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Saturday, November 21, 2009

EDITORIAL 21.11.09

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month november 21, edition 000356, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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









  2. Yuan for the buck - Kaushik Basu
  3. India's new global (i)con - Pratik Kanjilal



















the statesman









  9. END IN 2012? - ANJUM NIAZ























Faced with mounting anger among sugarcane farmers and a united Opposition refusing to toe its line, the UPA Government has agreed to bring about necessary changes in its sugarcane-pricing policy so that State Governments do not have to carry the burden of meeting the difference between the Centrally-determined 'fair and remunerative price' (fixed at Rs 129.84 per quintal for the current season) and the State Advised Price (which varies from State to State and is higher than the threshold price). The Ordinance, which led to Thursday's massive protest by sugarcane farmers, offers a lesson in how not to try and smuggle in laws that can have a recoil effect. What Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar tried to achieve through the Ordinance (to be substituted by an Act during the Winter Session of Parliament) has understandably raised the hackles of State Governments, farmers and the Opposition parties. In brief, if left amended, the Government's decision would have hugely benefited sugar mills which would have paid a fixed FRP, instead of the SAP determined by State Governments, to the farmers who are demanding a better price for their crop — for instance, in Uttar Pradesh farmers want to be paid Rs 280 per quintal of sugarcane — on account of higher input costs and low yield due to this year's drought. Had the State Governments intervened and offered a higher price, then the differential would have had to be met by them. So, instead of sugar mills paying a higher price, the State Governments would have been sharing the cost with them although the profits would accrue to the former. Seen from this perspective, the State Governments are perfectly justified in protesting against the Centre's move. Even the DMK, an ally of the Congress in the UPA, refused to accept the mill-friendly proposal. With the Union Government now stepping back, status quo ante will be restored and SAP shall take precedence over the minimum support price for sugarcane.

But while this is likely to address the concern voiced by State Governments, it may not solve the ticklish issue of higher prices for sugarcane. The mills are willing to pay more than last year's price but this is nowhere near what the farmers are demanding. In Uttar Pradesh mills are believed to have offered to pay Rs 180 per quintal of sugarcane; the farmers are asking for Rs 280. Resolving the price dispute, therefore, shall remain; in a sense, it will become a problem for State Governments to resolve. If mills are forced to pay what the farmers are demanding, they will do so without taking a cut in their profits by further increasing the price of sugar, which is already high. It's a problem made worse by the ridiculously low price which Government pays for 'levy sugar' meant for the public distribution system. That 'levy sugar' rarely finds its way to fair price shops is an altogether different story. For the moment, the Opposition can claim to have won a victory by forcing the Government to roll back a patently wrong decision, which, in hindsight, was clearly taken bearing in mind the interests of sugar mill owners and sugar cooperatives. The Congress, having painted itself into a corner over the issue, is now seeking to salvage the situation by pretending that it was party general secretary Rahul Gandhi's initiative which has led to the scrapping of the FRP. That's balderdash. Mr Gandhi need not have waited till Thursday to put in a word with the Prime Minister had he been genuinely concerned about the plight of sugarcane farmers.






The news that Bangladesh's apex court has upheld the death sentence given to five of the accused in the assassination of the country's founding father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, can only be described as welcome. With the historic ruling, a saga that has haunted Bangladesh for 34 years has come to its final page. It will be recalled that Sheikh Mujib, who was popularly known as Bangabandhu, was assassinated along with members of his family in 1975. Bangladesh's current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed, who is Mujib's daughter, and her sister Rehana survived because they were abroad at the time of the massacre. The trial of Mujib's killers and the efforts of his daughters and supporters to ensure that justice is done have been long-drawn and hard. Indeed, in the context of Bangladesh it has been the mother of all cases: One that has been shrouded in mystery, deceit, political wrangling and struggle for power. The progress of the trial has also mirrored the course of politics in Bangladesh. It would be a fair assessment to say that after Mujib's assassination those who came to power put Bangladesh on the path to Islamisation. This has been in complete contradiction to the secular ideals that Mujib stood for. Bangabandhu had envisaged a nation that would value its cultural identity above everything else. But unfortunately, this hasn't always been the case. Pakistan-backed communal forces, especially the Jamaat-e-Islami, have time and again tried to subvert the country's secular credentials. Similarly, attempts have been made throughout the past threeand-a-half decades to blotch the trial of Mujib's killers, beginning with the infamous Indemnity Act of 1979 that gave the assassins immunity from legal prosecution.

With Thursday's verdict there is finally some justice. Nonetheless, the five whose death sentences have been upheld by the Supreme Court — Syed Farook Rahman, Shahriar Rashid Khan, Mohiuddin Ahmed, AKM Mohiuddin and Bazlul Huda — are only part of the original group of 15 that was sentenced in 1998. Although three of them had been acquitted later, seven had managed to flee abroad. One of the seven died recently in Zimbabwe while efforts are still underway to track down the remaining six and bring them to book. Unless that is done, justice will not be complete. Yet, that five of the original accused now await the gallows is significant and symbolic. For, it represents the triumph of rule of law in Bangladesh. The entire trial process has been representative of a country's struggle to find its identity. A struggle that still rages on. But finally there is light at the end of the tunnel. As a daughter prays for her father, Bangladesh prays for its founder.



            THE PIONEER




Roughly a month has passed since a number of stray dogs were poisoned to death at Nizamuddin East in New Delhi. The culprits have not been identified — to say nothing of being arrested — though Delhi Police has filed a first information report. And this despite the possibility of there having been a terrorist hand in the matter, as the barking of dogs often gives away the presence of approaching terrorists. Nor surprisingly, terrorists in Punjab and those crossing over the Line of Control from Pakistan into Jammu & Kashmir had asked villagers to kill all local dogs.

A possibility is not certainty. But Delhi has witnessed terror strikes since the 1980s, the most diabolical being the attack on Parliament House on December 13, 2001. It was foiled and all the five terrorists involved killed. Nine policemen and members of Parliament staff also lost their lives in the gunfight that took place. The last terrorist strike in the city occurred on September 13, 2008 when synchronised blasts in five different locations left at least 30 people dead and over 130 wounded.

Delhi continues to be a terrorist target. The Federal Bureau of Investigation's has charge-sheeted a Pakistani-born US national, David Coleman Headley, and a Canadian of Pakistani origin, Tahawwur Hussain Rana, for planning terror strikes in India and Denmark. According to the charge-sheet, filed in a Chicago court, National Defence College in Delhi was being considered as a target. In the background of the forays of the two accused in India, the Centre has warned five States — Delhi, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra — of the danger of terrorist attacks.

A major terrorist strike in Delhi just before the Commonwealth Games can touch off a panic, prompting some countries to opt out, besides causing a sharp drop in the expected arrival of foreigners to witness the event. This will lead to non-utilisation of a large part of the infrastructure being created to house them, the athletes and officials of the participating countries, and the loss of huge sums. And, of course, there will be a massive loss of face in the event of a major terror strike during the games.

Hence, Delhi Police must investigate everything that appears being aimed at facilitating terrorist strikes. In Securing the City: Inside America's Best Counterterror Force — the NYPD, Christopher Dickey provides a riveting account of how, in the aftermath of 9/11, the New York Police Department built up an impressive counter-terrorism apparatus virtually from a scratch. He mentions the anthrax attacks that followed in the US shortly after 9/11 and 'shoe bomber' Richard Reid's attempt to blow up an American Airlines' flight in December 2001. Dickey writes, "In the immediate aftermath of these crimes, Ray Kelly's (Raymond Kelly, New York's Commissioner of Police) basic goal was to know everything about anything that could threaten New York City." He italicised anything to add emphasis.

The lackadaisical manner in which the poisoning of stray dogs in Nizamuddin East is being investigated suggests the Delhi Police has a very different approach! A similar approach, and inadequate response to several warning signals, helped 26/11 to happen.

On September 24, 2008, the then Commissioner of Police, Mumbai, Mr Hassan Ghafoor, claimed that Mumbai Police had neutralised the 'core group' of the terrorist outfit, Indian Mujahideen. He then stated, 'We have no doubt that Mumbai was their next target." Given the history of terrorist strikes in the city, Mumbai Police should not have thought all was over and lapsed into complacence. On September 18, 2008, the Research & Analysis Wing picked up a satellite phone conversation in which a known LeT operative said that the target was a hotel near the Gateway of India. On September 24, the R&AW picked up another satellite phone conversation which mentioned four hotels — Taj, Marriott, Land's End and Sea Rock — as targets and discussed the possibility of an attack on the Juhu airfield which is used by a flying club.

Fahim Ansari, an Indian national by birth, was arrested by Uttar Pradesh Police's Special Task Force on February 10, 2008, in connection with an attack on a Central Reserve Police Force camp at Rampur in Uttar Pradesh on 31 December 2007. The police had seized from him five hand-drawn maps which he said he had prepared following the LeT's instructions to identify targets for attacks. These indicated the route from Cuffe Parade and Backbay Reclamation in Mumbai to a number of places, including the Gateway of India, Lions Gate (leading to the naval dockyard), the State police headquarters, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mantralaya, Vidhan Bhavan, Churchgate station and the police commissioner's office. Some of the maps even mentioned the time it would take to commute between two places.

Looking back, lack of coordination among Mumbai Police, the R&AW and the IB prevented action on the signals received closer to 26/11. The Navy and the Coast Guard failed to intercept the vessel carrying the terrorists despite being told about it when it was on the high seas.

Since terrorist strikes in India are launched from Pakistan, State police forces need to keep regularly in touch with the IB and R&AW. Commissioner Raymond Kelly oriented the NYPD's Intelligence Division to cope with the global nature of the threat the Al Qaeda posed and brought as its head Mr David Cohen, who had been the CIA's Deputy Director of Operations. He also set up a Counter-Terrorism Division which was first headed by Lt-Gen Frank Libutti, who had retired from the Marine Corps, and then Mr Michael Sheehan, formerly the State Department's Ambassador at large for counter-terrorism. As Dickey points out, moves like this as well as the stationing of NYPD's own agents abroad account for the absence of terrorist strikes in New York since 9/11.

Such lateral entries are not possible in India given the traditions and structure of policing led by the Indian Police Service cadre. But it will help to have liaison officers of Delhi Police permanently at the IB and R&AW. Also, all counter-terror activities should be put under a Special Commissioner. All leads, however insignificant they may appear, need to be followed up carefully.







Have you ever seen the soul? Can anyone believe in it without seeing it? Seeing is believing. One who knows does not believe in it and the one who believes in it does not know it. I am convinced that there is no soul. When did this conviction plunge me into darkness?

I would have been plunged into darkness only if I could have known that the soul does not exist. In your case as well as in mine, it just believing, and believing is not the same as knowing. Let me tell you a story.

A mistress told her servant to go and buy some butter oil from the market. He evinced unwillingness as he was afraid of going out in the dark. The mistress insisted that there was nothing to fear. The poor fellow walked down a short distance but soon returned. The mistress repeated her prescription, but the servant was too afraid to go. On being asked to go a third time he rushed away and within a couple of minutes came back with a full container. The mistress asked, "Have you brought the butter oil?" The servant replied, "Yes, I have."

However, when she smelt the contents of the container, she became enraged, "Is this what you call butter oil? This is donkey urine." Quick came the reply from the servant, "Why don't you believe it to be butter oil?" She returned, "How can I believe something that is not butter oil to be butter oil?" "This is precisely the question," observed the servant. "When I feel afraid, how can I believe that there is nothing to fear?"

What else can there be when it comes to believing? Arguments, counter-arguments, counter-counter-arguments, and so on, until the belief is shattered. I believe that religion is not a natural need of life, you believe that it is so. In both cases, it is a question of belief. What the truth indeed is, is something that neither you nor I know.

Whenever I think of the instruments or means of knowledge, I feel that our philosophers are utterly confused. Their idea of truth is no better than a mirage. They say that the truth is transcendental and cannot be pursued by the senses. Let me tell you that we have two means of knowing the truth: Senses and intellect.

For, if there are no means of knowing what the truth is, how could the philosophers know that the truth is transcendental? We simply do not have the means of knowing any transcendental reality even if it were to exist. The only instruments of knowledge we have are our senses and intellect.








Thirty years after the revolution, Iran is still trying to mend fences and repair broken relations with the West in general and its neighbors in particular. Iran somewhat irrationally distanced itself from the international community. Partly because of revolutionary fervour, Iran initially made itself vulnerable. The American hostage crisis and the eight-year war with Iraq exposed Iran to economic hardship and international isolation.

However, the unforeseen outcomes of the most recent and controversial presidential election have driven Iran into a difficult situation that has partially paralysed its foreign relations. On the other hand the unpredictable situation in its neighboring state, Pakistan, with enduring problems as a result of domestic and international terrorism, al-Qaeda, Taliban and drug trafficking, affects Iran's long-term strategic plans, including what was once described as the "Peace Pipeline".

Post-revolutionary Iran has sought to overcome its weakness by using economic and political resources to create an international coalition aimed at counteracting pressure imposed by the West. To achieve this goal, Iran has played different cards, including strengthening ties with Middle

Eastern groups such as Hizbullah and Hamas; keeping a window of dialogue open or trying to avoid confrontation with the European Union with the aim of challenging the US embargo and political pressure; engaging in military-industrial cooperation with Russia and China in order to create a friendlier environment at the UN Security Council while advancing its nuclear agenda; and pursuing a policy of détente with the GCC states, with the broader objective of reducing US influence in the Persian Gulf.

The implication of the gas pipeline project is huge for Iran, India and Pakistan in terms of economy, future interdependencies and regional security. By providing secure transit roads, Pakistan too can greatly benefit from the project, however international politics is often time unpredictable. Given this unpredictability, the big question today is if Iran will be able to push the plan further into a workable and operable project with political, economic and technological drives it needs. The overall regional situation and the facts on the ground do not permit too much of optimism.

Iran, which has the world's second largest proven natural gas reserves after Russia, has been eager to exploit this resource not only as source of revenue but also as leverage for political gains. India, with an increasing need for energy as its population quickly approaches 1.3 billion, is the biggest potential customer. Pakistan, which refuses to establish normal trading ties with India, also can benefit greatly from the pipeline by earning hundreds of millions of dollars in transit fees and other annual royalties from both Iran and India. Were this pipeline to be constructed, Pakistan's role between Iran and India would be very similar to that of Ukraine between Russia and the European Union.

The United States has been opposed to the gas pipeline project, citing various security concerns. Washington is fearful that a situation might emerge where these countries would directly or indirectly confront the United States and other Western countries for the control of energy bases. In addition, emerging strategic relations between Iran and India could lead to cooperation in the nuclear sphere, or at a minimum provide the revenue that could be used to further Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program and its support for terrorism. In addition, this project could help to shape an environment in which Iran might be able to perpetuate its poor human rights record.

Until recently, Iran faced two main challenges in bringing this project to fruition. The first challenge is the historic conflict between India and Pakistan over Muslim Kashmir, in which Iran has taken the pragmatic stance of non-intervention. Regarding the Kashmir conflict, it is worth noting that Iran has had similar experiences with its northern neighbors, maintaining a more or less neutral position on the Chechens' conflict with Russia, basically because of the strategically significant gains that this posture promised to yield. Similarly, Iran's position on the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict over Nagorno- Karabakh was driven by strategic concerns, which ruled out taking a pro-Azeri position, rather than by religious ideology.

The second and more important challenge was and still is the American perception, with which most Western states appear to agree that Iran should not be allowed to make long-term commitments on its strategic resources with non-Western countries. It is important to mention that these Western concerns are not limited to Iran; there is a general concern that the revenues generated by Pakistan also could be further used to support terrorist activities, depending on who channels the funding. The Pakistani involvement in the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in November 2008 confirms that this concern is not baseless.

The attacks in Mumbai undoubtedly had direct and lasting implications for international security, but its immediate regional impact was to disrupt Iran's efforts to reach a final agreement on the pipeline project at a time when there were signs of progress despite the change of government in Pakistan.

Following the Mumbai attacks, however, Iran's negotiations with India and Pakistan on the issue of the gas pipeline came to an abrupt halt. The IPI project seems unlikely to move forward any time soon. Many strategists believe that Pakistan's raison d'etre is deeply rooted in the conflict with India. If their assessment is correct, then Iran either will have to wait a long time for the Peace Pipeline to materialise or look for other highly costly and doubtful options like transiting the pipeline through waters not far from Pakistan's southern shores.

The focal issue for Iran is to push the pipeline project into an operational phase. However, Iran faces several obstacles and uncertainties. First, although the United States recognises the growing energy needs of India and Pakistan, it has repeatedly expressed concerns over international participation in energy projects with Iran. Second, it is not clear which countries/companies will eventually become involved in the implementation of the project. China, Russia, Japan, and even some European countries have expressed interest in the project's long-term potential. Obviously, Russian involvement in the pipeline project, in addition to their involvement in Caspian Sea projects, could complicate the situation further by reducing US companies' participation in the region.

In conclusion, the Mumbai terrorist attacks have disrupted Iran's politico-economic strategy. Indeed, they have deprived Iran of a major foreign policy achievement of which there have been very few in the past 30 years.

The writer is Associate Professor, Director of Security Studies, East Carolina University, the US, and may be contacted at








The two-day visit of the Iranian Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, this week was no ordinary bilateral. Though this visit did not culminate in the signing of any agreement, it saw the continuation of dialogue on a wide range of issues ranging from cooperation in the field of oil and gas, power, surface transport and infrastructure projects like Chabahar and the International North-South Corridor.


It was agreed that an Indian Culture Centre would be set up in Tehran and an Indian cultural week would be held in Tehran and Shiraz in 2010. The need for the early convening of the next session of the Joint Commission was underlined. Both sides discussed trade facilitation mechanisms and the need for an early conclusion of a Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement, an agreement for Avoidance of Double Taxation and a Preferential Trade Agreement.

Should this be seen as a new phase in Indo-Iran relations which have been somewhat problematic since 2005? The relationship is normal, but dense. The vast scope for exploitation of synergies lies untapped. India and Iran hold regular bilateral talks on economic and trade issues under the Indo-Iran Joint Commission Meeting (JCM) at the Foreign Ministers' level. Though many agreements have been signed, implementation has been rare. Though bilateral trade is on the rise, there is scope for more. Total trade has gone up from $1,184 million in 2003-2004 to $12,870m in 2007-2008. However, in terms of percentage it amounted only to 3.10 per cent in 2007-2008. In April 2008, President Ahmadinejad and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agreed to work towards tripling the trade volume to $30 billion.

Iran's importance for India's energy security is undisputable. Indian imports of crude oil and petroleum products in 2007-2008 were worth $10.96 billion and its export of gasoline from Iran was worth $850 million. India is the third largest buyer of Iranian crude. More than 12 per cent of India's oil imports come from Iran. India has signed an agreement with Iran for purchasing 5 million tonnes of LNG per annum for 25 years from the second half of 2009. India is keen on this agreement but there is no positive response from the Iranian side. This agreement could not be implemented due to a dispute over prices.

There is a perception that India's vote against Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has led to the non-implementation of the LNG deal by Iran. However, Indian and Iranian official are of the view that this deal could be renegotiated. During the recent visit of Mottaki, it was reiterated that the two sides would lay great emphasis on closer cooperation in the field of energy.

The much discussed Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline initiated in 1994 does not seem to be getting anywhere.

According to Iranian sources, Pakistan and Iran had finalised the deal in May this year to transfer gas from Iran to Pakistan.

Initially Iran would transfer 30 million cubic metres of gas per day to Pakistan. From Iran's point of view, this is an important project and doors are still open for India to rejoin the project. But India wants the security of the pipeline as well as the gas price formula to be worked out first. Though India has not formally withdrawn from this project and seems interested, the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan remains hostage to any forward movement.

What then are the driving factors for India and Iran to take the bilateral relations to new levels? What should be the priority — energy, trade, connectivity or cooperation in education, culture and science & technology. While all sectors are important at this point in time the emphases could be on promoting cooperation in transport linkages, infrastructure projects, LNG and cooperation in education and culture. More importantly, both countries have been victim of terrorist attacks by jihadi organisations operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Therefore both countries could work together in stabilising Afghanistan.

While India is interested in investing in the Chabahar Container Terminal Project and the Chabahar-Faraj-Bam railway project, much needs to be done before this project can take off. India and Iran are signatories to the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) agreement signed in 2000 which provides for the transit of goods through Iran and the Caspian Sea to Russia and northern Europe. The potential of this corridor would be manifold with India, Myanmar and Thailand getting linked by road.

If both the countries are serious about enhancing cooperation in oil and gas, IPI is not the only option. There are many other possibilities for cooperation. The LNG agreement does not have problems like IPI. Moreover, the oil and gas sector offers possibilities of setting up mutually beneficial projects. India and Iran have successfully collaborated in the past in setting up Madras Refinery, Kudremukh Iron Ore and Madras Fertiliser, besides the Irano-Hind Shipping Company. Iran could possibly invest in India's oil storage facility. The conclusion of the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement , Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (BIPPA) and Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) would facilitate investments and joint ventures.

The international and regional environment in which Indo-Iran relations were conducted in the past has changed. While traditional players remain, new ones have emerged, creating their own space to take up new roles. These new developments may also impact Indo-Iran relations. Thus, it is important to explore new ways of engaging each other in the new strategic environment. Measures which could be helpful in mending as well as enhancing India-Iran relations could be:


·  Diplomatic overtures by India: Hosting a regional dialogue to address regional problems.

·  On Iran's nuclear standoff with the US, India could downplay the issue and engage Iran.

·  India's relations with the US and Israel should be seen by Iran as independent of its relations with Iran

·  A clear message should go to the private sector in India about policy with respect to Iran. Iran should also clearly spell out its foreign investment policy for Indian companies.

·  To bridge the communication gap, dialogue between the think tanks, universities and other agencies between the countries should be enhanced.

·  Creating an India Chair in an Iranian university and an Iran Chair in an Indian university may go a long way in furthering bilateral relations.

·  Enhanced high-level visits would help maintain and enhance cooperation.

·  Both India and Iran would have to work towards better understanding of each other's strategic concerns.

·  Increased people-to-people contact would go a long way in cementing ties.

Bilateral relations are all about perceptions, political will and recognising problems instead of putting them on the back burner. More importantly it is about reciprocity and mutuality of interests. To take the relationship forward a clear understanding of each other's national interests would help bridge the current gap between the two countries.

The writer is Research Fellow, IDSA







India must admit that it must do more to optimise its ties with Iran and this must be part of a larger soul-searching exercise leading to the adoption of a stronger and independent foreign policy

The recent visit of the Iranian Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, left much to be desired. A lot of optimism was expressed on both sides with little progress in the relations. The Iranian Foreign Minister returned without achieving much, except leaving an open invitation to India to join the Peace Pipeline "whenever India would make its final decision". Of course, for the consumption of general public, he said that the talks were fruitful.

It is now for India to take the call on strengthening relations with Iran and join the bilateral agreement between Iran and Pakistan on the gas pipeline. If India joins the agreement, it would be the greatest beneficiary. The IPI, also known as the 'Peace Pipeline' is a proposed 2,775- km pipeline to deliver natural gas from Iran to India through Pakistan. China also has expressed interest to participate in the project. India has shortage of natural gas to meet its increasing demand for energy for its rapidly growing industries. India's requirement of gas may go up to 146 billion cubic metres every year from the present 33 bcm.

It is well known that India has practically opted out of IPI under pressure from the US. It was a conditionality of the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal. There had been near agreement on the issue of the price at which the gas was to be supplied. In order to bag the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, India had voted against Iran at the IAEA meeting on the issue of inspection of the Uranium enrichment by Iran. The visit of the Iranian Foreign Minister was scheduled days before the Prime Minister of India's scheduled meeting with US President Barak Hussain Obama, and that must be weighing on India's mind.

The US has always followed the policy of supporting and strengthening Israel and through Israel, maintained control over oil-rich West Asia. The US has weakened every power that could potentially challenge Israel and consequently, its oil interest. Iran is emerging, in US's view, as a potential threat to Israel with President Ahmedinejad openly declaring that Iran would like to wipe out the existence of Israel and questioning the Holocaust. The US is, therefore, trying to isolate and subdue Iran. It expects India to be a part of that alliance. The Left parties, which supported UPA- I from 2004 onwards till withdrawing support were objecting to India's cosying up to the US and giving up its time-tested independent and a non-aligned foreign policy in favour of becoming a junior partner of the US. India is not only subordinating itself to the US but also to Israel.

Indo-Israel relations have made rapid progress in the past decade. Israel is now the second largest supplier of arms to India after Russia. India's cosying up to Israel is giving renewed motivation to terrorists to target India.

Iran is looking towards Asia to beat the US-led attempt to isolate it internationally. The gas pipeline is a tool and a vehicle to achieve this objective. The Iranian Foreign Minister said during his visit that in comparison to other continents that have managed to establish the European Union, the African Union, the European Parliament, the African Parliament and the Latin American unions, Asia had merely have separate islands in form of SAARC, ASEAN, Shanghai Treaty, etc. Muttaki's call for strengthening cooperation within Asia is to challenge the present world order where more and more decisions of the United Nations are being taken by the Security Council rather than by the General Assembly.

India traditionally shared good relations with Afghanistan, Iraq as well as Iran. Persian was the state language during the Moghul rule and Persian poetry flourished in India with Ghalib being the most celebrated poet who wrote in Persian as well as in Urdu. There are many Persian words in Indian languages, including Gujarati. Popular form of Persian poetry – Gazals— has been copied in many Indian languages.

Persian culinary has also influenced Indian food.

Shia-majority Iran has a troublesome neighbourhood in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, with terrorists largely drawn from the Sunni sect and inspired by Salafi Islam. Pakistan-based Jundallah had claimed responsibility for the October 18 attack in which a suicide bomber killed five senior commanders of the Revolutionary Guard and at least 37 others in Pishin district near the Pakistan border. Iran's Islamic regime may be conservative, but it is not extremist. Women in Iran enjoy much greater freedom than their counterparts in other Islamic countries. Women had participated in great numbers in the 1979 revolution.

The Prime Minister of India has been invited by Muttaki to Iran. India and Iran would have one more opportunity to pursue independent foreign policy free from US pressures and strengthen Indo-Iran relations.

The writer is Director, Institute for Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution








ON the eve of his visit to Washington, the first in the term of the Obama Administration, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has emphatically declared that India and the US " are strategic partners." We wonder if there is some kind of a disconnect between New Delhi and Washington in the meaning of the words " strategic" and " partners." Just last week, US President Barack Obama went to Beijing and urged China to play a more active role in South Asia.


As the US- China joint statement noted, " The two sides are ready to strengthen communication, dialogue and cooperation on issues related to South Asia and work together to promote peace, stability and development in that region." Both sides have, since, tried to give a different spin to this statement, but its import is obvious.


Joint statements are not casual documents, each word has a significance and the phrasing is often hotly contested. The import of Mr Obama's Beijing commitment is that the US is seeking a strategic partnership, but it is not with India.


As it is, in the region, the US has treated India and Indian concerns somewhat disdainfully.


Despite mounting evidence of Pakistani involvement in terrorist acts targeting India and of support to the Taliban led by Mullah Omar, the US insists on humouring the Pakistani generals. Money is being shoveled into the country, even into the Inter Services Intelligence Directorate, with the hope that Pakistan will come around and back US goals in the region. The country which does share a common interest with the US in a Talibanfree Afghanistan, viz India, is kept at an arm's length.


As for the perpetrators of Mumbai, they continue to do their evil with impunity. The David Coleman Headley affair is now beginning to reach the middle reaches of the Pakistani military. It should not be forgotten that in the Mumbai attacks, too, there is evidence of Pakistani military involvement, the details of which are available with the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.


Caught in a vice between the hardening ideological divide back home, the Obama Administration is thinking strictly for the short term in South Asia. This seems to be the reason why it is behaving the way it is with the tainted Pakistani establishment and the new emperors in Beijing.


In such circumstances, India needs to hunker down and prepare for the worst, rather than naively provide openings that are exploited by Islamabad, Beijing and Washington.








THE cynical populism which drives the political decision- making process in the country is once again evident in the official reaction to the sugarcane- growers agitation against the government order fixing what it called a ' fair and remunerative' price for sugarcane.


The magical unity displayed by the opposition in the face of the government's ordinance amending the Essential Commodities Act with respect to sugar, too, is in a class of its own. The current agitation has nothing to do with either the consumers or the poor. The root of the problem lies in the competitive populism displayed by various political parties, all attempting to woo the politically influential sugar lobbies in their respective states.


So far, state governments have happily and cynically competed with the Centre by increasing the price at which sugarcane is purchased by sugar mills, over and above the minimum support price fixed by the Centre.


This did not involve any financial liability on their part. Now that the Centre has made them liable, cries of state autonomy have suddenly rent the air.


Importantly, the higher cane prices on account of state- level price fixing also increases the price of levy sugar, which goes into the public distribution system. The unpaid liabilities of the Centre on account of this difference have piled up to Rs 14,000 crore. With the Centre now extinguishing that liability through the ordinance, sugar mills, which are for- profit entities, will inevitably recover their money from the only source available — the ordinary consumer.


Everybody loses, while politicians win.


If the government really has the interest of all stakeholders at heart, it should remove sugar from the list of essential commodities — refined sugar is not essential for either human health or nutrition — and allow market forces to determine supply and demand.








THERE IS now less than a year remaining for the Commonwealth Games in Delhi and the preparations are in full swing.


There have been a lot of apprehensions about the readiness of Delhi for hosting the Games on time, given the extent of work remaining at the Games venues, athletes' village and also the support infrastructure in the city. These concerns, often raised by the Commonwealth Games Federation, have some merit and the pressure on the Organising Committee has definitely pushed it to work harder. Six months prior to the Athens Olympics in 2004, too, there were concerns whether the games could take place smoothly because of the slow pace of infrastructure creation.


There is, however, another area that also needs special attention and this is the security arrangements for the Games. The government has already begun work on it and the Delhi Police Commissioner provided some briefings recently to point to the level of activity on this front. The Union government recently cleared Rs 370 crore for the integrated security system that is supposed to be installed by a state run corporation. In addition, more would be spent on the security bandobast and additional equipment that will be installed.


Securing sporting events is getting more and more complex as these events have a large congregation of athletes, journalists, spectators and VIPs. Such events become vulnerable to terrorists and others who may seek attention by disrupting them.


Times have changed since the murder of 11 Israeli athletes during the Munich Games in 1972 and the explosion of a pipe bomb in the 1996 Atlanta Games that, too, led to a few casualties.


The last decade has seen the growing threat of terrorism across the world and the South Asian region remains vulnerable as ever. Recent sporting events like the Athens and Beijing Olympics had huge security arrangements. The security spending for the Athens Olympics in 2004 was US $ 1.5 billion and this increased to US$ 6.5 billion during the Beijing Games in 2008. Of course, other sports have had their share of terrorist threats and the fortuitous survival of the Sri Lankan cricket team in a terrorist attack in Pakistan last year is a clear reminder of this.




The Commonwealth Games in Delhi will attract 8,500 athletes from 71 countries who will compete in 17 events. Primary security will depend on the Delhi Police which will provide a force of more than 80,000 policemen with the help of central paramilitary forces and even some specialised Army and Air Force units. There will be security rings around the airport, stadia and the practice venues, the Games village, hotels and also the routes that the athletes and the VIPS will take.


A dedicated terminal at the airport is being planned for the Games officials and athletes and before the Games start the perimeter, apron and terminal will be secured by the security forces and the terminal managed by CISF with assistance from special mobile patrol teams and surveillance vehicles.


The games and practice venues will have four security cordons supported by heliborne surveillance, chemical, biological and nuclear explosive response teams and other quick response teams. Likewise the Games Village will be a fortress with strict access control mechanisms. The twelve hotels to be used by the dignitaries will be made out of bounds for the general public and additional security and surveillance will be in place. Further, the routes to be used by the athletes and dignitaries will be sanitised and a dedicated lane allotted for the purpose.


The extent of technology deployment will be striking — a command, control, communications, computers and intelligent networks ( C4I) is being set up to be monitored by the Delhi Police which will receive real- time feed from all Games venues, hotels and all locations in the city and the routes taken by the VIPs. There will be a few thousand high resolution cameras deployed across the whole of Delhi and also wide deployment of access control systems.


Most of the Games control and management will be done through computer networks and so all the critical systems of the Games will have multiple back ups so that distributed denial of service ( DDOS) attacks and virus attacks do not affect the functioning of the system.



Round the clock monitoring of the networks is being envisaged to protect the trillions of bits of data that will be generated and exchanged on real time basis. The tickets will be bar- coded which will have information of the stand and seat and also the photograph of the spectator.


The tickets will also be watermarked and carry a hologram.


All this is fine, but will they still result in foolproof security? The key fact remains that the security personnel will have to be drilled in the use of the new system which involves the use of much more technology than they are familiar with currently and they will also have to understand the importance of working on a real time basis so that incidents can be dealt with efficaciously without creating chaos.


The training of police staff and the games volunteers with the new system is essential and proper drills have to be conducted so that there is no confusion and coordination is smooth and flawless. The use of so much of gadgets and its integration under a common C4I has to be meticulously done so that the system functions in an optimal fashion. Because of the use of so much technology simultaneously, there could be slowdown at the access points to the Games venues. It is essential to have mock drills that include intrusion attempts to ensure that the system is foolproof.


Also disaster management training has to be properly carried out at almost all the venues. The Beijing Games, where everything went smoothly despite the magnitude and complexity of the event should serve as an example.


Another question is the extent to which these new security arrangements will affect the movement of common citizens during the duration of the games.


Closing and fortifying the hotels is not the best solution and it would bring all other business activities to a standstill in the city.


Likewise closing a lane to normal traffic will create chaos in the already fraught Delhi roads.



The recent instance of some roads being closed to allow the Commonwealth Games Federation delegates to move across the city is not something that is very desirable. The intelligent traffic system being spoken about will not be able to deliver unless an accurate assessment of the traffic volume is made for desired routes and locations.

In short, technology solutions are definitely advantageous but they have to be optimally designed and managed deftly so that normal life goes on in the city. Converting the city into a fortress and the resultant harassment of citizens will not be the right approach.


The countdown has already begun and the magnitude of the challenge is obvious. A major failure on any front will put a question mark on the whole planning and the implementation of the Games. It will also be counted against the country were it to contend for the Olympics in the future.


The writer is the Country Director, General Dynamics.








CONDE NAST, one of the world's largest publishing firms, decided this week that starting with Wired it will get all the content from its 18 magazines ready for digital delivery through the proposed Apple Tablet device. But here's the funny thing… the Apple Tablet is, so far, just a rumour and no one even knows if it is going to be reality.


Conde Nast is not alone. The New York Times executive editor Bill Keller recently let it slip at a meeting with the company's senior editors that the newspaper must get ready for Apple's new device ( not in those words, but something to that effect).


So why is Conde Nast, a $ 5 billion company with some of the world's most successful magazine titles including Wired , The New Yorker , Vogue , Vanity Fair , GQ and Golf Digest and whose circulation numbers run into millions of copies around the world, getting ready for a machine that may not even see the light of day? Indeed, why is The New York Times , surely one of the world's most respected print news publications, getting ready for a machine that is only a myth? To answer that question, we must ask ourselves two other questions: One, how does news and information get delivered to us? Seriously, try and answer that. Newspapers? Check. Magazines? Check. Websites? Check.


Radio? Check. Television? Check. Mobile phones? Check.


Secondly, which medium do you spend the most time with assuming you are a professional who spends more than a third of the day at the workplace? Chances are, you will not reply " print". In fact, if we break our day into exactly those parts that we spend time with news media, a large majority among us would realise this: we spend the least time with newspapers and the most time with mobile phones and the internet followed by television and radio.


It is this trend that Conde Nast and The New York Times are worried about. Over the last year, Conde Nast closed down several print offerings on account of falling readership and revenue. The New York Times almost shut down The Boston Globe for the same reason. At the same time, their web readership grew by close to 40 per cent.


In India, though, newspaper circulation is rising. In fact, China and India showed the maximum growth in global newspaper circulation in the last three years. So should newspapers be worried about the digital onslaught? Unfortunately for readers such as you and me, the debate about the news media across the globe is concentrated on the medium. Instead, the debate should be centred around this singular question: " What is the best way the reader can access the information he needs?" This changes everything.


Newspaper circulation growth has been close to two digits for the past few years. But at the same time, India's mobile phone market registered double digit growth every month.


India's broadband internet connections grew 30- 40 per cent every year. Web- enabled smartphones grew at twice the rate of regular phones.


More than half of any telecom company's revenues are not generated from call charges or SMSes — they are generated from what the industry calls Value Added Services, which includes local information, news, live cricket scores, web surfing, emails, and now even Twitter updates. As more content services are being enabled for mobile devices, readers will convert information into a mere commodity and the question will not be whether they are able to access that information, but what medium will that information be accessed from.


Over the last 15 years since the Web escaped the confines of academia and the military and became a public utility, media houses and advertisers ( upon whom the media houses depend to generate revenue) have been unable to find that Holy Grail — a regime where advertising spends are rationally distributed across media thus enabling investments in new media where the maximum growth is taking place. For advertisers, status quo is the most comfortable position to adopt.



Rupert Murdoch, the world's leading media magnate, announced a few weeks ago that his newspapers would charge for news online. Although they are not openly saying so, Conde Nast and The New York Times , along with a slew of other publications, are also implying that though readers will be able to access their products on the Apple Tablet ( or similar devices), they may have to pay for it.


Readers need not worry about spending more as this cost would be a fraction of the already low price they pay for the print product. Newspapers spend the most on raw material such as paper and ink, the actual printing and then on allied activities like the physical distribution of a copy to your home. Eliminate all or part of these expenditures and you have a digital information delivery system that is not only cost- effective, but can be updated through the day. Just as television.


The device for the digital delivery could be anything — the BlackBerry, a Nokia N series or an E series phone, the Apple iPhone, the Amazon Kindle ereader, the Apple Tablet.




SINCE its inception three years ago, Twitter has had just one tagline: " What are you doing?" But as Twitter evolved — and today it is often the go- to service for breaking news, analyses and information sharing over the Web — the tagline was restricting. Twitter is no longer a status update service.


As Twitter co- founder and creative director Biz Stone puts it: " People, organisations, and businesses quickly began leveraging the open nature of the network to share anything they wanted, completely ignoring the original question, seemingly on a quest to both ask and answer a different, more immediate question: " What's happening?" A simple text input field limited to 140 characters of text was all it took for creativity and ingenuity to thrive." Which is a fair statement because Twitter's openended policy has enabled hundreds of third- party applications to develop around it.


Stone said on the official company blog late on Thursday night: " The fundamentally open model of Twitter created a new kind of information network and it has long outgrown the concept of personal status updates.

Twitter helps you share and discover what's happening now among all the things, people, and events you care about. ' What are you doing?' isn't the right question anymore — starting today, we've shortened it by two characters.


Twitter now asks, ' What's happening?'."



ON November 19, Microsoft launched a public beta of its popular Office software suite. Called Office 2010, the Redmond- headquartered company rolled out — for the first time in its history — a preview of the Office software to literally millions of people around the world. What's more, it is free to use until October 31, 2010.

Since it is available for free download on www. microsoft. com, and we are all suckers for free stuff, I would say download it and use it free for a year. Office 2007 was a significant improvement over Office 2003, and Office 2010 has features that could grind its predecessor down to silicon.


But the best part is that it is webenabled.


It is not as strong as Google Docs which is totally webenabled, but Office 2010 has bucked the trend at Microsoft by making upgrades that everyone will demand in a few months from now.


In that sense, I already see a clear winner. The Steve Ballmer- headed Microsoft may have sometimes gone wrong with its operating system ( Windows Vista) and definitely with its browser ( Internet Explorer), but its Office software suite is a gem.


sachin. kalbag@ mailtoday. in







THIS refers to the editorial comment, ' Change your attitude' ( November 19). The vicechief of air staff Air Marshal P. K. Barbora's statement that women can be considered for combat roles in the future if they undertake not to become mother has nothing wrong. The duties of a fighter pilot is discharged in tough conditions.


Hence the requirement of mental and physical toughness of a fighter pilot is a must.


In addition, the duty of a fighter pilot is directly linked to the security of the nation. In case of an emergency, the Indian Air Force would be deprived of services of a pregnant woman fighter pilot.


This condition is certainly not discriminatory because the condition of being unmarried is also applied on the male aspirants for the National Defence Academy and the Combined Defence Services.

Manoj Parashar Greater Noida



THE UNION government should carefully study the solemn message in the verdict by the Delhi High Court's chief justice A. P. Shah and Justice S. Murlidharan in the matter of appointment of the chief information commissioner ( CIC).


While the learned judges restricted themselves within the boundary of judicial limitation, they expressed their sentiments by giving a strong advisory note to RTI activists having approached the court without mincing any words.


The note to activists for mobilising public support to induce transparency in appointment of CIC should be taken as guiding note by the Centre for all practical purposes.


It is unfortunate that a distinguished luminary like Justice Shah, due to retire from the Delhi High Court in February 2010, may perhaps not be elevated to the country's highest court in the present non- transparent system of judicial appointment.


Why not induce transparency in judicial appointments too? Even Chief Justice of India K. G. Balarishanan had said there were drawbacks in the system and the high courts were full with favourites!

Subhash Chandra Agarwal Delhi



PRIME Minister Manmohan Singh is confident that the country will soon return to 9 per cent growth level.

But his argument or assurance, whichever way we look at it, is hard to stomach given the skyrocketing prices of essentials. Pulses, the main source of protein for most Indians, are going at Rs 100 or more per kg.

In pure layman's term, a 9 per cent growth means more jobs and perhaps a salary hike. But these will mean nothing if the arbitrary price rise is not checked. We will continue to remain poor.

D. Khurana via email



THE SUPREME Court wanted the Centre to pay Rs 14,000 crore to sugar mills as underrecoveries for the high MSP, not Rs 14,000 as it was published on Mail Today page 6 under the headline " the bitter sugar row". The error is regretted.









From carpetbaggers to currency counterfeiters, international khiladis of all stripes are diversifying away from the weakened dollar. Is it a $ign of future times? Are comrades on their Marx, penning obituaries titled 'Thus, Capital'? Is Asia's dragon nearer to a millennial goal of buying out Uncle Sam's cabin? And will greenback grooms and dollar bahus have to weigh their assets starting with curry-culum vitae against the gold standard? Bullion dollar questions, all.

Relevant too, with gold on top of the hoarder's pops. RBI alone bought half yellow metal stocks sold by the IMF. No, not because RBI's guv is a real-life Bond villain, goldfingering the globe towards economic ruin. Our fondness for precious metallica is far more ornamental. If China's forex reserves provoke neighbour's envy, we too can flash gold holdings bigger than the dragon's. With huge stakes in US Treasury bills, China's mad at America's debt wish, seen as euthanasing dollar value. What a golden opportunity to flaunt India's Midas touch! Only, rivalling us in gold gormandising, China's eyeing the other half of IMF's glittering hoard. Obvious poser: kaun banega Asian bullionnaire?

Maybe we needn't be goldilocked, like many visionary treasure hunters. Imelda Marcos, for one, foresaw a multi-functional money-parker. There's no (show) business like shoe business, now that footwear-chucking pays from Baghdad to Bagdogra. Even smarter, invest in friends-cum-born suckers. Hollywood's Nicolas Cage chose dodgy security blankets: castles, yachts and jets. But good pal Johnny Depp's reportedly ready to bail him out. For the more materially inclined, there's platinum, recently touching its highest price since ages. Investment risk: platinum-plate your pool area as Pamela Anderson did, and become as broke as the ex-Baywatch babe.

America warns against leaky life-belts. If China didn't undervalue its currency, it says, happy dollar-driven days could be here again sooner. But the bored dragon simply yuaned at Obama's lecture the other day. Yet, while China started the trend of genuflecting on alternative world currencies, overseas appetite for the dollar ain't flailing, depreciation be damned. The greenback has survived currency panics from the 1930s on, experts argue. All ye safe haven seekers, there's bang in the buck yet.

So, if this is just another Cassandra crossing, who'll rescue champagne & caviar socialists who've gambled their all on dollar decrying? Have they heard the latest from Wall Street? Bank profits in 2009, when America's exiting a recession, could beat 2006's record, when the credit bubble had everyone floating. With big bucks raining on investment firms, the world's financial capital isn't obliging premature obit-writers. And, whoa, what's this about gold not being spared demand fluctuations? Should heavy metal fans lighten up, and wait for the global jukebox to start replaying ''Hello, Dollar''? Shucks, another bullion dollar question.








Raj Thackeray and the MNS have hogged headlines for some months now. Many of the enlightened articles that have appeared in newsprint paint him as an evil villain who runs a party of goons. Quite frankly, this reductionist approach is not too different from that of his supporters who view him as a crusader for the ignored Marathi cause. The trading of such direct personality attacks makes it difficult to understand the real issues at hand. We should remember that the MNS is not alone. Millions of people now vote for it. In a mere three years of existence, it has attained a significant vote share as seen in the results of the recent assembly polls in Maharashtra. Compared to the Congress's vote share, the MNS still lags behind. However, for every four people who voted Congress in the state, one person voted MNS. This is significant.

