimize a unilateral declaration by according it recognition. Even the support of Russia and China is in doubt, given that the former has not recognized the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo, and that the latter is facing the threat in its own backyard of the Muslim community in Xinjiang declaring independence.

 

Someone should have explained to Abbas that this plan would in effect annul all past agreements including those which had granted legitimacy to the Palestinian Authority as part of the Oslo agreement. Also, any unilateral act regarding borders and territory could immediately trigger parallel annexations in the territories on the part of the State of Israel. In essence, a unilateral declaration of statehood would be in violation of international law and might be deemed an act of aggression, giving Israel the right to act in response, militarily or otherwise.

 

SO WHY does the official Palestinian leadership still threaten to go ahead with an act which so obviously goes against its own interests? It could be to pave the way towards a new wave of violence, as Arafat had planned and acted upon after the failure of the Camp David conference. But there may also be another, more immediate reason, namely, to bring about the elimination of UN Security Council Resolution 242. This resolution, which is the only agreed basis for all the agreements and initiatives to bring about a settlement of the conflict between Israel and its neighbors, including the Palestinians (and of course, Syria), also determined that Israel was not required to withdraw from all the territories it holds as a result of repulsing Arab aggression in 1967, and that furthermore, future borders should be based on considerations of security. In other words, the dividing line between a future Palestinian state and Israel would not necessarily be commensurate with the former temporary armistice line called the "Green Line."

 

This then, as senior PLO and Fatah official Yasser Abd Rabbo has confirmed, is their real and immediate agenda: get the Security Council of the UN to adopt a resolution to say that the future Palestinian border would be the Green Line - thus, in effect, replacing Resolution 242 and making the latter null and void. Israel's diplomacy thus has its job cut out for it in coming months, but one trusts that the US and others too are aware of the Palestinian stratagems and that they will not lend a hand to an initiative which would seriously exacerbate the political situation in the Middle East and return any chance of peace to square one.

 

The writer is the former Israel Ambassador to the US, and currently heads the Prime Minister's forum of US-Israel Relations.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

DIVIDED LOYALTY IN THE IDF

 

The hesder yeshiva soldiers (a unit combining army service with religious studies) who have demonstrated against evacuating West Bank outposts and squatters won praise and generous funding from nationalist rabbis. The protesters claim that the government, which gives the army illegal orders, is to blame for their insubordination. They say they are rebelling because they cannot act contrary to their conscience.


These arguments are nothing but a cover for blatant political activity within the Israel Defense Forces, led by radical rabbis outside of it, some of whom openly flout the rule of law. The revolt reflects a serious problem concerning divided loyalty in the army.


The insubordinate soldiers compare themselves to conscientious left-wing dissenters such as colonel Eli Geva, who refused to carry out an order he saw as blatantly immoral during the first Lebanon war. The comparison is fallacious. Left-wing dissension was and remains controversial even among those who oppose the occupation. Most left-wing conscientious objectors act on their own accord, and when they serve their sentence in military prison nobody sends them consolation prizes.

 

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In contrast, the hesder yeshiva students are organized in homogenous, separatist groups within their army units and frequently seek their rabbis' advice. They involve their rabbis with kashrut and other religious issues, as well as with issues pertaining to military activities. The protests against evacuation in the Nachshon and Shimshon battalions demonstrate the explosive potential of this organization, whose fragile balance could be disrupted by any political decision.


The rabbis' radicalization prompted the former head of the IDF's personnel directorate, Brig. Gen. Elazar Stern, to try to revoke the arrangement between the IDF and the hesder yeshivas and send their soldiers to regular IDF units. The defense minister at the time, Shaul Mofaz, shelved the idea amid objections from the right. Now the IDF is paying the price for that mistake.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this week that dissent in the IDF will destroy the state, but neither he nor Defense Minister Ehud Barak or Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi seem resolved to stop the drift.


Before the IDF becomes a phalangist army that will destroy democracy, it must make it clear to the hesder soldiers that they have only one commander and must obey every order - unless it is blatantly illegal. Otherwise the government may once again have to consider dismantling the hesder yeshivas.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

THE FIGHT FOR THE RIGHT AG

BY ARI SHAVIT

 

For once, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have done what they are being paid to do. There can be no doubt about it: If Tzipi Livni had won the last election, the one calling the shots in the legal system would be Haim Ramon. With Livni's backing, Ramon would have split the functions of the attorney general and neutered the position. A Livni-Ramon government would perhaps have spoken a little more clearly about a Palestinian state, but it also would have made the Jewish state one where politicians and oligarchs have their way with the law.


By jointly deciding not to divide the roles of the country's top law enforcement official between a legal adviser to the government and a prosecutor general, Netanyahu and Barak have proved that they are loyal to the rule of law. For the first time since forming their government, they can boast of making a true contribution to Israeli democracy.

This battle, however, was only the first. If the soon-to-be-named new attorney general is a lackey of Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, the results could be grave. A powerful AG who thinks like Neeman and his predecessor Daniel Friedmann could undermine the legal system from within. He could serve as a Trojan horse and open wide the system's gates to its would-be wreckers, bringing down the walls in myriad ways. An attorney general who does Neeman's bidding (or Ramon's, or Friedmann's) would make Netanyahu go down in history as the prime minister on whose watch the legal system collapsed.

 

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Unlike many other figures in Israeli politics, Netanyahu is fundamentally a democrat. His education in the United States taught him to respect the law and play by the rules of the game. The trouble is, he doesn't always have the courage to pay the price of defending his values. Therefore, the coming weeks will be a trial period for him as well. Netanyahu has done the right thing as far as the institution of attorney general is concerned - now he must follow suit when it comes to filling the post.


The current list of candidates is not promising. Only two or three of the 11 named by the search committee are worthy, and not one is a jurist of outstanding stature. Among this lackluster lineup, there is no new Aharon Barak or future Menachem Mazuz. The first step is therefore to reopen the list, ask Meir Shamgar and Aharon Barak, both former attorney generals and Supreme Court presidents, as well as top private lawyers, to recommend an appropriate eminent jurist for the position. Non-routine action is required to let this very sensitive selection process come up with a person with rare capabilities and impeccable integrity, a jurist head and shoulders above the rest whose professional authority and ethics are unimpeachable.


If this happens, Netanyahu will notch up a significant achievement: He will have rescued the rule of law by ensuring the selection of a strong and top-quality attorney general. When he faces the voters in the next elections, no one will be able to deny that Netanyahu has stemmed the tide of corruption. This achievement may mean that Neeman will resign, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman will make threatening sounds, and various interested parties will launch an assault on the prime minister. But to cope with these challenges, Netanyahu could tie the appointment of the new AG to the establishment of a government commission to examine the problems of Israeli governance in depth.


There is an objective need for such a commission. The claim that judicial activism has rendered governments incapable of doing their job properly is not baseless. But in recent years this reasonable argument has been used as a cover-up by people out to weaken the rule of law. If Netanyahu can show the Friedmann camp that he is ready to tackle the issue of governance seriously while rejecting its abusive exploitation, his chances are good for enjoying the best of both worlds.


After years of tribal warfare between the Friedmannites and the defenders of the rule of law, perhaps the time has come for conciliation and dialogue. If Netanyahu indeed bolsters the independence of the judicial system, it will be possible to deliberate on the issue with the necessary patience and ensure that the government can govern as it should.

 

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 HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

WHY HAS THE LEFT IN ISRAEL VANISHED?

BY YITZHAK LAOR

 

The threats uttered against a possible Palestinian declaration of independence by our leaders Benjamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman and Ehud Barak let the Israeli sanctimony (usually tedious and belabored) drop to the floor for a moment, like a woman's slip. It exposed the ugly skeleton of force that gives only us freedom of speech - we're permitted, you're forbidden. We are allowed to reiterate Israel's Declaration of Independence over and over. You are not allowed to do so with yours.


The simplest explanation for our privileges, and one that is becoming increasingly significant, is the religious one - the land is ours, from God, not theirs, so we're allowed to declare independence or harm civilians. The simplest explanation offered by secular people of those privileges is force - we're strong. These two explanations are the axis of consensus. In the name of this consensus, the military rabbis and officers in the Israel Defense Forces, equipped with equal amounts of hysteria, set out to incite the units on their way to kill in Gaza.

And the left? In this spiritual context no left - which can only exist in a discourse of equality - can have air to breathe. So when the ethos "shut your mouth because we'll punish you" rules everywhere, Peace Now was bound to disappear and be reduced to paid ads in the newspaper, with no foot soldiers. Meretz was bound to evaporate, and Labor's doves were bound to crumble. This left insisted on clinging to the consensus, treating the conflict with the Palestinians as a war in defense of the state rather than as a massive policing of an occupied nation with tanks and F-16s.