To understand how the MNS gained so many supporters so fast, we must examine the issues taken up by the MNS that seem to resonate with the people of the state. One, while most of India's billionaires have Maharashtra addresses, the state also houses large numbers of poor people in the country. A majority of the state's population is dependent on agriculture, and this sector has suffered with falling crop yields and a poor irrigation infrastructure. The result is a dependence on rainfall, and high fluctuations in output. The state has the highest numbers of farmer suicides in the country. Why? If we want India to progress, shouldn't our farmers progress too?

Two, the so-called secular or nationalist parties don't seem to be doing much presently. There are little signs of visible progress. While agriculture is suffering, the situation in urban areas is no better with crumbling basic infrastructure. Compared to someone inept and invisible, at least the MNS comes across as action-oriented.

Third, the media's elitist obsession plays a role. Most publications and channels are only interested in covering high-class issues rather than the stories of the people of Mumbai, thus relegating a perfectly fine Marathi culture to a lower-class status. Ours is probably the only country where local cultures are looked down upon. Anything too Indian, or liked by too many Indians, is considered down-market. This, despite Marathi culture being one of the richest, original cultures in India, followed by a majority of Maharashtrians. In such a scenario, any party offering visibility to an ignored but loved culture is bound to get support. For the record, the MNS has organised Marathi poetry recitations and literature exhibitions.

However, despite the above valid causes and potentially good intentions, MNS may not be the best bet for Marathis. MNS has gained maximum publicity when it does something dramatic and violent. While such acts attract attention, it is a slippery slope. To get noticed next time, you have to keep increasing the intensity and do something with higher shock value. Members of the MNS have reached the point of slapping an elected representative in the state assembly. But even that story died soon. Soon they'll increase the heat further, hurt innocent people, and cross the limits of civilised behaviour. Is that Marathi culture?

MNS may have brought forward the Marathi cause but by going against almost everyone non-Marathi, it has demonstrated how little it understands the state's dependence on the central government. Maharashtra needs central support to complete critical irrigation projects, which will cost thousands of crores of rupees. Our best shot at progress as a nation is if all states work together with a common agenda, instead of pulling in different directions. Also, by indulging in violent fights with other political parties, the MNS displays an unwillingness to get along with other interest groups. Such an attitude is impractical in a country like India. If MNS members can't listen to people, who will listen to them?

By claiming Mumbai for Marathis and calling everyone else an outsider, MNS is only harming Marathis in the long term. In today's world, progress depends on inter-dependence. If global agricultural companies are incentivised and welcomed to base themselves in Maharashtra, it can dramatically alter the standard of living for Marathi farmers. Kicking everyone else out won't. A lack of understanding of the modern world also casts doubt over MNS's ability to actually deliver on the issues it has raised.

Most Marathis still do not vote MNS. It is these people who can help most by talking more about the choices available to their community and the pros and cons of each option. Increasing the decibel levels of the moderate Marathi voice is needed now. In that respect, the recent comments by Sachin Tendulkar are commendable. Non-Marathis have to stop painting individual personalities as villains and spend more time thinking about what is truly driving the support base of a divisive person. If you dig deep, you will find that just like you, all that the MNS supporters are looking for is a better life. And that common desire alone is enough reason for us to be one.

The writer is a best-selling novelist.







France's qualification for the 2010 World Cup is turning out to be the biggest controversy in football since Diego Maradona's infamous 'hand of God' goal against England. While in the 1986 World Cup Maradona himself had punched the ball into the goal, on Wednesday Thierry Henry handled the ball en route to his teammate scoring the all-important goal against Ireland to ensure qualification. The Irish have demanded a replay. On his part, Henry has admitted he handled the ball but said it was the referee's job to spot it.

Henry is right. Footballers go out on to the pitch to do their best to win, especially when the stakes are as high as in the France-Ireland game. If they use illegal means as Maradona and Henry did it's the job of the referee to call a foul. If the referee or linesmen miss a foul it's not the player's responsibility to own up. This is so with all sports, including cricket which is considered a 'gentleman's' game.

In cricket there is a long-standing debate on whether a batsman should walk if he is out even before the umpire has given a decision. Most cricketing greats have said they wouldn't. They've argued that since they are so often given out wrongly, they are more than happy to accept a let-off when it comes their way. And in any case, if everybody is not going to be honest, there is little incentive for some players to be sporting.

Trying to force players to be more sporting is barking up the wrong tree. Instead we should be looking at introducing more technology to aid referees. Football is unfortunately lagging behind in the use of technology. There have been proposals to consider video reviews. Another less time-consuming option could be to have extra officials behind the goal. In cricket the third umpire, who has access to slow motion replays, is being increasingly brought into play. And in tennis, each player is allowed three challenges every set.

Football has to take this route even if it means occasionally interrupting the game. To hope that players will suddenly turn honest is to live in a fool's paradise.







This is one for the ages: Can a sportsperson be truly pleased with success achieved through underhand means? When Thierry Henry assisted teammate William Gallas in 'scoring' a goal that saw France qualify for the World Cup in South Africa next year, did the end justify the means? The man himself clearly thought so. Even though he has apologised for hurting people, he has made his position clear. It is the referee's job, he says, to notice fouls. He doesn't think the referee did anything wrong in letting the goal stand.

However, the fact remains that Henry clearly controlled the ball with his hand not once but twice before setting up Gallas for the equaliser. Handling the ball outside of a specific set of circumstances on a football field is a strict no-no and in most cases it is enough to get the offending player sent off, and his team punished via a penalty, or at the very least a free kick awarded to the other side. That the referee failed to notice Henry's transgression is not a defence of the action itself, or of Henry's disgraceful behaviour afterwards, which has resulted in such a mighty scandal that France's president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has had to apologise on Henry's behalf.

This isn't the first time something like this has happened on a football field, of course. Diego Maradona famously credited the 'Hand of God' in his blatant and unfortunately successful attempt at cheating his way past England in the 1986 World Cup. That set a bad precedent. Now, it seems, footballers are eager to test the limit of the rules and go beyond it, just as long as they don't get caught. And if they do, well, they can always blame the poor referee for not catching the foul play and brazen it out like Henry did. But if bad sportsmanship gets rewarded, as with Maradona, there is an incentive for others to behave badly. An example ought to be made of Henry to discourage such behaviour in future and bring ethics back into a sport that sorely needs it.







For three decades Bal Thackeray has ranted about one issue or the other with dollops of coarse humour to the delight of his flock and the wrath of his detractors. Early in his political journey he realized that to achieve success he needed to exploit the insecurities of the urban, middle and lower middle class Maharashtrians. They had been left far behind by the enterprising Jains, Gujaratis, Sindhis, Punjabis, south Indians and north Indians. The feverish rhetoric of regional identity, he reckoned, would mobilise the Marathi manoos more effectively than the tall talk of progress, secularism and national pride.

And so it is that he directed his ire first at the 'Madrasis', then, high on the heady brew of Hindutva, at the Muslims and finally against the 'Bhaiyyas' of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Time and again the arms he deployed against these communities proved to be lethal: intimidation, threats, harassment and, with growing intensity, raw violence. These were the times when one statement at a Shivaji Park rally, one editorial in the party organ Samnaa, one order issued from Matoshri, his Bandra residence, could shut down Mumbai and send his opponents cowering for cover.

Thackeray had the means, and the gall, to "teach a lesson" to anyone who crossed his path: a defector, builder, film star, businessman, underworld don or journalist who failed to pay obeisance to the Supremo. In such instances, he showed a sovereign disregard for the rule of law and constitutional niceties. He placed himself on a pedestal higher than the highest court in the land.

That is why he could gloat over his 'achievements' that included the felling of the Babri masjid and the wave of violence he unleashed against Muslims in Mumbai. None of this would have been possible had his declared adversaries, the Congress and especially the NCP, not played footsie with him. But that Faustian deal was Thackeray's insurance against arrest and prosecution.

The idyll was too good to last. The deaths of a son and of his wife shattered him. He became more vulnerable when close associates began to abandon the ship. Age, too, had started to take its toll. But what crippled him was the crisis that gripped the family. In the bitter fight between his son, Uddhav, and his nephew, Raj, to take control of the party, Thackeray cast his lot with the son. But the son could simply not match his cousin's charisma, organisational abilities, determination or his rapacious ambition.

The result was obvious in the recent assembly polls when the MNS outsmarted the Shiv Sena reducing it to a sideshow. This should have encouraged Bal Thackeray to introspect. He did nothing of the sort. Instead, he chose to revile the Marathi manoos for stabbing him in the back. Later he sought to make some amends. His statement, he argued, was made not in a fit of anger but merely to express a benign patriarch's feelings of hurt over the conduct of his errant progeny. It triggered a fusillade of ridicule.

Hardly had the dust raised by the display of 'hurt feelings' begun to settle down than Thackeray fired another diatribe. This time the target was none other than a national icon: Sachin Tendulkar. The nation, and the world at large, applauded him as a cricketer beyond compare. But India discovered another, immensely attractive side of him when he declared that he placed his Indian identity above his Maharashtrian identity. He took great pride in both but his priorities were clear. Add to this his assertion that Mumbai belonged to all Indians.

Bal Thackeray, ever eager to seize the initiative from nephew Raj, gave Sachin an 'affectionate' earful. The ploy misfired. Sachin has emerged from this episode as an enlightened citizen of the republic, one who bears not the slightest taint of any sort of parochialism and, by that token, represents the face of a modern, self-confident and pluralistic India. In the process, he has exposed Bal Thackeray the troubadour of communal strife and regional chauvinism and the destroyer of Bombay's much cherished cosmopolitan character for what he has become today: a caricature of his former self with nothing but bile flowing in his veins. He cannot, or will not, read the writing on the wall. It says: your time is up.









Sugar prices in India are set by political, not economic, factors. Hardly surprising then that cane growers needed to lay siege to Delhi to get better prices for their produce. The Centre, boxed in by a Supreme Court ruling that allows states to announce price floors much in excess of a nationwide support price, is now facing the prospect of rolling back a new "fair and remunerative price" it announced by fiat less than a month ago. A low price floor in a year when sugar is expected to be 7 million tonnes short of demand was illadvised despite serving the goal of uniform cane prices across the country. The built-in disincentive for states like Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Tamil Nadu and Uttarakhand from announcing cane prices higher than what the Centre sees fit -- they have to make good the difference -- boomeranged into a rare show of Opposition unity.


The issue stems from the price-discovery mechanism in India's sugar industry. A price floor serves little purpose in a year when the crop is short, as now, but turns the farmer off cane in the succeeding year. After three years of good crop, the fall in cane acreage in 2008-09, and the resultant increase in sugar prices, owes itself to the signals that emanate from mounting cane arrears. Sugar imports to make up the shortfall benefit farmers in Brazil, where, as in most parts of the world, cane prices are linked to the market price of sugar. It is not our case that the Indian sugar industry be decontrolled overnight, but administered pricing must factor in the legitimate concerns of the cane grower, the consumer and the sugar industry.


There is bound to be a degree of arbitrariness in whatever cane price the Centre -- and states -- comes up with, given the sizeable vote banks involved. If India must have a regulated sugar industry, the least it could do is set up an independent regulator that can align prices with the economic reality. The Centre must put in place a transparent and independent process for setting prices to de-risk the sector from the politics that surrounds it. Sickness in the milling industry, farmer distress and rising prices of table sugar have been around for long enough. The government should realise it is more efficient -- and less expensive -- to pay out an explicit subsidy on sugar for the poor than to fix prices on the farm, at the mill, and in the market.





Yuan for the buck

Kaushik Basu


President Barack Obama's just-concluded trip to China has caused much consternation among America's conservative media. They view this as capitulation on the part of the US. Whereas, in 1998, Bill Clinton in a public discussion with Jiang Zemin talked about China's poor human rights record, the Dalai Lama and the Tiananmen Square episode and, in 2002, George Bush also pressed China on similar issues, this visit of an American president was distinctly different. President Obama deferred indefinitely a meeting with the Dalai Lama in Washington to mollify the Chinese. In Beijing he assured his audience that, "we recognise that Tibet is part of the People's Republic of China" and only then added that "the United States supports the early resumption of dialogue between the Chinese government and the representatives of the Dalai Lama."


Nevertheless, this did not help very much. The US did not manage to bring up matters of human rights, nor the subject of China's currency, the renminbi, being kept undervalued to promote China's exports, though both these are major concerns of the US and other industrialised nations. Unlike the Russians, who, under pressure from the US, finally made an open statement that they were willing to impose sanctions against Iran to thwart its nuclear programme, Hu Jintao made no effort to toe the American line on Iran and, in fact, stressed how China held a different view on this matter of foreign policy. Finally, almost as if to drive the point home, the very day after Obama's departure, China put Zhou Yongjun, a long-time US resident and leader of the Tiananmen Square protestors, on trial.


The simple fact of the matter is, as an article in the New York Times put it wistfully, "This is no longer the United States-China relationship of old but an encounter between a weakened giant and a comer with a bit of its own swagger."


The conservative media and numerous right-wing bloggers in the US are upset at Obama's bending over backwards to make peace with China. Their mistake is the failure to see that this has little to do with Obama. For years, in fact decades, the US has bought more goods from China than it has sold. This has led to a mounting American debt and explains China's staggering foreign exchange reserve of over $2,000 billion. To get a sense of how large this is one simply needs to know that the second highest reserve-holder, Japan, has less than half this amount. If China off-loads a substantial amount of these dollar reserves, it can bring the dollar crashing down with devastating consequences for the American economy. Of course, such an action will hurt China since the value of its own reserves will fall but the hurt will be nowhere near what the US will have to contend with.


Seeing how China has taken a tough stand against the world's largest and most powerful industrial nations on matters of not just its internal economic and political policies, but foreign policy and international politics too, and got away with it, some commentators in India have lamented the country's weakness and argued that New Delhi should also take a similar tough stand.


This is, however, exactly the wrong lesson to take away. China has power not because it is asserting itself but it is able to assert itself because it has power. And its power and influence have little to do with how it conducts itself today but everything to do with the slow, almost imperceptible, accumulation of economic strength achieved over several decades.


What this reminds me of is a Jim Corbett story that I read years ago. It was such a long time ago that I am not quite sure how much of it is Corbett and how much my imagination. But whatever its origins, it illustrates the point well. Jim Corbett was out in the hills of Kumaon in search of a dangerous man-eater. I do not know if Robin was with him, but he certainly had his gun, cocked in the direction from where he had heard a sound, when he suddenly realised that the tiger was glaring at him from a different direction, and dangerously close. If he tried to quickly turn his gun, the cat would jump at him before he could pull the trigger. So Corbett froze, and then began turning his gun slowly, imperceptibly so. The tiger, thinking that nothing was happening, stayed still in its crouch. After an interminable 15 minutes Corbett's muzzle was pointing straight at the tiger and its game was up.


China perfected the art of Corbett's gun. It strengthened its economy and built up global credit with doggedness and over a long stretch of time. The process was on from the time of Nixon, through the Reagan years, Clinton and the Bushes. The changes were so steady that the US was lulled into believing that it was living in an unchanging world. But the world did change and Obama came to power in this altered world.


I am not sure that aiming for global power is the best of ambitions, but if that be the ambition, then the right lesson is not to simply act tough and talk tough but be prepared to work hard, steadily and relentlessly on the economy, or, in other words, to follow Corbett's manoeuvre.


Kaushik Basu is Professor of Economics and Chairman, Department of Economics, Cornell University


The views expressed by the author are personal





India's new global (i)con

Pratik Kanjilal


Jai Ho! Madhu Koda, who is causing much heartburn, has actually solved a problem for us. He has uncovered the answer to the great tribal question, which has bedevilled us since Independence. The answer is that there is no tribal question. If a Ho tribal who was once dismissed as a simpleton can engineer a Rs 4,000 crore heist almost single-handedly, the noble savage theory has to be a sentimentalist myth. We now know that tribals are not a necessarily fragile, endangered species. They are quite capable of learning mainstream skills and may actually surpass more fortunate communities in working the levers of power.


Koda went by established tradition. As chief minister of Jharkhand, he siphoned off funds and did very little for development. Exactly what a succession of leaders in that region have done, from the time when Jharkhand was a utopian dream. The only difference is that this time, it was a tribal doing it — on a stupendous scale.


Koda robbing the public kitty is a child of hallowed tradition. Koda rapidly globalising his ill-gotten gains is master of the future. He is believed to have expatriated more than half his assets through hawala to fund business assets in Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and Dubai — and even a mine in Liberia. He has globalised the Indian black market. In comparison, his betters who stash it away in Swiss banks look like wimps.


We, who believe we are his betters, are not adapting to globalisation half as well. We seem to regard it as a modern form of conquest, rather than a way of life. Years ago, ITC fought off a takeover bid by British American Tobacco by appealing to nationalistic emotions, suggesting that BAT was a barbaric foreign invader. Conversely, we celebrated the Tata takeover of Corus, Land Rover and Jaguar as if they were post-colonial battle honours. And now we are disturbed to learn that Tata makes 65 per cent of its moolah overseas and so, Ratan Tata could be legitimately succeeded by a foreign national. Wonder how that is going down with the politicians who make a living out of highlighting Sonia's foreign origins.


We often fail to think through the implications of globalisation. Like, we are imposing the same environmental standards as Europe. A very necessary step, given that the air in Delhi these days is the consistency of consommé and it's more toxic than in the bad old days before CNG. But the undermanned and under-equipped pollution control authorities are in no position to enforce the new rules.


Even if they were, the implications are long-tailed. The semi-organised, unorganised and anarchically disorganised sectors are major polluters, but they provide a living to many more workers than formal industry. So the government has delicately sidestepped the issue of implementation, which will require new legal powers. Which, again, will not reduce pollution a whit but become a new revenue stream for all the midget wannabe Kodas infesting the corridors of power.


You know, maybe the angst about Koda owes to size envy. His take is only a drop in the ocean of loot, but this precocious tribal has raised the per capita bar. And people much more fortunate than him, who have been skimming for generations, are feeling small.


Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine


The views expressed by the author are personal








In an ideal situation, the agitation by sugarcane farmers and the nation's political opposition (and at least one constituent of the Union government) would have ended in the only desirable, and long-desired, outcome — an end to our long history of politicisation of sugar, of its procurement prices arbitrarily determined by both the Centre and the states. Sugar would be thrown open to the market mechanism, allowing farmers and millers to discover the price through the least unfair and most unbiased instrument. Yet, Parliament was adjourned on Thursday, the first day of its Winter Session, and parts of the capital paralysed by agitations over the Sugarcane Control (Amendment) Order 2009 ordinance, as the RJD, Samajwadi Party, BJP, Left parties and DMK took to the streets with sundry farmers' organisations. That the Union government addressed the immediate distress on Friday by announcing a bill to make changes to the ordinance is welcome in that it shows the willingness of parliamentary parties to sit and discuss probable solutions. But, in itself, it is not the end of the story.


An industry bearing the cost of reforms neglected for decades will destroy itself and inconvenience consumers if politicians do not withdraw and allow the market to decide for it. The present crisis was looming ever since the ordinance was promulgated on October 21, replacing the statutory minimum price (SMP). The crux of the problem is that the uniform fair and remunerative price (FRP) to be fixed by the Centre is lower than the state-adjusted prices (SAP) for sugar. In western Uttar Pradesh, for instance, the SAP is Rs 165-170 per quintal while the FRP is about Rs 130 per quintal. By the original ordinance, a state had to henceforth bear the cost of the difference if its SAP were higher than the FRP.


The UPA's decision to advance a bill shifting the payment of the difference to sugar mills from state governments may have satisfied the opposition for the moment; however, it does not represent a break from fixing prices but a mere alteration to who bears a certain cost. In any case, farmers complain that they sell sugar for much less than its market price. Allowing farmers to operate on market terms would free them from being stuck to particular mills as well as from a state protection which is more of a hindrance. If the two parties to the transaction — farmers and millers — can discover the proper price for sugar, neither will complain. Friday's announcement may have addressed the immediate crisis, but a long-term and lasting solution to the sugar chimera lies through the market.







Campaigning for the Jharkhand assembly elections has picked up pace, with voting in the five-phase schedule beginning on November 25. The Congress- and BJP-led alliances have released manifestos promising everything from cheap foodgrain to job creation. Nonetheless, nine years after Jharkhand was formed on expectations that the hopes that sustained its long struggle for statehood would now be realised, two of the biggest national stories today profile all that went wrong in this period: Maoist violence and the Madhu Koda corruption case. Jharkhand, by the administrative record of these years and the rapid changes of government, has been particularly ill-served by its politicians.


In these years independents have wielded inordinate clout — and Koda actually became chief minister in 2006 as an independent, having been a minister in the NDA's Babulal Marandi and Arjun Munda governments, he dislodged the latter to lead a government supported by the UPA. The record of promiscuity and quid pro quos is illustrated by Shibu Soren's latest tenure as CM, after dislodging Koda and gaining UPA support for having supported the trust vote last July. President's rule was subsequently imposed when Soren lost a by-election to the assembly. But for all this political space occupied by mavericks and merchants of chance, Jharkhand politics has been an arena for BJP- and Congress-led alliances to square up against each other. So it is now, with parties like the RJD and diverse independents too waiting in the wings. The BJP, after a few hiccups, is persisting with its alliance with the JD(U). But having won eight out of 14 Lok Sabha seats this summer, they cannot take anything for granted. The opposition is less scattered this time, with the Congress in alliance with Marandi's Jharkhand Vikas Morcha. (Marandi, a popular state leader, had in 2006 left the BJP.)


The presence of the two national alliances in a fragmented fray has all too predictably made for a politics of expediency. It has also removed the onus on them to be accountable for the conduct of their allies — indeed even their own. The two alliances are reported to be thinking out of the box on possible chief ministerial candidates. But may we also expect a more accountable politics in Jharkhand?






Air India needs some drastic brand therapy. But why would it wilfully destroy the portly Maharajah, arguably the last shred of emotional connection with the airline? Created for an internal letterhead by Air India's Bobby Kooka and JWT, the Maharajah's showed up in the unlikeliest places — sumo wrestler, Spanish matador and more — smiling benevolently over Times Square and Kemps Corner. He's a supple icon, having proved that he can bend with the times. He was briefly deposed in 1989, but restored after popular protest. After the Air India and Indian Airlines merger in 2007, there were rumours that he would be retired. And now, it's been suggested that the Maharajah calls up associations of louche irresponsibility, and that Air India must shed its flabby PSU image by finding a new icon, like a guy in a "designer suit".


Brand icons have to be tended like fragile plants. Product spokespersons like the Pillsbury Doughboy and Ronald McDonald come with complex instruction manuals, and focus groups and brand handlers plot every detail of their behaviour. A character like that is nothing if not internally consistent. And because of this utter identification between the icon and the thing being sold, it stands to sense that a product that has completely lost its shine would turn on its mascot first.


But in this particular case, killing the gallant, potbellied little man for the systematic rack and ruin of Air India is pretty ludicrous.


The national carrier's financial implosion and depleted market-share are entirely its own doing, and no slick mascot in a designer suit is going to rescue it from its own difficult rebuilding. Meanwhile, at least Air India can count on the decades of accumulated affection for the Maharajah.









The controversy over the Sino-US joint statement in Beijing last week over the Chinese role in the subcontinent has set the stage for an honest conversation between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Barack Obama on whether and how the two sides could cooperate in the eastern and western parts of Asia.


Senior US officials were quick to douse the controversy by affirming that America's relations with China will not be built at the expense of India.


India knows that joint declarations do not a relationship make. Recall the brouhaha in India a few months ago over the statement with Pakistan on the margins of the Non-Aligned Summit at Sharm el-Sheikh.


For Delhi the issue is about getting a clear sense from President Obama on where India stands in his conception of Asia. If Delhi wonders why Obama made no reference to India in his Tokyo speech on Asia policy, it is best to put it squarely on the table when the prime minister meets the president.


Earlier this year at the end of May, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, speaking at the annual Shangri La Dialogue, had underlined India's critical role as a net contributor of security to the Asia-Pacific.


The prime minister would surely want to know if there is a change; but he also needs to recognise the current political context in Washington.


Those familiar with the United States are aware of the extraordinary complexity of the American policy-making process, which is usually a chaos in the first year of a new administration. Massive personnel changes, the pet fancies of the new policy-makers and the difficulties of coordination do automatically generate conflicting signals to friends and adversaries alike. Obama's Washington is no exception.


The Indian anxiety about Obama's foreign policy has been two-fold: on global issues, the US seemed to put all its eggs in the China basket; and in the subcontinent, Obama seemed to drift towards a "Pakistan first" strategy.


These Indian concerns have certainly been magnified by Obama's first trip to East Asia and his unfinished review of the US policy options in Afghanistan.


India is not the only one that is concerned about Obama's policy towards East and Southwest Asia. American domestic criticism abounds.


There are many American voices that are upset at Obama's seemingly excessive deference to China. There are others who criticise Obama for trying too hard to please America's adversaries while showing little sensitivity to the concerns of US friends and partners.


Some critics suggest that Obama and his advisers have no stomach for traditional great power politics; hence their preference for multilateralism and burden-sharing. Left liberal supporters of Obama demand an early exit from Afghanistan.


There is an extremist view that Obama is preparing to out-source the pursuit of American interests in East Asia to China and in Afghanistan to the Pakistan army.


A few analysts believe that Obama stands for an unsentimental management of America's inevitable decline on the world stage. The thesis of an "elegant decline" has gathered some intellectual heft after the financial crisis.


Many others dismiss the attempts to impute grand motives to Obama's policies. They insist the president has been dealt such a weak hand — two difficult wars and a battered economy — that he has no choice but to focus on limiting external commitments and rebuilding America's strength.


Those who hold that all politics is local say that the president has no settled worldview at this moment; his energies are focused on an ambitious domestic agenda and on making sure his party comfortably wins the congressional elections in 2010.


There is probably a measure of truth in all these assessments; but none of them constitutes the entire reality. Beijing seems to appreciate this more than anyone else and understand that its current relationship with Washington is about mutual vulnerability and not unilateral Chinese advantage.


Beijing is surely pleased that Obama has agreed to accommodate its "core interests"; but it continues to cast a wary eye on the prospects of an American reversal. They wonder why Obama has chosen the Indian prime minister for his first state guest at the White House. The Chinese media has speculated that Obama's outreach to Burma is part of an attempt to limit Beijing's influence there.


As he heads into Washington, Dr Singh can bet on four propositions. One, the US is struggling like everyone

else in the world to cope with the rise of China, the single most important geopolitical fact of our times. Second, Washington has few good options on Afghanistan.


Third, the Obama administration is weighed down by the challenges of economic and social readjustment at home. Finally, there is no consensus either within the administration or the Democratic Party between the executive and the legislature on the preferred policy orientation towards China, Pakistan and Afghanistan.


Dr Singh's tasks in Washington, then, present themselves. He must convey unambiguously India's own stakes in America's early economic recovery and a readiness to contribute to it in the small ways it can.


On the security situation in the subcontinent's western flanks, the prime minister must directly address the gap between the Indian and American perceptions on the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan.


Dr Singh must also remind Obama that India has never sought to build its ties with the US in opposition to China nor would ever Delhi accept a subaltern status vis-à-vis Beijing; and that India will pursue good relations with both the US and China on their own respective merits.


The meeting next week between Dr Singh and Obama will not be the last one between the two leaders. Their purpose now must be to generate a level of political comfort that allows a frank acknowledgement of differences, helps minimise them, and launches the two nations on a vigorous pursuit of many shared interests that beckon them.


The writer is Henry A. Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and International Relations at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC







More than 15 months after the hugely successful Beijing Olympics concluded, doping has once again reared its ugly head with five athletes, including two medallists, being found guilty of having used CERA. CERA is a new and improved variant of the now famous EPO, which has become a part of folklore for its constant presence in biking and the Tour de France. Rashid Ramzi, who won the first ever track and field gold medal for Bahrain in the highly competitive 1500m event is the involuntary poster-child for this latest debacle — but the rot has pervaded virtually every nook and cranny of global sports. Factor in Andre Agassi's tryst with crystal meth, and the reputation of outstanding athletes is nothing short of fragile.


While some degree of compassion wouldn't be misplaced for these full-time athletes who simply try to go one step ahead of their competition, the fact remains that there is too much harm that is caused by substance use and abuse, and cracking down on offenders is a requisite measure that must be taken to protect the image of sport. More than just the offenders who knowingly flout the rules and enhance their performances, it is the innocent athletes who must deal with the universal stigma which is now attached to their performances, asterisking every record that is broken, or vilifying every freak achievement or feat that they accomplish.


Unsurprisingly, and justifiably, the most aggrieved in the wake of any drug admission or suspension are the athletes' peers or predecessors. This is simply because the pall of suspicion that is cast is wide and all-encompassing, and this is why anti-doping in the global as well as Indian context is a necessary process in sport, and perhaps the single most important factor governing the sustainability of events such as the Olympics, and the viability of professional leagues around the world. Out-of-competition testing is the first step in controlling substance abuse, and it needs to be aggressively tackled. Just because numerous champions and medallists test negative for drugs during in-competition testing does not necessarily mean that they are clean, apart from in terms of perception-wise. While they may be clean, and many are, the fact remains that the doping industry is far too lucrative, well-funded, and vital for WADA and its offshoots to ever be able to compete with it in terms of resources and R&D. The doping industry is roughly a thousand times larger than the anti-doping commissions globally, which is why WADA has to find practical solutions such as the "whereabouts" clause, making sure that the fear of random testing, as well as ensuring that random out-of-competition testing is enabled, could conceivably reduce drug-use in the long run. What athletes and leagues fail to realise is that accountability brings with it a chit of surety, and athletes like Usain Bolt, Tiger Woods, and Roger Federer, who are yet to fail a drug test, add to their aura of invincibility and demi-god stature.


Doping is harmful not just for careers and reputations, but also for the long-term health of athletes. The burning questions would be to what extent associations are willing to accept questionable explanations for egressions on the part of their star athletes without further queries or probes and, more importantly and worryingly, the extent to which associations are likely to gloss over warning signals from certain star athletes who more likely than not could have used performance enhancers or cosmetic drugs during their careers.


A dynamic and receptive anti-doping commission in India would not only go a long way in promoting clean sports, it would also automatically inculcate a winning culture, and a mind-set where effort precedes short-cuts. India having a young sporting culture and history, a procedure put in place right at the offset will pay huge dividends, and eliminate future controversies such as the BCCI and ICC are embroiled in.


The fight against doping will be a long and arduous one, but as Ramzi can testify, the loss significantly outweighs the gains in every which way. There are legal ramifications, health ramifications and, above all, personal ramifications that are virtually impossible to overcome. It is time to take matters out of the hands of associations and athletes, and defer entirely to the anti-doping commissions. A clean sports industry will have far greater allure over the long run, and it will be more viable from a financial stand-point as well. In a year full of notable achievements such as Roger Federer breaking the French Open and slam number 15 barrier, or Tendulkar's 20th year at the top, it's a pity that we might associate the year more with the Whereabouts controversy and Agassi's Open. Sports globally need a boost to their reputation: not just induced by a banned performance enhancer.


The writer is a sports attorney ( )









The south-western border districts of Bengal, where Maoists are fast gaining ground, were until recently, unquestionable strongholds of the ruling Left. For a long time, these red bastions, with Jharkhand in the west and Orissa in the south, remained faithful to the rulers during periods of setback and bustled during the good times. The history and geography of the terrain, consisting of not-so-fertile land, impregnable jungles, hillocks and long stretches of adivasi settlements, made it one of the poorest, not only in the state, but in the country. Politics perpetuated its destitution. For a long time, the ruling CPM had succeeded conning the impoverished locals into believing that the party looked after their cause, that the party's class interest coincided with theirs, unlike the feudal Congress leaders who had ruled the land earlier.


To exhibit their commitment to the poor, the Left rulers doled out political favours — seeds, loans, irrigation and occasional jobs — to a subset of party diehards. Others watched and waited. It was generally understood that remaining close to the party gave one some chance of receiving a political dole in future, and being poor and impoverished, the people of the terrain needed those doles for survival. Indeed, if the region had experienced some economic development during the thirty two years of Left rule, the people would not have depended so desperately on political favours. Evidently, the rulers had an interest in keeping the people poor and dependent. At the same time it must be admitted that the poor and the underprivileged were given a kind of social status unheard of during the Congress regime.


Of course, this is precisely how political loyalty was ensured in the rest of the state as well. The patron-clientele relationship between the party in power and the electorate worked perfectly for six electoral cycles, and then from 2006, since the landgrab episode of Singur and Nandigram, things started souring. It is an apparent puzzle as to why the CPM decided on an industrialisation drive for which land acquisition was a necessity, especially because the time-tested patron-clientele model was producing political wonders for the rulers. Industrialisation meant growth and growth meant independence from political favours. Why then did the CPM party give a nod to the industrialisation drive?


There can be several reasons — the triumph of globalisation, an erosion of the traditional Left ideology, the acute need to broaden the tax-base and increase tax revenue by expanding the formal sector in the state, the Chinese success vindicating the socialist detour to the market economy and so on. But most important, thirty years of uninterrupted Left rule had produced a privileged class of people within the party, a creamy layer if you may, who were unwilling to remain satisfied with the austere lifestyle a Communist party would typically prescribe. Industrialisation offered the opportunity to fulfill their aspirations. When an automobile factory was built in Singur, the building of the boundary wall, construction of the approach road or supplies of materials were all controlled by CPM-dominated syndicates. It involved substantial amounts of money which seemed to justify landgrabbing within the party.


The resistance to forceful land acquisition that followed permanently changed the politics of the state. Poor farmers, landless labourers, workers in the informal sector who had developed the habit of looking up at the Left for tiny favours, realising all along that they had been taken for a ride, could now gather up the courage to speak against the all-powerful rulers. It had a contagious effect. Persons who did not dare to stand up to the Left establishment as individuals, but always wanted to, could do so now because hundreds of others were doing the same thing. As a consequence, voices of opposition, crying out for change, began to be heard all over the state.


The Maoist upsurge in West Bengal can be understood only in the background of this long overture. The border

districts, which are now under increasing Maoist influence, followed the general political trend of the state. The poor were exploited in these areas more than anywhere else. Generations of adivasis lived on ant eggs, field mice and other substances deemed unfit for human consumption in the civilised world. Arrogant palaces of party chiefs grew amidst hundreds of wretched shanties. So, when anti-Left sentiments gathered strength in those districts, matters turned rather violent. Surely, the Maoists played an important role in this violence. But it must be understood that the geography of the region is largely responsible for its vulnerability to the Maoists. Other impoverished regions of the state, especially those in the North, were equally deprived but completely free from the Maoist influence just because they were not adjacent to the Left extremist belt. In other words, sustained deprivation and misrule by the Left led to dissident sentiments all over the state and these sentiments found expression through whatever political opposition was locally available. In most parts, it was the voice of the Trinamul Congress, but in the Northern hills it was that of the Gorkhas and in the south-west, the Maoists. Notably, the current Maoists have little to do with the older genre of Naxalites who had a strong base in northern Bengal.


One can therefore argue that the Maoist upsurge in the country is a broader problem for which the Bengal CPM is hardly responsible. The argument is acceptable but for two caveats. First, the Maoists would not have gained such an easy entry into Bengal if the poor were not so deprived. This certainly points an accusing finger towards Left misrule. Second, the present handling of the Maoist problem in West Bengal is high-handed, intimidating, insensitive and mindless. The time has come to realise that the only solution to the problem is to dissociate the locals from the Maoists by making the former believe that their long-term interests would be jeopardised if they remain sympathetic to Maoists. To this end, compassionate talks rather than the application of brute force in the short run, and economic development in the longer perspective are called for. Unfortunately, the Left government has not been observed making these endeavours, at least so far.


The writer is professor of economics, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata.








Crises precipitate summits and summits usually spew a bunch of banalities. 2009 witnessed several summits — the G-8, a few G-20s with different levels of government representation, and a just-concluded World Summit on Food Security, convened by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome. The motivation for it stems from the devastation caused by the financial crisis. While estimates of hunger and poverty attributable to the global slowdown vary, with the World Bank and FAO competing with each other in producing inflated estimates, there is legitimate concern that the progress achieved so far in MDG-1 of halving poverty by 2015 has suffered a serious setback. A document prepared by FAO for the World Summit, for example, asserts that the number of poor and hungry is likely to go up by 105 million in 2009.


Even if this is an exaggerated estimate, few would dispute the continuing neglect of agriculture, reflected in a rapid decline in its share of ODA and national budgets. World Development Report on Agriculture in 2008 proposed a strategy that centred around: (i) promotion of high-value activities to diversify smallholder farming away from land-intensive staples to cater to rising urban incomes and dietary changes; (ii) extension and adaptation of technologies to enhance land productivity in less-favoured areas with a large concentration of extreme poor; (iii) provision of infrastructural support to facilitate diversification of agriculture and of rural economies; and (iv) expansion of rural non-farm activities to absorb a rapidly growing labour force.


Some of these strategic concerns were largely ignored in a preoccupation with the repair of the financial sector, and exhortations to stimulate domestic demand in emerging Asian economies (notably China and India, among others). The US Treasury, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and Asian Development Bank (ADB) joined the chorus of rebalancing growth in Asia. Emphatic assertions were made about the "saving glut" and the imperative of diverting demand from exports to boosting domestic demand. Accusations of currency manipulation by China flew thick and fast with vehement demands for revaluation of the renminbi as the ultimate test of China's intent to correct global imbalances.


If there are huge imbalances between saving and investment reflected in current account surplus of emerging economies — as in the case of China and to a much lesser extent in India's case — it is far from self-evident that the solution is to cut the saving glut. As argued by Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University, Dani Rodrik of Harvard University and others, there could just as well be under-investment. Since private investment is likely to be weak given the uncertain economic prospects — banks are reluctant to lend while investors are pessimistic — fiscal stimulus through government spending has a key role in turning a feeble recovery into robust growth. Since emerging Asia is now a major driver of global recovery, a careful examination of growth acceleration through fiscal stimulus — especially through public investment —is necessary.


A recent study (R. Gaiha, K. Imai, G. Thapa and W. Kang (2009) "Fiscal


Stimulus, Agricultural Growth and Poverty in Asia and the Pacific Region: Evidence from Panel Data", Economics Discussion Paper Series EDP-0919,


University of Manchester) throws new light on the effects of public spending and its two components — infrastructure, and net of infrastructure — on agricultural and overall growth, and, consequently, poverty.


This analysis confirms that, despite the decline in the share of agriculture in GDP, it has a pivotal role in growth acceleration. But, more importantly, in the context of the global slowdown and faltering signs of recovery, the case for a bold stimulus is corroborated. Although impacts of public expenditure as well as of its components — especially infrastructure — vary depending on the specification of macro-relationships and the sample used, their growth impacts are positive and mostly large and robust. Relative to the base scenario for a sample of Asian countries, for example, a 10 per cent higher public expenditure accelerates agricultural growth rate by 1.23 percentage points; the overall GDP growth by 1.13 percentage points; and, consequently, the absolute number of poor is lower by 10.30 million. Agricultural growth acceleration by itself reduces the number of poor by well over 4 million. The dire predictions of more than 100 million getting trapped in poverty due to the global slowdown are thus not just exaggerated but avoidable in substantial measure. Besides, if mechanisms are evolved to direct the fiscal stimulus to the rural areas where both physical and social infrastructure are far from adequate to sustain the growth impulse, the payoff in terms of poverty reduction may surpass seemingly optimistic predictions. Talks of early withdrawal of fiscal stimulus in India and elsewhere — fuelled by mild symptoms of inflation and a rising burden of public debt — are not just ill-informed but risk stifling a rapid recovery.


Raghav Gaiha is a professor of public policy, Faculty of Management Studies, University of Delhi; Vani S. Kulkarni is a senior lecturer in South Asian Studies, Yale University








Political excitement continues in Gilgit-Baltistan after its first-ever provincial elections concluded last week. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) won hands down, as Daily Times reported on November 16: "The election commission has announced the results in 19 constituencies... PPP has won 12 seats, PML-N and PML-Q secured two each and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) won one seat each. PML-Q has accused PPP of large scale rigging... However, the party leadership has announced they will accept the result for the sake of maintaining the continuity of the democratic process in the country." Dawn added: "MQM, a coalition partner of PPP at the Centre and in Sindh, has demanded fresh polling in nine stations instead of four as announced by the election commission. Similar charges were levelled by PML-Q which accused PPP of 'breaking all previous records' of vote fraud... PML-Q president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain alleged PPP had rigged elections in league with PML-N." Enraged protestors took to violence, reported Dawn : "Eight people were injured in clashes between political parties in Skardu". The News added: "No let up was seen in the demonstrations being organised by PML-N and MQM...A PPP candidate dissociated himself from the demonstrations, saying PPP would opt for legal options instead of violence... Hundreds of political workers took to the streets and chanted slogans against the government."


'Minus one'

The grapevine in Pakistan is buzzing with rumours about President Asif Zardari's unceremonious exit from the country's most coveted office. Surprisingly, his opponents have indirectly come to his rescue. The News reported on November 16: "We are against destabilising the democratic set-up. We have accepted the poll results, PML-Q president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain said. He said his party didn't support the minus-one formula." PML-N chief, former PM Nawaz Sharif voiced the unexpected in an interview to Geo TV, reported The News on November 18: "I do not consider Zardari my rival... I neither support mid-term elections nor am I in favour of minus-one or minus-two formulas...The integrity and solidarity of Pakistan are dearer to me than becoming the PM for the third time... Terrorism always flourishes in martial law regimes... Consistent democratic regimes in India have blocked the way to terrorism there... If there is any threat to the democratic system, I will be there to block that."


The background of the Minus One Formula appeared in a detailed piece in The Washington Post , which was carried by The News on November 17. It stated: "President Asif Ali Zardari faces growing public anger and disillusionment over his remote presidency. Some critics are urging him to step down, and others predict he will be forced from office within months... A diverse range of people are denouncing Zardari as a corrupt and indifferent ruler. They accuse him of living in posh isolation while his country battles Islamist extremists, energy and food shortages, and a host of other problems." Zardari played on the backfoot, reported Dawn on November 17: "No matter what our opponents said and no matter how much the party leadership was subjected to a campaign of vilification, the party will not be deterred and will continue its forward march in the service of the people... Some people write our obituaries almost daily but the more they write, the more they are disappointed and frustrated... PPP was not given political victories by anyone as charity, but had triumphed politically with the help of the people of all provinces... those hoping to weaken us politically are living in a fool's paradise."


Peacemaker China?

An editorial in Dawn on November 19 hailed Barack Obama's idea to involve China in patching up Indo-Pak ties: "One must welcome President Barack Obama's decision to seek China's help in improving relations between Pakistan and India... We must now wait for India's reaction... As such Beijing does have some leverage with New Delhi and can use economic incentives to seek India's cooperation in defusing tension in South Asia ."







Moderate Republicans — yes, they are not yet extinct, though most are in hiding — scoff at Sarah Palin and wish she would go away. But she's not going away.


She went on-air with Barbara Walters and Oprah Winfrey to flog her new book, Going Rogue: An American Life, and to promote her brand of in-your-face, power-to-the-people conservatism. President Obama is no doubt happy to have her out there on full display. He cannot help but relish the prospect, no longer farfetched, that the Republicans will nominate Palin to oppose his reelection in 2012. A student of history, Obama could be thinking of his predecessor in presidential coolness, John F. Kennedy. In 1963 Kennedy's advisers counselled against giving Sen. Barry Goldwater national stature by posing with the GOP's conservative insurgent at a White House photo op. "What are you giving that SOB all that publicity for?" demanded White House aide Kenny O'Donnell. "Leave him alone," JFK replied. "He's mine."


Obama knows the long odds against a right-wing populist winning the presidency, no matter how good she looks in a skirt (or running clothes), brandishing a gun. He shouldn't be too cocky, however, because the death of the centre is ultimately a problem for him and the whole country. If the Palinistas seize the GOP, they probably cannot take the White House. But their brand of no-prisoners partisanship sure can tie up Congress.


In modern memory, Capitol Hill has never been so polarised. With conservatives refusing to reach across the aisle, it will be hard to get even the most modest health-insurance reform through the US Senate, where a 41-vote minority can block legislation. Without bipartisanship, forget about reducing the deficit or doing anything meaningful on the environment, immigration, or tax reform.


Diehard right-wing congressmen do not deserve all the blame. Obama tried to foster bipartisanship at the outset of his administration, but he didn't try very hard, and his fellow Democrats can be just as rigidly partisan on the left. Obama seems reduced to fencing with Fox News, which won't get him very far or earn him a place in the history books.


Governing effectively requires a "big tent" approach to politics. To pass the New Deal and win reelection three times, Franklin D. Roosevelt built a coalition of labour, Northern liberals, and Southern conservatives. In a body politic that swings right, swings left — but never too far without swinging back again — it is impossible to win a governing majority without a coalition of true believers and moderates.


The two greatest postwar presidents understood this. Dwight Eisenhower governed in the 1950s by deftly uniting centre and right, and Ronald Reagan did the same in the 1980s. They needed to be flexible to the point of gross expediency. To placate the far right, Ike shamefully refused to stand up for his friend and fellow statesman Gen. George Marshall, who was ludicrously attacked by Sen. Joe McCarthy as "soft" on communism. Reagan piously gave lip service to the right-wing social agenda while doing nothing to further it by legislation; he also chose George H.W. Bush to be his vice president and allowed the ultrapragmatic James A. Baker III to run the White House. The "Gipper" talked tough about the Russians — while doing more than any other president to foster detente. With a slyness that belied their smiling patriotism, Eisenhower and Reagan confused and occasionally exasperated their own followers. But it's no coincidence the Eisenhower '50s and Reagan '80s were periods of unusual peace and prosperity.