 

In short, this left vanished because it was afraid to call a spade a spade - a colonial war. Gradually, tens of thousands of left-wingers altered their positions. They continued to sing " Song for Peace," came to terms with "large settlement blocs" and said "no more violence." Their government plundered water and land, and they knew nothing about it. They told the Palestinians to "lay down your arms" and denounced soldiers who refused to serve in the territories as though they had betrayed them.


Throughout the 42 years of occupation, those moderate peace movements hardly made any contacts with the Palestinians. The Palestinians, for their part, did not always help, at least not during the first two decades of the occupation. But in that estrangement and in the peace camp's clear preference to be on "the Israeli people's side," the left vaporized between one military operation and the next. It supported the IDF, sighed over the situation and waited for the Americans to make order in the region.


Every now and then dovish Israeli leaders cooperated a little with the Palestinian leaders in the territories; the Geneva Initiative, for example. But it was always accompanied by derision and moral preaching. Yossi Sarid's "look for me" was the most concise summary of this connection. It said, you need us, we don't need you.


There was one difference between the left-wingers hiding at home (they don't even come to the Yitzhak Rabin memorial rally anymore) and the Barak-Netanyahu consensus. The first believed in the two-state solution, while Israel's leaders always thought in terms of subordination - the Jordanian option, autonomy, or turning the Palestinian state into a dummy state, a subordinate in the shekel zone, existing precariously among Israeli-ruled settlements. A state with no economy or sovereignty.


This is why right-wing leaders who suddenly discover the need for "two states" - Ariel Sharon, Tzipi Livni, Shaul Mofaz and of course Netanyahu - haven't really come a long way. Their aim was and remains to fritter away Palestinian independence into something doomed to continuous crisis, one that the IDF could easily solve. "Two states" was intended mainly for Israel's image in the world.


But Israel, as the Israeli left sees it, now needs the Palestinians' obstinacy more than anything. It needs their readiness to mark borders between the occupied territories and the State of Israel and to fight for those borders with protests, demonstrations, passive resistance and appeals to the international community.


Like the heroic stand of many South African whites in support of the African National Congress, a unilateral declaration of Palestinian independence gives the Israeli left a chance to finally launch a struggle with the Palestinians against Israel's politics of force, for the sake of our normal life.

 

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 HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

ERADICATING POLITICIZATION

BY ISRAEL HAREL

 

In a conversation with young people from my community, Ofra, shortly before the uprooting from Gush Katif, I told them: The soldiers among you must obey your commanders' orders. In a conflict between the dictates of your heart and those of authorized state institutions, you are obligated to obey the dictates of the state. If you refuse an order, your conscience may be assuaged, but by doing so you are liable to cause the disintegration of the Israel Defense Forces.


The disintegration of the army, I added, is liable to lead, God forbid, to the disintegration of the State of Israel, to the failure of the modern-day return to Zion. It is quite doubtful that the Jewish nation will get another opportunity to establish a state; it certainly won't be given to us. Without the continued existence of the Jewish state, I emphasized, there is also grave doubt as to the continued existence of the Jewish people. Only in a Jewish state, I told them, even the utterly secular don't assimilate, and maintaining the continued existence of the Jewish people may be the greatest challenge of your generation.


The gist of those comments expressed the collective ideology of religious Zionism on the eve of - and during - the evacuation. That's why there was no mass refusal of orders, and why most opponents of the plan did not engage in extended mass protests to prevent it, as they could have done.

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Many saw the decisions to carry out the uprooting as having been reached through coercion, deception and fraud, and viewed the justice system and media as having jumped on the bandwagon for purely political reasons. Yet responsibility for the future of the state took precedence among the opponents of the evacuation.

Deep fissures have developed in religious Zionist ideology over the past five years. There has been a crisis of confidence between many of the young people who were convinced to obey state orders and those who did the convincing. Some of the best kids have interpreted their leaders' feelings of responsibility as collaboration with a corrupt regime, on a political and moral level.


The recent anti-evacuation protests by soldiers from the Shimshon and Nachshon battalions reflect this sense of injury. The protests were partly directed against yeshiva heads, Yesha Council leaders and right-wing parties - which the demonstrators say hasten to condemn them but don't do enough to keep the army from acting against civilians, despite having the political power to do so.


The prime minister is right to say that refusing orders "will bring about the collapse of the state," though the Shimshon and Nachshon soldiers didn't refuse orders, they protested. And the situation begs his response that the government will do everything to eradicate the phenomenon.