Since taking office, Obama has so far failed to win the battle for the centre. The post-election polls show that the country is, if anything, drifting to the right. Obama needs to win some of those drifters back if he wants to get things done. The Republican right, hellbent on preventing that, aims to crush the last scattered remnants of the old moderate GOP establishment — or any Republican who will work with the opposition. The talk-show shouters are cheering on the final purge, demanding purity.


By definition, populist movements run on a fervour that confuses honourable compromise with appeasement. Everything is reduced to us and them. This is particularly destructive when it occurs within parties. During the Reagan-Bush administration, the Bushes of Texas (but really Connecticut) were never all that comfortable with the Reagans of Hollywood. But they worked at getting along. The easier course is to rant and rail on The O'Reilly Factor. That will get you a big cable-TV audience. But it risks turning off the larger public to politics altogether. And that can't be good for the country.








The slush of global liquidity has had one unintended consequence: the creation of bubbles in asset prices. India has absorbed a huge surge in capital inflows over the last few months, mostly into the stock market, which has recorded a 100% rise in the same period. Quite clearly, the real economy hasn't recovered enough to justify this increase from the point of view of fundamentals. So, a case for a bubble in the stock market is pretty solid. That said, is there any reason for either the government or RBI to intervene and stop some of the inflows? The finance minister has said that, for now, the government will keep a watch on the inflows, but has no intention of making an intervention. Buzz of an intervention has grown ever since Brazil successfully imposed a Tobin tax on inflows some weeks ago. But the finance minister has probably taken the right call not to intervene. For one, the surge isn't as high as it has been before (in 2007-08) and at that time no action was taken. Second, India doesn't have rupee convertibility and, therefore, the credibility with international investors that Brazil has. And third, one can't be sure that a Tobin tax, a small amount as it will be, will be enough to put a brake on inflows in any case.


Our opinion on the matter of capital inflows from abroad has been consistent. Let them have free entry and exit. And while they are coming in numbers, let the rupee appreciate. However, this is a point where RBI does not agree. The central bank has consistently intervened in the foreign exchange market to prevent excess appreciation of the rupee. Presumably, this is to balance the interests of exporters with the rest of the economy. Ideally, neither the government, nor RBI, should intervene. But if RBI is going to intervene as a rule, then the option of a Tobin tax sounds more attractive. In this case, it isn't as much about pricking a bubble as managing the exchange rate transparently. Brazil stemmed a sharp appreciation of the real as soon as it imposed the 2% Tobin tax on inflows. The problem, of course, is that while RBI may, in theory, support such intervention, the government isn't likely to be inclined to do so. The government may prefer that RBI continue with its non-transparent interventions in the forex market to stabilise the exchange rate. This isn't optimal. A bolder and more decisive signal requires both RBI and government to affirm that they will not intervene either with a Tobin Tax or with interventions in the forex market. That's the only way to retain an autonomous monetary policy, other than using a Tobin tax.






An annus horribilis of the worst sort later, big news in the car industry is coming from small cars. Not only did India's Nano capture global headlines, international players are also lined up to grab at our big small-car pie. Nissan Motor and Renault SA have reached an agreement with Bajaj Auto to start selling a low-cost minicar in 2012. Toyota's first small car is slotted to debut here late next year, while Volkswagen's Polo is scheduled to arrive really early in the year. But the latter's Beetle is obviously in a class apart, historically speaking. Courtesy import duties in excess of 100%, the Beetle will be priced at Rs 20 lakh. The hippies who made a rage of it in the swinging sixties would likely be aghast to see their beloved 'bug' slotted into a super-luxury category. And it is reasonable to wonder why Indians would shell out big bucks for the Beetle when they can grab something that's two times bigger at a quarter of the price. On the flip side, this is a vehicle that's defied the most inauspicious of starts to emerge as the world's most-produced car of a single design. One of its earliest patrons was Hitler himself. When a prototype rolled out of the first plant in Saxony in 1939, the dictator reportedly set aside his favoured Mercedes to ride it—albeit briefly. In German, volkswagen literally means the people's car—no, the concept didn't originate with the Nano. Envisioning a car that all Germans could afford at a time when most would only aspire to a motorbike was just one part of the brutal dictator's megalomania.


In subsequent years, the Beetle would be rechristened Herbie, or Everyman's lovable sidekick. And lest you imagine that its pop cultural incarnations are all archaic, think Transformers—or the yellow Autobot called Bumblebee. Think how Steve Jobs not only partly founded Apple by selling a Volkswagen, he has sort of modelled his company as the Beetle of computers. Think iCar. The phenomenon extends far beyond the US. In neighbouring Mexico, often painted a vivid green to look a lime on wheels, it has long been the archetypical cab of choice. India's Beetles will also be shipped in from a Mexico plant. As for the Rs 40-crore ad campaign that Volkswagen has launched in India, it focuses on how the company actually supports purchases for different stages of life—baby boomers are just one of its target segments. Look at Skoda, but also visualise Lamborghini and Bugatti (internationally speaking). The latest news is that Volkswagen's supervisory board has cleared the way for integration with Porsche. The company has held together when the rest of the car market looked like collapsing. If its luck holds, even the over-priced Beetle may sell well in India.







Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has laid to rest speculations about India imposing capital controls in the face of rising capital inflows. In a recent statement, he clearly said that while the government would monitor the inflows, India is not planning to impose restrictions on capital inflows in the near future.


The first question that should be asked before a meaningful discussion on imposing restrictions, is about the magnitude of capital flows to India today. The latest balance of payments data is available for the quarter April-June 2009. Net capital inflows in the quarter were $6.7 billion. This figure is a fraction of the inflows in late 2007 and early 2008 when they reached highs of more than $30 billion per quarter. When we compare foreign inflows today to the two quarters following the financial meltdown, when they were negative, they appear large. But when seen in historical perspective, inflows are, in fact, quite moderate.


Further, if we look at the components of capital flows in April-June 2009, the largest component was foreign direct investment, at $9.4 billion. This was followed by FII investment at $8.2 billion. The usually worrisome factor, loans, have not bounced back. As a consequence, we saw negative numbers for some categories with net loans outflow of $3.3 billion and net banking capital outflow of another $3.3 billion.


In the past, an inflow of capital has been a cause of concern for RBI. One of the main reasons for this was that RBI was trying to prevent rupee appreciation. When the rupee was touching Rs 40 per dollar, there was pressure from exporters to prevent further appreciation. Today RBI's concerns are quite different. The central bank is faced with the difficult task of trying to boost growth and keep inflationary expectations under control. Were it to raise interest rates, growth could suffer. Were it to lower them, inflationary expectations could flare.


Under such circumstances, rupee appreciation offers an easier path to control inflation. The rupee today, at above 46, still has a long way to go before it becomes a serious lobbying point. Exporter lobbies are not going to be heard particularly seriously at least until it reaches Rs 40 per dollar. Had capital continued flowing out, as it did in the previous couple of quarters, or as it does for loans and banking capital, and had foreign investment not returned, there would have been further rupee depreciation that would have raised inflation rates. RBI might then have been selling dollars in the foreign exchange market to prevent rupee depreciation and rising prices. This would have resulted in further problems such as a contraction of liquidity.


The return of foreign investment is the best solution to the policy dilemma facing RBI and the government. Not only does it encourage a stronger rupee, it brings in funds for investment. In a credit constrained economy where domestic banks are reluctant to lend, where foreign loans have dried up, where the non-banking financial sector has seen one of its worst crises, foreign investment is welcome, and as the finance minister said, much-needed by India.


What could be the other concerns because of which there might have been reasons to restrict capital inflows? One concern that is sometimes cited as a good reason to restrict controls is to reduce buoyancy in the stock market. On this count it is difficult to imagine that the government would, at present, be keen to prick the bubble, even if, like RBI, it believes that there is a bubble.


The stock market is one of the few places where the financial sector is signalling optimism (bank credit has still not picked up). If at this stage the government were to step in with measures such as a tax on foreign portfolio investment, as Brazil has done, it is likely to have an adverse impact on the stock market. In addition to the impact this will have on business sentiment, on a more pragmatic note, this would be bad timing, as the government is planning to raise resources by selling shares of public sector companies to lower its fiscal deficit.


Even if all the above reasons for not imposing restrictions are overruled, such as in the event of the exporter lobby becoming overwhelmingly strong, and the government does decide to impose restrictions on capital inflows, it has been seen in the past that capital controls have not been very effective. They appear to be effective in the short run and in terms of the specific category of capital inflows on which they are imposed, but they are not effective in controlling the total amount of money coming in.


We have seen that in the case of the ban on participatory notes (PNs), which, of course, stopped money coming into India under the head of PNs, but did not bring down net capital inflows or even total foreign investment into India. There are multiple ways of bringing in money and other than creating distortions in the market; there is little that further capital controls can achieve today. Imposing controls that will make a serious dent on net capital inflows or will bring the number below the last quarter's figure of $6.7 billion, is neither feasible nor desirable.


The author is professor, NIPFP







The current imbroglio on sugarcane pricing needs deeper thought. The issue basically is that the minimum price to be paid to the farmer was increased by the Central government through the fair & remunerative price (FRP). However, the state governments would like to have a higher statutory price, which they would not like to pay for. They would have the mills pay this difference as was the case earlier. The farmers evidently want a price higher than the FRP that has been offered (Rs 130/ quintal). All this has led to harsh words over these actions being anti-farmer and pro-sugar mills.


The view here is that we need to take a closer look at the broader issue of price determination by the government in agriculture. Prices are fixed to provide a basic minimum income to the farmer, which reduces volatility in his earnings, ensures that enough of the crop is cultivated and that the consumer pays a reasonable price. This ideology is fair enough as all governments support agriculture with subsidies and may be justified as being necessary.


However, price intervention by the government in India comes in two forms. The first is the minimum support price (MSP) where the government assures the farmers of a minimum price that will be paid for a fair quality of produce. The scheme is open-ended and the cost is borne by the government in the form of the food subsidy Bill. There can be no quarrel here as it is a government prerogative.


The second intervention is like that in sugarcane, where the Central government sets a minimum price that mills have to pay and could pay more depending on demand & supply conditions. Here there is no government purchase and the mills have to pay the cost. Similar prices are set for cotton and jute. There is an issue here because the government is fixing a floor for the mills.


The SMP or FRP makes sense in terms of guaranteeing protection to the farmer, but anything beyond should be left to market forces. This is so because once the minimum threshold price is increased; it can never be lowered in future even if there is surplus production. Hence, while hiking rates at a time when sugarcane production is down, which sounds pragmatic to encourage sowing, this would lead to a disastrous situation in case there is surplus production when prices become unrealistic. A solution would simply be to pay cash subsidies to farmers directly by the state or Central governments for producing a certain quantity of sugarcane. The price should be left open to the market.


The other problem with these prices is that while they are meant to improve the cropping pattern, once they reach unrealistic levels, would tend to distort the same. Therefore, higher MSP, FRP, SMP or SAP would make farmers grow more of the crop, thus creating distortions in production of other crops. We have seen this happen for rice and wheat where farmers prefer to grow them because of the higher relative income to be earned. This has created two problems.


The first is that pulses and oilseeds, where India is in the deficit territory, have tended to lag as the first choice is rice and wheat. The second is that these crops, including sugarcane, are more water-intensive, which has resulted in the water table levels dropping, which has serious implications in the future as rainfall has been inconsistent progressively.


The final problem is inflation. The government has, in a way, indirectly sponsored inflation to a great extent by inflating these numbers. When the threshold price level is raised, there would be a tendency for it to become a benchmark, which increases the prices of other grades, too. Last year, the MSPs were increased by over 30% for rice, 35-40% for coarse grains, 30-50% for pulses etc. Now, if sugarcane prices are going to be doubled, then quite evidently we must be prepared for high sugar prices. A cash subsidy would take care of the inflation aspect and also keep the prices market oriented.


The debate hence is quite myopic today, and we need to take a longer term view of such pricing given. We also need to gradually move towards a market pricing system, which is more efficient. The government should also move away from purchasing, storing and transporting products except for what is essential (PDS and buffers). In this context, futures trading in sugarcane should be seriously considered and can be supplemented by direct cash subsidies, in case prices move downwards. This market would be exciting as there would be large number of hedgers on both ends, which would make the price discovery process more transparent and efficient.


There is hence an urgent need to downplay the current pressures on pricing, which are transient, and could change.


The author is chief economist, NCDEX Ltd. These are his personal views







M&A activity finally appears to be coming back to life, at least if Kraft's $16.7 billion takeover bid for Cadbury is an indicator.


Cadbury—the world's leading confectionery company—has almost become a synonym to the word 'chocolate'. Generations of kids have grown up with the taste of Cadbury's Dairy Milk chocolate bars wrapped in purple with the company's swirl logo. When John Cadbury opened his first shop in 1824, little did he know it would grow into a global company with over 45,000 employees in over 60 countries. The 185-year-old company is a brand that Britons have patronised since the Victorian age. Now, will it become a US brand, is a question that many Britons are asking?


British companies have been the most popular takeover targets, largely because the government has been liberal with the rules. The value of British take-overs by foreign companies leapt to a record high of £49 billion in Q2, 2007. Apart from liberal government policies, takeovers have been facilitated by Britain's well-developed financial markets, locational advantage and true shareholder democracy culture. Nearly all of what were British manufacturing & infrastructure companies and even some of the football clubs are owned by foreigners. Some of the prominent takeovers include Dubai Ports World's purchase of P&O, Macquarie's purchase of Thames Water, Abbey National Bank was bought by a Spanish firm, Ferrovial's purchase of BAA, Linde's takeover of BOC, Tata's takeover of JLR and CSN's purchase of Corus.


The latest Kraft-Cadbury bid has set the stage for a battle that could potentially lead to a dramatic reordering in the global candy market. If Kraft's bid is successful, Cadbury is almost certain to lose its independence and its 'Britishness'. Felicity Loudon, company's fourth generation member, also stated in The Sunday Telegraph that she fears the loss of the legacy of values her forebears have imbibed. She was desperately sad about the fact that another British icon would be in foreign hands. However, in today's world of globalised business, nostalgia is likely to be confined to the sidelines.





In this paper* the authors use GEM data to estimate the effects of entry and contract regulation, and financial development on both entry and the size of new businesses:


We use cross-national harmonised micro data from a broad sample of developed and developing countries and investigate the heterogeneity of the effect of entry, contract enforcement regulation, and financial development on both the decision to become an entrepreneur and the level of employment of newly created businesses. We focus on the interaction between the level of regulation and financial development, and some individual characteristics that are important determinants of entrepreneurship, such as gender, business skills and social networks. We find that entry regulation moderates the effect of business skills, while accentuating the effect of gender, even after accounting for the level of financial development. Specifically, women are more likely to enter into entrepreneurship in countries with higher levels of entry regulation, but mainly because they cannot find better work. This effect is also more pronounced in countries that are less financially developed. Furthermore, individuals who report having business skills are less likely to enter entrepreneurship in countries with higher entry regulation. Finally, we also find that individuals who know other entrepreneurs are less likely to start large businesses in countries with higher levels of entry and contract enforcement regulation.


* Annamaria Lusardi, Silvia Ardagna; Heterogeneity in the Effect of Regulation on Entrepreneurship and Entry Size; Working Paper 15,510, November 2009, National Bureau of Economic Research








The recent World Food Summit in Rome clearly failed to do its job. It did well to focus attention on the risk of food price shocks of the magnitude experienced in mid-2008, which led to civil unrest in over 30 countries. Yet it abjured its responsibility to the vision of a world free from chronic hunger and malnutrition, especially child malnutrition. Behind-the-scenes wrangling over the wording of the summit declaration ensured that no tangible commitments were made by rich countries to put the first Millennium Development Goal, MDG 1 — to halve global hunger and poverty by 2015 and eliminate it altogether by 2025 — on high priority. Instead, the 2025 deadline was jettisoned. With one child dying of hunger and malnutrition every six seconds and over 20 million children at risk, such negligence may cost all nations, and perhaps even the world order as it stands, dearly. The summit also chose to put price shocks ahead of a sustainable vision for agriculture through investments in technology and projects for developing countries. The FAO failed to convince G8 countries to increase the three-year, $20 billion investment in agriculture they promised at L'Aquila in July. Despite the FAO's efforts, the G8 declined to raise that investment to $44 billion annually — though even that would have meant only a return to 1980 levels as a percentage of official aid spent on this sector. Among the G8 leaders, only Silvio Berlusconi bothered to attend the Rome summit, something an Italian Prime Minister could hardly avoid doing.


Yet the signs that the world has run out of time to address food shortage and inaccessibility could not be more ominous. Private companies supplying 'breakfast cereals' have, out of desperation to avoid 2008-type price spirals, started investing in agriculture in poorer countries. This has raised, for example in the case of South Korea's Daewoo Logistics investing in Madagascar, the spectre of land grabs and political conflicts. In developing countries such as India, the supply of rice has dwindled owing to one of the worst monsoons in 30 years, prompting cuts in import duty and expectations of a global price surge. As scientist M.S. Swaminathan has pointed out, unless agriculture is viewed not as a food-producing machine, but as the backbone of the livelihood of the majority of the people, MDG 1 is likely to turn into a pipe dream. Only pro-poor policy interventions on an unprecedented scale integrated with increased investments in agricultural technology and projects can deliver the world from endemic hunger. Meeting at a time when the economic scenario is still grim, the summit has failed to instil confidence that this is likely to happen.








It has been a long and agonising wait for Bangladesh. The judicial confirmation of the 1998 conviction of the killers of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the country's founding father, signifies a historic turn, though one would have wished the court had stopped short of the death penalty and opted for life imprisonment. The bloodbath of August 15, 1971, when the 'Bangabandhu' was shot during a putsch, has haunted the country since then. It has taken no less than 25 years for the legal barriers — including the infamous Indemnity Ordinance promulgated first in 1975 — erected by successive military and civilian governments to shield the killers, to be removed. The breaking away of East Pakistan had represented a political and social revolution, and the operation sought to oppose the dominant role of the military in politics and discard the culture of communalism. The assassination was clearly a setback for the new nation. For Mujib signified the vision of a secular and progressive Bangladesh. A large section of the people considered the coup and the assassination as part of a sinister and determined plot to turn the nation away from the path of socialism, democracy, nationalism, and secularism. If Bengali nationalism was the guiding spirit of the liberation struggle, a form of Bangladeshi nationalism, with stress on religious identity, was being sought to be established. The most significant outcome of the Supreme Court's verdict should therefore be a reaffirmation of the dream of 1971.


If Sheikh Mujib's death ended the first spell of democracy in the fledgling nation and set the stage for a series of foiled coups, his daughter's comeback to power in the December 2008 elections, after many a twist and turn in the nation's fortunes, was a triumph for democracy. But many tasks remain for the current leadership. In the immediate context these are two-fold: tracking down and bringing to justice the killers who are at large — at least seven of them may still be alive — and attaining a closure of the whole sordid issue. The fabric of civil society needs to be repaired. It is time for Bangladesh to turn the tragic and traumatic page and move on. The country owes it to Mujib, who was a unifying leader. It needs the salve of reconciliation and cooperation and has to come to terms with the imperatives of development. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the latest winner of the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, needs to keep in mind the legacy she represents and take Bangladesh forward in tune with the founding spirit.










The flogging of Vanita, a Class XII student in Tiruchi, by a temple priest figures in a recent article in Frontline ('Ritual whipping', issue of November 6). Vanita's parents are anxious about the Board examinations she is going to face soon. Apparently, the parents believe that an evil spirit has entered Vanita and they expect that she will be able to study harder after receiving a few lashes from a priest. The Frontline story places the ritual flogging of girls and women by a temple authority in the larger context of patriarchy and the superstitions it promotes. Education is expected to remedy the perpetuation of the beliefs and practices through which patriarchy operates, but education can hardly do this when its own rituals are no less ossified and oppressive. The ritual which has proved highly resistant to reforms is that of the Board examinations. It is also the ritual which acts like a termite to destroy any reform efforts in curriculum and teacher training. The ritual of the Board examinations has been shaping the annual as well as everyday life of our schools and colleges since colonial days. And, it has proved remarkably resilient.


Let us look at some of the components of this powerful ritual. Every school follows a seasonal calendar to ensure that all actors — the principal, teachers, students and their parents — remain alert to their roles in the ritual. The principal ensures that teachers exercise no agency or autonomy in deciding the number of periods they will take to complete a topic. The number ordained by the Board is religiously complied with. I cannot think of a principal who exercises leadership to encourage teachers to take howsoever long they want in order to sustain children's interest in a topic. Teachers who want, or actually try, to do such a thing, end up being told by either the principal or the parents that children's time is being wasted. The message is simple: "Focus on the final Board examinations." Children begin to feel its power as soon as they enter Class I in the primary school or even earlier, in the nursery. By the time they come to the higher secondary level, the students themselves become convinced that marks, and marks alone, matter. Colleges and universities do not consider it necessary to apply their mind to assess the student's potential. They go by the student's Board marks. Not surprisingly, parents push children to work for the highest possible aggregate, rather than to pursue individual interest. This kind of pushing destroys the student's awareness of his or her own special yearning.



The social ethos injects the young and their parents with a deep sense of insecurity early in life. Teachers start instilling the fear of examination from primary grades onwards. The culture of continuous testing engulfs the primary school curriculum, and in quite a few States the primary classes end with a Board examination. The latest example of a State contemplating this is Delhi. The justification being given is that a Board examination will make teachers work hard. Directorates of education typically believe that teachers cannot be trusted to teach well unless they are scared of their students doing badly in a Board examination. Elite private schools and even Kendriya Vidyalayas use the stick of punitive measures to ensure that teachers concentrate on pushing students to improve their scores. There are no takers for the view that any examination or assessment procedure should make both teachers and students aware of what is to be done next. Such a view would naturally contradict the clandestine procedures adopted by Boards. From paper-setting to evaluation, every step is cloaked in secrecy — and this is what counts as rigour. Those who justify the prevailing system argue that it induces competitiveness. Of course it does, but at the colossal cost of burning out the natural desire to learn in millions of children. They learn early that it pays to act like a mindless robot. Among teachers, the prevailing pattern conveys the message that they cannot be trusted to assess their own students. Board examinations force even the best of teachers to act like coaches and drill masters.

The National Curriculum Framework (NCF-2005) traces the source of a wide range of systemic ills in the public examination system. The NCF attributes the social Darwinist ideology (which says that only the fittest should survive) of our system to the manner in which examinations are conducted by the different Boards. The ideology of social Darwinism is totally incompatible with the Constitution's vision which asks us to regard every child as a valued participant in the democratic order. If we were guided by the Constitution, we would nurture whatever potential a child has, rather than stigmatise millions by labelling them 'failed.' The NCF also criticises the examination system as an obstacle to curricular reform.


Ever since the NCF was approved by the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE), the NCERT has been anxious about examination reform. The NCERT's new syllabi and textbooks require a whole new approach to evaluation. These new textbooks encourage children to reflect on problems, to recognise multiple perspectives and to develop the skills required to engage with the debates arising out of such multiplicity of viewpoints in different disciplines. The kind of learning such textbooks encourage cannot be evaluated through the ritual of our traditional examination system. This is why the NCERT tried to develop a dialogue with the CBSE so that a change might be brought about in the typology of the question papers, in the quality of questions, and in the mode of evaluation itself. Why this struggle has borne limited fruit is an important question to ponder on at this point when the CBSE is planning to make the Class X Board examination optional and to replace marks with grades. This and all other reforms currently under discussion depend for their success on teachers, especially on how much freedom they will be permitted to exercise and how their responsibility will be defined. This is where a huge systemic challenge lies buried. It consists of giving teachers the autonomy to teach and to equip them, through sensible training, with the capacity to cultivate in children the freedom and the desire to learn. The prevailing system obstructs both these freedoms by assigning a fixed number of periods and marks to each topic in the syllabus.


This problem reminds us of the overlapping roles of institutions. When the NCERT prepared its new textbooks, it did so by first designing new syllabi on the basis of the radical perspective on knowledge and learning articulated in NCF-2005. The NCERT's syllabus did not assign marks to topics, nor did it specify the number of periods within which a topic should be completed. To do so would have been a violation of the NCF perspective according to which a teacher should have the freedom and the skills of time management so that knowledge can be experientially assimilated by children. The NCF also talks about letting individual children learn at their own different paces, instead of rushing them as a herd from topic to topic. As in the past, the CBSE went through the exercise of 'adopting' the new NCERT syllabus in every subject, breaking it up into topics and sub-topics, each carrying a specified label of marks and periods. The story of the CBSE is no different from that of other Boards. They all need to reflect on the pedagogic and epistemological constraints they themselves place on teachers and children by assigning marks to each and every topic and sub-topic and by imposing a tight and arbitrary time-frame on teachers. Whatever little scope there might be in this structure for creative teaching is further constrained by the poor quality of the questions asked. Typically, they are based on the textbook and can be answered correctly by memorisation. The practice of developing model answers further discourages originality and diversity. Hardly any of the scholars and teachers who were involved in the designing of the new syllabus and textbooks is invited to assist in the process of paper-setting or evaluation. The academic resources that most Boards in the country have access to are of poor quality and the recommendation of a committee chaired by Professor Amrik Singh in the early 1990s to strengthen the Boards has remained unheeded.


There is the added question as to how the role and responsibility of the Boards are to be defined. Should they serve mainly as examining bodies, or should they share curricular responsibilities with institutions like the NCERT and the SCERTs? These systemic questions have been waiting for answers for a long time.


(The author is the Director of the NCERT.)







Leaders of a quarter of the world's countries meet in Port of Spain in the last days of November. The Commonwealth, which marks its diamond anniversary in 2009, meets at the end of a year in which half of its 53 members have suffered stagnating, or negative, growth. Lashed by economic storms, and with new crises overlaid onto old ones, we meet at a time when the rich man's heavy cold has become the poor man's life-threatening influenza.


For the developing world, investment and remittances are down; unemployment and budget cuts are up; and the World Bank reports that at least $270 billion is required to get the developing world back on its feet.


All over the Commonwealth, we see the devastation of downturn. Nearly 750 million Commonwealth citizens live in dollar-a-day poverty; and another 50 million have been pushed into poverty in the last twelve months. And the neediest areas of national life — health and education — have borne the brunt.


We are quite aware of the solutions to this confluence of crises. The challenge now is to secure the shared will — and the shared funds — to implement them. Recovery and prosperity will not come from one country, one economy or one continent alone. The world in all its diversity needs to act together.


A big step towards that outcome can be taken when Commonwealth Heads of Government meet in Trinidad and Tobago. This coming together of leaders — buttressed by youth, business, and civil society gatherings, and representing every corner and community of the globe — takes place every two years. The Commonwealth assembles, knowing that it has a track record of working together to achieve positive change.


It has been active in 2009. The game-changing outcome of the year has been the creation of the world's new top-table: the G20, which accounts for around 90 per cent of global GDP, but only 10 per cent of the world's countries. This group should be renamed the T20, shouldering responsibility as 20 Trustees for the other 10 per cent of GDP, and the other 90 per cent of countries. The Commonwealth has made the case, in arguing that the voices and concerns of the wider world be heard and taken into account, even if they are not sitting at the top table.


In Trinidad, the Commonwealth's collective voice and action will be evident on other global preoccupations too.


It has always maintained that there is an inextricable link between democracy and development: where one flourishes, so too can the other; where one suffers, so too can the other. Where the world's older democracies fail, they have hundreds of years of tradition, culture — and working institutions — to fall back on. Most Commonwealth countries are younger than 50 years of age, and have no such firm foundation. The Commonwealth may at times act as referee, but more often it is asked to provide the services of a coach.


A proposed new network of Commonwealth election commissioners can aid the sharing of best practice, and signal a commitment to that most powerful of moral forces: that of peer review. If Rwanda's application for membership is accepted, the Commonwealth will be saying again that it values progress made, and the determination to advance.


The ability to scrutinise and suspend members in a voluntary association for acting outside constitutional rules may be seen as fair play in a local sports club. But the way it has been successfully done in the Commonwealth for 15 years is unheard of in international affairs. Yet there remain abuses within constitutions which need to be examined, and this is an area where the Commonwealth needs to give itself more room.


Such measures to strengthen democracy may seem remote, and focussed on politics and institutions. But the benefits from them offer the potential of a better quality of life and opportunity for all, wherever we call home.


For some, our homes are under an existential threat: that of climate change. The most threatened are those who have done the least to bring us to this pass. Witness flooding in Maldives, Kiribati, Tuvalu and Bangladesh; encroaching desert in Namibia and Nigeria; thawing tundra in Canada; drought in Kenya and Australia; five times more hurricanes than usual in the Caribbean.


Meeting 20 years ago in Malaysia, Commonwealth leaders in effect wrote the blueprint for the Rio Earth Summit of 1992. In 2009, they are called to lead again, in the very week before the U.N. conference on climate change at Copenhagen. The Commonwealth cannot negotiate the outcome, but it can set the boundary lines and the expected outcomes within them.


The Commonwealth is already talking of the need for a system of international environmental governance in which every voice is heard, and in which all strive towards a collective purpose. It is mapping practical ways in which countries can assist each other with technology, technical assistance and finance. It is well advanced in sharing its best ideas in areas such as deforestation (where a forest is worth more alive than dead), and in helping each other to cope with natural disasters.


In all this, youth is not a flower which should be allowed to wither. To be so young a Commonwealth, in which half of our two billion population is under 25, ought to speak of unimagined hope. And yet, as often as not, it speaks of unemployment, marginalisation and lack of self-belief. The young of the Commonwealth and of the world risk inheriting a flawed legacy from the past and current generations. By 2015, there will be 3 billion young people in the world, with 2.5 billion in developing countries. Is the job market ready for them? Can we make them not passive job-takers, but innovative job-creators?


The Commonwealth was the first inter-governmental organisation to have its own youth programme, dating back to 1974. It is looking to set the global pace again, by doing much more in future. First, by owning to the fact that youth affairs is no sideshow: every government policy needs a youth consideration, and a youth budget. Second, by responding to the truth that job creation does not happen in isolation: skills, funding and mentoring need to be part of the same package.


For the past 60 years, the Commonwealth has been producing homemade products that have become "global goods", in every sense of those words. For anyone wanting to know about solutions to the world's problems, look no further than the next Commonwealth summit.


(The author is Commonwealth Secretary-General.)







She's ba-ack! Sarah Palin has been making the rounds promoting her new memoir, Going Rogue: An American Life, and reminding Americans why we didn't vote for her in the first place. Whether on Oprah, telling the world that her epically bad interview with Katie Couric was due to "badgering questions," or bemoaning the latest Newsweek cover, Palin keeps insisting that her failed political career is everyone's fault but her own. But even worse, Palin is alleging sexism (when it's convenient) while simultaneously relying on sexist notions of women in politics to pass the buck.


Palin's most recent complaint is over the cover of Newsweek magazine featuring the former vice-presidential candidate posing in running shorts — a shot originally taken for a profile in Runner's World magazine. Palin writes on her Facebook page, "the out-of-context Newsweek approach is sexist and oh-so-expected."


I agree; the cover is undoubtedly sexist. It sexifies and dismisses Palin — something that was done time and time again during the campaign, whether through "VPILF" badges or reporters commenting on her appearance. But despite the veracity of Palin's sexism claim, I have a hard time mustering up outrage for a woman who depends on outdated ideas about women to drum up sympathy.


In her widely watched Oprah appearance, for example, Palin said that she resented people questioning her ability to serve as vice-president while being a mother to five children — something a man would never be asked. But Palin also complained that in her interview with Couric, she thought she would be speaking to the reporter "working mom [to] working mom" and that she was annoyed with "her badgering and questions."


In other words, Palin thought that because Couric was a woman, she wouldn't take her job as a journalist seriously. Palin expected a puff piece instead of pesky questions about economics, abortion and Palin's policies — you know, things a "working mom" couldn't possibly be bothered with. Palin also noted that while she didn't blame people for thinking she was unqualified to be vice-president after the disastrous interview, the segment was edited in a way that didn't paint her in the most flattering light. Well, welcome to the world of the media!


You simply can't have it both ways — it's ridiculous to be upset about being treated differently by the public because you're a woman and a mother, while demanding the same biased treatment when it might give you the edge in an interview. Hers is a gender politics of convenience, one that insults all women in politics.


Of course, this performance of martyrdom is nothing new. During her run, Palin blamed everyone from the media to the Obama campaign for her faltering public image, instead of owning up to the fact that this has always been a narrative of her own creation.


And now, instead of using her post-election moment in the sun to talk about what she stands for (I still don't know) or reveal something real about herself, Palin continues to change her story again and again.


She wasn't really happy about her daughter Bristol's pregnancy, she tells us on Oprah — that was just McCain campaign spin. In Going Rogue she writes that she was excited about the notion of appearing on Saturday Night Live to "neutralise" Tina Fey's unflattering impression; but campaign emails show she didn't want to go on the show. Palin says in the book that after she was prank-called by someone pretending to be French President Nicolas Sarkozy, McCain's campaign manager, Steve Schmidt, called her screaming; former operatives say Schmidt actually contacted her via email. (Schmidt calls her criticisms "total fiction.")

Palin's whirlwind media tour and contradicting stories in Going Rogue have been so baffling that even noted blogger Andrew Sullivan's site went silent on Thursday (Nov. 19) so he could take time to "make sense of the various competing narratives [Palin] tells about her life."


Switching stories aside, the real problem is that instead of talking about the future — something she will surely have to do if the rumours of a 2012 presidential run are true — Palin continues to point fingers at the past. She's given no indication of who she really is outside of this constructed woe-is-me tale. And if Palin doesn't know who she is, other than a "maverick" jilted by her political handlers, how can she possible expect the American public to trust her?


It's telling, I think, that the Newsweek cover controversy isn't Palin's first. When the magazine ran an extreme close-up picture of the former governor last year, conservatives criticised the publication for not airbrushing out Palin's flaws. Newsweek pointed out that Photoshopping pictures are for fashion spreads, not political cover stories, and that the picture represented the candidate as she was. And this presents the general problem with Palin today — she's upset that people won't airbrush away who she really is, and that no one believes her when she tries to do the same.


(Note: Jessica Valenti is the founder and editor of the Feministing blog and online community.)







Hollywood actress and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Lucy Liu on Thursday called on the international community to take action to protect children from threats, saying it is "the only thing to do" for the future.


At the occasion to mark the Universal Children's Day and the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child that both fall on Nov. 20, Liu said at the UNICEF's headquarters in New York that children should have the same basic rights as adults, like the rights to survive, to develop, to be protected from harm, and to be treated equally.


Calling the anniversary an "urgent reminder to place children at the heart of human development," Liu said she hoped that the whole society could take steps to strengthen protections against every threat to children.


"It's not merely the right thing to do," she said. "It's the only thing to do if our future on this planet as a human family is to hold any promise at all."


To mark the event, UNICEF has released a special edition of its flagship publication The State of the World's Children, outlining progress made on children's rights over the past two decades.


Liu, born in New York and named UNICEF goodwill ambassador in 2005, told Xinhua that instead of being invited by UNICEF as a goodwill ambassador, it was herself who "actually called them up." "I pushed my way into their family because I love the way they work — on the global level, reaching out to children," she said.


In the past four years, Liu has been dedicated to the work of helping children and travelled a lot on behalf of UNICEF.


"I have been to different countries, from Africa to Russia to Peru ... all of these different areas have something in common which is children in need," Liu said.


"But the most impactful was my trip to D.R. Congo, one of the most war-torn areas in the world," she said, adding that it was such a pity that they were not permitted access to children in the country due to security reasons.









Very occasionally senior officials come along who call a spade a spade, rather than conform to standards of political correctness that are not infrequently used to maintain the status quo at the expense of pointing out systemic defects and looking ahead. The vice-chief of air staff, Air Marshal P.K. Barbora, apparently a respected fighter pilot, appears to belong to this small company. Addressing a forum on Thursday, he went public with what the defence services have long felt. The senior officer bemoaned the tendency among our political parties to use international defence procurement arrangements to settle political scores with one another. It has been a given for the past 20 years or so that a government will be reviled with charges of corruption in defence purchases by its opponents in Parliament and outside. The compliments are returned almost ritualistically when the roles are reversed. This is not to say that malfeasance should be tolerated or corruption brushed under the carpet. It must be clearly understood that the taxpayers' money is not for lining the pockets of corrupt individuals or parties. Strict surveillance mechanisms must always remain in place. But it has been found that nearly all major military purchases since governments began to scout for the best equipment and price in the international commercial domain were bogged down indefinitely as corruption charges swirled. Hardly anything worthwhile was ever proved even when those who levelled allegations came to rule. It does appear in retrospect that hurling not just allegations but also abuse became a pastime for Opposition parties because of the perception that so-called scandals can be milked better for political ends than the demands of unglamorous but authentic politics which necessarily involves educating public opinion through responsible political thought and action.


Consequently, the needs of the defence sector have suffered. As India's footprint in global affairs has grown, so has the need for boosting its military power as the last guarantor of its vital interests in dealing with hostile foreign quarters. The neighbourhood we live in is among the most treacherous in the world. All political parties would need to bear this in mind. Senior leaders across the spectrum have a special responsibility in this regard. If serious charges are to be brought, this must be done with the sense of utmost responsibility. We often find instead that shrill and emotive rhetoric is used from the pulpit and opponents begin to talk of presumed Swiss bank accounts at the drop of a hat. When this happens, even crucial military purchases go on the backburner as no one wants to be singed.


The Indian Air Force's vice chief has sounded a cautionary note in the context of the supreme national interest. It will be a real pity if the political class hurls the protocol book at him and takes him to task for highlighting shortcomings that politicians should have themselves seen fit to overcome. The officer has also spoken of opening up the area of domestic defence supplies to the private sector more fully and to permit foreign direct investment in the defence sector. These ideas need to be aired even if they are not found entirely feasible. On balance, Air Marshal Barbora has made a useful contribution to an important debate that should have been started much earlier.








Mumbai seems to be going through a major identity crisis. There are any number of really weird people fighting over the metropolis, like it's a half-chewed bone, left behind by a pack of wild dogs. The scraps left behind are for scavengers of all hues — and yet, everyone is pouncing on them. Why? The answer is obvious — even those measly scraps of this mega city are worth a fortune. And nobody wants to let go of those precious leftovers. From politicians to businessmen, there is just one story worth narrating about this ajeeb city. It is called Real Estate. Take whoever, doing whatever, in whichever sphere — the motive is just one — land grab. Which is why Sachin Tendulkar's innocuous remark — "Mumbai belongs to India" — has triggered off reverberations, not just in Sena Bhavan, but across party lines. It has been twisted out of context and given political hues by those who would like to appropriate the city and stake an exclusive claim over it. No other city in India generates this level of possessiveness and passion. And the only reason why Mumbai gets people to froth at the mouth each time the "ownership" issue comes up, is because those who hope to plunder it still further, start feeling threatened. Earlier, this perceived threat used to come from "outsiders" who were determined to acquire chunks of pricey property, using locals as fronts. Often, these "outsiders" were underworld kingpins consolidating their hold over their gangs through illegal acquisitions of land in prime areas. The "dons" continued their dirty games from their hideouts overseas, even after getting chased out during the fierce inter-gang battles in the 80s and 90s. These old Bollywood-style dons were soon replaced by a new breed — the political dons. But the objectives remained the same — buying Mumbai. And selling it, piece by piece, to the highest bidder. Dhanda!


The lines have totally blurred now. Most of the old players are either dead or dying. The new laptop dadas wear Versace (itself a dying brand, but who's to tell these designer goons?), and crack mega real estate deals with smooth-talking builders in shiny suits. Most of the ghastly construction one sees in suburban Mumbai is a product of the scumbags who have stripped Mumbai of all its aesthetics, in their greed to make a fast buck.

I was told by an erstwhile royal who is a globetrotting, card-holding member of the luxe set, that a top Italian designer who visited Mumbai in search of good locations for his stores, actually held his head in his hands and wept after a drive through the city. He couldn't accept its ugliness. He was appalled by the hideous "development" all over that lacks character or taste. He kept repeating, "How could anybody do this to such a historic and important city? Why doesn't someone stop this horrible growth?" He fled vowing never to return. Yes, he was that traumatised. Mumbai's ghazab story can only get worse. There are no real stakeholders left to protect it from marauders who are determined to exploit every last inch of space available. And these marauders are not the feared "outsiders" but insiders themselves, who want to hang on to the booty. Helping them in their sinister design are the greedy worker ants of Mumbai — those who sign "no objection" certificates, okay crazy plans and are a part of this dirty nexus. From lowly staffers in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), to hangers-on of MLAs and ministers, they are all in the conspiracy to own India's most valuable real estate — Mumbai.


What does the average Mumbaikar do to protect the city or his/her own interests? Well, very little. The cynicism is so widespread, the Mumbaikar shrugs resignedly and life goes on. Every time there is a crisis, Mumbaikars are reminded about their "resilience" and the great "spirit" of the city. This is nothing but a cheap alibi that excuses those who are responsible for the safety and prosperity of India's premier hub. Mumbaikars shrug, laugh and get back to work after each devastation, knowing that if they don't, they'll be finished. They read exposes on corruption in high places, in low places, in virtually every place and are not shocked. They accept that most of the netas voted into power are goondas. They don't react. Nobody wants unnecessary lafdas, they say tiredly. As long as the goondas get them water in the taps, it's okay. It's all a big joke — just like in the current Ajeeb-Ghazab hit movie. Serial blasts, terror attacks, David Headley and whatever else might befall Mumbai in future, one thing is certain — politicians will never get poor. Today, Mumbaikars are willing to say sportingly, "It's okay, baba… paisa banao. Lootmaar karo. No problem. Grab what you can while in power. But at least make sure the public also benefits a little". Is that too much to ask?

I think it is very fair and very practical. It's time to do a deal.


Maybe Mumbaikars should talk turkey with those who are busy plundering Mumbai and work out a formula. We have some of the canniest financial brains in the country in this overburdened city. History tells us Mumbai came as part of a "dowry" for a Portuguese princess in the early 17th century.

Time to file a dowry harassment case, in that case? It can't get more ghazab than that for this ajeeb city.


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On the anniversary of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks there is no better way to remember the dead than to be angry. And there is enough, just in the normal struggle to survive in India, which should make us furious. And not allow any one of us to ever forget.


Returning to Delhi is always a shock — the airport lulls you into thinking that things have improved. But once outside, you are choked. Not with emotion but by the pollution, and by the implication of a government that is not working hard enough. On every flyover there are children selling magazines or begging under them: hungry and malnourished children who should be in school. Every symbol of progress has another negative and searing one. The last one year, when we swore an end to corruption and held candlelight vigils, has only shown us our own faults in sharper and sharper focus as we voted back the same people who let us down, over and over again. This was meant to be a watershed year, but instead it has been a year where we appeared complacent and self-indulgent. Ready to be attacked, once again, perhaps?


The Delhi sky reminds me of Beijing five years ago, when we had gone there on a brief visit. There was a thick haze of pollution everywhere and the sun struggled, ever more weakly, to come out. Five years ago the chief minister of Delhi had just announced the success of the CNG buses and all of us — harkening towards asthma — could breathe the clichéd sigh of relief. Imagine — Delhi was less polluted than Beijing! What a coup! What excitement!


So we could afford to feel superior. Landing in Beijing we had muttered about how recklessly the Chinese government was indulging the middle class — allowing them unbridled access to cars, to material goods, to consumerism. There wasn't even a ban on smoking! But didn't the Chinese have a point? After all the aam aadmi is no longer an impoverished voiceless face in the crowd — the aam aadmi is really the newly-arrived middle class — thrown up in waves on the safe shore of government subsidies and corruption. That is the class to indulge and keep happy — because if your middle classes are content, the so-called home-grown media experts who dominate TV channels and newspapers can be easily bought over. So Beijing was, despite its glossy buildings and new found millionaires, barely visible behind the mist of pollution, and no one really cared. Because the growth rate was and is the deity we have to worship — it doesn't matter if a few million lungs shut down forever. In a competitive global economy every decimal point counts.


And by allowing a cash-rich culture to flourish, the opium of the middle classes is no longer religion (sadly for the Bharatiya Janata Party) but mobile phones, affordable cars, and homes on EMIs.


The Indian government, alas, seems to be following the same policy — thus the linked wholehearted attempt to keep the industrywallahs happy because after all the growth rate of the country cannot be allowed to dip. If the Sensex falls how can we claim our seat at the Group of Twenty? And what about the trickle-down effect? But the suspicion is that the money is no longer trickling into the hands of the masses, or to improve our security (despite the budgetary allocations) — it is instead going into the coffers of the political parties and politicians.


The real crisis of democracy is that there is a steady decline in the percentage of votes by which people are voted into power — and if you have to either entice the electorate to come out, or bribe them to stay at home, you need money. And in India there are elections all the time. For the Congress coalition, things are on a roll — as the Opposition seems to have committed mass suicide. Soon there will be little to distinguish us from our neighbours such as Pakistan or Bangladesh or even Afghanistan — because there is little debate and no anger about policy. We only seem to discuss trivia all the time.


Remember our crocodile tears at the lack of bulletproof vests for the police during the 26/11 episode? This week the sickening photographs of policemen parked near the Gateway of India sitting in the open, with little protection, ostensibly to provide security makes a mockery of all the 26/11 remembrances which are playing out on TV channels. When will we ever learn?


The recent cases of Satyam in Andhra Pradesh and the infamous Koda kaand in Jharkhand, and the impunity with which culprits vanish, are exonerated or live in luxuriously equipped jails cannot augur well. And yet, we are not angry enough — spending hours discussing Headley instead. This is a conveniently-created distraction of a man in US custody whom the Americans will not allow us to approach for questioning because they have already seen the finesse with which we have turned the Kasab trial into a year-long circus. We are still squabbling over who did what and begging Pakistan for information. The Americans understand anger, they understand patriotism. They will not allow the single death of an American to go unavenged.


The real issues accumulate and fester, and are all interconnected — pushing us further and further on a downward spiral: such as the rampant mining of valuable minerals, displacing indigenous people in tribal areas which is taking place with little regard to the environment or to the global terrorism links which are emerging from there. However, here too we find convenient distractions — how sexy it is to discuss the "stone grinding" in Mayawati's parks, for instance. The real environmental issues are shoved aside for cheap headlines. How clever is that?


This kind of denial is simply not a good sign — we may be proud of the fact that we are the "least corrupt" in South Asia but that is hardly anything to crow about. Already the media abroad has scented blood and the feel-good stories about India are on the decline. At a recent event in the UK a politician rued that India was squandering away its goodwill. A government which has been voted in with a decisive mandate (no matter how slim) needs to be more pro-active. And we need to be much more angry.


The writer can be contacted at







I have a firm belief in God and I believe that faith is the most important thing in life.


Unless you have faith in something, be it in God or in yourself, you will never be able to succeed in life.


Right from my childhood I was taught to have faith in God and the power that controls the universe. Over the years, my beliefs have only grown stronger.


Though, I have never come across any miraculous circumstances or turn of events in my life so far, I have affirmed my faith in the existence of the Almighty.


I feel that my positive attitude towards God's very existence has made everything work smoothly for me.


One of the most important thing is to remain optimistic. If we embrace God happily, good things are bound to happen to us.


If we have a negative attitude towards God, we will end up feeling miserable.


I believe that God is all-knowing and generous. If you ask Him for something, He surely fulfills your wishes in one way or the other. But, sometimes we don't like the "other way" which He decides for us and that leads to a conflict in our minds about His existence.


I visit temples regularly. I feel relaxed and rejuvenated whenever I visit temples.


We (human beings) only seek God's help when we are in need. The moment we get what we had asked for, we forget about the cosmic power. I think this is wrong.


Good things have happened to me in life and I'd like to think that my belief in God has given me the strength and direction to my life... in the choices that I have made.


To people who do not put faith in God, I have one thing to say, "Believe in yourself and have faith in God. Things will work out far better than you can imagine".


(As told to Rhik Kundu)


 Vishaal Hegde is a South-Indian actor









Nov 21 : "…friendship, love, infatuation, fascination,arrangement, blackmail, bondage, coercion, boredom, habit, nemesis… 'relationship'…"From Bachchoo's Thesaurus


My brave daughter works in London's badlands as a "youth-worker" and insists that the cynical thugs she deals with, whom I have learnt from the media to regard as the nemesis of urban society, are actually misguided children. She may be right.


Her job in the London Borough of Haringey, where many immigrant communities, the Somalis, Albanians, Turks, Algerians, Nigerians, Afghans, Pakistanis etc. reside (but where don't they in the entirety of London which is 35 per cent "ethnic"?) is to get the knife and gun gangs off the streets and into activity. This could be simply coming into a youth club and being introduced to pastimes and challenges more productive or at least safer for their fellow-burghers than hanging around the streets looking for people to mug or members of a rival gang to stab or shoot.


Further than that, she and her team aim to put these boys and girls to useful activity acquiring a skill they can professionally use and it's part of the job to put the waifs and strays in touch with an agency that can solve their drug/mental, health/social welfare problems.


Daughterji was going away last weekend with a group of these recalcitrants — her "clients" — to some part of the country for a four-day sojourn in a state-funded outdoor camp where the lumpen youth volunteer to go to be taught canoeing or diving or some other challenging activity which will take their minds off crime and the depression of the ghetto and perhaps instil in them interests and ambitions beyond it. It's an extended and vastly more costly Baden Powell programme for the bad 'uns, but without the pseudo-religious promises that Boy Scouts and Girl Guides have to make.


They do make promises, however. My daughter, before she went, was working on the computer, growling frustrations with its tendencies and shouting out words for which she wanted the spellings. I asked her why she needed to spell "statutory".


"I am typing out forms for the clients to sign", she said.


"What forms?"


"Oh, just to say that they are not carrying any guns or knives on them or in their luggage. They have to give us that undertaking before they get on the coach."


This is the sort of cool answer that turns my stomach. I suppose the parents of young men and women who work in the active wings of a police force or as soldiers in a war zone constantly get this feeling. I have had to get used to the idea that my beautiful and dedicated daughter is in one of the "front-line" services of this society. Nevertheless, it gives me pause.


She presses the "PRINT" button and turns to me with a grin, reading my frown.


"It's better than searching them and going through their baggage like security guards because that doesn't give out the same message does it? Here we are handing them a form to sign and asking them to take responsibility for not carrying harmful weapons and demonstrating to some degree that we trust them."


"They may not be trustworthy! If stabbing and shooting is their game, signing a false guarantee is not going to seem a terribly dishonest thing to do."


"Well, put it this way, dad, if they are carrying knives or guns they are hardly likely to use them on us, are they? They use them on each other."


She was quite cheerful about it. Off she went carrying her forms. The same evening, picking up the London Evening Standard, I read the headline which said a 16-year-old boy had been stabbed at a bus stop by a gang of youths. Not, however, in the Borough of Haringey. The report says that the police claim to have reduced knife crime in the capital by a quarter. Which simply means that instead of 400 incidents brought to court, there have only been 300, which is three hundred too many.


A sinister sounding statistic now emerges. The Metropolitan Police have made it their policy to stop and search children as young as 10 and 11 for knives. They claim they confiscate a large number, one which they won't disclose. They report the children to their families and to the social services who may take up the thread of prevention from there. The police also claim that this stop-and-search operation is responsible for the fall in the stab-rate. They don't ask the suspects whom they stop to sign any forms. They search them from curly locks to boots and I don't suppose it inspires great affection for the police patrols who do it or great respect for the uniform. There is enough evidence to indicate that it does exactly the opposite.


The civil rights lobby in the country wants the police to take a less suspicious approach and stop the stop-and-search and instead try and win the hearts and minds of youth. They protest that it's a suspension of civil liberties. But like being searched before getting on a flight, it is a very annoying but necessary evil and won't lead to more people carrying knives on the street. It may alienate hearts and minds, but if it's contributing to safety on the streets, bring on the alienation!


One borough of London, Croydon and not Haringey, more harassed by youth crime on the streets, has trebled its placements of CCTV cameras. These are the snoop cameras that watch the streets and public spaces in the borough and are strategically placed where youths tend to congregate. The move has inevitably brought about complaints against the surveillance society and protests from the same lobby of civil rights watchers.


British cities are, square foot for square foot, the most surveyed cities in the world. The Croydon spokesman was convinced that the cameras would capture "anti-social" behaviour and would act as a deterrent. I can see that it would deter burglars without balaclavas smashing shop windows in the high street, but would it stop desperadoes carrying knives in their trousers or guns in their cars? Perhaps my daughter's solution is as effective as police searches or surveillance cameras. Get everyone to sign forms.

Build trust, build an honest society? Perhaps not.









There has been an unstated and finely drawn line that politicians and others in the civil society will not criticise the armed forces and the armed forces on their part will maintain strict and discreet silence on civil society issues. The arrangement seems to have worked pretty well.

The armed forces have remained above and beyond politics. But there are some unsettling moments in this sanitised situation. For example, instances of corruption and wrong doing, including the rare cases of spying, in the armed forces have caused much hand-wringing all around. There is a general expectation that the armed forces can do no wrong and they should not be seen to be doing so.

It is also part of this puritanical picture that men and women in uniform should not air political views. It is for this reason that the stated views of Indian Air Force's vice chief air marshal PK Barbora on the induction of women as fighter pilots and his criticism of the political class for playing petty politics with regard to defence purchases have raised more than eyebrows. They have caused consternation.

There is however a need not to be rattled by Barbora's comments. His comments on women fighter pilots are indeed out of sync with the temper of the times and it is a view not shared by the key decision-makers in the force. There is more to the induction of women into the fighter pilot stream than idealistic notions, quite laudable in their own right, than of gender equality. There is an absolute need for women to be part of the fighter squad as part of a country's war preparedness. Barbora missed the big picture in strategic terms.

He has taken a greater risk in hitting out against the internal squabbling of the political class over defence purchases. He had also stuck his neck out arguing for the participation of the private sector in defence production and for foreign direct investment (FDI) in the sector. In any other country, especially in India's neighbourhood, a statement of this kind from a top-ranking man in uniform would have been ominous but not so in India. Barbora's comments will be dismissed as that of a simple-minded and well-intentioned windbag.

It is quite certain that a man like Barbora has no clue about the dark Byzantine networks of the arms bazaar. But his concern that the modernisation of the forces is getting bogged down is an absolute fact, something which should be a matter of worry for everyone in the country. An intervention of the Barbora kind might become more common in the future and the country will have to get used to it because it does not really pose any grave danger to civil society.








Last week I was in Tuscany, a few miles north of Siena, at a guest house of one of the great vineyards, having a lunch to die for. It represented all that was great in Tuscan cuisine, fresh and flavoursome ingredients, delightful bruchettas, salads and simple roasted meats such as chicken, rabbit and lamb accompanied by local wine, the ruby red Chianti classico. However, the most memorable part of the meal was the extraordinary extra virgin olive oil which was served with simple country bread at the beginning. It had that remarkable gold colour with green flecks. The oil was absolutely fresh, barely two days old, and it was a world removed from what passes for olive oil, extra virgin or otherwise, in India. This olive oil must rank as the finest I have tasted, at the risk of sounding pretentious; it was ambrosial nectar from the gods, complex, smooth with a unique flavour, aroma and texture. Perhaps this sense of awe and wonderment was occasioned by the magical surroundings, I was in. The cypress trees, the hills and the autumnal fragrance giving atmosphere to a charming dining room in a 16th  century villa.

What is known as "extra virgin olive oil" is (according to the definitions of the International Olive Oil Council headquartered in Madrid) obtained from the fruit of the olive tree solely by mechanical or other physical means under conditions that do not lead to the alteration in the oil and which has not undergone any treatment other than washing, decantation, centrifugation and filtration. The term 'extra virgin' could simply indicate a low acidity, expressed as oelic acid which must be below one per cent. There is also virgin oil rarely found in the market which has two per cent acidity. Both of these oils are freshly squeezed by one of several processes known as 'first press' and/or 'cold press'.  Plain olive oil is for frying, it is inferior and fortified with steam and chemicals and mixed with better oils for flavour and aroma. There is also the Pomace oil, often found in super markets, that is from the first press leavings, refined to bring it to the under the 3.5% acidity level.

The extra virgin olive oil I had in Tuscany had a pungency I had rarely encountered.  The Tuscan olive oil is distinctive as it is green and has a peppery afterbite. This is in contrast to other olive oils, such as the sweet buttery oils of Liguiria and the green and fruity Luccas. I visited an olive oil processing unit in olive oil country, Puglia on the heel of Italy where the fresh extra virgin olive oil forms the bulk of the economy. Whilst it did not have the peppery quality of the Tuscan oil it had a distinctive fruity flavour.

It is unfortunate that the kind of olive oil that is available in India, Bertolies or Leonardo, for example, are industrial oils in the sense that they are blended. We do not know where the olives come from. Strangely, as olive oil consumption is growing at 30% a year in India as it is perceived as the healthiest oil to consume, little is known about quality issues. Increasingly, Italy is importing olives from various other countries, including Turkey and the olives are being processed and blended. The only guarantee with some of the more reputable manufacturers is that at least they may not introduce vegetable oil or possibly toxic chemicals.








I almost missed my flight to Brussels (thanks to our late edition rush) and packed amidst the chaos of zillion advices and things-you-must-do (courtesy dad). With my heart in my mouth, I zipped to the airport and the rest was a haze until I landed at the Brussels airport.

I have been to Belgium before (in 2007) … the feeling was familiar and the 70mm celluloid called nostalgia flooded my senses. Yes, the air felt lighter devoid of the peculiar smells (read stench) that we are accustomed to and the sky was way too clear — the poetic azure.

What followed was the chill, which the Europeans refer to as summer and clean, super broad roads; a six-lane is a no-big deal here and I couldn't help but behave like a tourist. I don't intent to use hyperbole here, but everything around seemed whitewashed, scrubbed clean and magic-like.

As much as I yearn to experience jet lag,  due to my nocturnal habits I haven't experienced one till today. So I spent better part of my night in Brussels, star-gazing and counting the tips of the many churches the quaint city has. Despite being shown countless churches, cathedrals and basilicas, I still can't differentiate one from the other.

Brussels is a largely under-rated city, often maligned for being too boring. Let me tell you a well-kept secret: Brussels is a great destination, particularly if you are beer fan.

I was also taken to visit the Mini Europe for the second time (despite my protests to the contrary) and if you have no great interest in history (like me) then this IS not the place for you to be in. But the skilled artwork that has gone into making miniature replicas of the prime monuments of different cities of Europe is worth one trip.

But what is really appealing about Europe to me, what little I have seen of it, is its roadside cafés. They are not only picture perfect but also welcoming. And you would see scores of natives lazing around, with large beer glasses or sober coffee mugs.

My trip took me to Brussels, Antwerp, Bruge and Ghent. All throughout these cities there was one thing common — cobbled streets. My perception of Europe is that of a art destination and something as simple as the cobbled streets spoke of artistry to me.


The trip defied geographical distances and packed all the cities back-to-back in a span of four days. Such a short span did not allow me to absorb any city completely and by the time I got accustomed to the nature of one, I was stepping into another golden patch of Belgium.

What I vividly remember is tripping on varieties of beer, each with their own special mug, dark and milky chocolates, food to kill for (being a veggie, I was stuck with asparagus-based dishes, that being the Belgian specialty in summers but it was to kill for).

For most part of the trip I found that I was car spotting, (thanks to the fact that I cover the automobiles sector). And I was amazed to find the best of the lot in these cities — Aston Martin and BMW bikes, you get the picture.

If you are thinking of shopping then kindly rein in the shopaholic in you as the price tags will have you running for cover. I did what I do best — beer buying (it costs less than water, at max €4). Needless to say, I went berserk shopping for liquor. And as the Customs allow you just two big bottles, it landed me in trouble at the Mumbai airport. But all it was worth it.

Though the whiff of home was engulfing, I wanted to go back to Belgium, as I felt that I had left a lot undiscovered. If you thought twice was good enough, I beg to differ.

First time around I only saw the tiny town of Mechelen (Infosys has its office there too) and that was all that I returned with of Belgium. This time around there were vibrant colours to the kaliedoscope, and it is be anybody's guess what the third time may bring. A 10 hours flight doesn't seem so far away (but of course the moolah holds you back.)







Floods that ravaged North Karnataka, not very long ago, arrived with a loud calling — a call that needed immediate attention, a call that needed some very quick responses. Bengaluru rose to the occasion. People across the city from various backgrounds came together to contribute liberally to aid the people in distress — help them salvage a little of their lost livelihoods and to rebuild their shattered lives.

Groups, organisations, political parties and individuals wasted little time. They mobilised donation drives to collect the most immediate, basic commodities such as food grains, clothing, and medicine. Efforts to collect material and money for the displaced and affected saw enthusiastic participation from the rich and poor, young and old alike. People contributed generously.

One did not know whom their contribution would go to, which caste that person belonged to, or which village it was reaching. And people contributed without a bias or agenda. They gave all they could give straight from their hearts. Professionals donated their salaries, doctors donated their services and students volunteered time to help those devastated by the floods.

The media coverage of the catastrophe and the response of the good samaritans was a great catalyst. What brought relief and solace to the displaced was a decidedly collective effort from the entire city.

Unfortunately, it took a serious flood in North Karnataka to whip up such a frenzy of giving in our city. But looking at the bright side, what it did demonstrate was that the city has a soul. A soul that cares. A soul that wants to share. Even habitual complainers and those who feel helpless in such situations came together. Instead of wondering how or what to contribute, where to offer help and assistance, they made that little effort, they pitched in to make that difference — a difference that meant food to the hungry, medicines to the sick, shelter to the displaced and plain hope — hope for a better future.

Now is the time to keep the momentum going. It's not the time to rest and wait for that disaster to strike us again to wake up and regroup.

Quite often we are plagued by questions like — "How can I help?", "How can I make a difference?" or "Will the little time I contribute really make any difference?" and, "Will my small efforts bring about that desired change?" It is time to shed the thought, that an individual cannot make a difference.

I say, well, just try and you will be amazed to see what you can achieve. Volunteer and feel good. Don't just feel helpless and frustrated. Don't get into the classic mood of blaming the government, or the officers for every single flaw in the city.  Don't sit down and moan all the time. Get up and try. Rise up and give — volunteer at a local government school, visit an old age home or an orphanage, get a group together to clean up a neighbourhood park, plant a sapling, use public transportation when  ever possible, refuse that plastic bag, turn off that mindless television, clean a street, conserve water… this list is endless. Some constructive thinking will lead you to several options where the city and its people need you, your time and contribution.

So take charge! Parents and teachers — do your bit, encourage and educate children about the joys of giving. Policy makers — make volunteering an activity in schools. Students and professionals — find a group near you that you can help over the weekends and holidays. Corporates — live up to your social responsibility jargon and make volunteering interesting and meaningful.

Remember what you give is ultimately what you get —  one of life's simple truths. So, what are you waiting for? Get going...







The news that best-selling children's author Enid Blyton was banned by the BBC for nearly 30 years because the corporation thought her work lacked literary merit is confusing to so many Indians who grew up reading her stories and still feel all warm and fuzzy about them. In a career spanning 50 years, Blyton wrote over 800 books and created an astonishingly wide range of characters that readers still love and trust. So even as England's literary snoots repeatedly dismissed Noddy, Famous Five, Secret Seven, Mallory Towers, St Clare's and Milly Molly Mandy as simplistic, repetitive and predictable, Blyton's popularity rose to spectacular heights and she sold over 600 million books worldwide.

But what exactly is literary merit? Generally, critics hold that it is a book's ability to stand the test of time. Apart from technical and aesthetic competence, books with literary merit embody values that lift the human mind and spirit without being preachy or patronising. Of course, some human values change with the passage of time while others endure. Books with literary merit, then, are either those which reflect enduring human values, or those that are complex enough to be re-interpreted to suit new ones.

Based on this definition, critics presumably disregarded Blyton's books because her all-too-tidy resolutions to real life problems did not have the ability to elevate or edify. In short, Blyton's books were escapist entertainers — enough to win mass appeal but not literary accolades. Yet if this was the BBC's stance, PG Wodehouse and Arthur Conan Doyle, amongst others, did not fulfil the criteria for literary merit but were not banned. 
Perhaps the real charge against Blyton's books, then, was left unsaid: her books reflected the romanticised aspirations of England's proletariat and not the lived reality of its bourgeoisie. Put plainly, Blyton's books were for working class wannabes and therefore not fit for the children of England's elite.

Even as England's gatekeepers of literariness hated Blyton and America waved her aside as an irrelevant prude, a curious love for her developed in India. Although politically independent of the British Raj, India's middle classes continued to nurture an ideological reverence for their colonial masters. While England's libertarian elite thought little of Blyton's books, in India the Victorian quality of her English was deemed as "proper" as the conservative values imparted by her stories. So although not forced to read Blyton's books, generations of Indians grew up reading them because there were few other works in English from which to choose. Literary merit or not, Enid Blyton books were what was predominantly available.

Still, who gets to decide what is literary merit? The criteria set down by lay readers for evaluating books, after all, are no more or less culturally constructed than those adopted by the custodians of literature. But like history, literature is defined by the powers-that-be. So literature is that which gets called literature. Or not. Perhaps that is why despite her popularity, Blyton remained a literary pariah. And the next charge was that although creative and imaginative, her writing was racist, sexist, elitist and, generally, politically incorrect.

The suspicion, nonetheless, is that Blyton was ignored by England's upper classes because her target audience was not upper class enough. Put simply, she had no right to create characters who were snobs because snobbery was reserved for those who had something to be snobbish about. Such was and is the upper class hostility towards her that a recent BBC biopic depicts her as a cold mother, an immature, spiteful wife and a shameless self-promoter who used her own children to fulfil her professional ambitions.

Regardless of Blyton's strengths or faults as a person, the real question now is this: do her books lend themselves to definitions of friendship, justice or empathy as we know them today? Are her stories relevant to a contemporary political and social context?

In India, Enid Blyton has been steadily displaced by Harry Potter and even Goosebumps —  a discussion of whose literary merit might make even sturdy Blyton-bashers faint. Yet today there are also a growing number of Indian readers who are drawn to works that offer the complexity of progressive values. Equally, a better sense of self-esteem has made many Indians far less apologetic about their own variety of English.

In England, interestingly, Blyton has experienced a resurgence. Perhaps England seeks to undo past literary injustices by exploring contemporary interpretations of old writers. Or perhaps the forces of consumerism have overtaken those of literary correctness and popular tastes prevail.

Whatever the case, there is no denying that Enid Blyton still rules the hearts of her readers, so what if most of them are now adults. She not only topped the 2008 Costa Book Awards poll for most loved children's author but also continues to sell up to 8 million copies worldwide every year even today, 41 years after her death.


(The writer is a Mumbai based journalist)









The US attempt to mollify India on President Barack Obama's support for a wider role for China in South Asia during his recent visit to Beijing was to be expected considering the preposterous nature of the US stance. The moment Mr Obama sang a tune that could not but be music to China's ears it was clear that he had bitten more than he could chew. That US undersecretary of state for political affairs William Burns was pressed into service for damage control was indication enough that the Americans realised that they had goofed up. With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh all set to hold talks with Mr Obama in Washington, the Americans could hardly have allowed the shadow of that outrageous statement to loom large over the talks.


That the Obama administration is prepared to bend over backwards to appease China because of its awesome economic and strategic clout was clear from the fact that Obama chose to visit China before India. The Americans are, however, making much ado about the fact that the first state visit in Obama's presidency is from Dr Manmohan Singh. It is all very well for the US to pursue the "healthiest possible partnership with China" but to assign to it the role of a watchdog of South Asia is quite another matter. Based on its own experience, India regards China as a biased and interested party in regard to Indo-Pak relations and can justifiably not countenance a role for Beijing in sorting out issues with Pakistan. That accounts for the deep sense of disappointment in India over the US attitude to South Asia reflected in Obama's joint statement with Chinese President Hu Jintao earlier in the week.


India can draw comfort from the fact that there is a great deal of goodwill in the US for this country as is reflected in the resolution passed by the House of Representatives welcoming Dr Manmohan Singh. There is also a mutuality of interests on economic issues. Yet, India will have to be wary of the new US administration's real intentions. It would indeed be prudent not to get carried away by American sweet talk.








It is befitting that this year's prestigious Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development has gone to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina because she has an enviable track record on all these fronts. If her country is a pluralistic democracy today, it is largely because of her efforts, otherwise there have been many occasions when it seemed that Bangladesh would either be crushed under the jackboots of the military junta or would fall a prey to communal fanatics. Hers has been a life of struggle. A number of attempts were made on her life. That she fought on regardless is an abiding proof of her mettle.


She and her father, the late Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, were in the forefront of the movement for democracy in what was then East Pakistan. Their efforts fructified in the liberation war of 1971. What an irony that she had to bear the murder of her father and other family members during a coup in 1975, for which 12 are to be hanged, 34 years on. She was instrumental in the adoption of the first-ever resolution of the UN General Assembly on Culture and Peace. Bangladesh had been riven by insurgency right from its inception. Sheikh Hasina resolved this perennial problem by concluding the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord. Not only that, she launched a number of projects for the poor and vulnerable sections of the population as Prime Minister of Bangladesh from 1996 to 2001.


While many in Bangladesh have based their politics on opposing India irrationally despite its help in the war of liberation, Sheikh Hasina has always been a friend of India. At times, she has had to pay a heavy price for this. When she rode to power with a thumping majority in December last year, one of her first assertions was that Bangladesh soil would not be allowed to be used to carry out terror attacks against its neighbour. The recognition that the award has sought to give to her efforts will strengthen forces of peace and development in the region.








The ghastly sight of dead fish floating in the Sutlej river has become all too frequent. Only in January this year a similar incident had happened at the same spot. Some 10 tonnes of fish had perished then. Yet the authorities concerned did not take any effective steps with the result that once again the same story has been repeated. Two months later, in April, fish and snakes were found dead in large numbers when a huge quantity of furnace oil spilled from the Ropar thermal plant into the Sutlej. This is not the only river where toxic waste is dumped. In July the Sirsa rivulet, passing through Ropar, saw a similar nightmare, which was blamed on the discharge of industrial waste by units located in Himachal Pradesh.


The sickening regularity with which such incidents happen is as shocking as the gross indifference of the pollution control boards, the health and environment authorities. The level of official resistance to corrective action can be gauged from the fact that despite directions from the Punjab and Haryana High Court and persistent media pressure, the Punjab government has not cared to stop the contamination of Budha Nullah in Ludhiana. After the usual exercise of collecting samples, the authorities sleep over the inquiry reports and industries carry on with their routine pollution. The health authorities too take it easy as fish from the polluted rivers is sold in markets with total disregard to customer health.


Fish can die for lack of oxygen in a lake or pond where water is stagnant. In a river it is usually the high level of pollution that experts say is responsible for the death of fish on such a large scale. Yet the managements of the industrial units discharging toxic waste into the rivers, canals and nullahs get away with murder because they have a strong lobby, which a spineless government refuses to take on since its survival is at stake.









The nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is coming up for its five-yearly review in May 2010. The last of the three mandatory preparatory committee (PrepCom) meetings held earlier this year was successful in finalising procedural decisions such as designating the committees that would deliberate particular issues and also the Chairs and post holders for the RevCon. However, the PrepCom was unable to forward a set of recommendations to the RevCon owing to lack of agreement among member nations.


While it remains to be seen how the forthcoming RevCon will unfold, it is fairly certain that it will be dominated by discussions over two specific Articles of the NPT. The first of these would be the status of Article IV which is widely interpreted by the non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS) as granting them the right to the entire nuclear fuel cycle, including enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) technologies.


The problem, however, arises from the fact that these capabilities can be put to dual use and hence they exacerbate the risk of proliferation.


A renaissance in use of nuclear power for electricity generation is being widely projected owing to the volatility in prices of hydrocarbons and growing environmental concerns over increased carbon emissions directly traceable to large-scale thermal power generation. This makes it necessary that adequate attention be paid to the safety and security of nuclear materials and technology as the number of facilities and volume of nuclear commerce and transportation increases.


To address the risks involved in spread of peaceful use of nuclear technology, it has been suggested that nations operating nuclear reactors should source their nuclear fuel requirements from a few 'authorised' multinational or multilateral fuel centres instead of acquiring individual ENR facilities.


Though the technical and operational details or the political implications of these proposals are still unclear, they envisage a surrender of the access to the nuclear fuel cycle by NNWS. This submission is only possible if accompanied by credible guarantees of fuel supply without risk of commercial or political manipulation.


For this, the political climate between states would have to reflect greater mutual trust and confidence. Also, all NPT members will have to feel a sufficient sense of stakehood in the treaty to be willing to accept restrictions on their nuclear activities.


This could be possible if the twin objectives of the NPT — non-proliferation and disarmament — are better balanced. In fact, the lopsided focus on non-proliferation is largely responsible for the less than satisfactory state of the NPT today, where its membership is at a record high but the risk of proliferation has not diminished. This sense of dissatisfaction will have to be addressed through meaningful deliberations over Article VI that commits the nuclear weapon states (NWS) to undertake negotiations on disarmament.


India's position on NPT is well known. As a non-member, technically it has no role to play in the treaty. However, even as an outsider, India has consistently supported the principle of non-proliferation and is a participant in several other components of the regime such as the IAEA safeguards, the UN Security Council Resolution 1540, commitment to early conclusion of an FMCT or the voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing.


In fact, the country does have a stake in how the challenge of non-proliferation is tackled and some of this will be dependent on the decisions/outcome of the RevCon.


Therefore, RevCon 2010 offers an opportunity to India's nuclear diplomacy to publicly endorse the principle of NPT while exhorting treaty members to resolve the internal contradictions that weaken it. In this context, India could offer two concrete suggestions that would help the NWS to make good on their commitment to Article VI and this, in turn, could make it easier for the NNWS to accept restrictions on Article IV.


The first of these could be for the NWS to offer comprehensive security assurances to all NNWS that they would not be subject to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons and that others would come to their aid in case they were threatened with nuclear use.


Such a complement of negative and positive security assurances would be far more reassuring for the NNWS than a mere reduction in arsenals of NWS, which is certainly useful, but only up to a point since even a few hundred warheads are as threatening as several thousands. Therefore, conclusion of a legally binding agreement that pledges this assurance would reduce the attractiveness of the weapons for the non-possessors.


The second proposal could be the finalisation of a universal no first use (NFU) commitment, which would minimise the possibility of a nuclear exchange between NWS and thus reduce the utility of the weapon. Adoption of NFU would be a crucial step towards the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons since it would involve an assurance from every country that it would not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into a conflict.
Since there will not be a first, it would effectively mean no use of the nuclear weapon and hence a reduced dependence on the weapon in national security strategies over time.


Acceptance of NFU would enable de-alerting, de-mating and de-targeting, all three steps that are critical for reducing the dangers of an accidental, unauthorised or mistaken launch of nuclear weapons. This would lessen inter-state tensions, increase mutual confidence and thus reinforce a cycle of positives.


It would provide a boost to non-proliferation by sending a strong signal of the diminishing utility of nuclear weapons and would have great symbolic value. Gradually, the desire to possess or improve an unusable weapon would lessen, making it easier for the possessors to give up the weapon. Therefore, this step would work towards enhancing the irrelevance of the nuclear weapon, quite on the pattern and experience of the 1925 Geneva Convention.


The NPT RevCon offers a platform for NNWS and NWS to jointly consider these proposals. A show of sincerity of intention and action by NWS would strengthen the cause of both the pillars of the NPT — non-proliferation and disarmament. Acceptance of credible initiatives on disarmament by NWS would make it easier for NNWS to accede demands on their right to the nuclear fuel cycle.


With each giving up some of their prerogatives borne out a sense of ownership of the challenges afflicting the NPT, international security would be the winner. And India, an inevitable gainer.


The writer is Project Leader, Nuclear Security, at the Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi








I CAN vividly recall even today when as a young student I once bunked the school to stealthily see a movie An Evening in Paris with Sharmila Tagore sizzling in a double role.


While I was completely lost fantasising as the hero rowed past the Eiffel tower in the Seine river with the heroine, my brother appeared on the scene from nowhere and jettisoned me mid-air from Paris to be grounded at Bawal, my home town, without any 'immigration clearance'.


It left me shattered. As a ruralite middle class lad, I had obviously no opportunity to visit the tourist places even within India, what to speak of spending an evening in Paris. Though I was evacuated forcibly from the movie, nobody could restrain me from revisiting Paris in my imagination with which I had fallen in love at first sight.


I would climb the Eiffel tower, sail past the replica of Statue of Liberty, enjoy my rides in Disneyland and visit the Champs Elyse christened as the fashion capitol of the world. It appeared as if I was a green card holder enjoying dual citizenship with liberty to cross the international frontiers at will.


It was like a dream come true when one of my friends living in Paris invited us there. What an offer! I felt as if my beloved-with-dimple had prompted my friend to entice me for a passionate break.


On arrival in Paris, our host took us through the serpentine lanes in his GPS-guided Mercedes. En route we saw the Concorde, world's only supersonic passenger aircraft that flies faster than the speed of sound.


I apprised the host about our agenda of making a whirlwind tour of all those romantic locales filmed in the movie. He obediently chartered the itinerary to be covered in four days.


What a visual treat to see the city known for its architecture and grandeur from the top of the Eiffel tower! A momentous occasion indeed to have home-made-dinner in the backdrop of a fully illuminated tower with sparkling colours!


The Louvre Museum with rare objects d'art and paintings was simply fabulous. But the biggest attraction was a half-length portrait of Mona Lisa whose expression is often described as enigmatic. However, my son and daughter found the Disneyland most entertaining.


As I was enjoying an early morning stroll along the Seine with the moon blushing and trying to hide at the sight of my beloved wife, I felt at the top with my little world merging into Paris. I wished the earth had stopped moving so as to make the moment acquire eternity as Robert Browning would have put it.


While the sun was just beginning to interrupt our privacy, I was reminded of John Donne chiding the sun in his masterpiece The Sun Rising calling it "busy old fool" and rebuking "Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run?" Like the poet who considered the place with his beloved as the "world's contracted thus", I too considered four evenings spent in Paris as a manifestation of a long-cherished dream!








One way of countering the so-called honour killings, that despite our immense progress and modernity seem to be on the increase, is to have mass marriages of young adults very much in love but without the resources or the support needed to tie the knot because of panchayat objections. It is also a simple, practical way of checking the trend for lavish, five-star weddings.


Later this month at the Guild of Service in Delhi 20 couples of different ages, castes and religions will be joined in holy matrimony with the blessings of some VIPs, families and friends. This year a Muslim couple and two widows will be joined in holy matrimony.


Ranjit and Parineeta, both 23 and working for different IT companies, will be among the couples getting wedded. The couple have had to resort to this run-away marriage because their parents, who know each other well, would not accept the marriages because their grandparents were related through a second marriage.


However, there is no blood relationship between Ranjit and Parineeta. The boy will have to move out of his father's house. With their combined income of Rs 11,000, they are a little nervous but confident that they can build their lives together. They are also hopeful of their families accepting the relationship after a few months.


The address of the Guild of Service, which conducts mass marriages twice a year, was given by their friends Poonam and Johnson Mathew, who had also married at the Guild the previous year. Mathew's parents were Catholics and totally opposed to his marrying a Hindu girl. The young couple are doing well and inspired Ranjit and Parineeta to follow in their footsteps. They will be present for their wedding this month.


Last year a Hindu boy from Jammu and his Muslim girl friend, both educated and one of them from an affluent political family, had run away from their homes and come to Delhi to get married. The girl's parents accused the young boy of kidnapping their daughter who they claimed was a minor.


The chairperson of the Guild, Mrs Mohini Giri, with the support of Lawyers Collective, went out of her way to get the records that proved that the girl was an adult and got her to testify before the courts that she was marrying out of personal choice.


The Guild gave shelter to the couple and police protection was sought because of threats to the couple's lives. Their marriage was first conducted in a temple and then registered in the courts. The couple are living happily in Delhi and both of them are working and earning well.


For the Guild that runs a home for widows in Vrindavan called Ma Dham, this is merely an extension of its work of providing succour to the poor, needy and marginalised women. Widow rehabilitation, sometime if the widow is young enough through remarriage, is part of its on-going service,


In fact over the last 35 years the two organisations that Mrs Giri has been associated with – the War Widows Association and the Guild of Service – have conducted close to 6,000 marriages. It all started after the war in 1971. In 1972 mass marriages were held for war widows in Jhajjar, Meerut and Rohtak.


In Haryana there has been a tradition of widows being remarried to the younger brother of the dead man. It was called the 'chaddar badlo' ritual. The idea was that the widow would continue to stay in her marital home and would be looked after. This was also one way of ensuring that property, including land, stayed within the family.


While the Association was not involved in these remarriages within the family, through the Zilla Sainik Board that had the responsibility of rehabilitating the widows, it organised widow marriage to other soldiers and civilians looking for a bride. Close to 1,000 widows were remarried by the War Widows Association.


Ninety per cent of the marriages that the Guild and the WWA have been involved in have been successful. When a marriage goes sour, the couple comes back to the Guild which tries to resolve the misunderstandings etc through its counsellors.


There was also the case of Jasbir (name changed), a very young war widow who was extremely keen to get married. However, within a month of her remarriage she came crying to Mrs Giri that her husband was impotent. The man was sent to a doctor in a hospital and after treatment for three to six months he was able to satisfy his wife. They now have grown-up children.


In 1972-73, the Guild of Service was set up in Delhi and remarriage of other widows was taken up in earnest. Now those getting married include poor, young lovers who do not have their parental consent and those marrying out of their caste. It has also solemnised Hindu/Muslim and Hindu/Christian marriages. A Maulvi is called in when a Muslim couple has to be blessed.


Two days in a year have been identified for group marriages – April 14, Baisakhi, and November 19, National Integration Day. However, the group marriages do not always occur on the specified days but around those days. The largest group marriages that Mrs Giri has organised are of 183 couples in Chandigarh and an equally large number in Kangra. Gian Zail Singh was the chief guest at the Chandigarh function. The presence of VIPs elevates the ceremony. Sometimes the chief guest may be a minister or a representative of a Commission for empowering women.


The Guild of Service raises the funds for organising the group marriages and providing the basic requirements for beginning a new life. In addition to the wedding clothes of the bride and groom, they are provided with watches, a steel trunk, a sewing machine, a gas cylinder, a set of utensils, pressure cooker, sheets, blanket and 'payals' (anklets) and 'bichuwas' (toe rings) for the bride.


Within a week of the marriage, the couple get a marriage certificate from the Guild and their wedding photographs. Those who want a proper marriage certificates then go and register their marriage in the magistrate's courts and get the certificate after a month. These are largely young people who have married out of caste or run away and got married. Fearing reprisal from parents, they do go and register their marriages in the courts.


Accordingly to government rules, the marriages have to be registered in the court of the magistrate where the couple or the husband resides. This could be in Gurgaon, Noida, Vasant Vihar, Janakpuri or any where else. However, because this can be quite a hassle, several poor couples, whose marriages are not opposed, do not go in for proper registration of the marriage and make do with the Guild's certificate.


The government should facilitate such group marriages by asking the marriage registrar to attend the ceremonies and register the marriages then and there. The marriage registration certificate can subsequently be posted to the couples. Providing a marriage certificate on the spot would make group marriages more attractive for the common man.








People suffering from a form of incurable blindness could soon become the first patients in the world to benefit from a new and controversial transplant operation using stem cells derived from spare human embryos left over from IVF treatment.


Scientists working for an American biotechnology company applied for a licence on Thursday to carry out a clinical trial on patients in the US suffering from a type of macular degeneration, which causes gradual loss of vision. They expect the transplant operations to begin early in the new year.


The development is highly controversial because many "pro-life" groups are opposed to using human embryos in any kind of medical research but scientists believe that the benefits could revolutionise the treatment of many incurable disorders ranging from Parkinson's to heart disease.


The company has applied for a licence from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is confident of

its application being granted.


"We've seen absolutely no adverse effects whatsoever in any of the preclinical experiments and our cells are more than 99.9 per cent pure," said Dr Robert Lanza, the chief scientific officer of Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) in Worcester, Massachusetts.


"We certainly expect them [the FDA] to come back with comments and questions but our hope is that we will start sometime early next year. We're optimistic and certainly confident in our own data. We've been in dialogue [with the FDA] and we know what was on their mind and what they wanted us to do," he said. "We're hoping, assuming no hitches, to begin early next year, perhaps March."


Stem cells derived from human embryos that are only a few days old have the ability to develop into any of the scores of specialised tissues of the body. The hope is that they could be used to repair the damaged organs and tissues of patients with a relatively simple transplant procedure.


ACT has filed an "investigational new drug" application with the FDA to treat a form of progressive damage to the retina of the eye called Stargardt's macular degeneration, which destroys the central part of the retina involved in recognising faces and reading words on a page. They also intend to follow this with an application to treat age-related macular degeneration, which affects more than 500,000 people in Britain and is the most common cause of blindness.


The treatment for eye disease uses stem cells to recreate a type of cell in the retina that supports the photoreceptors needed for vision. These cells form the retinal pigment epithelium – which keep the light-sensing cells of the retina alive – which are often the first to die off in macular degeneration, which in turn leads to loss of vision, he said.


A single cell from a human embryo left over from IVF treatment was used in the creation of the stem cell "line" that Dr Lanza and his colleagues cultivated in the laboratory. By bathing the stem cells in a suite of chemical messengers, they were able to stimulate them to develop into fully mature retinal pigment epithelium cells.


Tests on animals found that transplants of the human cells into rats with macular degeneration resulted in a "100 per cent improvement" in vision with no side-effects, Dr Lanza said. Transplants into the 12 human volunteers chosen as guinea pigs for the first clinical trial will involve giving them mild immuno-suppressant drugs to prevent tissue rejection.


"We're going to take a precautionary approach and use low-dose immuno-suppression after the operation and after six weeks we'll taper it off. We don't know whether we will really need it," Dr Lanza said.


He said the clinical trial could well be the first in the world because the only other company that had received a licence from the FDA had had to delay the start of its own clinical trial until the end of next year.


 By arrangement with The Independent








President Asif Ali Zardari tried to prove during Monday's meeting of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) Central Executive Committee (CEC) that the entire party was with him as the Head of State enjoying sweeping powers. The unqualified support extended to him might have helped in setting at rest, at least for the time being, the rumour that one group in his party wanted him to give the way to someone else to occupy Aiwan-e-Sadr (President's House) because of the controversies associated with his name.


Despite the CEC support, Zardari remains under pressure to resign because of various factors. The pressure has increased with his unsuccessful attempt to get the controversial National Reconciliation Order (NRO), issued by former President Gen Pervez Musharraf, approved by parliament.


An article by Ijaz Hussain in Daily Times (Nov 18) has it that the Establishment in Pakistan "wants the exit of Zardari" in the interest of stability in that country. This inference, he says, can be drawn from the fact that "there is general consensus that Altaf Hussain (the founder of the MQM, a member of the ruling coalition in Islamabad) did what he did (refusing to support Zardari on the NRO question) on a signal from the Establishment. It is true that there is no evidence to prove this. However, the history of the MQM's relations with the Establishment suggests that such a conclusion may not be far from the truth."


There are many reasons why the Establishment, which includes the Pakistan Army and the bureaucracy, is unhappy with Zardari's performance. "First", as Hussain points out, "there is lack of governance, and the Zardari government appears to be utterly rudderless.


"Second, there is rampant corruption in which he and others are allegedly involved. To compound the matter, he is not willing to show the door to the latter. In such a situation, will it be possible for Zardari to survive as President of Pakistan?



Zardari, as Business Recorder says, is not bothered about those "who write our obituaries almost daily…." He pooh-poohs them by asserting that "the more they write our obituaries, the more they are disappointed and frustrated". He will not hesitate to play the "Sindh card" if it is needed, the paper points out.


He is, however, ignoring the fact that the Pakistan constitution does not allow him to continue as the co-chairman of the PPP when he is the President of his country.


If Zardari does not give up either of the two caps he is wearing he will be violating the constitution. This situation will remain unchanged even if the 17th Amendment and Article 58-2(b), which have given dictatorial powers to the President, are removed from the constitution, as Business Recorder adds.


Zardari has been saying off and on that he is in favour of scrapping of the controversial features in the constitution, vestiges of the past dating back to the days of Gen Zia-ul-Haq, but in vain. Now there is sustained campaign that the Pakistan constitution must be restored to its original form to allow democracy to grow deeper roots. The Establishment, too, is supporting this drive in its own way.



The situation has come to such a pass that the PPP-led government may have to go in for the removal of the constitution's controversial provisions. This may help Zardari to continue as toothless Head of State and that too because PML (N) chief Nawaz Sharif is so far not interested in doing anything that can lead to the fall of the government. Yet it seems Zardari's days are numbered.


According to The News, "Some legal experts have questioned protection for the President" now that the move to get parliamentary sanction for the NRO has been abandoned. "The Supreme Court may be asked to look into the matter", as the paper indicates. That may lead to Zardari's disgraceful exit as President.








The reference to the Indo-Pak ties in the joint statement by President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao has invited a quick response from India, and naturally it has created the impression that India is too concerned about the possibility of the statement carving out a big-brother type role for China in South East Asia. While US and China have now come up with clarifications to assuage India's concerns, the statement should ideally have made only a vague reference to the bilateral tensions in South East Asia and the contribution that China can make to prevent regional imbalance. By being specific, the document seems to have assigned a greater role for China vis-à-vis the Indo-Pak relations that nosedived post 26/11. But there is no need for India to read too much into it and overreact, though it has done the right thing by not keeping silent on the issue and reiterated its longstanding position that a third-party role cannot be envisaged in resolving its issues, including Kashmir, with Pakistan. If India had remained silent, it would have sent out a message that India has no problem in a monitoring role China can play in the region – an unthinkable proposition considering the off-and-on border rows with China, its blatant claims over Arunachal Pradesh, Pakistan-centric foreign policy and its strategic alliances with the countries surrounding India.