But if that "everything" results in the necessary act of ending the army's relationship with the two hesder yeshivas in question and putting the protesters in military prison, as well as the damaging act of ejecting the protesters from the ranks of the combat soldiers - damaging because some of the true heroes of the Second Lebanon War were among the protesters against the evacuation - the detriments of eradicating the phenomenon will outweigh its benefits.


When the soldiers are convinced that they are pawns in the defense minister's struggle for political survival, as in the Nachshon Battalion incident near Negohot, no military prison sentence will eradicate the protest. On the contrary, it will only spread further. Let us hope that the IDF knows this.

Although the protest phenomenon has support from combat soldiers in other units too, it can still be prevented. The main method of prevention is something soldiers, politicians, the media and the justice system all agree on: depoliticizing the IDF. The protesting corporals and sergeants have only a marginal role in that politicization. The parties primarily responsible for this - the same ones responsible for setting the army against civilians - are the prime minister and the defense minister.

 

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 HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

SA'AR'S OFFICERS

BY NA'AMA SHEFFI

 

Since his appointment, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar has been trying to change the way the winds blow in the country's schools, by ending both the weakness that tempts students to act out and the lenience that has lowered educational standards. This approach is like a refreshing splash of cold water in the face of the battered school system.


But now Sa'ar is pushing a new project for high school students: You're finishing school and being drafted into the army, he tells them, so go ahead and take up the challenge of combat service. He aims to foster education that eschews pampering and whining, so he sees nothing wrong with mobilizing uniformed officers to bring that message right into the schools, the very center for the cultivation of the modern, humanist spirit.


Uniforms are a fixture in Israel's landscape, and are also seen in other countries' educational institutions. On American campuses, for example, the authorities allow military recruiters to speak to students and distribute information about signing up in exchange for tuition and a certain degree of prestige. In Israel, where one law makes military service compulsory and other laws exempt large groups within the population, it is not easy to persuade teens. To that end, Sa'ar's forces will deploy in high schools with the objective of instilling into the teachers a sense of duty to spur their students to volunteer for combat units.

 

The 270 officers assigned to the mission will restore the spirit of the 1950s, when soldier-teachers were recruited and came to the aid of the state by helping to socialize the children of new immigrants by teaching them the language and customs of the natives.


Such spirits of the past are not necessarily a bad thing. The question is when to revive them and why. The flagrant individualism that characterizes Israel indeed calls for strengthening the link between society and individuals. But society can be made more coherent without passing through the army induction center. If it's a lack of patriotism that is bothering Sa'ar, then it's best to start with firm foundations. Teach preschoolers rich, proper Hebrew so they can correct their parents, whose language has been deteriorating for decades. Let schoolchildren learn that knowledge is first of all a matter of learning to use common sense, and to bolster it by reading and studying. And let's replace the most prevalent physical activities - switching channels and surfing the Internet to copy homework assignments - with sports, music and agriculture, which were part of the curriculum before the gods of English and mathematics took on monstrous proportions.


Let high school students be required to help those who need it: They could tutor children who have difficulty in school and whose parents are too busy earning a living to help them and can't afford babysitters, tutors or extracurricular activities. They could help old people carry their groceries home, or schedule medical appointments, or even clean their homes.


Sa'ar would achieve his goal: Action, not whining, would prevail in the schools and Israelis would all be mutually responsible once more. He may even get a bonus. A contribution of this kind could be a fine complement to the combat service he so ardently wishes to promote. It could be applied to those communities whose members are exempted from military service - Arabs, the ultra-Orthodox and religious women. Involving them in community service would delight every taxpayer.


There will always be volunteers for combat units, each person for his own reason: a personal spirit of volunteerism, an ideological attitude, immigrants wanting to be part of society or just our local Rambos. There will be uniforms in Israeli society for many years to come. There will be education only if it is fostered.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

MR. OBAMA'S TASK

 

There is no doubt that the prospects for success in Afghanistan are so bleak right now because former President George W. Bush failed for seven long years to invest the necessary troops, resources or attention to the war. But it is now President Obama's war, and the American people are waiting for him to explain his goals and his strategy.

 

Mr. Obama was right to conduct a sober, systematic review of his options. We all know what happens when a president sends tens of thousands of Americans to war based on flawed information, gut reactions and gauzy notions of success. But the political reality is that the longer Mr. Obama waits, the more indecisive he seems and the more constrained his options appear.