It is important to view Obama's China visit in the light of the changing equations in the world. The joint statement was intended to please China because the recession-hit US, exhausted by its engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan and troubled by Iran and North Korea, needs China at this juncture. China has already done the battered US economy a huge favour by purchasing government bonds worth one trillion dollars. The US therefore can do whatever it wants, to be in good terms with China, but as far as Indo-Pak ties are concerned America can only play a supportive role; it can neither intervene in the bilateral affairs nor make room for a third country to don the mantle of a regional supercop. If anything US and China can do to create an atmosphere of peace in South East Asia is by pressurising Pakistan to stop using terror as a foreign policy towards India and bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice. It will be of mutual benefits if China, which is on al-Qaeda radar following the Uyghur unrest, too plays a more proactive role in the fight against terror. While India's response should nip in the bud the possibility of the joint statement slipping into an operational mode, it must now reassess America's intentions insofar as the latter's SE Asia policy is concerned, especially the direction of Indo-US ties – something Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is expected to take up and set the record straight when he meets Obama in the next couple of days.







With the ADB set to sanction a loan of US $200 million for rural electrification, the abysmal power scenario in the State can be expected to undergo some improvement. While the State's overall power scenario continues to be an area of concern, rural electrification has hit the abyss with thousands of villages yet to access power connectivity. Deficit power generation apart, the inadequate transmission and distribution (T&D) network has been largely responsible for this depressing situation. The ADB loan will benefit around ten lakh households, businesses, hospitals and schools besides generating 1,500 new jobs. Much, however, will depend on how the Government goes about implementing the project. Timely completion of such projects is a rarity in the State, as the execution invariably gets embroiled in anomalies and corruption and the resultant delay. The anomalous implementation also ensures that the benefits generally fall well short of the targets. The ongoing power reform programme for the last four-five years illustrates the erratic implementation of projects. While it is understandable that it would take some time for all the benefits of the reforms to reach the consumer, some positive changes should have been perceptible by now.

Power shortage coupled with irritants like low voltage and fluctuation continue to be a bane impeding the State's development process. With the demand for power stand to increase substantially in the days to come, the State Government should explore means of meeting the requirement effectively. The poor quality of power also warrants urgent intervention. The faulty T&D network that often aggravates the deprived power situation has to be streamlined. It is regrettable that Assam still figures among the worst performing States in the matter of T&D. On the generation front, Assam continues to be a deficit State, which is not in a position to meet the peak hour demand of a meagre 900 MW. Given that the State's power requirement would touch 2,000 MW by the next couple of years, it is time to boost our power generation. Conventional power projects apart, small hydro-electric projects offer good scope of generating enough power to meet local needs. With environmentalists increasingly questioning the rationale behind the proposed mega dams in the geologically and environmentally sensitive upper reaches of the Brahmaputra, generation of power from small and medium hydel projects merits serious consideration. Renewable energy sources also have good prospects in the region, as they can effectively cover remote and inaccessible areas not connected by conventional grid.








The 1958 Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) aimed at breaking the back of the insurgency movement in the north-eastern region and Jammu and Kashmir, is, to argue precisely, a hackneyed issue in the media, as is the chronic flood in Assam. Eventhen, the Act's relevance to us rather than lessening has increased over the years in view of the alleged periodic incidents of excesses and atrocities perpetrated on innocent civilians in the terrorist-infested areas of the NE region in the name of dealing with the insurgent groups, by misusing or abusing its controversial provisions. Therefore, it is not surprising that the AFSPA like many other tangled, unsolved issues the region is plagued with, becomes a newspaper headline with the allegation of its gross misuse resulting in the death of innocent people coming to the fore, and with the Centre going slow on deciding about its abrogation, its amendment or the incorporation of some of its provisions which have been a cause of core concern for the people in the state like volatile Manipur, in particular.

The most obnoxious provision in the AFSPA that has sparked a popular outcry throughout the north-eastern region is the Clause 4(a). It has essentially empowered any officer of the Armed forces in the disturbed areas to use force towards maintenance of public order. As the said Clause reads "Any commissioned officer, warrant officer non-commissioned officer or any other person of equivalent rank in the armed forces may, in a disturbed area –(a) if he is of the opinion that it is necessary to do so for the maintenance of public order, after giving such due warning as he may consider necessary, fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death, against any person who is acting in... prohibiting the assembly of five or more persons...weapons or the things capable of ... as weapons...ammunition or explosive substances."

During the period 1978-81, the situation in Manipur was very tense following the increased frequency of the incidents of robbery, dacoity, armed ambushes of security personnnel, and, above all, killing of innocent people by the operatives of underground organisations. According to one count, the number of persons killed or gunned down by them increased from two in 1978 to 14 in 1979 and 36 in 1980 to 50 in 1981. Then at one point of time it went to seed as a sequel to the worst bout of blood-letting by the militants, people felt insecure and preferred to stay indoors after dusk.

So, to contain the fast-growing militant activities in the State, weighing on the then RK Dorendra-led government, it was quite appropriate that the AFSPA was promulgated in September, 1980, which was later imposed in Assam and Tripura. But, its alleged misuse or abuse by the security personnel in the disturbed areas, especially its most controversial Clause 4(a), to the dismay of all, soon nullified the very spirit of the said Act. During the counter-insurgency operations they had launched at times, innocent civilians suffered more with their excesses and atrocities than the cadres of the insurgent groups. Worse, the administration in Manipur could not help them much from being tortured and harassed by the security forces. Simply speaking, for the State, the stated period was one of the most turbulent of the modern times, when many cases of the excesses of the security personnel in the State came into sharp focus. Khaidem Imocha Singh's, to give an example, was one of the similar cases of torture reported during the counter-insurgency operations in Manipur. A 22-year-old, Singh, an accomplished football player and playwright, was allegedly shot dead with his walling barely a flick of a second or two preceding the most agonizing moment that he was a footballer on the hapless morning of October 30, 1982 by the commandos of Manipur Rifles. Foundly called "Maimu", he became the target of their bullets while on his way back home from the playground at the Chingamathak ground, Imphal. This shocking incident itself was a telling comment on the degree of torture people in the State were occasionally subjected to during the period for no valid reason at all.

Having sensed a possible spurt in the incidents of atrocities on the innocent people in the days ahead in the State, the Apunba Lup, a conglomeration of as many as 32 social groups representing various shades of public opinion, then spearheaded a vigorous movement to press the Centre for revocation of the AFSPA from Manipur. But, the Centre did not agree to its demand on the ground that the counter-insurgency operations would be neutralized without special powers in the legislation. Nor did it assure of addressing the issue of misuse of its provisions in the near future, despite the situation in the State worsening daily with the growing incidence of "excesses and atrocities" on innocent civilians. The tragic incident of torture of one school teacher Th Stephen, aged 28 from Ngamju village under Senapati district, allegedly by the same Assam Rifles personnel on December 19, 1988 a classic example, on the charge of having testified in defence of his sister and other victims of alleged rape also sent out shock waves across the State. Deeply concerned over it, Irom Chanu Sharmila began indefinite hunger strike since November 2, 2000.

The anti-AFSPA stir, however, intensified in the aftermath of the death of 32-year old Thangjam Manorama Devi on the night of July 10-11, 2004 who too was allegedly raped and killed by the members of the Assam Rifles. Apprehending widespread trouble in the State, a committee was set up to review the repressive Act. But, it was nothing but a device to buy peace and save face as a Government does in a crisis-situation to avert an immediate provocation from agitating people. The Committee, however, handed its report to the then Union Home Minister Shiv Raj Patil in 2005 recommending the repeal of the Act.

It has already been four years since the report was submitted, and, four years are not too brief a spell to take a decision on the issue. But, the Centre is making inordinate delay in this regard, though it could have by now arrived at a broad consensus at an all-party meeting. If it thinks that an early action on the demand for its revocation cannot be taken without improving the security situation in the North East, as the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh remarked sometime before, how has it proposed to improve it is not clear. On the other hand, the misue of the Act has over the years caused a feeling of alienation and despondency among a major chunk of population which is indirectly helping the cause of insurgency.

Mass protests against the Act are still continuing. So is the hunger strike by Sharmila. Should they continue unabated, the implications can be disastrous: the situation may further deteriorate and the insurgent groups may then have an extra edge over it when the security forces deployed will find it increasingly difficult to bring it under control.

There is no denying that evolving out a mutually acceptable formula on the AFSPA is no easy job because of difference of opinion among some more knowledgeable people in authority about its scrapping. The other day Meghalaya Governor and Intelligence Bureau Deputy Director both voiced their view in favour of its repeal. The similar opinion was also later shared by the NE Maj Gen(Retd) Gaganjit Singh. But, interestingly Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar's view in this regard is not identical to theirs. We wants the Act to remain in place in the State. The interagency, as he argues, has declined considerably in Tripura but its roots are yet to be wiped out.

As the Centre is not in favour of its repeal, but willing to amendments of certain provisions in the AFSPA it should without further delay initiate its procedure. Indeed, what is of paramount importance is replacing the most repressive Clause 4(a) in it with a new one with a human face.








Housing finance options for low salary earners and the self-employed urban poor in India are severely limited and have significantly affected their housing conditions. A recent session of the governing council of UN-HABITAT focussed on this theme and emphasised the need to expand financing options. The Eleventh Five Year Plan estimates the deficit in low-income housing in India at 24 million units (in 2007) and expects it to go worse. The challenge is to find ways to persuade commercial banks to lend for housing for the poor, while also putting in place a system to ensure repayment. Pilot projects launched by UN-HABITAT in countries such as Tanzania, Indonesia and Sri Lanka have shown that appropriate financial products can be devised when daily savings are mobilised and combined with 'innovations to normal financing practice'. The Slum Upgrading Facility (SUF) promoted by the Un-HABITAT has successfully mediated between slum-dwellers and domestic financial markets. What India needs is a creative adoption of such models.

In 2005, the draft National Urban Housing and Habitat Policy flirted with the idea of creating a risk found with a Rs 500 crore corpus to guarantee home loans given to the lower income group families. However, when the policy was announced in 2007, the idea had been given up. Even the report submitted in 2008 by the Task Force on "Affordable Housing for All" constituted by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation limited itself to issues of microfinance. It did not look at ways to involve commercial banks to extend credit to improve the housing conditions of the poor. Among mass deprivations across the land, the deprivation of decent shelter and habitat for hundreds of millions of people stands out. There can be no more excuses for rising India and her financial sector in particular, not acting boldly and decisively to fulfil this primary need.

The Special Rapporteur's report released in March 2009 by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UN-HRQ emphasises that the current housing crisis can be addressed effectively only when it is acknowledged as a human right. This reminder comes at a time when States are increasingly withdrawing from the realm of public housing; they expect the market to address the issue. India's swelling housing deficit and sprawling slums are clear indications that the ideological assumptions behind this leave-it-to-the market policy have failed miserably. Recent international developments show that it is not just the poor who are vulnerable. a reckless approach to housing mortgages can push even middle-income families to a plight close to houseless-ness. Improving access to housing and affordable better security have never been more important than they are at this time of global recession.

In India, the right to housing has at best found recognition, through judicial interpretation, under Article 21 of the Constitution that guarantees protection of life and personal liberty. That, however, has not been consistent. In contrast, in countries such as South Africa, where the right to housing is enshrined in the Constitution, the State has been mandated to meet its public housing obligations. This issue has been spot lighted by the Human Rights Council (HRC) report. The knowledge that the global housing shortage is expected to reach 26.53 million units by 2012 and that more than 95 per cent of this shortage will pertain to the poor should be a spur to action. National policies that relay on cajoling private developers to help bridge the housing gap have not really delivered. What is required, as the report recommends, is increased and direct participation by the State in regulating and providing public housing. It can also intervene in the market through 'equitable land use policies, rent regulation and enforcement measures' and by focusing on affordable housing. As a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICE SCR-1966), India has a gigantic task on her hands. The challenge before India is to make the right to adequate housing realisable in law and in fact by all citizens.

Significantly, the Supreme Court on May 11, 2009, recommended that the Central and State governments go in for joint ventures for urban development in cities, especially for construction of high rise buildings. Slums were primarily the result of shortage of housing, especially for lower income group (LIG) and middle income group (MIG) families. Joint venture development by public and private bodies would help to ensure that land for public housing in metropolis like, Mumbai was put to maximum use and maximum number of tenements were made available to middle and lower income group families. Writing the judgment Justice P Sathasivam said that owing to land shortage, over-increasing cost and maximum utilisation of permissible Floor Space Index, public-private ventures would help to minimise the cost of housing for the lower income group, economically weaker section and middle income group categories.

Meanwhile, the Government of India has decided to revise the cost of a dwelling unit4 provided under the Integrated Housing and Slum Development Programme (IHSDP) under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNLTRM) to Rs 1.00 Lakh from Rs 80,000. The Union Cabinet's Committee on Economic Affairs, which look the decision on January 29, 2009, also gave its nod for changes in the policy for the mission to ensure that there was internal earmarking within the budgets of urban local bodies for 'basic services to urban poor' component, and earmarking of at least 20 per cent to 25 per cent of developed land in all housing projects of both public and private agencies for low-income group and economically weaker sections category, with a system of cross-subsidy so that land was available for affordable housing for the urban poor.

(The writer is former Principal, Mangaldai College).








SEBI proposes to shorten the period from closure of a public issue to listing of securities to seven days from the current 20 days. This is a welcome measure that would benefit not only all classes of investors but also issuers. Small investors, in particular, will not have to suffer the inconvenience of having their money blocked for nearly three weeks.

And, the issuer will get access to the capital raised sooner for deployment into productive activities. The markets regulator has not yet indicated a timeframe for implementing the proposal, and the plan will not go through unless the legacy systems are discarded in favour of the recently-introduced payment and settlement system, Applications Supported by Blocked Amount (ASBA).

It will also have to be made mandatory for all primary market issuances. ASBA eliminates the need to enter the same set of data multiple times in the process of a public issue — by brokers, syndicate members, clearing banks, registrars and so on — thereby reducing the time taken, human intervention as well as scope for error. It simplifies the process of collecting share applications, application money and eliminates the need to refund excess application money.

This is because banks that are capable of providing ASBA services (Self-Certified Syndicate Bank, or SCSB) work as a single window intermediary — it agglomerates applications, blocks application money in the investors' bank accounts, debits the investors' accounts and transfers money to an escrow account on allotment of shares. The need for verification of bank balance as well as refund of excess application money is eliminated this way. The SCSB also sends aggregate information of total number of applications, shares bid for and amount blocked to the registrar who will then reconcile the data and verify it for correctness with depository's database. Such aggregation is the crucial feature in ASBA.

ASBA can, at present, be used only by retail investors, and on an optional basis. Yet, it is encouraging that 20-25% of the total IPO applications in the past three months came through this system. With greater awareness, expansion of coverage beyond 24 banks and some change to the system, its popularity can easily go up, paving the way for mandatory use by all those who take part in a share issue.

 us not choose neurosis.







It is welcome that the government has decided to see sense on the new pricing norm for sugarcane, although only after cane farmers took to the path of agitation. However, this does not solve the basic conflict between sugarcane growers and sugar mills: market-distorting dependence on each other.

For growers, mills in the immediate vicinity become monopoly buyers and, for mills, their basic raw material would become scarce if cane growers cut back on production. In other words, the assets of the sugar mill and the cane grower derive their value in the relationship between the two types of producers. It is precisely such producers, says the insight that won Oliver Williamson his Nobel prize for economics this year, that should be vertically integrated into a firm, rather than enter into a market contract.

In other words, cane growing and cane crushing should be vertically integrated. When cane growers own the mills as well, complex negotiations on how much of the mills' profits would be passed on to the farmers, whether molasses and gasohol proceeds should be shared, etc, become redundant. Sugar cooperatives seek to do precisely this, except that cooperatives in India have been captured by politicians and bureaucrats.

So, ideally, cane farmers should form companies if they want a remunerative price and freedom from regulation. These companies could be akin to producer-companies, under Section 581B of the Companies Act, with each shareholder getting one vote and without any limit on the number of shareholders. Amul is a producer company.

The provision of the sugarcane control order that put the burden of paying the farmer anything over and above the centrally-determined fair and remunerative price (F&RP) on the state government effectively capped cane price at F&RP, without a possibility of an upside even if the mill rakes in super-normal profits. This section is now being removed, under pressure. But the basic problem will remain till cane growing and cane crushing are vertically integrated into a common managerial and ownership structure. Once a sufficiently large proportion of sugar capacity gets so organised, it will set the dominant pricing.







In the 2006 movie Taxi No 9211, Nana Patekar plays the role of a cabbie who, when dragged to jail by the cops, tells his school-going son, "Now that you will be the only man in the house, behave responsibly. Cricket khelna, padhna mat. Batting karna, fielding nahin" (Play a lot of cricket, don't study. Focus on batting, not fielding), says the anxious pop.

In India, it is the likes of Tendulkar and Dravid with over 12,800 and 11,000 Test runs, respectively, who have amassed not just huge scores but big money as well. Bowlers are the exception and not the rule, barring Kapil Dev who could bat well enough to not just be considered one of the world's leading all-rounders but also an advertising icon in the 1980s and 1990s. As someone who drives a taxi in the movie, Patekar's character is cued in to this wisdom that not just those who play gali-cricket but the man on the street is well aware of.

The ongoing Indo-Sri Lanka Test series is yet another instance of what happens to cricketers who are bowlers and not batsmen on wickets like the one at the Motera Stadium in Ahmedabad. The hero in India's first innings was Rahul Dravid, with Dhoni and Yuvraj playing a supporting role. And the indubitable hero in Sri Lanka's first innings was Mahela Jayawardene whose magnificent double century put his team in a commanding position.

Murali has taken over 700 Test wickets for Lanka but batsmen call the shots in south Asia, pun intended. Your bowler may occasionally win a man-of-the-match award but it is a batsman's game, irrespective of whether it is Test cricket, ODIs or T20. Which is why English cricketers have traditionally moaned that "The last bowler to be knighted was Sir Francis Drake." For those who came in late, Drake was the 16th century sailor who insisted on finishing his game of bowls before setting sail with the English navy to destroy the Spanish Armada!







The Cold War and a bipolar global system ended in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the liquidation of the erstwhile Soviet Union in 1991. The former Cold War system of international relations, however, has been replaced by a system of Cold Peace between competing powerful countries such as India and China or the US and China. The salient feature of the era of Cold Peace between powerful countries like India and China is that both have conflicting and competing areas of interest and, at the same time, both have clearly opted for a path of friendly or formal methods of resolving their bilateral disputes.

If Indians got disturbing news about the proposed construction of a dam on the Brahmaputra by the Chinese a few weeks ago, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao held a bilateral meeting in Thailand on October 25 during an Asean summit. The Indian PM declared at the summit that despite serious differences of opinion on the demarcation of the border and other contentious bilateral disputes, India will have 'functional cooperation' with China.

Dr Singh has spelt out the nuances of India's approach towards China by stating during the summit that he agreed with premier Wen that "existing mechanisms for bilateral cooperation should be used to resolve all issues amicably". The process of continuing the dialogue did not end with the meeting of PMs, it was followed by a meeting of foreign minister S M Krishna and his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi at Bangalore on October 27 after the ninth trilateral meeting between India, Russia and China. In the spirit of Cold Peace, Mr Krishna raised the issues of India's concern with his Chinese counterpart, especially the 'reported Chinese plans to build a dam on the Upper Brahmaputra and China's infrastructure development in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir'.

India is not hesitant in engaging with China on bilateral disputes while at the same time exploring and strengthening the areas of cooperation between the two emerging economies of Asia. This is the message of Dr Singh's October 25 statement of 'functional cooperation'. Cooperate and compete and make every effort to resolve conflicts between two big neighbouring countries is the essence of India's approach towards China. Incidentally, international law is not helpful on the Chinese desire to construct a dam on the Brahmaputra.

The UN International Convention of 1997 on Non-Navigational Uses of International Water Courses mentions that the lower-reparian country should be consulted and its cooperation should be sought. India abstained in the vote in the UN and China had opposed this Convention of 1997. Because of this, India and China will have to enter into a political dialogue and negotiations on the issue of construction of a dam on Brahmaputra from the Tibetan side. The dust on Brahmaputra has not settled yet and the visit of the Dalai Lama to Arunachal Pradesh from November 8 has heightened the level of public dispute between India and China. Arunachal Pradesh is a bone of contention between the two countries, especially India's claim on Tawang is not acceptable to the Chinese and India rejects China's claim on Arunachal Pradesh by asserting that 'it is an integral part of India.

China expressed dissatisfaction with India on November 9 by stating that 'the Indian side allowed Dalai Lama to visit the disputed eastern section of the China-India border. In reaction, Shashi Tharoor described Chinese statement as an 'irritant'. While India and China are locked in a controversy on Dalai Lama's seven-day visit to Arunachal Pradesh, the Chinese have announced that they will supply $1.5-billion worth arms to Pakistan. Indian public opinion reacts strongly against any country, whether the US or China supplying arms for military build-up of Pakistan. Indians suspect China's special-status relationship with Pakistan.

Thus it is clear that India and China are in a state of Cold Peace where conflicts exist but the mechanism of dialogue is accepted by both the countries for resolving the bilateral disputes. But this is not enough. Policymakers of both the countries cannot ignore the fact that the macro and micro frameworks of political economy of the 21st century have to be kept in mind while dealing with the legacies of the old and dead colonial past. India and China are today big economic players and the western capitalist countries have been compelled to accept that Asia is the centre of new economic power in the 21st century. The Chinese are never tired of proclaiming the new century as an Asian century. Can the Asian century prosper and grow if India and China are at loggerheads?

It deserves to be noted that both India and China have made positive bilateral contribution at the ongoing negotiations on climate change and their united voice will be heard with great attention at the Copenhagen conference on climate change. Not only this, the two countries have also dramatically expanded their bilateral trade relations and, in 2005, India and China had signed the Strategic and Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Prosperity Pact and, in 2008, Dr Singh and President Hu Jintao had brought out a shared vision document.

Why not concretise these two pacts/ documents of 2005 and 2008? Dr Singh has correctly emphasised that the existing mechanisms for dialogue and discussion between the two countries are adequate enough to deal with contentious issues such as Brahmaputra dam's construction. It should not be forgotten that in a kicking democracy like India's, pro- and anti-China lobbies are always ready to jump at the issue that generates a feeling of ill-will between the two. The Chinese should also keep in mind that their media went overboard on Dalai's visit on November 8 to Arunachal Pradesh and mentioned that India should not forget about 1962. This statement of the Chinese media was simply absurd because both the countries have to accept that 21st century demands that both should act as responsible emerging power centres in Asia.

Both India and China have common stakes and common interests in maintaining peace in Asia to achieve economic growth with social equality. During the phase of Cold Peace, relations between these two countries will be based on stormy debates and also the quest for bilateral cooperation will continue. This is the dialectical reality of India-China relationship.








In India, there has been a lot of debate on the drivers of and deterrents to economic growth. Since the debate has by and large raged among economists, it has been largely restricted to what one may refer to as technical-formal factors: the local and global macroeconomic framework, infrastructure, agricultural performance, governance, health, education, etc. The role of social structures and processes has more or less been neglected. In fact, even in dealing with the so-called technical-formal factors, the non-technical-informal processes and politics than shape them to a degree have not been part of this debate.

On the other hand, sociologists have engaged in detailed discussions on the changing structures and processes of Indian society for close to a century now, but have mostly kept away from demonstrating the relevance of these social changes to the country's economy. One can argue that a disciplinary divide like this exists even in western countries, where these sciences have originated in their modern form, but we would also agree that the sharpness of the divide there has been blunted to a greater degree by the prevalence of inter-, multi- and trans-disciplinarity than it has been here. It seems our love for purity has spilled over to the social sciences.

At a more practical level, this divide has meant that the notion of equity has come to be seen in the limited sense of redistribution and welfare, and as such opposed by a particular group of market economists. Politicians, with their patronising pursuit of 'social justice' in the form of various bailouts and dole-outs, seem to have made the perceived trade-off between equity and efficiency look more real. The truth of the matter is, if we bring insights from these two disciplines together, we would realise that, in fact, it is the presence of vast and persistent social inequities based on gender, class, caste, religion, etc that pose a fundamental challenge to the pursuit of economic efficiency in India. These inequities are too well known to require an elaboration here.

Among social thinkers in India, Dr BR Ambedkar, for one, reflected this vision of inequity as a threat to efficiency when he argued that 'caste does not result in economic efficiency' (Annihilation of Caste). The nature and extent of caste discrimination may have changed over the years, but if we extend Ambedkar's argument to include other social biases as well, particularly gender-oriented, it would be difficult to resist the strong relevance of the vision in the case of India.

Equity in this horizontal sense — addressing social biases and creating an enabling environment for all to participate in the process of economic growth itself — ceases to be a predicament, but a pre-condition, for efficiency, quite unlike the vertical understanding of equity of those who advocate the idea of efficiency first, equity later — we need wealth to be able to redistribute it. The focus is to be on making people capable of making their own wealth, rather than making them dependant on public subsidy or private charity.

Unfortunately, the horizontal form of equity is not preferred or pursued by the political class in India. It cannot be since the pursuit of equity has largely been taken up because of political compulsions, to please and pacify certain sections of the electorate. Social sector programmes that have come up since 2004 — NREGA, NRHM, etc — do have the potential to mitigate the immediate hardships of the poor, but that is it. They reflect the curative, firefighting style of Indian policymaking, indisposed to prevent/address the root causes of the problems we face.

And what is worse, even these token measures could be gradually toned down or phased out the moment they stop yielding the desired political results or the crisis does not loom large on our heads. The rise of coalition politics has in a way made this problem more chronic, with a great amount of focus on keeping the coalition partners together and continuing in power.

If the government is serious about inclusive growth, the focus has to be on horizontal equity, on social liberalisation which entails opening up barriers that prevent millions in this country — who, by the way, are not only the poor — from participating in the process of growth itself. It is not poverty alone that has to be tackled, the self-respect and confidence of the oppressed has to be restored to enable them to stand up and pursue their and their country's prosperity. What is keeping a massive pool of our talent untapped and holding the country back from a gigantic growth momentum — apart from technical-formal factors — are horizontal inequities. And once we are able to tackle them even to a limited degree, then not China, but sky would be the limit.

(The author is a research scholar at the University of Freiburg, Germany)








British screen goddess Kate Winslet has revealed that her curves inspired Jaguar chief designer Ian Callum to create their new XK model. The Oscar-winning actress joked on an American chat show that she would have liked to be have been involved with the design ("The headlights are too small. They will have to go! It needs a bar under the dashboard, and wings and inflatables").

On his part Callum, who has also worked on the Aston Martin DB7, gallantly confirmed that the blonde diva was indeed his 'ideal woman'. "She's naturally very shapely, very British with an underlying integrity and ability," he added. "Like a car, she's got substance; she is not just a pretty face," Callum elaborated, providing a new spin to the centuries-old form-versus-substance debate.

One epigrammatic take on it is: beware of appearances. For things are not what they seem to be superficially, especially if they are heart-stoppingly pretty. This is further epitomised by the proverb, Munh mein Ram, bagalia mein chhuri, which describes the hypocrite who goes about with the Lord's name on his lips with a dagger clutched behind his back!

To be fair, the winsome Ms Winslet provides a refreshing contrast: British economists analysing her brand value have recently described her as a 'national treasure' worth £60 million that despite blockbuster billing still prefers to appear in cheaper art-house films.

Critics could cavil that the actress can afford that luxury only because of her stardom. The counter-argument is that stardom (or the lack of it) is just a state of mind. "Unfortunately, most beings are not aware of it," Robert Thurman explains in his Jewel Tree of Tibet, "They think they are dwelling in the reality of insufficiency, a self-centred reality where they are pitted against the world and the world is pitted against them. To them, the world is always suffering and always causes them frustration and always overwhelms them. The Buddha's good news is that you can actually take a break from this struggle. Relax. Ease back."

The Sakyamuni taught us that where we are is actually perfect. The wonderful thing about his insight is that this reality itself is the great bliss state, which he came to describe as 'bliss void indivisible'. The extinction of suffering and the achievement of perfect happiness is the reality of our world. This is the Buddha's good news.







KOLKATA: Dipankar Chatterjee, the new chairman of Calcutta Stock Exchange (CSE), is a chartered accountant by profession, a senior partner of LB Jha & Co. His alliance with the exchange dates back to 1980 and he was on its board for two years before being part of the exchange's demutualisation committee. Over the years, Mr Chatterjee has added several feathers to his cap. He is reckoned to be close to the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government, resourceful, and he was the chairman of CII, eastern region and its North-East council. On Friday, Mr Chatterjee spoke to ET, after taking over reins at the local stock exchange, which is now but a pale shadow of its former self.

Having just assumed the reins at CSE, what are your immediate priorities?

There will be no U-turn. Whatever initiatives were being taken by the board to restructure and revitalise the bourse's operations at Lyons' Range will get implemented as decided. The first priority of the exchange, of course, will be to increase business volume. We also intend to come closer to our partner — the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) — as it has an access to latest technology, risk management methodology and compliance so that the alliance between the two exchanges becomes more than a shareholder's relationship.

What initiatives are being taken to discover the stock price of companies which were listed on the exchange but went into oblivion for different reasons?

Apart from trying to increase volume on BSE's trading platform on a daily basis, CSE's managing director and CEO Molly Thambi has been trying to identify companies which were listed on the exchange, but went into oblivion for different reasons. Price discovery of such companies along the line of Orissa Mineral Development Co (OMDC) will help augment volumes at the exchange. We are working on it and will name the companies once something concrete emerges. We are constantly thinking laterally.

What steps are being taken to increase business volume?

CSE officials are also persuading companies to get themselves relisted on the exchange. With some of the other exchanges in the eastern region not having an active trading platform, and BSE and the National Stock Exchange (NSE) constantly seeking to reach out to regional investors, CSE can easily help the two exchanges penetrate into the corners of the north-eastern region. In the process, it will be able to enhance its own business.

What are your biggest near term challenges?

I think, we are over the hump. The negative perception of the exchange as being a den of malpractice is slowly disappearing. The various committees formed will help facilitate the cleansing process. Efforts are also on to make the exchange profitable. CSE's operating profits are not too great. For the year ended March 31, 2009, we declared a dividend of 700% to ordinary shareholders, clocked a profit after tax of Rs 1.78 crore and an income of Rs 20.38 crore.








After record growth in the last quarter, the country's fourth-largest FMCG company, Dabur India, is bracing itself for what could be a testing time for consumer products companies. Sunil Duggal, CEO of the Rs 2,800-crore company, spoke to ET on maintaining margins in an inflationary commodity environment, strategies to mitigate rising costs, tapping opportunities in urban and rural markets, portfolio expansion and M&As. Excerpts.

Dabur has posted its strongest growth in 18 quarters. How will you sustain the momentum over next two quarters?
The (July-September) quarter has shown good momentum in terms of topline. We maintained price lines. Secondly, early in the year, we increased focus on hedging (futures buying) among the strategies we adopted to mitigate inflation. We anticipated price increases in edible oils, plastics (for packaging material), herbs and honey (which requires seasonal stocking) and mango pulp. So, our margins are by and large protected till the third quarter; we don't see undue pressures. Going forward, if we see deflation, we will buy spot. There's concern over margin compression in the fourth quarter and the possibility of inflation. If we buy spot in the fourth quarter and if commodity prices are high, margins would come under pressure.

Considering the rising commodity prices, will you look at pricing?

We are pretty conservative about pricing changes because we believe sharp fluctuations cause erosion in terms of brand franchise and can lead to downtrading. Brands, no matter how well-entrenched, get impacted. In case of categories that we are present in, say, juices, increase in prices of certain commodities can be offset. For example, sugar prices are up but concentrate costs have dropped. Fluctuating commodity costs tend to cancel themselves out in some categories. So, the focus will remain on driving volumes. There could be radical price increases only if there's sustained double-digit inflation. There could be a marginal (2%) increase in prices in the third quarter for chyawanprash and honey. But pricing of the personal care category will be stable.

How sustainable is rural growth?

For the first time last year, rural sales overtook urban areas in select categories — it was a paradigm shift. But this year, while weak monsoons hasn't dampened rural growth, it has not accelerated it either. The next cycle of growth has to come from urban markets — that's where the next level of demand creation will come from. While we expect growth in low teens from rural India, it could be in mid-high teens from urban markets.

This is why some urban-centric initiatives we kept under wraps last year were revived recently. Uveda skincare and Burrst fruit juices are two examples. Last year, the focus was on low unit packs and we consciously slowed down proposed premium-end initiatives. Modern trade too is contributing now. So, while rural is definitely a source for growth for us, urban is the accelerator for the future. The urban story is staging a definite revival.

Most consumer goods companies (including yours) increased advertising and promotional (A&P) spends over the last few quarters. Will that continue?

In the first half of this year, our A&P spends hit record levels due to five new launches and the Fem acquisition. Our strategy was dual: more urban-focused A&P spends and rural-focused distribution. Going forward, there could be some trimming of spends.

Is the company fast-tracking M&As now that the economy is on a revival?

We do have a watchlist. Focus markets for acquisitions will be Africa, and west, central and south Asia. These would be mainly in personal care and health care. We are open to small local acquisitions and large global ones.

What are the popular brands in your overseas portfolio? Are your strategies for international market different?
Overall, the Rs 600-crore Vatika is our largest brand, and about half of that comes from overseas markets such as Egypt and west and south Asia. Vatika variants like oils, shampoos and hair creams are popular overseas. Real is a Rs 400-crore brand, with Rs 70-80 crore contributed by markets like Nepal, the US and UK. As for different strategies, in India, we build distribution before we advertise. But in other markets, we advertise first; typically, 18-20% of our revenues are spent on advertising overseas. It's a different terrain and often helps to build demand first and then step up distribution.







Several attempts have been made to build an operating system (OS) that would rival Microsoft Windows. None, from Apple to Linux, managed to break the stranglehold of Microsoft, which has over 92 per cent share in the OS market. Sundar Pichai, vice-president of product management at Google, spearheads the search giant's effort to take on Microsoft with Chrome OS. Google has just released the Chrome OS code to the public under an open source licence and the product will hit the market in the next 12 months.

Even as he copes with the challenge of developing a simple, fast and secure OS, Mr Pichai, an alumni of IIT, Stanford University and Wharton School, is in the middle of two books.

Outliners, by Malcolm Dladwell, examines factors that contribute to high level of success with examples like Microsoft founder Bill Gates. The Elegant Universe, by Brian Greene, provides a simple, non-technical assessment of string theory, which has the potential to create a universal theory of physics.

He probably needs a lot of such inspiration to make the Google Chrome OS simple and successful and cope with the daunting task of dethroning Microsoft. In a video interview with Shelley Singh, Mr Pichai, based out of Mountain View, California, talks about why Chrome could succeed where others failed. Excerpts:

Till now, no one has succeeded in denting Microsoft's monopoly. Apple tried its hand; for Linux there are various flavours, and combined they have less than 10 per cent market share. Do you believe Google will be able to change that?

Historically, most new OS efforts failed for two reasons. People are used to an experience for over 30 years and for any new experience the learning curve is pretty steep. Chrome OS is primarily browser based—hundreds of millions of people know how to use a browser and there's nothing new to learn. That is a huge part of what we are focussed on.

The second reason why OS fail is not the software but the lack of applications eco-system on top of it. Even if an OS is good, what can users do without applications? We have a tremendous advantage here. The applications on top of Google Chrome are the entire web—these get written every day—people use browser for searching, reading papers. Applications like Orkut and Gmail are web applications. In the last five years practically all applications have been web based. Every application written on the web works automatically for us.

Thirdly, we are fundamentally changing the game in terms of an end-to-end user experience. It's going to be simple, secure and fast. For instance, most users want to get to the Internet when they log on and it can take over five minutes to do that. In Chrome OS, it will be less than five seconds.

Can you elaborate a bit on web-centric computing?

Think about it this way: 15 years ago, all of us used email, and email used to be local. Today email is in the cloud. We use web-mail and that's the way it works. You can use your email anywhere—from your phone, laptop, desktop or any other device. If you lose your computer, it doesn't matter. That's the benefit of the cloud. What has happened to email we hope will happen to all of computing. You need good physical device so that your experience is great. You will do lot of computing locally (on your device), but you will stay in the cloud.

What features in Chrome OS makes you think that people should use it?

The three main features are that you will get an experience which is the fastest of all choices available, it will be the simplest and finally very safe. In places like India, where the web is still maturing, there is lot of malware, viruses, which plague people's computers. Every time I go home, I spend time cleaning my parents computers. It's amazing what has gotten in there. In Chrome OS, you won't be able to install code, making it fundamentally much safer for them to use.

The world is moving to a cloud computing-based model. At the same time companies like IBM, Google and Microsoft are coming up with their own cloud. Is interoperability going to be a challenge?

Yes and no. Interoperability has always been a challenge for technology. But cloud, by definition, operates on open standards and there is a lot more possibility for interoperability here than on any other system out there. For example, if you write a native application -- try working it on PC, Mac, i-phone, Android phone, BlackBerry and compare that with a web based application. The web based is much easier to access. Cloud applications are fundamentally more operable and it doesn't matter what the device is.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




Very occasionally senior officials come along who call a spade a spade, rather than conform to standards of political correctness that are not infrequently used to maintain the status quo at the expense of pointing out systemic defects and looking ahead. The vice-chief of air staff, Air Marshal P.K. Barbora, apparently a respected fighter pilot, appears to belong to this small company. Addressing a forum on Thursday, he went public with what the defence services have long felt. The senior officer bemoaned the tendency among our political parties to use international defence procurement arrangements to settle political scores with one another. It has been a given for the past 20 years or so that a government will be reviled with charges of corruption in defence purchases by its opponents in Parliament and outside. The compliments are returned almost ritualistically when the roles are reversed. This is not to say that malfeasance should be tolerated or corruption brushed under the carpet. It must be clearly understood that the taxpayers' money is not for lining the pockets of corrupt individuals or parties. Strict surveillance mechanisms must always remain in place. But it has been found that nearly all major military purchases since governments began to scout for the best equipment and price in the international commercial domain were bogged down indefinitely as corruption charges swirled. Hardly anything worthwhile was ever proved even when those who levelled allegations came to rule. It does appear in retrospect that hurling not just allegations but also abuse became a pastime for Opposition parties because of the perception that so-called scandals can be milked better for political ends than the demands of unglamorous but authentic politics which necessarily involves educating public opinion through responsible political thought and action. Consequently, the needs of the defence sector have suffered. As India's footprint in global affairs has grown, so has the need for boosting its military power as the last guarantor of its vital interests in dealing with hostile foreign quarters. The neighbourhood we live in is among the most treacherous in the world. All political parties would need to bear this in mind. Senior leaders across the spectrum have a special responsibility in this regard. If serious charges are to be brought, this must be done with the sense of utmost responsibility. We often find instead that shrill and emotive rhetoric is used from the pulpit and opponents begin to talk of presumed Swiss bank accounts at the drop of a hat. When this happens, even crucial military purchases go on the backburner as no one wants to be singed. The Indian Air Force's vice chief has sounded a cautionary note in the context of the supreme national interest. It will be a real pity if the political class hurls the protocol book at him and takes him to task for highlighting shortcomings that politicians should have themselves seen fit to overcome. The officer has also spoken of opening up the area of domestic defence supplies to the private sector more fully and to permit foreign direct investment in the defence sector. These ideas need to be aired even if they are not found entirely feasible. On balance, Air Marshal Barbora has made a useful contribution to an important debate that should have been started much earlier.








 "…friendship, love, infatuation, fascination,arrangement, blackmail, bondage, coercion, boredom, habit, nemesis… 'relationship'…"From Bachchoo's ThesaurusMy brave daughter works in London's badlands as a "youth-worker" and insists that the cynical thugs she deals with, whom I have learnt from the media to regard as the nemesis of urban society, are actually misguided children. She may be right.


Her job in the London Borough of Haringey, where many immigrant communities, the Somalis, Albanians, Turks, Algerians, Nigerians, Afghans, Pakistanis etc. reside (but where don't they in the entirety of London which is 35 per cent "ethnic"?) is to get the knife and gun gangs off the streets and into activity. This could be simply coming into a youth club and being introduced to pastimes and challenges more productive or at least safer for their fellow-burghers than hanging around the streets looking for people to mug or members of a rival gang to stab or shoot.


Further than that, she and her team aim to put these boys and girls to useful activity acquiring a skill they can professionally use and it's part of the job to put the waifs and strays in touch with an agency that can solve their drug/mental, health/social welfare problems.


Daughterji was going away last weekend with a group of these recalcitrants — her "clients" — to some part of the country for a four-day sojourn in a state-funded outdoor camp where the lumpen youth volunteer to go to be taught canoeing or diving or some other challenging activity which will take their minds off crime and the depression of the ghetto and perhaps instil in them interests and ambitions beyond it. It's an extended and vastly more costly Baden Powell programme for the bad 'uns, but without the pseudo-religious promises that Boy Scouts and Girl Guides have to make.


They do make promises, however. My daughter, before she went, was working on the computer, growling frustrations with its tendencies and shouting out words for which she wanted the spellings. I asked her why she needed to spell "statutory".


"I am typing out forms for the clients to sign", she said.


"What forms?"

"Oh, just to say that they are not carrying any guns or knives on them or in their luggage. They have to give us that undertaking before they get on the coach."


This is the sort of cool answer that turns my stomach. I suppose the parents of young men and women who work in the active wings of a police force or as soldiers in a war zone constantly get this feeling. I have had to get used to the idea that my beautiful and dedicated daughter is in one of the "front-line" services of this society. Nevertheless, it gives me pause.


She presses the "PRINT" button and turns to me with a grin, reading my frown.


"It's better than searching them and going through their baggage like security guards because that doesn't give out the same message does it? Here we are handing them a form to sign and asking them to take responsibility for not carrying harmful weapons and demonstrating to some degree that we trust them."


"They may not be trustworthy! If stabbing and shooting is their game, signing a false guarantee is not going to seem a terribly dishonest thing to do."


"Well, put it this way, dad, if they are carrying knives or guns they are hardly likely to use them on us, are they? They use them on each other."


She was quite cheerful about it. Off she went carrying her forms. The same evening, picking up the London Evening Standard, I read the headline which said a 16-year-old boy had been stabbed at a bus stop by a gang of youths. Not, however, in the Borough of Haringey. The report says that the police claim to have reduced knife crime in the capital by a quarter. Which simply means that instead of 400 incidents brought to court, there have only been 300, which is three hundred too many.


A sinister sounding statistic now emerges. The Metropolitan Police have made it their policy to stop and search children as young as 10 and 11 for knives. They claim they confiscate a large number, one which they won't disclose. They report the children to their families and to the social services who may take up the thread of prevention from there. The police also claim that this stop-and-search operation is responsible for the fall in the stab-rate. They don't ask the suspects whom they stop to sign any forms. They search them from curly locks to boots and I don't suppose it inspires great affection for the police patrols who do it or great respect for the uniform. There is enough evidence to indicate that it does exactly the opposite.


The civil rights lobby in the country wants the police to take a less suspicious approach and stop the stop-and-search and instead try and win the hearts and minds of youth. They protest that it's a suspension of civil liberties. But like being searched before getting on a flight, it is a very annoying but necessary evil and won't lead to more people carrying knives on the street. It may alienate hearts and minds, but if it's contributing to safety on the streets, bring on the alienation!


One borough of London, Croydon and not Haringey, more harassed by youth crime on the streets, has trebled its placements of CCTV cameras. These are the snoop cameras that watch the streets and public spaces in the borough and are strategically placed where youths tend to congregate. The move has inevitably brought about complaints against the surveillance society and protests from the same lobby of civil rights watchers.


British cities are, square foot for square foot, the most surveyed cities in the world. The Croydon spokesman was convinced that the cameras would capture "anti-social" behaviour and would act as a deterrent. I can see that it would deter burglars without balaclavas smashing shop windows in the high street, but would it stop desperadoes carrying knives in their trousers or guns in their cars? Perhaps my daughter's solution is as effective as police searches or surveillance cameras. Get everyone to sign forms.


Build trust, build an honest society? Perhaps not.








Earlier this week, the Inspector-General for the Troubled Asset Relief Programmme, aka, the bank bailout fund, released his report on the 2008 rescue of the American International Group, the insurer. The gist of the report is that government officials made no serious attempt to extract concessions from bankers, even though these bankers received huge benefits from the rescue. And more than money was lost. By making what was in effect a multibillion-dollar gift to Wall Street, policymakers undermined their own credibility — and put the broader economy at risk.


For the AIG rescue was part of a pattern: Throughout the financial crisis key officials — most notably Timothy Geithner, who was president of the New York Fed in 2008 and is now Treasury secretary — have shied away from doing anything that might rattle Wall Street. And the bitter paradox is that this play-it-safe approach has ended up undermining prospects for economic recovery. For the job of fixing the broken economy is far from done — yet finishing the job has become nearly impossible now that the public has lost faith in the government's efforts, viewing them as little more than handouts to the people who got us into this mess.


About the AIG affair: During the bubble years, many financial companies created the illusion of financial soundness by buying credit-default swaps from AIG — basically, insurance policies in which AIG promised to make up the difference if borrowers defaulted on their debts. It was an illusion because the insurer didn't have remotely enough money to make good on its promises if things went bad. And sure enough, things went bad.


So why protect bankers from the consequences of their errors? Well, by the time AIG's hollowness became apparent, the world financial system was on the edge of a collapse and officials judged — probably correctly — that letting AIG go bankrupt would push the financial system over that edge. So AIG was effectively nationalised; its promises became taxpayer liabilities.