 

It has been more than eight months since Mr. Obama first announced his strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, warning Americans that, for them, the border between the two — where Taliban and Qaeda forces have found safe haven — is "the most dangerous place in the world." And it has been more than a month since his top general in Afghanistan asked for 40,000 more troops, warning that "failure to gain the initiative" over the next year could make it impossible to defeat the Taliban.

 

•Americans are deeply anxious about the war. As the debate among his advisers has dragged on, and became increasingly public, many are asking whether the conflict is necessary or already a lost cause. Democratic leaders are among the loudest questioners.

It has become a cliché in Washington that there are only bad choices in Afghanistan. But it seems clear that this is not the time for a precipitous withdrawal, nor can the United States cling to the status quo while the Taliban gains ever more territory and more power. To move forward, Mr. Obama needs to explain the stakes for this country, the extent of the military commitment, the likely cost in lives and treasure and his definition of success.

 

Mr. Bush failed to do all of that in Afghanistan and Iraq.

 

America's allies, many of whom are looking for a way out, also need to hear why their troops should continue

to risk their lives. There is no chance in Afghanistan unless President Hamid Karzai separates himself from his corrupt associates and Pakistan's leaders step up their fight against the Taliban and other extremists.

 

Mr. Obama said on Wednesday that he would soon provide "a lot of clarity" on his Afghanistan strategy. These are some of the things the world needs to hear.

 

WHAT ARE THE STAKES? We agreed with the president in August when he described Afghanistan as a war of necessity. In a speech, he warned that if the Taliban insurgency were left unchecked it "will mean an even larger safe haven from which Al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is fundamental to the defense of our people."

 

Since then, some of his top advisers have raised doubts about the urgency and even the necessity of the war. The national security adviser, Gen. James Jones, said in October that there were "less than 100" Qaeda members operating in Afghanistan without bases or the "ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies." He said he didn't "foresee the return of the Taliban" and that the "next step in this is the sanctuaries" in Pakistan.

 

Vice President Joseph Biden has been even more insistent that the real front is across the border and that attacking extremists on both sides could be better accomplished with a lighter footprint in Afghanistan and Predator strikes and special operations raids. Other officials argue that the Taliban may have learned a lesson and might be open to a deal that barred Al Qaeda from its territory.

 

Mr. Obama needs to address these arguments — to say whether he still considers fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan to be central to American security and why. Does he still believe a Taliban victory in Afghanistan would mean a "larger safe haven" for Al Qaeda? And how does he see the relationship between the war in Afghanistan and efforts to hold off extremists in a nuclear-armed Pakistan? If the Taliban were to win in Afghanistan, would they be less or more likely to threaten Pakistan?

 

In March, Mr. Obama warned that, for Afghans, a "return to Taliban rule would condemn their country to brutal governance, international isolation, a paralyzed economy and the denial of basic human rights," especially to women and girls. We need to hear whether he still believes Americans have a duty to stop that.

 

WHAT IS THE AIM OF THE WAR? In March, President Obama said his goal was to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future." He also argued that bullets and bombs would not be enough to drive the Taliban back. In Afghanistan, American forces and a surge of civilian advisers must "advance security, opportunity and justice" for the Afghan people, "not just in Kabul, but from the bottom up in the provinces."

 

Given that, no one in the White House should have been surprised when Mr. Obama's chosen commander, Gen.

Stanley McChrystal, came back with an ambitious counterinsurgency plan, although his request for 40,000 more troops was clearly higher than Mr. Obama and his aides had wanted to hear.

 

If Mr. Obama no longer believes that a counterinsurgency is necessary or feasible, or if he wants to set less-ambitious goals (there has been talk of securing a smaller number of cities while speeding up training of the Afghan Army), then the American people need to hear why he changed his mind and how he intends to move forward.

 

Mr. Obama will also have to address his vice president's proposal. We share Mr. Biden's anxiety that a larger American military presence might alienate more Afghans than it wins over. But we are also skeptical that a war against Al Qaeda can be fought from a distance. Drones and commandos still need bases, and Pakistan is not likely to provide them. They need "actionable" intelligence, which could dry up with fewer American troops on the Afghan side of the border.

 

ARE THERE CREDIBLE PARTNERS? There is almost no chance of holding off the Taliban (or plotting an eventual American withdrawal) without a minimally credible Afghan government and security forces.