But was there any way to limit those liabilities? After all, banks would have suffered huge losses if AIG had been allowed to fail. So it seemed only fair for them to bear part of the cost of the bailout, which they could have done by accepting a "haircut" on the amounts AIG owed them. Indeed, the government asked them to do just that. But they said no — and that was the end of the story. Taxpayers not only ended up honouring foolish promises made by other people, they ended up doing so at 100 cents on the dollar.


Could things have been different? Some commentators argue that government officials had no way to force the banks to accept a haircut — either they let AIG go bankrupt, which they weren't ready to do, or they had to honour its contracts as written.


But this seems like a naïve view of how Wall Street works. Major financial firms are a small club, with a shared interest in sustaining the system; ever since the days of J.P. Morgan, it has been common in times of crisis to call on the big players to forgo short-term profits for the industry's common good. Back in 1998, it was a consortium of private bankers — not the government — that put up the funds to rescue the hedge fund Long Term Capital Management.


Furthermore, big financial firms have a long-term relationship, both with the government and with each other, and can pay a price if they act selfishly in times of crisis. Bear Stearns, the investment bank, earned itself a lot of ill will by refusing to participate in that 1998 rescue, and it's widely believed that this ill will played a major factor in the demise of Bear Stearns itself, 10 years later.

So officials could have called on bankers to offer a better deal, for their own sake, and simultaneously threatened to name and shame those who balked. It was their choice not to do that, just as it was their choice not to push for more control over bailed-out banks in early 2009.


And, as I said, these seemingly safe choices have now placed the economy in grave danger.


For the economy is still in deep trouble and needs much more government help. Unemployment is in double-digits; we desperately need more government spending on job creation. Banks are still weak, and credit is still tight; we desperately need more government aid to the financial sector.


But try to talk to an ordinary voter about this, and the response you're likely to get is: "No way. All they'll do is hand out more money to Wall Street".


So here's the real tragedy of the botched bailout: Government officials, perhaps influenced by spending too much time with bankers, forgot that if you want to govern effectively you have retain the trust of the people. And by treating the financial industry — which got us into this mess in the first place — with kid gloves, they have squandered that trust.








Mumbai seems to be going through a major identity crisis. There are any number of really weird people fighting over the metropolis, like it's a half-chewed bone, left behind by a pack of wild dogs. The scraps left behind are for scavengers of all hues — and yet, everyone is pouncing on them. Why? The answer is obvious — even those measly scraps of this mega city are worth a fortune. And nobody wants to let go of those precious leftovers. From politicians to businessmen, there is just one story worth narrating about this ajeeb city. It is called Real Estate. Take whoever, doing whatever, in whichever sphere — the motive is just one — land grab. Which is why Sachin Tendulkar's innocuous remark — "Mumbai belongs to India" — has triggered off reverberations, not just in Sena Bhavan, but across party lines. It has been twisted out of context and given political hues by those who would like to appropriate the city and stake an exclusive claim over it. No other city in India generates this level of possessiveness and passion. And the only reason why Mumbai gets people to froth at the mouth each time the "ownership" issue comes up, is because those who hope to plunder it still further, start feeling threatened. Earlier, this perceived threat used to come from "outsiders" who were determined to acquire chunks of pricey property, using locals as fronts. Often, these "outsiders" were underworld kingpins consolidating their hold over their gangs through illegal acquisitions of land in prime areas. The "dons" continued their dirty games from their hideouts overseas, even after getting chased out during the fierce inter-gang battles in the 80s and 90s. These old Bollywood-style dons were soon replaced by a new breed — the political dons. But the objectives remained the same — buying Mumbai. And selling it, piece by piece, to the highest bidder. Dhanda!


The lines have totally blurred now. Most of the old players are either dead or dying. The new laptop dadas wear Versace (itself a dying brand, but who's to tell these designer goons?), and crack mega real estate deals with smooth-talking builders in shiny suits. Most of the ghastly construction one sees in suburban Mumbai is a product of the scumbags who have stripped Mumbai of all its aesthetics, in their greed to make a fast buck.


I was told by an erstwhile royal who is a globetrotting, card-holding member of the luxe set, that a top Italian designer who visited Mumbai in search of good locations for his stores, actually held his head in his hands and wept after a drive through the city. He couldn't accept its ugliness. He was appalled by the hideous "development" all over that lacks character or taste. He kept repeating, "How could anybody do this to such a historic and important city? Why doesn't someone stop this horrible growth?" He fled vowing never to return. Yes, he was that traumatised. Mumbai's ghazab story can only get worse. There are no real stakeholders left to protect it from marauders who are determined to exploit every last inch of space available. And these marauders are not the feared "outsiders" but insiders themselves, who want to hang on to the booty. Helping them in their sinister design are the greedy worker ants of Mumbai — those who sign "no objection" certificates, okay crazy plans and are a part of this dirty nexus. From lowly staffers in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), to hangers-on of MLAs and ministers, they are all in the conspiracy to own India's most valuable real estate — Mumbai.


What does the average Mumbaikar do to protect the city or his/her own interests? Well, very little. The cynicism is so widespread, the Mumbaikar shrugs resignedly and life goes on. Every time there is a crisis, Mumbaikars are reminded about their "resilience" and the great "spirit" of the city. This is nothing but a cheap alibi that excuses those who are responsible for the safety and prosperity of India's premier hub. Mumbaikars shrug, laugh and get back to work after each devastation, knowing that if they don't, they'll be finished. They read exposes on corruption in high places, in low places, in virtually every place and are not shocked. They accept that most of the netas voted into power are goondas. They don't react. Nobody wants unnecessary lafdas, they say tiredly. As long as the goondas get them water in the taps, it's okay. It's all a big joke — just like in the current Ajeeb-Ghazab hit movie. Serial blasts, terror attacks, David Headley and whatever else might befall Mumbai in future, one thing is certain — politicians will never get poor. Today, Mumbaikars are willing to say sportingly, "It's okay, baba… paisa banao. Lootmaar karo. No problem. Grab what you can while in power. But at least make sure the public also benefits a little". Is that too much to ask?


I think it is very fair and very practical. It's time to do a deal.


Maybe Mumbaikars should talk turkey with those who are busy plundering Mumbai and work out a formula. We have some of the canniest financial brains in the country in this overburdened city. History tells us Mumbai came as part of a "dowry" for a Portuguese princess in the early 17th century.


Time to file a dowry harassment case, in that case? It can't get more ghazab than that for this ajeeb city.


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On the anniversary of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks there is no better way to remember the dead than to be angry. And there is enough, just in the normal struggle to survive in India, which should make us furious. And not allow any one of us to ever forget.


Returning to Delhi is always a shock — the airport lulls you into thinking that things have improved. But once outside, you are choked. Not with emotion but by the pollution, and by the implication of a government that is not working hard enough.


On every flyover there are children selling magazines or begging under them: hungry and malnourished children who should be in school. Every symbol of progress has another negative and searing one. The last one year, when we swore an end to corruption and held candlelight vigils, has only shown us our own faults in sharper and sharper focus as we voted back the same people who let us down, over and over again. This was meant to be a watershed year, but instead it has been a year where we appeared complacent and self-indulgent. Ready to be attacked, once again, perhaps?


The Delhi sky reminds me of Beijing five years ago, when we had gone there on a brief visit. There was a thick haze of pollution everywhere and the sun struggled, ever more weakly, to come out. Five years ago the chief minister of Delhi had just announced the success of the CNG buses and all of us — harkening towards asthma — could breathe the clichéd sigh of relief. Imagine — Delhi was less polluted than Beijing! What a coup! What excitement!


So we could afford to feel superior. Landing in Beijing we had muttered about how recklessly the Chinese government was indulging the middle class — allowing them unbridled access to cars, to material goods, to consumerism. There wasn't even a ban on smoking!


But didn't the Chinese have a point? After all the aam aadmi is no longer an impoverished voiceless face in the crowd — the aam aadmi is really the newly-arrived middle class — thrown up in waves on the safe shore of government subsidies and corruption. That is the class to indulge and keep happy — because if your middle classes are content, the so-called home-grown media experts who dominate TV channels and newspapers can be easily bought over.


So Beijing was, despite its glossy buildings and new found millionaires, barely visible behind the mist of pollution, and no one really cared. Because the growth rate was and is the deity we have to worship — it doesn't matter if a few million lungs shut down forever. In a competitive global economy every decimal point counts.


And by allowing a cash-rich culture to flourish, the opium of the middle classes is no longer religion (sadly for the Bharatiya Janata Party) but mobile phones, affordable cars, and homes on EMIs.


The Indian government, alas, seems to be following the same policy — thus the linked wholehearted attempt to keep the industrywallahs happy because after all the growth rate of the country cannot be allowed to dip. If the Sensex falls how can we claim our seat at the Group of Twenty? And what about the trickle-down effect? But the suspicion is that the money is no longer trickling into the hands of the masses, or to improve our security (despite the budgetary allocations) — it is instead going into the coffers of the political parties and politicians.

The real crisis of democracy is that there is a steady decline in the percentage of votes by which people are voted into power — and if you have to either entice the electorate to come out, or bribe them to stay at home, you need money. And in India there are elections all the time. For the Congress coalition, things are on a roll — as the Opposition seems to have committed mass suicide. Soon there will be little to distinguish us from our neighbours such as Pakistan or Bangladesh or even Afghanistan — because there is little debate and no anger about policy. We only seem to discuss trivia all the time.


Remember our crocodile tears at the lack of bulletproof vests for the police during the 26/11 episode? This week the sickening photographs of policemen parked near the Gateway of India sitting in the open, with little protection, ostensibly to provide security makes a mockery of all the 26/11 remembrances which are playing out on TV channels. When will we ever learn?


The recent cases of Satyam in Andhra Pradesh and the infamous Koda kaand in Jharkhand, and the impunity with which culprits vanish, are exonerated or live in luxuriously equipped jails cannot augur well. And yet, we are not angry enough — spending hours discussing Headley instead. This is a conveniently-created distraction of a man in US custody whom the Americans will not allow us to approach for questioning because they have already seen the finesse with which we have turned the Kasab trial into a year-long circus. We are still squabbling over who did what and begging Pakistan for information. The Americans understand anger, they understand patriotism. They will not allow the single death of an American to go unavenged.


The real issues accumulate and fester, and are all interconnected — pushing us further and further on a downward spiral: such as the rampant mining of valuable minerals, displacing indigenous people in tribal areas which is taking place with little regard to the environment or to the global terrorism links which are emerging from there.


However, here too we find convenient distractions — how sexy it is to discuss the "stone grinding" in Mayawati's parks, for instance. The real environmental issues are shoved aside for cheap headlines. How clever is that?


This kind of denial is simply not a good sign — we may be proud of the fact that we are the "least corrupt" in South Asia but that is hardly anything to crow about. Already the media abroad has scented blood and the feel-good stories about India are on the decline. At a recent event in the UK a politician rued that India was squandering away its goodwill. A government which has been voted in with a decisive mandate (no matter how slim) needs to be more pro-active. And we need to be much more angry.


The writer can be contacted at [1]








Picture a habitat atop a hill in warm sunlight on the edge of a crater near the south pole of the Moon. There are metal ores in the rocks nearby and water in the shadows of the crater below.


Solar arrays are set up on the regolith that covers the Moon's surface. Humans live in sealed, cave-like lava tubes, protected from solar flares and sustained by large surface greenhouses. Imagine the Moon as the first self-sustainable human settlement away from Earth and a high-speed transportation hub for the solar system.


We can finally begin to think seriously about establishing such a self-sufficient home on the Moon because last week, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) announced that it had discovered large quantities of water there.


While we have known for decades that the Moon had all the raw chemicals necessary for sustaining life, we believed they were trapped in rocks and thus difficult to extract. The discovery of plentiful lunar water is of tremendous importance to humanity and our long-term survival.


There have been 73 missions, manned and unmanned, to the Moon, and understanding its chemical composition, particularly finding water, has always been a priority. So why haven't we seen significant amounts of water until now?


The answer lies in the Moon's rotation.


Unlike Earth, which rotates on a significant tilt to the Sun, the Moon is barely tilted at all. At the poles, some hills remain in permanent sunlight while some troughs are always in shadow.


When water lands in sunny spots, perhaps carried by comets or asteroids, the water transforms directly into gas; if it lands in shadow, the water freezes and can remain indefinitely. The lack of light explains why spectrometers — instruments that can be used for remote water detection but rely on reflected light to do so — never picked up on the water.


This changed last month, when Nasa shot a satellite into a permanently shadowed region on the Moon's surface, throwing a plume of material containing water up out of the shadow.


From the perspective of human space exploration, that water is the most important scientific discovery since the '60s. We can drink it, grow food with it and breathe it — by separating the oxygen from the hydrogen through a process called electrolysis.


These elements can even be used to fuel rocket engines. (Discovering water on Mars was not quite as significant because the major hurdle to establishing permanent settlements there is the eight-month journey.)


Creating a permanent lunar habitat is important primarily for our species' survival.


Humanity needs more than one home because, with all our eggs in one basket, we are at risk of low-probability but high-consequence catastrophes like asteroid strikes, nuclear war or bioterrorism.


But it would also lead to valuable technological and other advancements. Consider the side effects of the Apollo programme: it drove the development of small computers, doubled the number of doctoral students in science and math in about a decade and marked a new stage in relations between the Americans and Soviets.


Imagine what we could learn from living on the Moon permanently. On its far side, shielded from the Earth's radio noise, there is a quiet zone perfect for radio astronomy — which allows us to see objects we can't from Earth. Out of necessity we could develop bacteria to extract resources directly from the regolith — a useful technology for Earth as well. And an international venture could open a new era of global cooperation.


Almost as surprising as Nasa's announcement is the lack of attention it has received. Thirty years ago, a development like this would have been heralded as one of humanity's greatest discoveries.


Perhaps the indifference is partly because of the disappointment of astronomers, amateur and professional, who tried to watch Nasa's October blast through their telescopes, but couldn't see the plume. Or perhaps it's a symptom of our age, that the problems that bedevil us on Earth limit our interest in other worlds — just when we need them (and the inspiration they offer) most.


William S. Marshall is a staff scientist with the Universities Space Research Association based at the Nasa Ames Research Centre








THWARTING terror is critically dependent on public cooperation, rather than confrontation. Yet in the first high-profile case that the newly formed National Investigating Agency is probing its officials seem to have opted for coercion as a means to secure information on the nefarious activities of the Lashkar-associated duo of David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Rana. Raising questions of whether the old-fashioned police theory that the 'daroga's danda' alone delivers has relevance in these days of sophisticated criminal activity, with terrorists often operating under high-level sponsorship. Sure it is imperative to track down every move Headley made, but it is hardly professional to assume that every person he met or spoke with got enmeshed in his web of mischief. Not to be taken lightly is the lament of an instructor at a Mumbai gym which Headley favoured: he had met the police to provide whatever information he knew but wound up being "aggressively" interrogated by the NIA. His being treated as an accomplice has cost him his job, members of his family have been traumatised. And as is customary, he was warned against talking about his ordeal. Hardly encouragement for others to volunteer information. Maybe the experience of a couple of film-stars would not be so unpleasant ~ cops are ever "class conscious" ~ but the way the NIA is leaking information about who is under its scanner confirms that it is using the media to create dubious public opinion, or trying to pressure some persons to testify against the prime suspects. Tactics that were in vogue when the Police Act was framed over a century ago. And at much variance with the home minister's contention that this was not a cricket match that required ball-by-ball commentary.

Created in the wake of 26/11, the NIA was expected to bring the most advanced methods of policing to bear in a sphere vital to national security. Its personnel ought to have been specially selected sleuths who would ensure that their methods did not reek of the high-handedness that have sustained the poor image of the police. Unfortunately it seems to have ignored even a contemporary "basic: ~ that people are "interviewed" not "interrogated" or "grilled". And assumes that every person with whom a suspect interacts would read "criminal" written on his brow. If that indeed was the case it would not have required the FBI to alert Indian authorities about the duo in question!







A ray of hope has emerged even as the air we breathe gets more stifling. It has taken the Centre as long as 15 years to upgrade the pollution control norms, and significantly enough India's latest blueprint comes a month before the Copenhagen conference on climate change. However, optimism and sighs of relief ought to be tempered by the realisation that a dramatic change in the environment, as envisaged, shall hinge hugely on implementation ~ indeed, the critical bedrock that can't be taken for granted. The public transport network may be visibly ubiquitous in its violation; but it must be accepted that there are far too many players involved. And their interests are entwined. Nonetheless, Wednesday's announcement by the environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, signals a forward move, the highlight being the level playing field for both residential and industrial complexes. It is a measure of the extent of environmental degradation in this country that as many as six new pollutants have had to be added to the list, notably ozone gas, nickel, benzene and arsenic. The last, for instance, has had a crippling effect in those areas of rural Bengal that are largely dependent on the tubewell. 
While the benchmarks have been stipulated, the mechanism of implementation has been left delightfully vague ~ a testament to the fact that such a system is not uniformly in place across the country. Small wonder why 88 per cent of the 110 cities that were surveyed by the Central Pollution Control Board have been able to flout the norms that already exist. The mechanism of implementation is the vital rock on which the new norms will either be effective or flounder. The blueprint must go beyond a mere statement of intent. The extent of pollution will have to be stringently monitored across the country, if the new regulations are to be effectively enforced. Much as the developed world is blamed for increasing carbon emissions, it must be acknowledged that there also is a system of penalties in place to rein in offenders. This is India, where violation of the environmental rule-book is tacitly condoned. The new emission norms must yield tangible results. In a word, the air we breathe must be cleaner.







IT is a measure of the decrepit work culture at Writers' Buildings that the government's circular on punctuality has served to intensify the chaos. That the circular was held up for 24 hours on account of a procedural delay is merely a symptom of the malaise. So when the unions, cutting across party lines, demand to know the sudden provocation for the move, they only confirm the brazen indiscipline that has been institutionalised over time at West Bengal's administrative headquarters. The unmistakable underpinning is that the government is desperately trying to shore up its image after the serial setbacks. The sloth in the network of departments elsewhere in Kolkata and the districts can well be imagined. It is ironical that the state's finance minister, who appears to have cracked the whip, has readily acquiesced in the employees' resentment over the media clicking photographs of attendance at the start of office hours. Has this turned out to be an embarrassment for the unions as much as the authorities? On Wednesday, the Director of Information was empowered to designate the zones where the photographers could shoot. In other words, the government is quite plainly dictating the terms of coverage. This is unacceptable and least of all from an administration that has failed to ensure compliance with duty hours. It ought now to acknowledge that the circular has had little or no impact even four days after it was issued. In the fullness of time, it may turn out to be another farcical exercise.

Just as the government has dictated the terms of visual coverage of attendance, so too are the unions setting the terms of engagement. And amazingly enough, the rivals seem to have come together. Nay more, the attendance circular has afforded them a handle to buttress their demands for dearness allowance arrears. And an overwhelmingly ineffectual and behemoth staff has the gall to assert that discipline can't be instilled until fiscal dues are cleared. They at least have the honesty to admit that the delay in attendance is a matter of habit. Dr Asim Dasgupta may be faced with a situation that is beyond hope.







LONDON, 20 NOV: In what's claimed to be a ground-breaking research, scientists are to use embryonic stem cell therapy "to cure blindness" in people. Clinical trials of the treatment for Stargardt's disease ~ a rare, incurable eye disease that causes blindness early in adulthood ~ are expected to begin next year, The Times reported.

If the research is cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration, 12 patients with Stargardt's disease, could become the world's first to receive such treatment based on embryonic stem cells. "Our research clearly shows that stem cell-derived retinal cells can rescue visual function in animals. We are hopeful that the cells will be similarly efficacious in patients." ;PTI








NOW that West Bengal is on the threshold of a major political change, old-timers may recall another period four decades ago when the state was similarly poised on the brink of a momentous transformation. It was in the mid-1960s that the state appeared ready to usher in a new era which had seemed unthinkable even at the beginning of the decade, for few then believed that the Communists would ever come to power. Yet, it was in 1966, the year of drought and devaluation, that the PC Sen government faced violent agitations and bandhs called by the CPI-M lasting for as long as two days.

The Marxists included the Naxalites in those days, for the latter were yet to break away to form their own outfits. The CPI-M had even less inhibitions, therefore, about indulging in violence which, the comrades believed, had the sanction of their dogma. That was the period when the Left's anarchism contained the seeds of later troubles for both the state and themselves. But the CPI-M was a dominant force then, full of self-confidence in the aftermath of the 1964 split of the undivided Communist party, which was supposed to have eliminated the wimpish "revisionists". The Congress, in contrast, was effete and corrupt with the obese Atulya Ghosh, a member of the "reactionary" Syndicate, seemingly reflecting the party's fall from its earlier idealism.
It is now clear that much of these perceptions were wrong. P.C. Sen and Atulya Ghosh were nowhere near as venal as their Leftist adversaries made them out to be. The CPI-M, too, was preparing the ground for its own ultimate degeneration and collapse by a mechanical recourse to the dictates of their doctrine. The first fallout of their revolutionary prescriptions was their literal interpretation by the Naxalites. Once the party came to power in 1967, the Naxalites presumed that the time had come to launch an armed revolution.



AFTER the Naxalites left the CPI-M in 1969, the Marxists misinterpreted their own sojourn in Writers' Buildings as a time for introducing a public sector-based socialistic pattern of the economy, which was also favoured by Indira Gandhi. The result was the flight of capital and the beginning of West Bengal's decline as a major industrial state. Yet, it is quite possible that the CPI-M's forward march would have been halted right there and then but for Indira Gandhi's monumental folly of imposing the Emergency.

It was the consequent rejection of the Congress by the electorate in 1977 which gave the Left a fresh lease of life. Had there been no Emergency, it was more than likely that the Congress, which won the West Bengal assembly elections in 1972, albeit with the help of rigging, would have won again in 1977. The reason was that the CPI-M had been so unnerved by the violence which the state had witnessed when it was in power in the late Sixties because of the Naxalite depredations and the inter-party clashes between the CPI-M and other Left parties that the Marxists were willing to team up with PC Sen who had crossed over to the Janata Party by then.
But the latter was so elated by the Janata Party's 1977 success that he turned down a proposal to fight the assembly elections together with the Communists as they had done during the parliamentary polls in March. The Left Front, of course, won a famous victory in June, but there was a brief period in the early months of 1977 when the Marxists did not know which way to turn, as at present. Their party had split when the Naxalites broke away only five years after the Marxists themselves had left the undivided Communist party. A further cause for mortification was the disintegration of the United Left Front, which had first assumed power in 1967 and then with a greater majority in 1969. But the unity proved fragile because the CPI broke away in 1970 to join the Congress which had made a new beginning under Indira Gandhi.

The CPI-M was under attack, therefore, from a resurgent Congress at the Centre and the rampaging Naxalites in West Bengal with Pramod Dasgupta, the party's secretary in the state, bemoaning that the police were failing to gun down enough Naxalites. "Do their bullets wear condoms ?" he wanted to know. If PC Sen had agreed to lead the Janata-Left alliance in the assembly elections, he might have been chief minister again 10 years after he was ousted. But his misreading of the political mood enabled the Left Front to storm back to power to begin a three-decade rule. Otherwise, the comrades would have returned to the margins of Bengal politics despite the then prevailing popular faith in their claims.


APART from PC Sen's mistake, what had helped them to move to the centre-stage was the earlier split in the Congress when the Bangla Congress broke away under Ajoy Mukherji. A further split when the Trinamul Congress left the mother party also helped the Communists. But the wheel is now turning full circle. The pretences of the comrades about their virtuous ways have long worn thin. As a result, just as the generations which grew to manhood in the Fifties and Sixties regarded the Congress as corrupt, those who are growing up now see the Left in the same light.

Although the non-Communist vote has always been as high as 40 per cent, what kept the Left Front in power was its unity which ensured a kitty of 50 per cent votes along with the splintering of the votes of its opponents. What has happened now is that, first, the coming together of the Trinamul Congress and the Congress has eliminated the fatal division of the non-Left vote.

Secondly, the Congress's pursuit of economic reforms at the Centre has encouraged the mall-and-multiplex culture of consumerism which has further undermined the Leftist objectives, which were not taken seriously any way as Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's wooing of the former "class enemies" of the private sector showed. Thirdly, Singur and Nandigram have exposed the kind of thuggery which the Marxists practised to alienate for the first time even fellow travellers like the writer, Mahashweta Devi, historian Sumit Sarkar, social activist Medha Patkar and others. The Communists are all set, therefore, to return to the fringes of West Bengal's political life.








A tall American visits a Japanese man and his wife, both shorter than him, for dinner. They receive him on the steps of their home, and the guest greets his host by shaking his hands and bowing low at the same time. Then they all go in and have dinner. This, rather unremarkable, display of good manners would have been quite forgotten by now had the guest not been the American president and his hosts the Japanese emperor and his wife. The world watches such people in a different way. In an instant, press photos, TV footage and YouTube videos become texts open to endless readings and judgments. The American conservative media, together with some members of its political counterpart like Dick Cheney (George W. Bush's vice president), are outraged. How could a democratically elected president bow to a symbol of hereditary power? How could an American president bow to the son of the emperor who had made Pearl Harbor happen (never mind what followed)? Does bowing not signify an archaic form of subjection?


Multiple histories open out behind a gesture like this, for nothing that the mighty do can be simply itself, devoid of symbolism. So, Michelle Obama and the British queen briefly putting their hands on each other's backs, an Australian prime minister putting his arm around the queen, or, on a more burlesque scale, Mr Bush fainting after vomiting on the lap of a Japanese prime minister — all such fleeting, banal or harmlessly comic incidents become moments in history. Besides, gestures and customs often have regressive or unpleasant histories. Think of touching the feet of elders or women putting on sindoor. But there are ways of doing these things naturally, politely, ritually or even unthinkingly that need not endorse their original significance. They become part of a different language or context, and wilfully harking back to their origins is taking literalism too far. President Obama bowed to Emperor Akihito. That was sweet of the president. He may not have done so, which too would have been fine, and the emperor would not have minded. In a civilized and sensible world, that should have been the end of the story, if there was a story at all.


Perhaps the mystique of power — and hence the origins of protocol and etiquette — lies in a grand, but anxious, denial of the human body and its levelling, mortal, embarrassing commonness. Imagine watching the scene on the emperor's doorstep or in Buckingham Palace, or Mr Bush throwing up on the Japanese prime minister's lap, with X-ray or endoscopic eyes — innards, skin and bone encountering innards, skin and bone, body touching body, divested of temporal aura. It is when symbolic presences suddenly do things that are not in the public script that the body, in all its disconcerting ordinariness, irrupts into the plane of the extraordinary. For many, a very tall man bending low to hold with both his hands a short man's hand is too human in its slightly awkward graciousness to befit the persons of a president and an emperor.










All nations think that they are virtuous. But the United States of America has a particularly high opinion of itself. Its national myth is that its ideals and policies are flawless, relevant not just for its citizens but for the entire world. When George W. Bush said that America was the "the greatest nation on Earth and the last, best hope for mankind" he was speaking not merely for himself or for his party, or for his particular tribe of politicians. In fact, one part of the statement came from an earlier president, whereas both parts shall be endorsed by his successor, and by the vast majority of the voting public. The conceit that the US provides the best if not the only model for the rest of us to follow is widely shared by the American intelligentsia as well.


A consequence of this belief is that if other nations choose to disagree with any aspect of American policy, they are seen as malign or stupid. It is rarely conceded that they might have legitimate or honourable reasons for not standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the US. Consider, in this respect, a recent essay published in the Newsweek magazine. This provides a perspective on relations between India and the US past and present, in the context of the forthcoming meeting of the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, with President Barack Obama. This is how the article begins:


"Until very recently, India seemed to pride itself on poking a finger in the eyes of rich superpowers, particularly the United States. Beginning in the mid-1950s, India was the leader of the group of poor, postcolonial nations that banded together in what they called the nonaligned movement, but which routinely tilted to the Soviet Union and bashed American imperialism. To Washington's consternation, New Delhi voted against the U.S. at the United Nations time and again.... Even after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when India began to abandon Soviet-inspired economic planning, New Delhi retained a reputation for obstructing America at every opportunity."


This is a misleading, not to say tendentious, representation of the history of relations between the two countries. For it was they who turned their backs on us. Through the late 1940s and early 1950s, the government of India was keen to cultivate good relations with the other great multi-cultural democracy. However, in 1954 the US secretary of State, John Foster Dulles (picture), signed an arms pact with Pakistan which effectively made that country a client State of America. Even so, India sought hard not to take sides in the Cold War. Although relations with the US soured somewhat after its pact with Pakistan, India continued to maintain close ties with the countries of Western Europe.


The votes in the UN that the Newsweek writer complains about were not so much anti-American as anti-colonial. Through the 1960s, the main points of contention between Indian and American diplomats (and governments) were Palestine and Vietnam. India rightly demanded that Israel grant equal rights to Palestinians, and rightly chastised America for waging a war in Vietnam.


I would not wish to reproduce this one-sidedness by claiming that we were blameless. For we, too, can be a

preachy people — and Jawaharlal Nehru in particular seems to have taken the lofty high ground in talking down to Americans. Moreover, a large section of our intelligentsia was then left wing in orientation, and hence prone to disparage the ideals and institutions of the capitalist West in general and of the US in particular.


Anyway, in recent years the two countries have finally begun to come closer together. In the opinion of the essayist in Newsweek, this change in orientation is largely the product of the policies of the current Indian prime minister. He claims that "Manmohan Singh is repositioning India as an emerging power that can say yes. In place of the resentful leader of poor, postcolonial nations, Singh is defining India as an emerging powerhouse that can sit at the table of rich nations, with fewer chips on its shoulder". Singh is praised for his work in apparently "removing India from the camp of global-warming denialists", and for "nudging India to go beyond 'no' on a host of other global issues".


Once more, one is obliged to correct the author's history. For it is in fact the US that is in the habit of saying 'No' to global treaties and trans-national co-operation. The US refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 — had it done so then, China and India would have been compelled to come aboard, and the world would now be a cleaner place. The US defied international opinion by invading Iraq in 2003; had it listened to wiser counsel, the world would now be a safer place. For very many years now the US has regularly and routinely said 'No' to international initiatives that seek to serve the interests of humanity as a whole. Thus it has failed to endorse the International Criminal Court and the treaty to ban landmines worldwide.


The article in Newsweek ends on a note that is at once hopeful and hortatory. We are told that "Singh will arrive at the White House on Nov 24 with the political momentum to push India deeper into the American camp". Then a warning is issued to the prime minister's domestic critics: "India is too big a country, too large an economy to simply opt out of global discussions. If it continues the politics of 'no', it risks being left behind as leaders of other nations — competitors, rivals, and allies alike — attempt to find their own solutions to the world's problems".


(The captions to the article are as revealing as its contents. 'India Cleans up its Act', says one caption, meaning this in more than an environmental sense. 'Singh drops the habit of just saying no', runs another.)


In the past, the thought leaders of India — by which I mean its politicians, scholars, and newspaper editors — were suspicious of American intentions and motives, sometimes (but not always) with good reason. Now, however, there is a great desire to befriend America among the same class of Indians. I share this desire, so long as friendship is clearly distinguished from subservience.


Manmohan Singh told the last American president that he was greatly loved in India. I hope he does not say something similar to Barack Obama, even though Obama is actually much more admired in this country than was George W. Bush. More generally, Singh must resist the temptation to "push India deeper into the American camp". For India should seek not to be a camp follower but a "bridging power" (to use a phrase coined by Sunil Khilnani). That is to say, it must simultaneously cultivate good relations with the European Union, Russia, China, and the United States of America.


Among business and media circles, there is a strong lobby that seeks to privilege our friendship with the US above all. The argument usually made in favour of this choice is that we need the Americans to combat or thwart China. To this argument I answer with this cautionary tale from our recent history. In the summer of 1971, India was coping with a crisis of monumental proportions, caused by the flight of ten million East Bengalis into our territory. We asked for help from, among other countries, the US. Instead, the US even more energetically backed the barbaric military regime that had caused the crisis. The reason for this was not so much that Pakistan was a loyal ally, but that its good services were vital to opening a bridge to communist China.


The choice was characteristic. For despite what American politicians may profess in public, their foreign policy is always dictated by narrow self-interest. In 1971, they dumped humanitarian and democratic India in favour of autocratic Pakistan and totalitarian China. They may yet do so again.










The outcome of US President Barack Obama's four-day visit to China is indicative of a new power balance, with the US ready to concede to Beijing a paramount, if not equal, place in the affairs of the world. Obama returned from the visit almost empty-handed. The Chinese, aware of their rising power, stranglehold on the US economy and the political clout it gave to them, did not give away anything and made Obama proffer the concessions. Obama had in public sought that China revalue its currency to reduce its export advantage, but the joint statement did not even mention the demand. On other issues too the Chinese had their way. They even harangued the US for its protectionist policies which constrained access for Chinese goods in the American market. Obama was low-key on topics sensitive for the Chinese, like human rights and restrictive internal policies. A speech he made in Shanghai on internet freedom and people's rights was not allowed to be heard by the people of China.

Without getting much in return Obama gave away quite a lot, and deferred too much to the Chinese. The invitation to Beijing to play a greater role in South Asia showed the US keenness to appease China. The US wanted China's help in dealing with the Iranian and North Korean nuclear issues, but got only a vague promise of co-operation. Agreements were signed on energy research and other areas of collaboration and the joint statement spoke of the need for co-operation in many areas. But the visit demonstrated the increasing differences between the two countries rather than a convergence of interests. China is uncomfortable with the increasing US trade deficit and a weakening dollar. It is much more assertive in its relations with the US which, being economically on the wrong side, finds itself on the defensive.

The Chinese economy is much smaller than the American economy. In terms of military power the US is far ahead. But the US needs China which provides cheap credit. China too cannot let the US go much under because it will stand to lose much from that. Therefore a kind of relationship of rivals dependent on each other is being forged. The weaker one which is getting stronger naturally has a better say in the equation than the stronger one which is getting weaker. That was the writing on the Great Wall for Obama to see.









The report entitled 'Himalayan Glaciers' released by the Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh says that there is no conclusive evidence to prove that Himalayan glaciers are melting due to climate change. Not taking any responsibility for the study, Ramesh is quick to add that it is meant to "stimulate discussions."

I don't understand the purpose of stimulating another discussion when the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has already accepted that glaciers are fast melting. Well, I wouldn't be surprised if we learn subsequently that the paper was formally released to build up a case for river-linking. After all, billions of dollars are at stake and the lobby is still at work.

Nevertheless, the simple reason why there is no 'conclusive evidence' to show that the Himalayan glaciers are melting is because India had repeatedly turned down requests from the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), for an exhaustive study of the Himalayan glaciers.

The Indian government, which treats glacier studies only for defence purposes, did not see any major threat from the melting of glaciers and the formation of the newly created lakes.

Perhaps India is waiting for another disaster to strike before it acknowledges the threat. Jairam Ramesh should realise that deflecting attention from the urgent need to do something more meaningful for protecting the Himalayan glaciers will be disastrous for the country's environment and food security.

I draw your attention to a Himalayan disaster in waiting. This is based on a detailed report prepared by ICIMOD sometimes back.

It happened on Aug 4, 1985. Dig Tsho glacial lake, situated close to the Mt Everest region at a height of 4,365 metres above sea level, suddenly burst. Within the next four hours, estimates show that nearly 8 million cubic metres of water had drained from the lake. The torrent moved forward rather slowly down-valley as a huge 'black' mass of water full of debris. The surge waters from what is called as 'Glacial Lake Outburst Floods' (GLOF), completely destroyed whatever came its way.

Within the next few hours, the GLOF had completely destroyed civil structures of Namche (Thame) small hydel project (estimated cost of US $ 1.5 million), swept 14 bridges, long stretches of roads, trails, cultivated land and took a heavy toll of human and animal life.

Dig Tsho glacial lake was not the only one of its kind in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan mountain range that passes through Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bhutan. With the glaciers retreating in the face of accelerating global warming, the resulting melting of snow forms glacial lakes downstream.

While the total number of glaciers in the region is still unknown, ICIMOD had for the first time documented 3,252 glaciers in Nepal spread over 5,324 square km. More significantly, the number of glacial lakes has been computed at 2,323. Most of these, it is believed, have formed in the past 50 years or so.

ICIMOD had identified 20 glacial lakes to be potentially dangerous, including 17 that do not have any prior outburst history. These lakes are situated in very remote and higher reaches but the catastrophe that they cause can be devastating for the local communities and the country's economy.

 Take the case of Tsho Rolpha glacial lake. Situated in the Rolwaling Valley in Dolakha district, the lake is only 110 km by a crow's flight from the Capital city of Kathmandu. With the lake volume rising every year, the area increasing from 0.23 sq km in 1959 to 1.55 sq km in 1990, and the subsequent weakening of the damming moraines that hold the water, researchers term it as 'potentially dangerous.'

Not only in the Himalayas, glaciers are receding at a fast pace the world over. East Africa's Mount Kilmanjaro is expected not to have any snow cap by the year 2015, its snow cover having shrunk at an alarming 82 per cent between 1912 and 2000. The Alpine glaciers have reduced by 40 per cent in area and more than 50 per cent in volume since 1850. Since 1963, the Peruvian glaciers have retreated at the rate of over 155 metres a year.


The Himalayan glaciers, however, are considered to be extremely sensitive to climate change as these accumulate snow during monsoon and shed it in summers. Other high-altitude glaciers on the other hand accumulate snow during winters and cast it off in summers.

The UNEP estimates that the bursting of glacial lakes is likely to become a major problem globally, especially in countries of South America, India and China. International pressure therefore has to be on both the giants to allow for scientific explorations and suitable remedial solutions to be put in place before the 'inner line of control' goes out of control.

Nothing better illustrates the urgency with which a massive global programme to save the mountains from an impending apocalypse. The mountain areas are already reeling under abject poverty and the accompanying destruction of the fragile habitat. Ignoring the serious and real threat of climate change will surely be still more catastrophic.








Elected MLAs objected to one taking oath in Hindi recognised as the National Language. They beat up the MLA discharging his duty. Four of the offenders have been suspended. Another nine who share the same parochial linguistic mentality have been allowed to continue as long as they do not misbehave. I don't think this is good enough and stronger methods of dealing with linguistic fanatics must be evolved to keep the country together. What they should be, I am not sure but hope others who have the future of the motherland at heart will soon come out with the solution.

Bombay was my home for nine years. It was a cosmopolitan city with many races, religions, languages and lifestyles. Most people spoke their mother tongues and a dialect of Bombay Hindustani with ayenga, jayenga, kya mangta, khallas etc. There were no language problems. Things began to go wrong when the city changed its name from Bombay to Mumbai. It saw the emergence of Shiv Sena under the leadership of Bal Thackeray as a formidable political force. It was and is essentially anti-Muslim.

The hallowed name of Shivaji was misused to gain public sympathy. It was enlarged in the sphere of hate to all non-Mumbaikars. It believed in the use of force to achieve its ends. Its first victims were Tamilians whose humble eateries were ruthlessly destroyed. Its members were lumpen elements of Bombay's slums who had nothing to lose and much to gain by goondagardi. Now that Bal Thackeray has become a toothless old tiger and his son a mewling nonentity, the role of the hate-monger has been taken over by his nephew Raj Thackeray. He further enlarged the circle of hate to all non-Marathi-speaking people, notably Biharis and Uttar Pradeshis. It paid him handsome dividends as his party was able to win 13 Assembly seats. He is a major headache for all right-thinking Indians.


I think Raj Thackeray should have been put behind bars when he first landed his hate campaign. But we did not have leaders who had the guts to do so. I can think of a gentlier method of dealing with him, is to make him stay as a guest of Lalu Prasad Yadav in Patna or Mulayam Singh in Lucknow. He will be taught how to behave himself and he will realise that there are many Indians who do not answer to his description of Marathi manoos but are better citizens of India than he.


It was not so very long ago that the literary world realised that simple, unvanished prose makes as memorable writing as good poetry. Poetry takes liberty with grammer and sequence of words to make lines rhyme; good prose sticks rigidly to rules of grammer and yet achieves the same result. To the best of my knowledge the first publication of good prose writing was Granta, published from London. It was an instant success. Some Indians felt that many of their countrymen wrote English as well as the best writers in England. So the idea germinated. The pioneer was the economist, the late Dharma Kumar who was a great raconteur with a malicious sense of humour. She had no difficulty in persuading Ravi Dayal to launch a publication, an Indian version of Grants. They struck on the name Civil Lines, a ramnant of British Raj which is not found in England. Both Ravi Dayal and Dharma Kumar are gone. Now Rukun Advani was selected the best from five editions of Civil Lines to compile Written For Ever: The Best of Civil Lines (Ravi Dayal & Penguin-Viking). It has articles by some of the most famous Indian writers of yesterday and today. Some names like Vikram Seth, Salman Rushdie and Dom Moraes are missing - I know not why. But what it has, more than compensates for what it does. I went over the articles most of which I had read earlier and thoroughly enjoyed reading them again. I strongly recommend this collection for aspiring writers looking for inspiration and samples of good writing as well as others who relish reading polished prose.

Thackeray's lament
Balasaheb has every reason to complain
That Marathi menoos is an ungrateful lot
How much violence he has for their sake, wrought
And the north, south and east Indians, for their benefit fought
The man is genuinely hurt
Because, for their sake, he has acted filth and dirt
Bashing up every north Indian cab man
Bashing up every south Indian store
Oh, for their sake, he has acted anti-national to the core
He sowed hatred, created chaos
Led the hoodlums, for he was their boss
All his noble deeds have, alas, gone down the drain
Because by defeating him, Marathi manoos has hurt his brain.
(Contributed by Kuldip Salil, Delhi)









Before the monsoons hit Kolkata in early June, it is too hot and humid. All eagerly wait for the nor'westers – a phenomenon peculiar to eastern India – which bring in their wake sudden sharp showers, accompanied with gushing wind.  The temperature drops by a few degrees. 

Thanks to a cloudburst  during the night, the weather had become delightfully pleasant. Just then my friend Debu rang up and invited me for a drive to Diamond Harbour, some  50 km away. from his humble two-wheeler he had graduated  to  a sparingly used big car and was itching for a long drive on the highway, all agog to test the mettle of  his new acquisition.

 From North Kolkata, we negotiated the Sunday traffic through the arterial roads of the city. Then passing by the side of Fort William and Victoria Memorial, we finally reached  the northern end of Diamond Harbour Road for a straight 40 km drive  to our destination. Debu accelerated and his wife drummed a popular Rabindra sangeet tune on the dashboard.

We overtook a number of cars and buses full of holidaymakers. A little ahead was a Baby Austin in immaculate shape with an old Anglo-Indian couple. We exchanged smiles with the couple and waved as Debu drove past the little wonder.

A little later, we found ourselves behind a school bus full of children going to Diamond Harbour for picnic. They were singing and bouncing. There was a burst of applause whenever the bus overtook another vehicle. Debu honked and the bus driver swerved a little, giving us passage to overtake.  The children's enthusiasm dampened and for a while they were silent. With dismal expressions writ large on their faces, they felt humbled.

After driving for a while, Debu suddenly stopped his car.  With some tools in hand, he  opened the bonnet and started tinkering with spark plugs and the fan-belt. Just then the school bus overtook us. The children were overjoyed and we could hear  the merrymaking and catcalls till the bus disappeared in clouds of dust.
So smooth and vibration-free drive coming to an abrupt end was a cause of worry. But Debu closed the bonnet gently, restarted the engine as if nothing had happened and said casually, "Oh, I just wanted to give back to those children the happiness we took away from them!"







President Obama has faced a fair amount of criticism for his China trip. He was too deferential; he didn't speak out enough on human rights; he failed to press Beijing firmly on revaluing its currency; he achieved no concrete results. The trip wasn't all that we had hoped it would be, but some of the complaints are premature.


The trip was a template for rising American anxieties about the rising Asian power. President Obama went into his meetings with President Hu Jintao with a weaker hand than most recent American leaders — and it showed. He is still trying to restore the country's moral authority and a battered economy dependent on Chinese lending. Yet the United States needs China's cooperation on important and difficult problems, including stabilizing the global financial system, curbing global warming, persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear program and preventing Iran from building any nuclear weapons.


On the positive side, the two leaders hinted in a joint statement that there may have been enough agreement on climate change to give momentum to the Copenhagen negotiations. An American government source said there also may have been some unannounced progress on North Korea.


But publicly, Mr. Obama pulled his punches on China's exchange rate, saying only that Beijing had promised previously to move toward a more market-oriented rate over time. Despite its indebtedness, the United States has the world's largest economy; Mr. Obama should have nudged Beijing to move faster. We hope he did so privately.


We were especially disappointed that China made no discernible move to join with the United States and other major powers in threatening tougher sanctions if Iran fails to make progress on curbing its nuclear weapons program. President Obama should have made clear in his private talks that the United States and Europe will act anyway if Beijing and Moscow block United Nations Security Council action.


It was also dispiriting that Mr. Obama agreed to allow China to limit his public appearances so markedly. Questions were not permitted at the so-called press conference with Mr. Hu, and his town hall meeting with future Chinese leaders in Shanghai not only had a Potemkin air, it was not even broadcast live in China. It's obvious that the last thing Mr. Hu wanted was to get questions about issues like his brutal repression in Tibet and Xinjiang. That doesn't explain Mr. Obama's acquiescence in such restrictions.


Mr. Obama did not meet with Chinese liberals. In Shanghai, he spoke of the need for an uncensored Internet and universal rights for all people, including Chinese, and at the press conference he called for dialogue between Beijing and the Dalai Lama. He delayed a meeting with the Dalai Lama until after the China summit and should schedule it soon.


President Obama was elected in part because he promised a more cooperative and pragmatic leadership in world affairs. We support that. The measure of the success (or failure) of his approach won't be known for months, and we hope it bears fruit. But the American president must always be willing to stand up to Beijing in defense of core American interests and values.







The long struggle by Senate Democratic leaders to merge two versions of health care reform into a single bill was worth the wait. The bill that the majority leader, Harry Reid, hopes to bring to the floor soon for debate is an improvement in many respects from the Senate Finance Committee's bill, which had previously been considered a possible template for what the Senate was likely to approve.


The merged bill would cost $848 billion over the next decade and would cover some 31 million people who would otherwise be uninsured in 2019, bringing coverage to 94 percent of all citizens and legal residents below Medicare age. And it would reduce the deficit by $130 billion over the first decade and by more than half-a-trillion dollars over the next decade, putting the lie to Republican charges that the reforms would drive up deficits.


The bill also includes two provisions that could slow the rise in health care costs. One is a tax on the most expensive employer-provided insurance, the so-called Cadillac plans. It would push employers and workers toward lower-cost plans and shift compensation toward higher wages. The other is a new commission with power to propose changes in Medicare that would be hard for Congress to overrule.


The merged bill would make insurance more affordable to the middle class on new insurance exchanges. It would limit the amount that subsidized individuals and families would have to pay toward premiums in the exchanges to just under 10 percent of their incomes, well below the 12 percent to 12.5 percent in other bills.


But that reduction would come at the expense of slightly higher contributions demanded of low-income enrollees, a shortcoming that ought to be remedied as this legislation progresses through Congress.


The Senate bill is weaker in many respects than the trillion-dollar bill passed by the House, which would cover more of the uninsured and provide greater subsidies. It would postpone many reforms until 2014, a year later than the House bill, delaying benefits for millions of Americans. It also lacks an explicit mandate on employers to offer coverage. The House bill does a better job of closing the gap in Medicare that leaves many elderly beneficiaries struggling to pay for medicines.


Conservative Democratic senators whose votes will be needed to break a Republican filibuster are restive over the costs of the overall plan and over including a public option, even with an opportunity for states to opt out. Some may also object to provisions that would allow enrollees to buy plans that cover abortions on the exchanges using their own money, a more reasonable standard than the virtual ban on abortion coverage under the House bill. Despite these concerns, conservative Democrats owe it to the nation to help break a Republican filibuster and allow debate to proceed.







Gene Russianoff, a longtime advocate for New York City commuters, had a one-word reaction when he heard that state lawmakers had agreed to a measure reforming the state's 700-plus public authorities, including his special interest, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.


"Hallelujah!" Mr. Russianoff said. And we agree.


Secretive and powerful, these agencies — public, yet also independent — have long been in desperate need of oversight. They govern and manage the state's public works, and they range from the transportation authority, which runs the city's subways, buses and trains, to the development agency for the town of Sidney, population 4,000.


The system of authorities was created almost 80 years ago to make it easier to build schools or operate public facilities without meddling by bureaucrats or the State Legislature. Robert Moses famously used them to create highways and other big-ticket ventures, and his abuses prompted modest reforms a few decades ago.


But the authorities still do most of their business beyond public scrutiny, and it does not take long for secrecy to create problems. A few years ago, the authority running the Erie Canal quietly tried to sell development rights to some desirable land for a mere $30,000. The sale was swiftly canceled when it became public.


One of the most important aspects of the new measure, which has been approved by the Assembly but still needs to be passed officially by the Senate and signed by the governor, is that it would require vastly more transparency. It would create an independent budget office to oversee agency budgets and require the comptroller to review noncompetitive contracts.


Board members would be accountable only to the authorities and not to the politicians who appointed them. New guidelines would impose controls on authorities' enormous unofficial debt, estimated at $150 billion compared with the state's official debt of about $55 billion.


This important reform is a credit to Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a Democrat from Westchester, and Ira Millstein, a prominent New York City lawyer and expert on corporate governance. Mr. Millstein headed a commission on authorities that outlined the need for this new law in 2006. Mr. Brodsky has been tenaciously pushing for it in Albany ever since.








The international commission that sets catch limits for tuna and other large migratory fish has failed, once again, to do what is necessary to give the prized bluefin tuna in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean a real chance to survive. Meeting in Brazil last week, the commission approved an annual quota of 13,500 metric tons for 2010, well below the present quota of 22,000 tons but not the complete moratorium recommended by the commission's own scientists.


Scientists say that overharvesting has caused a 72 percent decline over 50 years among adult bluefin in the eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean, the fish's primary spawning grounds. The illegal catch sometimes equals the authorized quota. Most marine scientists believe the fishery should be shut down completely until the fish have reached sustainable levels.


The United States recommended what it hoped would be an acceptable interim compromise of 8,000 tons or lower. But American negotiators were outgunned by the Japanese — where bluefin tuna is the source of high-grade sushi — and by the European Union, whose politicians do pretty much what the big commercial fleets in France, Spain, Italy and other Mediterranean countries tell them to do and who apparently won't really start worrying until the last fish has been caught.


There is only one honorable course left for the United States. That is to join with Monaco and other countries that have proposed listing the bluefin as an endangered species under an international law known as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. The law effectively bars commercial trade in any listed species, and has been helpful in protecting other animals like elephants and whales.


The next meeting of the 175 nations that subscribe to the convention will take place in March 2010 in Doha, Qatar. Earlier this year, the United States expressed support for Monaco's proposal and said it would change its mind only if the negotiations in Brazil established "responsible science-based quotas." They did not, and the United States should stick to its guns.








Few people have spent more time contemplating The Journey of Life than Oprah Winfrey, and on Friday she provided another useful tip in navigating it: Quit while you're ahead.


At the current moment, this is not necessarily a thought for the masses. Unless something dramatic happens on the economic front, most of us are not going to be able to quit — period.


But the greatest decision a stellar public figure can make is to resist the temptation to keep doing the same thing forever. Even if the fans don't want you to stop.


One day you're the champion of the world, the people's choice. Then, next thing you know, you're losing a unanimous decision to Trevor Berbick. Or putting "Dictator for Life" on your business cards.


We are talking here about a timely and well-planned leave-taking — like George Washington, refusing a third term. Or the end of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."


This is not to be confused with its evil twin sister, the Abrupt Rogue Departure. You cannot get yourself elected governor, serve for two and a half years, disappear for the better part of another and then announce you're quitting because nobody likes a lame duck. Well, it turns out you can, but it is a really, really bad idea.


"I love this show. This show has been my life. And I love it enough to know when it's time to say goodbye," Winfrey told her fans tearily. She's not actually leaving until the end of season 25, nearly two years from now. Talk about long-term planning.


However, if she really wanted to drive home how much her viewers were going to be losing, she might have picked a more inspiring lead-in to her announcement than a 20-minute interview with Ray Romano. (Along with a promo for an upcoming interview with a woman whose husband was addicted to porn.)


It's been quite a run for the Oprah brand. The über-guests, the good works. The Obama campaign. Her forays into books (we will really miss the book thing) and spirituality (not so much). She never coasted.


Her next step seems to involve a new cable TV channel. But since Winfrey has — I believe this is an exact figure — a trilliondy-billion dollars, she probably has more than one option.


Her audience, of course, doesn't want her to move on. Americans are congenitally attached to too much of a good thing: "Law & Order." Professional sports. Christmas. (The national calendar seems to be divided into two seasons: Baseball and Holiday Shopping.)


The idea that anything popular should stay around until we turn green at the sight of it is not, of course, confined to our culture. The British have Tony Blair and The Spice Girls Reunion Tour.


We do hate change. Even though we know that our demand for more of the same is a treacherous road that will eventually lead to Sharon Stone in "Basic Instinct 2."


Nowhere is the need for the graceful exit more apparent than in our politics. This week Senator Robert Byrd turned 92. He has been in office for more than 50 years. That's an all-time record for Congress. In fact, it is probably a record for every deliberative body since Athens in the Age of Pericles.


To be fair, this was not entirely his idea. The Democratic Party begged Byrd to stay and hang onto a seat that will probably fall to the opposition when he leaves. But still, this is not a record that we want to encourage other people to aspire to break.


Nothing becomes a politician like a timely departure. If Rudy Giuliani had quit after 2001, we'd still think of him as America's Mayor instead of the worst presidential candidate in the history of the world.


Imagine how much better Joe Lieberman would look if he had called it a day after the vice presidential run. Or Ross Perot if he had stopped in 1992.


Mayor Michael Bloomberg hasn't even begun his controversial third term and already he seems to have shrunk to a pocketsize.


And what a revered figure Ralph Nader would be if he had called it quits back in the 1990s. He'd be an icon —

the pioneer of consumerism who had the corporation's number from the get-go, instead of the guy who robbed Al Gore of the presidency and then just wouldn't stop talking. He could have spent the last 15 years giving inspiring lectures to college students and now it would be time for the comeback tour. People would be flocking to hear him explain how the structure of the American economy failed its people in last year's collapse.


By the way, you can have a comeback tour if you retire gracefully. Just not one every single year.








Representative John Shadegg of Arizona really knows how to put on a show.


Earlier this month, he used a live baby as part of a quasi-ventriloquist act on the House floor. Creepy? Yes. Still, we let it slide.


But he doesn't get two passes in a row. Monday, he took a swipe at Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City for saying that the city could handle the security for the trial of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.


Shadegg sniped, "I saw the mayor of New York today said 'We're tough. We can do it.' Well mayor, how are you going to feel when it's your daughter that's kidnapped, at school, by a terrorist?"


Say what you will about New Yorkers, but question our toughness, you will not.


Whether a civil or military trial would provide the best chances of securing a conviction while simultaneously signaling to the world a righting of America's moral compass is a fair debate. But questioning whether New York City can handle the trial is an insult.


(By the way, what's with this business of the mayor's daughter being kidnapped? It sounds like the plot of a Jackie Chan movie.)


We New Yorkers live with the threat of terrorism every day — on our trains, in our high-rises, in our plazas. But we've learned to cope. Not by being afraid, but by being vigilant. Bringing Mohammed to Manhattan isn't going to move the needle much.


A police spokesman told Reuters that "eight terrorism plots against the city have been scuttled since 2001, including plots to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge and the retaining wall at ground zero."


Yet the city didn't blink. Schools still opened, trains still ran and the Naked Cowboy still serenaded gaggles of grown women who giggled like schoolgirls.


So Mr. Congressman, how many terror plots have been squashed in your district? Take your time. I'll wait.


We love this city, and nothing and no one will make us afraid to be in it. We refuse to be cowed by cowards — not by those hiding in the Hindu Kush or by those hyperventilating in the halls of Congress.


And what galls us most is having watched for years as politicians like Shadegg used fear-mongering about 9/11 and the threat of attacks as a political tool.


Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani used it to sidestep the extreme racial divisiveness he fostered in the city. Former President George W. Bush used it as a Trojan horse to ravage our civil liberties. Dick Cheney is still using it to shield his transgressions.


Let us be clear: The fear tactics that work in the hinterlands don't work here.


We rose from the ashes of the Twin Towers. We don't need a puppeteering politician from Phoenix lecturing us about being tough in the face of terror.









In many ways, it's like a ghost town. It's eerily quiet. Driving around in the middle of the afternoon, in a city that once was among the most productive on the planet, you see very little traffic, minimal commercial activity, hardly any pedestrians.


What you'll see are endless acres of urban ruin, block after block and mile after mile of empty and rotting office buildings, storefronts, hotels, apartment buildings and private homes. It's a scene of devastation and disintegration that stuns the mind, a major American city that still is home to 900,0000 people but which looks at times like a cross between postwar Berlin and the ruin of an ancient civilization.


Detroit was the arsenal of democracy in World War II and the incubator of the American middle class. It was the city that taught mass production to the rest of the world. It was a place that made cars, trucks and other tangible products, not derivatives. And it was the architect of the quintessentially American idea of putting people to work and paying them a decent wage. It's frightening to think seriously about what we've allowed to happen to this city and what is now happening to the middle class and the American economy as a whole.


I was in Detroit with Harley Shaiken, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who specializes in labor issues. He grew up in Detroit and his love for the city and its people are palpable, as is his grief for the horrors the city has endured.


The popular narrative of what happened to Detroit contains a great deal of truth but its focus is too narrow to account for the astonishing decline of this former industrial colossus. Yes, there were the riots of 1967, and white flight; and political leadership that was not just shortsighted but at times embarrassingly incompetent and corrupt. And, yes, the auto industry was a case study in self-destruction.


But as Mr. Shaiken points out, Detroit was still viable enough for the Republican Party to hold its convention here in 1980, when it nominated Ronald Reagan. And it was not the riots, but the devastating recession of the early '80s that really knocked the city senseless. "That's when the place really cracked," said Mr. Shaiken, "and that was about aggressive globalization and the lack of an industrial policy, not the riots."


Detroit and its environs are suffering the agonies of the economic damned because of policies, crafted at the highest national and corporate levels, that resulted in the implosion of crucially important components of America's manufacturing base. Those decisions have had a profound effect on the fortunes not just of Detroit, or even Michigan, but the entire U.S. economy.


"We've been living with the illusion that manufacturing — making things — is so 20th century," said Mr. Shaiken, "and that we could succeed by concentrating, for example, on complex financial instruments while abandoning the industrial base that sustained so many American families."


The idea that the fallout from the wrongheaded economic concepts of the past 30 or 40 years could be contained, with the damage limited to the increasingly troubled urban areas while sparing prosperous suburbia, has now proved as phony as Bernie Madoff's fortune. Americans, whether they live in big cities, suburban towns or rural areas, need jobs, and when those jobs are eliminated (for whatever reasons — technological advances, globalization) without being replaced, the national economy is guaranteed at some point to hit a wall.

Professor Shaiken and I drove past vast lots filled with rubble and garbage and weeds, past the old Michigan Central Terminal, which was once Detroit's answer to New York's Grand Central Terminal but which has long since been abandoned; past a onetime Cadillac manufacturing plant that is now an empty lot.


We stopped at an old Ford plant and stood in a stiff, cold wind, reading a plaque put up by the Michigan Historical Commission: "Here at his Highland Park plant, Henry Ford began the mass production of automobiles on a moving assembly line. By 1915 Ford built a million Model T's. In 1925 over 9,000 were assembled in a single day. Mass production soon moved from here to all phases of American industry and set the pattern of abundance for 20th century living."


Professor Shaiken's grandfather, Philip Chapman, took a job at the Highland Park plant in 1914, earning five dollars a day, and worked on production at Ford until his retirement in the mid-1950s.


We're at a period no less significant to the U.S. than Mr. Chapman's early years at Ford. We need a revitalized industrial policy, including the creation of whole new industries, if American families are to prosper in the coming decades. If there is any sense of urgency about this in the hearts and minds of our corporate and government leaders, I've missed it.








Newton, Mass.

HOW do you tell a wealthy heiress from a family farmer? It sounds like the setup for a joke. But in fact it is the fundamental problem underlying sensible reform of the federal estate tax.


Members of Congress are hoping to revise the current law on the estate tax by the end of this year; if they don't, the estate tax will disappear for a year. Lawmakers should use the opportunity to solve the farmer/heiress riddle once and for all and move our tax system closer to the values on which the country was founded — that hard work should be rewarded and power should not be conferred by birth.


The last time the estate tax was changed was in 2001. At that time, President George W. Bush and the Republican Congress sought to repeal the estate tax immediately, but settled for establishing gradual changes, which over eight years increased the amount of an inheritance that could pass free of tax to $3.5 million from $1 million, and reduced the maximum estate tax rate to 45 percent from 55 percent. Next year, the law calls for there to be no estate tax at all. Then, in 2011, everything is to abruptly reverse course, returning to pre-2001 tax act levels: a $1 million exemption and a 55 percent tax rate.


Policymakers agree that this here today, gone tomorrow and back again structure should not stand. But what should be done?


Proponents of the estate tax, mainly Democrats, argue that we should return to lower exemptions and higher rates so that the wealthy can contribute much-needed dollars to the nation's recovery.


Opponents, mainly Republicans, argue that there should be no estate tax at all, not just next year but forever, because of the burden on small-business owners.


President Obama has proposed a middle course: blocking the scheduled 2010 repeal but making permanent the $3.5 million exemption and the 45 percent tax rate we have now. That would mean less revenue from estate taxes over the next 10 years than if Congress did nothing to change the 2001 law — an estimated $233 billion less. Moreover, this approach would leave in place the Achilles' heel of the estate tax — its potential harm to family farms and small businesses — while providing an unnecessary giveaway to Americans who least need it.


Instead, Congress and the president should forge a different compromise that would respond to the concern for the family farmer and business owner, but still impose appropriate taxes on the wealthy heiresses — and heirs — of America.


What's needed, to begin with, is a special rule to facilitate the transfer of family farms and small businesses from one generation to the next. While experts disagree on whether the estate tax has in fact impeded such transfers, the idea that it could is bothersome to Americans. It is important to us that children be able, if they so desire, to carry on the work of their parents. Thus, it is appropriate for the estate tax to have a large exemption for family businesses — perhaps as much as $10 million, and indexed to rise with inflation.


In order to ensure that this benefit goes to the right taxpayers, the law should require that both the transferring and receiving generations participate in the business or farm for several years and that the enterprise make up a significant portion of the estate.

Sound complicated? Fortunately, the hard work in drafting this provision has already been done. From 1997 to 2001, the law included a similar rule for family-owned businesses. Its protections were too limited, however, providing a maximum exemption of only $675,000 — not enough to cover many farms and small businesses. By raising the maximum exemption, President Obama and Congress could resolve the family-farmer and small-business problem for good.


Then, we could have a meaningful debate about the appropriate tax for inherited wealth. There is a big difference between wealth acquired through hard work and creativity and wealth bestowed as an accident of birth, and Congress should not be afraid to make this distinction. Keep in mind that inherited wealth is completely free of income taxes. Thus, while a person who earns $200,000 by working must contribute more than $50,000 in federal taxes, a person who inherits $200,000, or even $200 million, pays no income taxes at all.


The estate tax system provides an essential counterpoint to this giveaway. American estate tax rates have been as high as 77 percent, so 55 percent would be reasonable when coupled with a general exemption of $1 million to $2 million.


For too long, the family farm and business issue has served as a distraction, preventing sensible estate tax reform. Congress should get this issue off the table, so that wealthy heirs can contribute their fair share.


Ray D. Madoff, a professor at Boston College Law School, is the author of the forthcoming "Immortality and the Law: The Rising Power of the American Dead."








The actual task of meting out funds under the National Finance Commission award has not yet quite been thrashed out. This is to happen at the next meeting between the federal government and the provinces early next month. But considerable progress has been made with the agreement reached on a four-point criterion to distribute the award, going beyond the limited notion of population alone. The finance minister, his team and the provinces deserve credit for clearing the air, for the flexibility they have shown and for their willingness to work together. The meetings held over the past months have achieved at least some results, even if there is still more to be done. The criterion of population, backwardness, revenue and inverse population addresses some of the concerns of smaller provinces. Balochistan for instance had suffered as the least developed province but one with the smallest population size.

There has also been agreement on establishing a special fund to help NWFP meet the costs of the war on terror and its fallout. More significant still than the actual agreements hammered out and the insightful input from experts present at the sessions in Karachi was the spirit of cooperation in evidence at the meeting. We must hope it persists as the time comes to divide up funds. The willingness of all four federating units to work together and with the centre is crucial. The absence of this spirit has caused a great deal of damage. Our failure over the past 19 years to work out an NFC award was one indication of the extent to which things had gone wrong. The step-by- step approach adopted now is the right way forward. The wide disparities we see across our country do not make for a well-unified state. In some regions we have literacy rates that reach 60 per cent or more. In others they slump to below 15 per cent. There is a desperate need to build a more even society. The NFC award alone will not achieve this, but it marks an important step forward towards this goal and towards constructing a new contract of cooperation among the provinces which have repeatedly clashed over resource division and other issues linked in to this.







President Hamid Karzai, sworn in as the president of Afghanistan, faces what already promises to be a difficult second five-year term. His oath taking, attended among other world leaders by President Asif Ali Zardari, comes amid allegations of a rigged election, and accusations of widespread graft. Then there is the Taliban insurgency that refuses to subside. While Mr Karzai has spoken of the need in his country for reconciliation and promised to tackle corruption, doubts remain over how far he will succeed. There are questions over how strong Mr Karzai's hold over Afghanistan is. His image as a US puppet works against him and many question if he can survive without the prop offered by Washington. There are suggestions that the US and the UK, somewhat embarrassed by his win and by the charges of poll manipulation confirmed by the UN, may not be quite as supportive as before.

But what we should not doubt is that a stable Afghanistan is crucial to the interests of Pakistan. The issues of the two countries are closely inter-twined. The nature of the terrorist threat both face makes it essential that they work together to tackle the militants who seem able to cross easily the porous borders stretched across a mountainous territory that is virtually impossible to patrol. The goodwill visible between Mr Karzai and Mr Zardari is a good omen. But there are some things the two men should be discussing, aside from the photo opportunities and the smiles for the media. Both need to recognize that success against the scourge of militancy is possible only if they can win the support of their people. So far there is little evidence that this is available to either man. The election process in Afghanistan did not, after all, culminate in an all-out win for Mr Karzai. His closest rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, pulled him into a run-off but then withdrew instead of participating in another exercise overseen by an overtly pro-Karzai election commission. In the months ahead Mr Karzai will have his work cut out as he resumes his task of wrestling to run a country that many fear is spiralling out of control.













The first steps have been taken in the grand plan to take over America from the inside, and a small town has elected a Pakistani immigrant as its mayor. Haroon Saleem is an upstanding member of the community of Granite Falls where he runs a popular café, restaurant and bar. He stood for the mayoralty on a platform of honesty and responsibility and beat the incumbent mayor by taking around 60 per cent of the vote. The voters were clearly unimpressed by the previous mayor who submitted some doubtful travel expenses claims, failed to seek competitive bids for capital equipment and did not record his utility-bill payments in a timely manner. In small-town America slipups like that can cost you your mayoralty, so the voters gave Mayor Lyle Romack his marching orders and installed a Muslim immigrant who had made his way up the ladder of modest success and had the respect of most of the townspeople.

Haroon Saleem's tale is a classic. He went to America in 1979 to seek his fortune. He overstayed his visitor's visa and dodged immigration officials until 1987 when he got a lucky break from President Reagan, who extended an amnesty to unregistered immigrants. He became a 'legal', made an arranged marriage in 1992 and took American citizenship in 1995. He worked in the fast-food industry, gradually getting to the point at which he wanted his own business, saw the Timberline Café for sale and bought it. He was welcomed into the small community of which he is now mayor and for which he has plans. We wish well to Haroon Saleem in his new role at the cutting edge of our invasion forces. We also wonder how things might have turned out if the tale were reversed – an American immigrant coming here and trying to make his way. Would he have been welcomed? Accepted within a community where he might be the only representative of his faith? Perhaps elected a town nazim in rural Sindh or Punjab? We may be rightly suspicious of American motives when we view their foreign policies and how they impact on us, but Haroon Saleem offers us an object lesson in terms of tolerance, inclusivity and democratic principles.







As the Obama administration has reached the final decisive moment about sending more troops to Afghanistan as a result of a much-debated new US strategy, pressure on Pakistan to do more has also increased incrementally. In the aftermath of the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's high-profile visit to Pakistan and immediately after that national security advisor General James Jones hasty dispatch to Islamabad, Obama's letter to President Zardari urges him to act in unison with Washington's new strategy.

It is obvious that the US president is in a desperate hurry to wrap up Afghanistan in consonance with Washington's declared strategic goals. Obama's foreign policy is in a shambles. With the Palestinian President Mehmood Abbas' recent decision to quit in protest against lack of progress in resumption of peace process with Israel and the much-trumpeted dialogue with Iran a non-starter, Obama urgently needs a success story.

The situation in Afghanistan is looking more and more like a quagmire for the west. Casualties and the levels of violence have increased in recent months. Consequently, with Britain being the second largest contributor of troops increasingly demoralised and the rest of NATO members' being non-committal, the goals in Afghanistan are being scaled down.

When Obama took the oath earlier this year, everyone was hopeful that he would be an agent of change. He appointed Richard Holbrooke as his special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan who has visited Islamabad and Kabul frequently during the course of the year with mixed results. At the outset, New Delhi showed Holbrooke the door by refusing to accept any mediatory role by the US between India and Pakistan.

Being a personal friend since the days of Zardari's exile in New York, Holbrooke has been smooth sailing in Islamabad. But the same could not be said about his relations with General Kayani to the extent that, much to the chagrin of his bosses in Washington, he failed to anticipate the Pakistan Army's opposition to the Kerry-Lugar Bill (KLB).

A bigger debacle for Washington has been the fraud-ridden Afghan elections. Here also Holbrooke faltered by failing to dissuade Hamid Karzai from committing widespread rigging to the extent of inexorably damaging his legitimacy and US credibility.

Karzai's main opponent Abdullah Abdullah's last-minute withdrawal from the runoff elections that were taking place after open bullying of the former by Holbrooke has further eroded his credibility as an effective leader. So much so that the US ambassador to Kabul has written to President Obama not to send more troops as the corrupt Karzai government simply did not have the capacity to absorb them. In this backdrop, Pakistan is in a nut-cracker situation. On the one hand, there is Afghanistan that is fast spinning out of control and on the other is an increasingly desperate US administration, which considers Islamabad's unquestioned support essential to its success. Before mid-term congressional elections a year from now, the democratic administration has to show results based on a clear exit strategy. Failure in Afghanistan, although not of Vietnam proportions, will be an election issue clearly jeopardising president Obama's control of Congress.

The Pakistan military can rightfully claim that its operation in South Waziristan has been a success in the sense that it has cleared the area of Taliban militants. Admittedly, there has been heavy collateral damage both for the army in terms of lives lost as well as for the Pakistani nation, which is reeling under consistent and incremental suicide attacks since the operations started.

Despite successes in Swat and South Waziristan duly acknowledged and appreciated by the US, it wants the Pakistan military to go for the kill in North Waziristan where it perceives the Al Qaeda leadership is holed up, presenting clear and present danger to vital interests. However, the military establishment is reluctant to fight this decisive battle for the simple reason that not only it will be bloody but because it will mitigate Pakistan's long-term strategic interests .

The army sees western interest in Afghanistan as transient, ranging from short to at the most medium. As In fact, the British foreign secretary said the other day: "it is not a war without end" while the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has declared that the US has no long-term stake in Afghanistan. The initial NATO goal to defeat the Taliban has now been modified to a face-saving exit. This is not possible without cutting some kind of deal with the Afghans and it is becoming increasingly clear that despite his well-attended inaugural, Karzai cannot be part of such an arrangement.

In order to succeed in its scaled down goals in Afghanistan, Islamabad's cooperation to go full steam against Al Qaeda in North Waziristan and against the so called Quetta Shura is critical to the US. However, the Pakistan military is reluctant to shift its strategic paradigm.

It still perceives India as a major threat to its interests and, for this reason, would be hard pressed to fight a battle of attrition with the Afghan Taliban, thus creating a two-front situation for the future. It seems unwilling to go for Al Qaeda leaders Jalauddin Haqqani and Mullah Omar operating from Pakistan's so-called badlands.

The US wants India and Pakistan to mend their fences so that the two can play a role in Afghanistan. This is not an easy task given the Indian reluctance to engage in a meaningful dialogue with Pakistan and Islamabad, seeing an Indian hand in Balochistan and in Afghanistan along its borders. Obama also wants China to play a role in improving the India-Pakistan ties.

When Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will travel to Washington soon on a state visit, the US is likely to press upon him the need to improve ties with Islamabad by opening a meaningful dialogue. The Indian prime minister is unlikely to play ball as, in contrast to Pakistan, Washington has little or no leverage with the Indians. New Delhi would like Islamabad to stew in its own juice by keeping the pot boiling rather than take a long-term view of things. And to be fair, our own intelligence apparatus does not come out clean about its perceptions of Indian intentions and consequent actions.

Increasing, tension between the civilians and the military further complicates matters. Zardari put up a brave face in the recently held CEC meeting of the PPP, declaring it is too early to write his political obituary and that he will fight back. Some circles claim that there are elements in the army who want a government of national reconciliation. No one disputes the need for restoring the supremacy of the parliament, and a clean and transparent government. However, tinkering with the system by outside players would be tantamount to throwing out the baby with the bath water.

According to a US television network, the Obama administration is worried about weakening of civilian institutions as it was complicating America's Pak-Afghan strategy. It is a fact that the Zardari government is seen as leaning too heavily on Washington for support. The US, in its own way, has tried to support the civilian set-up by committing $1.5 billion a year for non-military programmes as well as through the IMF bail-out for Pakistan. All this is at a price for Islamabad's support for US's strategic goals in the region. How the civilians and military can reconcile these goals under an agreed strategy is the biggest challenge for all the stakeholders.

Next November is the deadline not only for the US but for Pakistan as well. This is the time when General Kayani will retire. A few weeks before him the Chairman, Joint Chief of Staff, General Tariq Majeed will retire. Earlier in March the same year, ISI chief Lt General Shuja Pasha will also retire. General Kayani could be offered a one-year extension but, in all likelihood, he will be loath to accept it. How this will play on civilian military relations and the war on terror is not hard to guess.

The writer is a former newspaper editor. Email: arifn51@hotmail. com







Where life is more terrible than death, it is then the truest valour to dare to live. – Thomas Brown, Sr.
Without a shadow of a doubt, Peshawar is facing an unprecedented wave of terror. It has been reported that Peshawar has encountered six terrorist attacks in the last 11 days, and this at the exclusion of the various attacks which took place before that. Within this climate of gloom, there are reports and feedbacks that the people of the NWFP, those in Peshawar, in particular, feel that their efforts and sacrifices in tackling terrorism are not being appreciated by the country as a whole.

And who can really blame them for thinking this? Perhaps we would think this way too if we saw our brothers and sisters being killed by savage barbarians , while the political leadership were squabbling over issues such as the 17th Amendment, gas load-shedding, and the ever-so-terrible lack of sugar in the market. While their businesses and industries in Peshawar close down due to the security situation, the people of other provinces seem not to have shown much concern for the situation in NWFP. While the people of Waziristan migrate from their homes to help rid the country of terrorism once and for all, they are looked at suspiciously as if they themselves were terrorists.Throughout my life, the phrase "we sacrifice our today for your tomorrow" has always applied to the army. It is interesting to note that we often see many television channels, newspapers and civil society members encouraging the army in tackling these terrorists. Each member, in his own way, and rightly so, states that these men are fighting for the good of the country, and it is because of them that we can sleep soundly at night.

However, whenever I hear such comments, the people of Peshawar come to mind. And this is so because, in my opinion, if the people of this country feel that the army must be encouraged and shown support because of the great risks they are undertaking for the sake of the country, then the people of Peshawar deserve even more encouragement and support. After all, the one difference between the remarkable valour of the army and that of the people of Peshawar is that the latter are fighting fiercely without any guns, tanks or helicopters. They are fighting with faith as their weapon, sheer determination being their armour, and patriotism being their badge of common purpose. Whether it is a suicide blast in the heart of Peshawar or at check posts at the outskirts of the district, the people of Peshawar are learning to live in a minefield, and that too in the name of patriotism and nationalism. With every blast that takes place, you hear the people reiterating their support for the on-going operation and for the army to increase the intensity of the operation. As they rightly point out, it is not only the battle for the soul of the NWFP but the soul of the Pakistani nation itself. And the people of NWFP, amongst others, are at the forefront of that battle to secure a better future for all of us.

Steps must be taken, sending the simple message to our brothers in Peshawar and other parts of NWFP that we, the people of Pakistan, do appreciate their sacrifices, that we do feel for all our brothers and sisters in that province, that we recognise their colossal sacrifices and their tremendous courage in the face of terrorism, that we do recognise their services for the security and stability of the country. Although the people of this country are beleaguered by issues of loadshedding, gas-loadshedding, the sugar crisis, acute inflation, unemployment, corruption, not to mention the various acts of terrorism also taking place in other parts of the country, especially Lahore and the Twin Cities, a moment should not be missed to encourage those who have to live with not only these issues that we face, but also with a constant fear of a suicide bomber lurking in the shadows. Remain steadfast Peshawar, we are with you.

The writer is an LLM from Columbia University currently based in Karachi. Email:







The air over Afghanistan's elections is finally cleared. Consequent to the withdrawal of Dr Abdullah from the runoff elections, for which he had worked so hard, the Independent Afghan Election Commission declared the incumbent president as having been re-elected on the basis of the Aug 20 elections for the second time running. Now he has taken oath. Predictions by US high-ups that Karzai would win prior to the actual runoff could take place persuaded Dr Abdullah to conclude that he had no chance to win the runoff and as such decided to withdraw. His withdrawal could have also been the result of mutual understanding reached between Dr Abdullah and President Hamid Karzai in which the president may have pledged Dr Abdullah some important portfolio in his government sometime later.

The fact that Karzai became president for the second time running through an election that was disputed for fraud may now force him aggressively confront the graft and corruption that plagued his first term as president to justify his presidency in the eyes of Afghans as well as the world. His western backers would now be more determined to hold him accountable for all his actions that he takes in his next presidency to free Afghanistan from all of its ills.

During the second term President Karzai will surely work towards reconciliation with the Taliban by talking to them to bring peace and stability in Afghanistan. In doing so Pakistani help will be vital to supplement the talks with the Taliban. The talks would also help frame a timetable for a face-saving phased withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan. Pakistan and Afghanistan are in eternal relationships through religion, culture, free movements from either side into the other's territory, cross-border marriages and for thousand of other reasons.

It is for this reason that a common Pakistani is well aware of Afghan tribal customs and traditions. Presence of foreign forces in this area, primarily covering Pakistan and Afghanistan, be it western, Russian or Indian, has always been resented by the local populations on either side of the common borders and as such would always act as irritants in stabilisation of this area.

Latest news says the fresh strategy in making by the Obama administration has been narrowed down to four options which he is likely to discuss with his national security team. Robert Gibbs, the press secretary for Obama, did not divulge the options. However, he said that the decision to send in more troops is still weeks away. Rightly so, as the decision to send in more troops without a clear-cut and workable strategy is tantamount to losing lives for committing yet another mistake through prolonging the stay of the foreign troops in Afghanistan.

After all, it is their presence on Afghan soil that unites the Taliban forces. A huge total of $243 billion has already been consumed by this war. Placement of additional troops would only add to further expenditures with concurrent resentment and resistance by the Taliban.

By closely working together, the United States and Pakistan have been successful in dismantling Al Qaeda's strongholds in the region and continue to hunt them as they are on the run. Pakistan is passing through a critical phase of its young democracy and faces a host of problems. There is a security problem as Pakistan confronts the Taliban terrorists. Then there is the energy problem, the economy is not as vibrant as it should be and to top it all it is fighting a determined insurgency that is being deliberately fomented by intervention of foreign agencies like the Research and Analyses Wing of India, evidence of which has come to the limelight during the Operation Rah-e-Nijat in South Waziristan against the Taliban.

In confronting all its problems it is vitally and morally important for the United States to keep Pakistan aboard on the evolving strategy on Afghanistan as any security or political upheaval resulting out of this strategy will directly affect Pakistan. If it is being contemplated to reduce the number of American troops in Afghanistan and still achieve the desirable results, then there is an undeniable requirement to discuss with Pakistan as it can be instrumental in filling the vacuum.


Concurrently, Afghan Pakhtuns need to be engaged in the effort to stabilise Afghanistan since the Northern Alliance comprising non-Afghans like Tajiks, Uzbeks and Turkmens would always be considered settlers through migrations over decades from their own countries. The ascendancy in Afghan affairs of these settlers would in no way be acceptable to Pakhtuns who have ruled Afghanistan for over two hundred years now. Pakhtuns have always been deliberately kept out from all Afghan affairs since the Taliban ouster from Kabul in 2001.

Pakistan has suffered as no other country in the world has from the Afghan morass. Its economy has suffered huge losses and it has lost hundreds of lives in the Taliban backlash in its main cities in the wake of the operations in Swat and South Waziristan without much of donors much promised monetary or material aid. Men in uniform have laid their lives in fighting the insurgents. Talking to Pakistan on the fresh strategy will aid the mutual confidence and assure Pakistan of much declared American commitment of building a lasting and trustworthy relationship with Pakistan. As such, the fresh strategy must take into account the impacts that it will have on the sensitivities of Islamabad to change the view of the United States in Pakistan.


The writer is a freelance contributor.







In our country, the combative politics is no less than a boxing bout with winners and losers both playing the game of power and intrigue and sharing the bounty together through wheeling and dealing with the collusion of match fixers. In an apocalyptic war of one against all since March 2007, surely the last round went to General Musharraf.

In the first round, he attempted a 'technical knock-out' by challenging the chief justice through an illegal 'presidential reference' but failed because the latter stood up to fight back. The referee, in this case the newly independent judiciary, grasped the public mood around the ring and quickly ruled in favour of the chief justice. Musharraf drew the media's wrath and civil society's outrage for not playing a fair game. Though bruised, he very much remained in the ring.

General Musharraf was already applying ruthless means of staying in the ring no matter what the rules of the game were or the public at large thought of him. But his final 'knock-out' blow or what he himself described as his 'akhri mukka' came in the form of Washington-brokered National Reconciliation Ordinance(NRO), which left Pakistan's largest political party totally discredited in the eyes of the people. This is exactly what General Musharraf wanted at that crucial stage for his last-minute political survival.

By allowing amnesty for all politically-motivated corruption charges between January 1986 to October 1999 in the name of national reconciliation and political harmony, General Musharraf in fact killed two birds with one stone. He managed to besmear the image of Pakistan's politicians as he had depicted them in his book In the Line of Fire. He also neutralised the country's largest political party in his controversial bid for another five-year term.

He scored a clean knock-out against an anguished and exhausted opposition by sowing discord into their ranks and undermining their political functionality in the crucial hour of crisis. He did it with acumen and sophistry. Musharraf promulgated the NRO on October 5, 2007 and the very next day, he got himself re-elected in violation of the constitution. As the PPP stood by, his own political bulwark, the then Queue League voted en bloc for his re-election while he was still in uniform as army chief.

The NRO, thus, bared the true face of Pakistan's corrupt and self-serving politicians with voracious appetite for "loot and plunder" that General Musharraf had been trying to flag to the people all along since he came to power, seeking to justify military take-overs in the country. Irreparable damage no doubt was done to the country's politicians who were being punched below the belt and forced to take a full step back. The PPP, however, was the main casualty.

This tactical deal secured General Musharraf's re-election, and also paved the way, if things were to go as choreographed by the script writers in Washington, for a power-sharing arrangement in the new post-election political dispensation in Pakistan. The US wanted Musharraf to remain in presidential saddle at any cost. This could be done only through the same assemblies which had elected him once, and were now themselves breathing their last and completing their own tenure.

This was clearly a controversial course of action involving constitutional subversion and judicial circumvention. It is no secret that this innocuously named law promulgated by a dictator was pushed through at the behest of the US only to withdraw criminal cases against the PPP leaders as a quid pro quo for General Musharraf's re-election in violation of Pakistan's constitution.

A dubious power-sharing deal was cobbled together to make a dictator acceptable to the outside world with a civilian face placed on his shoulders in the iconic person of Benazir Bhutto as his prime minister. Under this arrangement, she was to return to Pakistan to be elected as prime minister while General Musharraf was to shed his uniform and continue to be the president in the new political dispensation.

Chaudhry Shujaat who headed Musharraf's Q-League at that time was forthright in acknowledging that the NRO was only a tactical move to gain political mileage that had carried through. According to him, their gambit succeeded in getting Musharraf re-elected for another term by the same assemblies without any trouble. Later, when prodded by Musharraf, Chaudhry Shujaat clarified that he had made those remarks only as a joke.

Even if it was a joke, it was only a truthful reflection of the familiar bluff politics that had already been played as a joke upon the people of Pakistan for the last eight years of the Musharraf era. Eventually, it became a cruel joke as things got messy with Washington-scripted choreography. The NRO was challenged in the courts of law. The coming events quickly started casting their shadows. General Musharraf sensed trouble for his ambitious political future. He tried to persuade BB not to return to Pakistan.

But she returned with a bang and soon discovered the real mood of the people. She also heard their clarion call: "Go Musharraf, go." She spontaneously started pursuing the roadmap envisaged in the Charter of Democracy that she had co-authored with PML-N's leader Nawaz Sharif in August 2006. A democrat to the core, Benazir Bhutto could not let her name be slurred with that of a dictator. She realised democracy will not return through dubious deals, and joined the people in their struggle against Musharraf's November 3 assault on the constitution and judiciary.

Addressing the rally at Liaquat Bagh on December 27, 2007, Benazir Bhutto told her supporters: "I put my life in danger and came here because I feel this country is in danger. People are worried. We will bring the country out of this crisis." She also alluded to the dangers she faced, as she had been doing ever since she returned to Pakistan in October after a long self-imposed exile. Within minutes after she left the rally, she was targeted and killed under most tragic and bewildering circumstances.

No one knows who killed her and why? We didn't even investigate the murder. The state was again being complacent in its constitutional obligations. Meanwhile, the country has drifted into an abysmal political chaos and confusion. No one knows what lies ahead for this tortured nation, which stands completely torn apart and emotionally shattered. With a dictator's legacy, the notorious 17th Amendment still intact, the country remains shorn of genuine democracy.

What an irony that Pakistan's largest people-based party, the PPP has not recovered from Musharraf's 'akhri mukka' and is reeling flat on the ground disgraced and demoralised. It would have been far better for its post-Benazir Bhutto leadership to have relied on free courts rather than muddying themselves with a dictator's legacy. The NRO was an outright constitutional subversion and a judicial circumvention. It is already dead.

But the ruling PPP is stuck with this albatross until the cases cleared under this defunct ordinance are settled by courts, one way or the other. The PPP government can no longer continue to scapegoat Musharraf for its own errors of judgment and governance failures. It must recognise the gravity of increasing corruption and its own credibility deficit with the people.

Nobody wants to see the system being derailed. But no system can last by using names and showing photos, nor with continuing constitutional aberrations and governance miscarriages. The 17th Amendment must go immediately restoring the constitution as it stood on October 12, 1999 before it is too late.

The writer is a former foreign secretary. Email:









The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.

The Pakistan-based Taliban's indiscriminate religion-inspired war against the state in concert with other terror groups poses a threat that no one really knows how to deal with. The war raging in our tribal areas as well as our cities is multi-pronged and has ideological, strategic, political, socio-economic and legal dimensions.

The declared strategy of the Pakistani government toward this war is to take the security operation underway to its logical end with complete resolve and, once the physical control of the Taliban country is reclaimed, consolidate military gains with economic investment and political reforms. The military is essentially involved in a fire brigade operation struggling to put out the fire where it is raging the most. The proposed but missing political and economic tiers of the strategy are meant to win the hearts and minds of people, and prevent futurerecruitment of the youth by the Taliban and other terror groups.

But given that the Taliban and other terrorist outfits functional in Pakistan comprise our own citizens, what will we do about those who survive this military operation including the operational and sleeper cells that are already spread across the country? While an effective military operation can limit the ability to spread violence and terror across Pakistan with impunity and an effective socio-economic and political rejuvenation process can diminish the appeal of ideologically inspired terrorism, we cannot underestimate the need for effective traditional law enforcement to prevent and address acts of terror being carried out across Pakistan. And it is this necessary dimension of fighting terror within Pakistan through traditional policing and law enforcement where our response has not just been deficient but completely non-existent.

As anchor Dr Moeed Pirzada emphasised in a recent discussion, countries that are able to control the movement of men, material and money within their territories and across their borders are better placed to fight the threat posed by terror groups. Pakistan is not just lagging behind on this count but seems completely oblivious to the urgent need to put in place the legal framework and implementation mechanisms to control the movement of men, material and money within Pakistan. Furthermore, the government has made no effort to evaluate the multiple contours of our criminal justice system to ensure that it can effectively take cognizance of the crime of terrorism. Pakistan has been infested with extreme violence and terror for more than five years now and we have yet to hear about terrorists being caught, tried and convicted by our courts of law.

If our criminal justice system lacks the ability to punish terrorists, insurgents and criminals, are we not rendering the concept of rule of law meaningless? We have seen Maulvi Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid walk free despite public knowledge that under his supervision the mosque was turned into an armed fortress, and the Lal-Masjid brigade not only harassed residents and shopkeepers in the neighbourhood but also killed at least five soldiers. Similarly, we continue to hear the demand from India and the US to prosecute Hafiz Saeed, and while the government seems willing to do so, it is unable to bring any formal charges that stick. If Hafiz Saeed is mixed-up in terror plots, he must be prosecuted and convicted. If he is not, his name should be cleared and he should not repeatedly be put under preventive detention merely due to allegations and pressure by foreign countries.