 

The Taliban's medieval ideas and brutality are anathema to most Afghans. We see that in the courage of the Afghan families who defy the Taliban by sending their daughters to school. But the corruption of the Karzai government, and its failure to provide the most basic services and security, have caused many of its citizens to decide that they have no choice but to submit to the Taliban.

 

Even after his supporters were caught trying to steal the election, Mr. Karzai remains shamelessly, insultingly undaunted. Mr. Obama must make clear to both Mr. Karzai and the American people the sweeping changes required to build a credible Afghan government. If there are other, better partners, competent cabinet members or provincial officials, then Americans need to hear how Mr. Obama plans to empower them.

 

Mr. Obama should be candid about his administration's halting progress. In March, he pledged to send "agricultural specialists and educators, engineers and lawyers" across Afghanistan to relieve the burden on American troops and help the government "serve its people." There are disturbing reports that the situation on the ground is so dangerous that many of these advisers cannot leave Kabul. It was chilling to read in The Times last week that when the ambassador in Kabul asked for additional civilian staff, the State Department turned down some of his requests because of budget constraints and a decision to cap the number at 1,000.

 

There will never be enough American troops on the ground to defeat the Taliban or provide security for Afghans. Mr. Obama must explain his plans for building a minimally functional Afghan Army and police force. More trainers are needed, but as The Times reported earlier this month, even that is no guarantee of success. According to reviews by American officials, the effort has been hobbled by a high dropout rate for recruits, "a lack of competent and professional" Afghan leadership "at all levels," widespread illiteracy and corruption.

 

WHAT WILL IT COST? Mr. Bush cynically tried to cover up the heavy costs of the Iraq and Afghan wars and cooked the financial books with repeated "supplemental" financing requests. Mr. Obama has done far better and needs to continue to tell the truth.

 

The human cost will continue to rise if the number of forces rises. Mr. Obama should also acknowledge the cost in military readiness and the stress of repeated deployments on troops and their families. On the financial side, the Pentagon has already spent more than $150 billion on the war. While estimates are difficult, analysts say that for every 10,000 additional troops deployed, the annual cost will rise by at least another $10 billion. Americans need to hear how those costs will be met, even though the choices — raising taxes, cutting spending or more borrowing — are unappealing in a time of recession and high deficits.

 

IS THERE A WAY OUT? Finally, Mr. Obama promised on Wednesday to outline an "endgame." Given Afghanistan's desperate state, we are skeptical that he can lay out a firm timetable for withdrawal. But there are certainly benchmarks that he can offer. (Mr. Obama promised that in March, but the nation has yet to hear an accounting.)

 

There must be a way to measure progress or failure. Americans need to know the war will not go on forever.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

INDIVIDUALISM, IDENTITY AND BICYCLES IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

BY VERLYN KLINKENBORG

 

PALO ALTO, Calif.

On the hour they come, great clouds of cyclists pulsing between classes along the street called Serra Mall — the main axis of Stanford University — like so many slowly charged particles in a physics experiment.

 

Campus is flat enough — and large enough — and the weather so brilliant that nearly everyone cycles. And whoever all these cyclists are, as individuals, their individuality is burnished by the bikes they ride and by the way they ride them. It's as though the bikes are only partly transportation, as though they were really machines for differentiation.

 

And what aids the differencing is that few people wear helmets, and everyone is wearing ordinary clothes — none of the sleek and gaudy costumes you see on cyclists pumping through the peninsular hills and whistling down Sand Hill Road to the Caltrain station. They are themselves on wheels.

 

There is a deeply pleasing randomness about the campus cyclists, as though one morning university officials had assigned a bicycle to every member of the Stanford community, come as you are, without considering for a moment matters of fit — or fitness.

 

Some riders are clearly adepts, like the ones riding fixies — fixed, single-gear bikes. There goes one now — zooming past on yellow-walled tires, riding fully upright, texting with both hands on his iPhone as he goes.

 

But all around him there are cyclists riding à la 8 years old, prey to the wobbling clutches of gravity, prone to every distorting posture a bicycle can inflict. One pedals past with his saddle tipped up so far that he rides slipping backward, hanging onto the handlebar to keep from falling into the rear wheel. One rides high-kneed, spilling all the energy as he pedals.

 

A cluster of young women comes along, one with streamers flying from her hand-grips, all with handlebars high and seats low, knees gesticulating as they go. One tugs at her hem as she rides. One rides in heels and pinions a cellphone between her shoulder and her ear.