The idea is not to initiate a witch-hunt in the name of law enforcement and eradication of terror, but to make due process of law meaningful and our penal justice system functional. If our justice system does not work, it will either encourage security forces to circumvent due process and indulge in extra-judicial killings or allow criminals and terrorists to go scot-free and remain a menace to society. Given that the terrorists we are fighting are our own people -- even if partly supported and financed by our external enemies -- it is crucial that the state's response to this threat be framed within the realm of law. We are presently failing to apprehend and convict terrorists and criminals because (i) much of our law-enforcement activities and security operations are undertaken beyond the zone of law as our legal framework is deficient in fundamental ways, and (ii) to the extent that laws exist they are not being effectively implemented.

Our legal framework does not adequately cater for the army undertaken security operations within the country. Article 245 of the constitution authorises the armed forces to "act in aid of civil power when called upon to do so". But there is no detailed legislation that delineates the mechanics of how the armed forces will function while acting in aid of civil power, how the forces will arrest and detain people, and how they will gather evidence and facilitate prosecution when the accused are presented before a court.

Sections 4 and 5 of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 also provide for armed forces acting in aid of civil power and contemplate that any such operation will be subject to the Code of Criminal Procedure1898. But the armed forces are not trained to carry out internal security operations with a view to apprehending and convicting citizens. For example, during the Swat operation, did the soldiers document recovery of weapons in a manner that would be admissible as evidence in a court of law? Will officers appear before courts as prosecution witnesses? If not, will suspected terrorists not be able to walk free merely because due process formalities have not been followed?

Another huge component of our security infrastructure that functions beyond the realm of law is intelligence agencies. There is no legislation or legal framework that clearly defines the scope of work of our intelligence agencies, the authority that each agency has and effective mechanisms of supervision to ensure that authority vested in the agencies is properly regulated and not abused. This creates a two-tier problem. One is the fear that intelligence agencies have the ability to function as uncontrolled monstrosities and abuse the vast powers not supported by law that they have assumed as a matter of practice.

The second is the limited ability to effectively use the extremely crucial information gathered by these agencies to prosecute criminals because the process through which such information is gathered does not have the backing of law. For example, if there is no legal mechanism to seek permission to wire-tap citizens and record conversations, the utility of such recordings in a court of law remains dubious. The problem needs to be resolved by fixing the structure rather than getting into territory wars over who controls a deformed structure.

Then there are laws such as the Anti-Terrorist Act and the Security of Pakistan Act 1952 that conceive the idea of controlling and suspending activities of proscribed and subversive organisations, but do not take the concept to its logical conclusion. The law does not automatically produce any serious penal consequences for an organization that is declared subversive or proscribed. The state is not obliged to identify the members of such an organisation, prevent them from reorganising themselves under a new banner, prohibit them from purchasing property, renting houses and vehicles, etc.

The deficient legal framework thus makes the exercise of declaring an organisation proscribed or subversive largely meaningless. And finally there are laws that exist on statute books but are just not being enforced. The Explosives Act 1884 is one such law that mandates that the manufacture, possession, use, sale, transport and importation will be subject to government license. If this law was being properly implemented, terrorists would not get their hands on hundreds of kilograms of explosive material at will.

If we intend to control the menace of terror wreaking havoc across Pakistan, we will need to resuscitate traditional law enforcement mechanisms, bring all its components within the realm of law and ensure that our criminal justice system is functional. Without acquiring the ability to exercise effective control over men, material and money within Pakistan, our fire-fighting operations will only have limited utility.






END IN 2012?


Yellers like the 'sky is falling' or words like apocalypse or Armageddon are metaphors, worn-out and so very boring. Whenever something terrible, in our eyes, is about to happen, we toss in these tropes. Indeed, the hacks keep handy such infuriating ruffle to use repeatedly, often mindlessly. Do pardon me if you think I've turned the great Shakespeare into a cliché by quoting him often enough, but who could have said it better than him: "It is a tale (e.g. the apocalypse) told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Well, now the tale has been made into a feature film and America gets a high on the arriving doomsday. The movie is called 2012. It opened last week and has already grossed $300 million worldwide! The British like the Americans are sprinting to the movie theatres to watch the mega hit. The plot of '2012' is based on the belief by some that the ancient Mayan calendar predicted the end of the world on December 21, 2012.

Exactly 37 months to the day!


David Morrison, a senior scientist with NASA, writes in the National Geographic that he's received emails from people who "were contemplating killing their children and themselves so they wouldn't have to suffer through the end of the world." The Americans have yet to recover from the 9/11 trauma when death for over 3,000 came unannounced. "I'd rather be dead than live through another nightmare like 2012," says a moviegoer standing in the queue to watch 2012. But here's a thought: America is the most religious country in the world according to Karen Armstrong, scholar and authority on monotheistic religions, including Islam. Shouldn't then the faithful be more concerned about hereafter instead of getting titillated/paranoid about falling skyscrapers, rising waves and crashing mountains killing all? If the world does come to a close in 2012 as per the film, these good souls should be earning some brownie points with their Maker. And the best deed is to display compassion for fellow humans. Ms Armstrong, who was once a Catholic nun, and today is the most respected voice on God, has unveiled a brave new project -- the Charter for Compassion."The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical, and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves," her document states. "We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous, and dynamic force in our polarised world." The internet has brought together committed people from across different religions and thinkers of all faiths to support Armstrong's mission. "The golden rule requires you to look into your own heart, discover what it is that gives you pain, and then refuse under any circumstances to inflict that pain on anybody else," she says. "If enough people commit themselves to this project, think how different our world might be."

Do you see Hollywood's cameras excitedly turning on Armstrong? Probably not. She and her subject are too drab. Humans don't like to be lectured to or told to think beyond this world. There's enough gonzo to keep everyone riveted on earthly matters -- the Obama-bashing in the US and the Zardari-trashing in Pakistan, from economic global funk to bombing the moon for water. Remember, the media is nothing but a ratings war where higher the ratings more the money. Few viewers would really care for stories related to the 'Charter for Compassion.' But if it's the 'Charter of Democracy' signed by Benazir Bhutto, viewers will watch because BB's wish has not been AZ's command.

The film 2012 wants you to believe in it. Even the president is Barack Obama look-alike; as is the Noah's Ark and the governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger. "This is Hollywood baloney and cheese sliced thick and served on a pricey brioche," says the gossip columnist Liz Smith. "Empty your brain and enjoy."








PRIME Minister's decision to allow four holidays on the occasion of Eidul Azha has understandably been welcomed by some circles. In a country where work culture has not taken roots despite passage of over six decades, it is but natural that care free and non-serious elements would appreciate the move to celebrate Eid for four long days without any valid justification.

No doubt, Eid — be it Fitr or Azha — is a festival of great significance and an occasion to rejoice. Civil servants and people engaged in other professions, who are away from their families, make it a point to visit their homes and the festival, in a way, serves as an opportunity of reunion. Muslims also have to slaughter animals in pursuance of Sunnat-e-Ibrahimi and, therefore, there have to be national holidays on Eid to facilitate people. But in this case, as the Eid was falling on the 28th, it would have been appropriate if the Government allowed holidays for 27th and 28th. There was already closed weekly holiday on 29th and, therefore, three days were sufficiently enough to celebrate Eid. But the Prime Minister, in his wisdom, thought appropriate to grant leave for 30th as well without taking into consideration its impact on the national economy. This is because if the Government announces public holiday for a particular day, it is generally followed by the private sector, industries, businesses and even transport sector. According to a conservative estimate, a day's national holiday or nation-wide strike costs the national exchequer about four billion rupees of lost duties and taxes. The country's economy is already in a shambles and production as well as exports are dwindling. Under these circumstances, we can hardly afford the luxury of having too many public holidays so frequently as is the case in our country. There are even instances of declaring public holiday on winning a cricket or hockey match. Add to all this, the leaves that civil servants get during the year, one can imagine the level of productivity in our offices and industries. We would, therefore, urge the Prime Minister to give serious thought to the issue and discourage the tendency of granting frequent and lavish holidays without any justification.







THERE was sixth bomb blast in Peshawar in 10 days on Thursday resulting in killing of 20 people and injuries to over forty others. Three policemen and several lawyers were among the dead in the explosion that rocked the judicial complex located in the so-called red zone of the provincial capital, where security is supposed to be more strict than other areas.

It has become almost a daily occurrence that the terrorists hit the targets of their choice playing havoc with the lives and properties of the citizens and spreading panic, fear and chaos. Though no part of the country is safe yet life of the Peshwarites is all the more miserable as the city is facing the brunt of the attacks because of its proximity with theatre of the ongoing war on terror. It is in this perspective that Provincial Minister and ANP leader Bashir Ahmad Bilour has expressed helplessness by saying that the Provincial Government cannot check the growing menace as foreign hands were supporting the terrorists. He has also asked the Federal Government to take measures to stop foreign abetment of terrorism. Bilour is not the only leader who has talked about gross foreign interference in exploiting the situation in Pakistan as earlier too, on a number of occasions, Interior Minister Rehman Malik and a number of spokesmen saw foreign hand behind the increase in terrorist activities in the country. There are clear indications that India and Afghanistan were openly interfering in the country while evidence also suggests involvement of American agents who are aiding and abetting different militant groups with the objective of keeping the pot boiling in Pakistan. All these foreign activities are apparently aimed at destabilizing the country but regrettably we have not been taking up the issue in all seriousness with the quarters concerned or the international community. There is concrete evidence that some foreign countries were providing money, weapons and training to militants who are killing innocent people in the country. No doubt, operation Rah-e-Nejat is achieving success but complete normalcy and peace would remain a far-off cry if we do not adopt a comprehensive approach, which, among other things includes exposing foreign hand and sensitizing the world public opinion through a sustained diplomatic campaign.







ISRAELI warplanes continue to bomb innocent people in Gaza killing and wounding many people on almost daily basis. The Jewish State is also continuing with its provocative policy of establishing more controversial settlements in occupied Arab territories in a bid to consolidate and legitimize its hold on these areas.

It is in this backdrop that President Obama too has felt the need to make somewhat harsh comments vis-à-vis Israel by warning Tel Aviv that its policy of constructing settlements in sensitive areas of Jerusalem could end being "very dangerous". Obama has rightly pointed out that the development of 900 new illegal houses in the disputed Jerusalem suburb of Gilo, captured by Israel from Jordan in 1967 war, could embitter Palestinians. It is good of President to have taken notice of the Israeli provocative policy on the settlement issue but the Jewish State seems to be not bothered as to what the world thinks or how it reacts to such acts. This is evident from its response to Obama's warning as it proceeded ahead not only with its plan to construct Jewish settlements but also to demolish Palestinians homes in East Jerusalem. We apprehend that the latest concern shown by President Obama will be of no consequence as the US policies are manipulated effectively by Jewish lobbies and the sole superpower of the world has lost the capability to act as a fair and neutral arbiter. Under these circumstances, we would urge the UN Secretary General to take notice of the plight of the Palestinian people and use his good offices to safeguard their rights. After all what is the utility of the world body if it cannot act without any nod from the United States.









A day after the meeting between US President Barack Obama and Chinese Premier and issue of the joint statement wherein US and China had welcomed all efforts conducive to peace, stability and development in South Asia and vowed to support efforts for improvement and growth of relations between India and Pakistan, India's External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Vishnu Prakash said that India did not envisage a role by a third party in what was essentially a bilateral dispute. Despite the fact that there was nothing objectionable in the joint statement Indian statement read: "The Government of India is committed to resolving all outstanding issues with Pakistan through a peaceful bilateral dialogue in accordance with the Simla Agreement. We also believe that a meaningful dialogue with Pakistan can take place only in an environment free from terror or the threat of terror." Perhaps to appease India, US Assistant Secretary of State Robert O Blake said that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's arrival in Washington on November 24th will mark the first official state visit by a foreign leader since the Obama inauguration. He went on to say that the US would acknowledge India as a world power during Manmohan Singh's visit.


US Ambassador in India was also apologetic. To pacify India he clarified that it was not the intention to play role of a mediator but desire to see peace in South Asia. The problem is that world powers have an eye on India's big market, and they are impressed by the sheer size, population and so-called largest democracy in the world. The US should have asked India a question as to how long it will take to resolve the issues especially the core issue of Kashmir which has remained unresolved for the last six decades. The composite dialogue between India and Pakistan to resolve all outstanding issues that had started in 2004, no progress was made on Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek, and on disputes over water under Indus Basin Treaty. It means that there is not even a remote possibility of success of bilateral negotiations on the Kashmir dispute. India seems to be perfectly happy by discussing all the issues under the sky, but balks at real issues: reduction of Indian army in occupied Kashmir, working out the methodology or considering various options to resolve the core issue of Kashmir to the satisfaction of India, Pakistan and Kashmiri leadership.

In fact India does not want mediation effort by the third party because it knows that it is on a very weak wicket; and any honest mediator would ask India to honour her commitments. Even now India has taken the position that it will not restart the stalled composite dialogue till the threat of terrorism ends and there is appropriate environment. Again the question can be asked what progress had been made in the composite dialogue when there was no threat from the terrorists. India's litany of terrorists' threat is intended to ward off any world pressure to scale down its brutal military deployment in Kashmir, and improve its human rights record. It is a matter of record that whenever Pakistan demanded of India to expedite the matters and resolve the issues festering South Asia, India found some excuse or created circumstances to stall the dialogue. If pressed a little Indian leaders came out with statements that for India Kashmir issue was resolved in 1947 when Maharaja of Kashmir had opted to join India, but Pakistan had taken the position that it was unresolved. The question is that if there is no issue between the two countries then what is to be resolved in the dialogue?

Last year, Pranab Mukherjee in an interview had said: "India is hesitant to withdraw its army from Siachin because it does not wish to see Kargil history repeated because if India withdraws from Siachin, Pakistan would occupy it". So far as Kashmir dispute is concerned, international community is the witness to the resolutions passed by the UN Security Council acknowledging the right of self-determination of Kashmiries. In fact, armed struggle of Kashmiris that started in 1989 and Pakistan's quid pro quo to India's detonating nuclear devices in 1998 had forced India to come to the negotiating table. It is true that after 2005 earthquake in NWFP and Azad Kashmir some progress was made with regard to communications to facilitate people to people contact but there was absolutely no progress on resolution of Kashmir issue. To resolve the Kashmir dispute, former President Pervez Musharraf had more than once suggested that Pakistan and India should resile from the position of Atut Ang but Indian leadership did not budge an inch from its stated position that Kashmir was an integral part of India.

The fact of the matter is that in 1948, people of Kashmir had started armed struggle with support of their brethren from across the border, and it was India that had taken the Kashmir issue to the United Nations Security Council, which had passed the resolutions stating that Kashmiris would decide to join India or Pakistan in the plebiscite to be held under the aegis of the UN. The first prime minister Jawahar Lal Nehru had accepted the resolution and asseverated on the floor of Indian parliament that India will honour that commitment. Having all said, the US and the West should realize that India's refusal to implement the Security Council resolution is reflective of utter disregard to the UN Security Council resolutions. Unfortunately, the US, the West, Russia and even China and the Muslim countries now ask both India and Pakistan to resolve the issue through bilateral negotiations, knowing full well that a quite a few rounds of negotiations were held during the last 60 years after short and long hiatuses between the two countries, but to no avail. They seem to have accepted India's logic that according to Tashkent declaration in 1965 and Simla agreement signed after 1971 war between India and Pakistan, both countries are obliged to resolve the issue through bilateral negotiations.

But the world should understand that those agreements were signed under duress and do not hold ground. Secondly, article 103 of Chapter XVI of the UN Charter clearly states: "In the event of a conflict between the obligations of the members of the United Nations under the present Charter or any other international agreement, their obligation under the present charter shall prevail". It has to be said that people to people contact, cultural exchanges and economic cooperation are not alternatives to the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. It should, therefore, help resolve the Kashmir dispute to avert the impending disaster in case of war between the two atomic powers. Since 2004, Pakistan had showed flexibility though domestic considerations did not allow that to any government in the past.

But for its part, India did not show flexibility, and the only redeeming feature was that the dialogue had continued, but it was after Mumbai terrorist attack that India suspended the talks. Keeping in view India's intransigence one could presage that India would neither give any concession nor consider any other proposal that would alter the borders or Line of Control, and would insist on settling the issue within the framework of India's constitution. Pakistan then would have no option but to approach the United Nations for implementation of UNSC resolutions.







War criminal Obama's Asia visit has failed to muster support for US policy objectives on foreign policy, economy and nuclear non-proliferation. The world is now looking at China how it places itself at the center stage to help world freely exercise its democratic, economic and political rights in accordance to international rules and charters, which stand stifled by American economic, military and political imperialism. Global media sells Americans presidents "handshake" as "gold standard" of respect for "moral values, democracy and international law". Based on the values Obama avoided Myanmar's PM in ASEAN moot and Turkey refused to host Sudanese president. Reportedly, Obama while talking to President Hu of China said, "We do not believe these principles are unique to America, but rather they are universal rights and that they should be available to all peoples, to all ethnic and religious minorities."

The American media critical of Obama's bow to Japanese Monarch would have been left speechless if Obama's hosts had refused to shake war criminal Obama's bloodstained hands for authorizing 46 illegal drone attacks in 2009 alone against sovereign Pakistan which has allegedly resulted in death of 750-1000 innocent Pakistanis. UN has called these deaths as "extrajudicial killings". Obama's rejection of UN statement and reports of US government buying 700 drones worth $1bn show that US will continue to defy UN laws, fundamental right to justice and state sovereignties. I hope that Nobel Prize awarding Committee will strip Obama off the noble peace prize and the international human rights groups, ordinary citizens will use powers under UN Citizen's Court Law to bring Obama to justice. The global media should also call for his accountability and those colluding with him. An Italian Court by ordering imprisonment of 26 American CIA agents for involvement in rendition case has successfully exercised its legal rights. It is hoped that Pakistan's Courts would exert their authority to bring Obama and his Pakistani colluders to justice. World leaders and media should boycott Obama, politicians and nations supporting his policies on lines of UN Resolution 1761(to end apartheid in South Africa). Instead world under UN should impose economic, political and social sanctions against America to end violation of international law which America and its allies "cherry pick" to serve their vested stakes. The action on part of national and international courts can help bring Bush, Blair, Musharraf, Brown, Olmert and other UN member heads of states involved in crimes against humanity, responsible for more than a million Iraqi deaths and illegal wars threatening world peace to book. It will help end US bases in Japan, South Korea and Philippines, which Washington despite repeated protests in last two decades is unwilling to vacate.

In foreign policy terms, Asia like American public has called for withdrawal of American forces from Afghan war. Japan has refused to extend Indian Ocean Afghan war refueling mission that is due to expire in January 2010. Tokyo like ME is already mulling "look Asia" approach to sustain its economy and secure its energy interests. Beijing has shown Obama the door on its Afghan policy. Despite America's mouthpiece Brown's much trumpeted declaration of China joining Afghan mission in 2004 there is no change in China's one-policeman Afghan mission to help boost fight against drug trafficking.

The attendance list of oath taking ceremony of infamous US backed Karzai and Britain's new Afghan policy recommending inclusion of Taliban in government show failed US Afghan policy and Obama administration's isolation in crimes-against-humanity Afghan war. In terms of economy, China has refused to restructure (weaken) Yuan to help stabilize weakening dollar. Reportedly, Beijing has refused to change the 2010 currency review. Next, Beijing has opted to adopt "domestic consumption based growth" instead of export based growth. It explains its rejection of considering the idea of G-2 with America its partner. It is opined that by opting for domestic consumption model Beijing has rejected American model of capitalism, avoided need for stimulus packages and allied bubble and bubble bursts, control inflationary effects of weakening dollar. Beijing by exposing its $800 bn investment in US T-bills to considerable depreciation has insulated local economy and jobs from adverse effect in country's exports to America and its share in Chinese's economy. Chinese share of exports to America in 2008 was $80 bn.

China has also rejected IMF advice on Yuan revaluation. Washington has been left behind the market curve, whereas Beijing by opening up with Russia, Africa and adopting "domestic consumption based model" has crossed 8.5 percent growth rates, which shows that it has successfully weathered recession. It leaves Obama with "too big to fail banks", "buy America" protectionism, continuation of failed banking polices, absent regulators, windfall of banker bonuses and double-digit ever-increasing unemployment. It would be interesting to see if Obama keeps Geitner, Benanki to protect Wall Street at the cost of Main Street or sacrifice Democrat presidency in next presidential election. The future will stare Obama in the eye in 2010 elections when public will vote for 36 state governors, 35 senate seats and entire Congress. With Beijing, Tokyo ready to chart their own courses, failure of Free Trade Agreement in Seoul and recession back in US, Obama should be looking at huge losses in America's ASEAN exports that constitute 50 percent of country's total exports. There is no headway on Obama's nuclear non-proliferation agenda because Beijing like rest of the world is unwilling to leave national security issues to American president's word alone. Obama's nuclear agenda is silent on nuclear free ME with complete US support for Israel's illegal nuclear program and unlawful US-India Controversial deal. Next, Obama wants to denuclearize Pakistan, France, and UK before America, China and Russia. No legitimate government, leader or public in those countries would allow Obama to execute his agenda that is but a copy of Israel's Gaza demilitarization plan, which will leave denuclearized countries at the mercy of America and Israel. America, Israel (India, EU and others) have barred Palestinians from approaching UN for upholding of UN Resolution for Independent State under two-state solution, which allowed establishment of Israel. Imagine the world ruled by nuclear America, Israel and India. It is opined that US stokes North Korean nuclear issue to "arm twist" Tokyo from adopting independent foreign and economic policies.

Obama has failed to change Bush's economic, foreign and nuclear policies in Asia. The world should deal with Obama as a war criminal for authorizing extra judicial killings, undermining independence of sovereign states and disregarding UN laws and conventions, failing to bring to book the American operatives responsible for missing persons, running rendition flights, involvement in torture and wars based on lies. His nuclear disarmament agenda is nothing but renewed bid to resuscitate dying American imperialism through (its) nuclear might.

Thus, Obama's Asia visit was a failed attempt (of an isolated war criminal) to coax his counterparts to be onboard Washington's sinister plan. The good news is for now these nations have opted to stand with international law, respect state sovereignties and democratic will of the people. It is hope world leaders refuse handshake with war criminal Obama and call for America's divestment to restore writ of international law, state sovereignty and respect of human life.







Located on the banks of the winding pair of rivers Surma and Jaintia and surrounded by Khasi and Tripura hills, Sylhet, the beautiful paradise of Bangladesh, is very soon going to turn into a vast barren wasteland. this city is situated in the north-eastern region of Bangladesh. The Sylhet region is well known for its tea gardens and tropical forests. The valley has good number of big natural depressions, called 'haors'. During winter these haors are vast stretches of green land, but in the rainy season they turn into turbulent seas. These haors provide a sanctuary to the millions of migratory birds who fly from Siberia across the Himalayas to avoid the severe cold there. India has started the construction of the Tapaimukh on the Barrak River in Manipur State just 100 km off the Bangladesh border.

It is likely to affect two major rivers of Bangladesh; Surma and Kushiarra which are life line for the Sylhet region. The Dam will be 390 meters long and 162.8 meters high. It will be at an altitude of about 180 meter above mean sea level with a maximum reservoir level of 178 meters. The construction of this dam has stirred a lot of fear in Bangladesh because the whole economic prosperity of Bangladesh depends upon the river system. Since 1975 the sharing of river waters has been a bone of contention between India and Bangladesh. The construction of Farraka and Teesta barrage from India has already added salt to injury on the part of Bangladesh. The government of Bangladesh has protested the construction of these two dams by calling it a violation of bilateral water sharing agreements between the two countries but the Indian government paid no heed to this hue and cry and started construction of the Tapaimukh dam. In the beginning the project was kept secret. The people of Bangladesh came to know of this dam when in April 2009 the Indian Foreign Secretary visited Bangladesh and requested the government to send a delegation to visit the Dam site. Since then various political parties, environment groups, and people from Dhaka and Sylhet and other cities are in a state of protest against this construction.

The Dam was originally designed to contain flood waters in the lower Barrak valley, but hydro power generation was later incorporated. The project will have an installation capacity of 1500 MW and a firm generation of 412 MW. The Dam will permanently submerge an area of 275.50 square kilometers. Reportedly a pick up barrage is also being planned, 95 Km down stream of Dam site. Bangladeshi experts are of the opinion that the construction of Dam will disrupt the seasonal flow of river and will have an adverse effect on downstream agriculture and fisheries. Some experts fear the desertification of Sylhet region due to decrease of water flow in Meghna basin comprising River Surma, Kushiarra and Meghna. Majority of Bangladeshis are in anticipated fear of the probable damage that may be created after construction of Dam.

Not only in Bangladesh but also in India the construction of this dam is facing a very strong opposition. More than twenty influential social and political organizations in Manipur state have united under the banner of "Action Committee against Tapaimukh Project". These organizations have termed it as, "Water Bomb" due to its adverse effects on environment in Barrak Valley. It means that this dam is going to cause a lot of damage not only to the economy of Bangladesh but also to the people of the Manipur State. The politicians from Manipur are of the opinion that as a result of the construction of this dam about 286.20 Sq Km area will be submerged for ever. More than 40 thousands people will be rendered homeless. Eight villages situated in Barrak valley will be completely under water. More than 90 villages will be adversely affected. About 27,242 hectors of cultivable land will be lost. The construction of the Tapaimukh Dam is being opposed by the People of Southern Assam also. Various social organizations in Southern Assam are opposing the construction of Dam due to devastating environmental impact on down stream Barrak basin. The Silchar based Society of Activist and Volunteer for Environments (SAVE) is leading the resistance movement against the construction of this dam in the Southern Assam. People, civil society, NGOs and environmentalists of Bangladesh, Manipur and the Southern Assam have joined hand together against the construction of this dam. They are strongly criticizing the proposed constructions through seminars, rallies and demonstrations. The experts fear that construction of the Dam will affect the livelihood of about 50 million people spanning sixteen districts in Sylhet region and many more in Manipur and the Southern Assam.

Faced with public protests, the government of India has adopted a "wait and see" policy with several ministers citing Indian claims that dam would not be harmful to anyone. To pacify the people of Bangladesh a parliamentary delegation was invited to India in August 2009, to visit the dam site but the tour to the dam site was ironically cancelled due to bad weather. Building dams and reservoirs on rivers flowing towards Bangladesh would have serious environmental and survival implications for Bangladesh. This increasing gravity of water issue can bring the two South Asian countries to the brink of war. By violating the water treaties India is designing to choke Bangladesh economically. It is the high time to put a check on heinous Indian desires of depriving its neighbours of the basic human rights. It would be in the interest of both India and Bangladesh to resolve the water issue amicably otherwise India will be responsible for any negative consequences.







While Pakistan Army is making steady gains in their assaults on militants' strongholds of Sararogha, Kunniguram & Makeen in Waziristan area, a spate of suicidal bombings on the security forces has thrown many Pakistanis on the edge all across the country. More than 300 people have been killed in terrorist attacks in the past month, including 35 in Rawalpindi when a suicide bomber exploded a device as people queued outside National Bank of Pakistan (NBP). According to sources, some of the renegade militants from South Waziristan, have taken refuge in madrassas and planning terrorist attacks in Islamabad and other parts of the country.

The security forces have launched a crackdown on seminaries at Islamabad, searching terrorists hiding in the guise of madrassa students. The law-enforcement agencies have combed some rural areas, private guest-houses and hotels, sector F-10 nullah and arrested 520 people including Afghan nationals in different localities of the city. There are intelligence reports that non-Pakistani (Afghan) "imam masjid" persons through their provocative speeches/sermons are glorifying the terrorists/acts of terrorism so as to create a sapping effect on the on-going "Operation Rah-e-Nijat" in Waziristan. Pakistan has been hosting 4 millions of Afghan refugees in different parts of the country since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Most of the Afghan refugees are simple and religious-minded people. However, some of them were found involved in providing active support to extremist tendencies. This is understandably causing great concern for the law and order situation in Pakistan. Pakistan wants the Afghan refugees to return to their homeland with dignity and honour.

Side by side, a 15-week Afghan's registration process was launched by Pakistan's National Database and Registration Authority (NDRA) under the auspices of the States and Frontier Regions Ministry. The registration of the refugees was meant to know about Afghans living in Pakistan - who they are, where they live, where they're from, what they do for a living, what their needs are. Afghans constitute 6 per cent of NWFP's total population and 976,605 Afghans live in 86 camps across Pakistan, with 55 per cent of registered Afghans living outside camps. The decision of withdrawing non-Pakistani imam-masjids from the mosques, is a step in the right direction. Wafaqul Madrassas, a conglomeration of over 8000 seminaries all over in Paistan, criticised the searches that could scuttle an agreement it had signed with the government for revamping the madrassa curriculum by introducing modern education. The centerpiece of our counterterrorism policies is to flush out these dangerous militant groups and to sever their links with the madrassas. Although, most of the religious seminaries are more like orphanages where poor children are imparted free religious education, lodging and boarding, but quite a few of them started venting religious extremism to the immature minds of the young students.

These religious seminaries (Madaris) harbored rigid, uncompromising and hard-line attitude amongst its adherents and pupils. Today, the madrassa means to the western world as a "nursery for extremists and fanatics". The misnomer associated with the once revered place of learning, needs to be addressed in a most expeditious way. It is, therefore, imperative that Pakistani madrassas be reformed, rejuvenated and re-invented, so that students are taught to become both good citizens and good Muslims.

The stiff résistance posed by the hard-line administrators of 3683 seminaries, resulted in discontinuation of madrassa reform strategy. This project is now facing closure on June 30, 2010. The 950 teachers who participated in the scheme are desperately worried about the future of their pupils if their new lessons are scrapped. They insist that the programme must continue as madrassa students are getting real benefits out of it and are entering the field of formal education and computer technology. Most of the teachers enthralled with the feeling of "national cause", want to continue the sacred duty of educating the marginalized segment of the society. The Ulemas and religious scholars have a special responsibility to support the project so as to transform Pakistan into a model of Islamic teachings of peace and brotherhood.

The development of a strong and effective education system in Pakistan is central to promoting moderation, tolerance, economic development as well as the crucial objective of rooting out terrorism from this beautiful planet.







When it comes to terrorists, you would think that an al Qaeda operative who targets an American mom sitting in her office or a child on a flight back home is many degrees worse than a Taliban soldier picked up after a firefight with U.S. Army troops. Your instinct would be correct, because at the heart of terrorism is the monstrous idea that the former is as legitimate a target as the latter. Unfortunately, by dispatching Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other al Qaeda leaders to federal criminal court for trial, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will be undermining this distinction. And the perverse message that decision will send to terrorists all over this dangerous world is this: If you kill civilians on American soil you will have greater protections than if you attack our military overseas. "A fundamental purpose of rules such as the Geneva Conventions is to give those at war an incentive for more civilized behavior—and not targeting civilians is arguably the most sacred of these principles," says William Burck, a former federal prosecutor and Bush White House lawyer who dealt with national security issues. "It demolishes this principle to give Khalid Sheikh Mohammed even more legal protections than the Geneva Conventions provide a uniformed soldier fighting in a recognized war zone." We don't often speak of incentives in war. That's a loss, because the whole idea of, say, Geneva rights is based on the idea of providing combatants with incentives to do things that help limit the bloodiness of battle.

These include wearing a uniform, carrying arms openly, not targeting civilians, and so on. Terrorists recognize none of these things. They are best understood as associations of people plotting and carrying out war crimes, whether that means sowing fear with direct and indiscriminate attacks on marketplaces, offices and airlines—or by engaging enemy troops without distinguishing uniforms, so that the surrounding civilians essentially become used as human shields. Terrorists reject both the laws of war and the laws of American civil society. To put it another way, they reject both the authority and the obligations their legal rights imply. None of this seems to bother Mr. Holder. Since he dropped his bombshell on Friday, much commentary has focused on the possibility that KSM might be found not guilty. That, however, is unlikely: Mr. Holder is not a fool, and everyone in the Obama administration appreciates the backlash that would occur if a KSM trial results in an acquittal.

"At first, I was of the mind that a criminal prosecution would uphold all our high-falutin' rhetoric about the constitution and majesty of the law," says Mr. McCarthy. "But when you get down to the nitty gritty of a trial, you see one huge problem: The criminal justice system imposes limits on the government and gives the defendant all sorts of access to information, because we'd rather have the government lose than unfairly convict a man. You can't take that position with an enemy who is at war with you and trying to bring that government down." By going down this line, says Mr. McCarthy, Mr. Holder has invited any number of dangers: making the Manhattan courtroom a target for terrorist attack, inviting the disclosure of sensitive intelligence, opening the possibility that some al Qaeda operative will be acquitted and released within the U.S., etc. Worst of all, he says, is turning the laws of war upside down: Why fight the Marines and risk getting killed yourself or locked up in Bagram forever when you can blow up American citizens on their own streets and gain the legal protections that give you a chance to go free?

With this one step, Mr. Holder is giving al Qaeda a ghastly incentive: to focus more of their attacks on American civilians on American home soil. "It is foolish to think that al Qaeda does not train to our system and look for our vulnerabilities," says Mr. McCarthy. "Remember what Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told his captors when we got him, 'I'll see you in New York with my lawyer.' It seems he knows our weaknesses better than our government does." —The Wall Street Journa








The long wait for take off of the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) initiative, announced by the government for the first time early this year, is about to be over. It looks set to get the go-ahead with the communications ministry floating tenders for Dhaka metro rail and elevated expressway, the two giant projects under PPP. Formulation of guidelines on such collaborative ventures and streamlining the administrative authority has taken time and this explains the delay in launching the preparatory work on the projects. This is quite understandable. After all, such initiatives were earlier confined to not so big ventures and in selective areas like telecommunications and development of land ports. Considering the huge investments required for mega projects, this time the government has made a big budgetary allocation to the tune of Taka 25 billion for PPP.
Now that tenders for construction of the two mega projects for Dhaka city involving Taka 15,000 crore have been floated, we can hope others will follow suit. True, the slow start has somehow dampened the enthusiasm of interested private investors on PPP. But now they will have the option to participate in the much-hyped as well as much-required larger projects with the potentials to bring about spectacular changes in physical infrastructure and momentum to economic activities in the country.

In this connection, the need for decentralising the project allocation under the PPP cannot be overemphasised. The preference for the first two projects should be unquestionable because the capital city has come to a point where it needs immediate attention in the areas of communications and mass transit. Similarly, the proposed Padma Bridge should be the next priority for PPP investment. There has to be some efforts towards balancing the consideration for immediate profit, which is high on the mind of private investors, and the long-term development goals of a government and the country. Immediate gains at the expense of greater good of the nation do not pay in the ultimate analysis. So the government must not surrender its long-term vision to profit motive. 







Twice a year members of the public make the trek to their ancestral homes on the occasion of Eid.  Most do this with great trepidation, as they know these hazardous trips are likely to cause them immense suffering. Under such conditions the sufferings of homebound passengers know no bounds.  As these trips home are inevitable, the transport authorities can plan the requirements on time so that the home-bound trips for the festivities do not result in a pile-up of traffic at ferry points and at river ports resulting in great hardship for passengers. Obviously no one does the required homework. For it is hardly conceivable that the needs of homebound passengers and holidaymakers cannot be projected and calculated.

Even the rich are not spared of the discomfort despite their air-conditioned cars and need to be properly cared for lest they end up in a long line of traffic to wait endlessly for under-capacity ferries to ferry them across rivers.

Although the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation (BIWTC) and Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) have arranged for special steamer, launch, sea truck and ferry services on major river and coastal routes, this too may not be enough. During the last Eid vacation 12-triple-deck launches with route permits to operate services on those routes, were placed for 14 days as special services and gave double or triple trips as needed so as to carry waiting passengers on rush days. But Saidur Rahman Rintu, vice president of Barisal launch owners association said, the plying of a total eight launches each day for only seven days without making any extra trips would be difficult for managing the heavy rush of passengers.  If he can have the idea of what awaits us during the holidays, others would know the same and take advance preparation









Even as we hear of bomb blasts and train accidents, and look at the obituary column and see familiar faces we realize time is short. I remember the scream that came from a neighbour's house: The daughter ran upstairs thinking the worst, and saw her mother weeping uncontrollably, hunched over the morning paper, "She's gone!" cried the old lady, "She's gone!" And she pointed to the obituary column. "I didn't even know she was sick! Oh my dearest sister how could you go without telling me? Why did you die before we could make up?" The daughter looked at the paper and saw the photograph of her aunt, whom her mother had stopped talking to after a bitter fight years ago. She watched her mother weep and then whispered, "I told you ma life is short!" Many years ago Phillips Brooks talked one Sunday to the people who sat in front of him. Bitter, unbending people who refused to forgive and forget. "You are letting miserable misunderstandings run on from year to year, meaning to clear them up someday.

"You are keeping wretched quarrels alive because you cannot quite make up your mind that now is the day to sacrifice your pride and kill them;

"You are passing men sullenly on the street, not speaking to them out of some silly spite, and yet knowing that it would fill you with shame and remorse if you heard that one of these men were dead tomorrow morning; "You are letting your neigbour starve till you hear that he has died of starvation;

"Or letting a friend's heart ache for a word of appreciation or sympathy which you mean to give him some day; "If you could only feel and see that 'life is short' how it would break the spell. How you would go instantly and do the thing which you might never have the chance to do!" After he spoke that Sunday, people who had never spoken to each other in years suddenly smiled and greeted each other, and discovered it was what they'd been wanting to do all along. Neighbours who had disliked and avoided each other walked home together, and were astonished to find how very much they enjoyed doing so. All at once they felt happier and more content, felt at peace with themselves and the world. The words of Brooks struck a responsive chord in their hearts. Today I urge you to do the same. Forget past grievances. Bear with the faults of others even as you would have them bear with yours. Be patient and understanding. Life is too short to be petty and unkind. Put down the paper after you've read this piece and make a call to someone you haven't talked to in years…!







November 10 celebrated the 20th anniversary of one of the most important events in modern history – the fall of the Berlin Wall and the comprehensive defeat of communism as a way to organise society and the destruction of the Soviet Union as a political entity. This was a victory for the Western Alliance led by the United States [besides the United States, Germany, France, Italy, UK, Japan, Korea, Spain and another dozen small countries all characterised by very high incomes, competitive economies, mostly in military alliance with the USA, commitment to free trade and capital movements, high values attached to human rights, and active participation in the great scientific quests in physics and biology] against an evil oppressive empire led by the Soviet Union. The tearing down of the wall symbolised the end of a 45 year struggle of freedom against oppression, of life against death, and of law against bureaucrats. It was a mighty victory and affirmed once again the power of freedom and demonstrated the sterility of oppression.

 In 1989 there were two centres of communism: the Soviet Union and China.  In both the leadership was confronted with popular demands for change; in both the functioning societies pointed to collapse and breakdown. In the Soviet Union the choice was made to let go, perhaps not realizing the consequences. In China the decision was made to shoot the people down.  Twenty years later the people of Europe are free concentrating on improving their economic welfare and choosing their leaders through more or less democratic procedures; Russia is collapsing slowly with a rapid decline in population, a vodka soaked population taking solace in escape to the west or criminality. The defeat of the Soviet Union was total. Unlike the post WWII period when the  losers, Germany and Japan, reformed themselves and joined the Western way the Russians have been unable to change and so they dream of a past that will never return, failing to provide leadership for their own people. The rest of the former communist empire is busy trying to change and most are doing so. The freedom that they now have and their change in the organisation of their societies to democracy and competitive economies have led to most of Europe joining the Western alliance. The new burst of freedom brings renewal and accomplishment. Like the victory of WW II out of this the oppression and cruelty comes new hope and new opportunity.

The victory of the United States and its allies over communism was built on decades of effort and sacrifice, but underneath the day to day events rested a single idea – a free democratic society with private property and the rule of law - whatever its imperfections – is far superior to the planned controlled society of socialism and communism. One approach was successful and the other failed. The path of socialism led to oppression, terror, economic failure, and the physical deterioration of the people. The path of a free society leads to wealth and individual fulfilment, to individual opportunity. In one social organisation intellectual achievement flourished – in all the sciences it was the Western alliance that produced the great advances both theoretical and practical. The stultified fearful environment of the communist empire produced weapons but not great scientific breakthroughs. The advances in biology and computers that are the transformers of our society now came exclusively from the West.

China after shooting down its people tried a different path. The choice for rapid economic growth modelled on the success of Japan and Korea led to tremendous increase in production, raised hundreds of millions out of poverty, and created a large wealthy group dedicated to continuing the communist regime. With oppression for 80 per cent of the population and wealth for 20 per cent the Chinese leadership turned communism upside down. Marx and Mao are spinning in their graves aghast at what has been done. Can the Chinese system continue to grow successfully mixing wealth for the few, supported by Chinese nationalism built on slogans and acceptance of the communist overlords? The coming conflict between the Western alliance and China is one of the great stories of the 21st century. 

The end of 20th century saw the emergence of the dominant Western alliance controlling most of the world economy and trade; virtually all of the scientific technological progress [how many Nobel prizes in the sciences have gone to scientists outside the Western alliance including Japan? How many great technology companies can you count outside the Western alliance?], all built on a view of humans that welcomed freedom, saw accomplishment as resting with the individual, promoted competition, and largely kept government out of the economy other than in the provision of social services. Capped with democracy these organisations have been very successful. The two movements to present an alternative view of humans — the Nazi totalitarian superior race approach and the Communist planned controlled state with coerced cooperative behaviour – both failed.
Despite its small size [about five per cent of the world population], the commitment of the United States to limited government, the rule of law, private enterprise, profit seeking behaviour, and personal freedom have produced the richest society, the most advanced technologies, the freest society and the strongest military power. The two movements that have challenged the Untied States in the past century – German nationalism and Soviet communism stand defeated, their aspirations destroyed, and their leaders dead or humiliated. The two new challengers to the United States and the Western alliance are Islamic terrorism and China. The first half of the 21st century will feature these two conflicts, now clearly underway. 

While it is popular to perceive the United States as weakening actually there is no evidence for such a change. The United States astounded the world by electing Obama as President, a remarkable demonstration of what can happen in a free democratic society. The leadership of the United States in technology and science is not seriously challenged. The emergent new technologies in computers, biology, energy, and communications are largely set in the US companies and research institutions. The great US universities lead the world in the sciences and engineering. The military power of the United States is overwhelming; one should not mistake forbearance with weakness. The US economy remains 25 per cent of world GDP; the current recession has been painful and recover is far from complete but this is two-year blip preceded by seven years of rapid growth. The characteristic about a true democratic free society is its capacity for renewal, for overcoming error, for searching for just solutions. Any nation prepared to adopt such openness and pragmatism will achieve similar results; unfortunately few countries are prepared to make such a deal with their citizens. 









India's 'Look East' policy had Myanmar in mind from the very beginning as its policy was similar to ASEAN's approach of "controversial constructive engagement." In fact, the northeast insurgency of India was only an additional factor of the wider geopolitical consideration of India in their new approach to Myanmar. It has been more than 15 years and India is yet to dig up any substantial cooperation by the Myanmar regime to suppress Indian insurgency. After 50 years, the discarded 'Uncle Sam highway' (the Myanmar road of World War II) has become one of strategic importance. China and Myanmar, having a common border of more than 2,000 kilometre, have had a long standing 'Paukphaw' (fraternal) friendship. It is an irony that the military regime of Myanmar is so strong that it cannot be toppled by its own people but it is a weak government in the eyes of other nations. Myanmar's bilateral trade with China improved by ten times in the last decade to reach $500 million by 1999, a figure some believe to be a low estimate. What is in common is that China wants Yunnan province and India the northeast region to develop. But China looks for market to sell and India not for trade but to buy. But both have security interests, which could be uncomfortable to Myanmar. The regime of Myanmar craves for neither trade nor business but for money from both of them. Historically the two neighbours have made two different U-turns when it comes to Myanmar. Chinese turn took more years and was forceful with – arms supplies and political support to Communist Party of Burma (CPB) and arms and political support to the military regime. India took less time and was different – psychological and service (All India Radio) to pro-democracy movement and arms sales and blind political support to the military regime.


Discrimination, violence and forced labour practices by Myanmar authorities triggered an exodus of more than 250,000 Rohingya Muslims between 1991 and 1992. Despite the unwillingness on the part of the majority of the refugees to return home for reasons of insecurity or lack of improvement in the situation, the UNHCR, with the direct consent of the Bangladesh, repatriated all but 21,117refugees by April 1997. Since then, however, repatriation has been put on hold following the failure of the Myanmar to clear the re-entry of 13,582 refugees out of the remaining total of 21,117.  Only 7,535 got permission but those refused re-entry blocked their repatriation. They live in two camps at Cox's Bazaar, called Kutupalong and Nayapara, but there are also an estimated 100,000 unregistered Rohingyas living in Bangladesh near the border. However, the Rohingya refugee issues have far wider ramifications in terms of Myanmar-Bangladesh relations. Firstly, the so called stateless Rohingyas would by now become desperate due to constant pull and push of both the countries and we know much about the militancy of the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation and/or the Arakan Rohingya Islamic Front'. Their radius of actions is ever expanding and now estimated to be well beyond Arakan region and into our country. In fact, much of the militancy in refugee camps has been blamed on them. It is alleged that within Bangladesh, forces sympathetic to the Rohingya cause, would not oppose the militancy, on the contrary could come forward with arms and materials to help them fight against the security forces of both Myanmar and Bangladesh. The list of prospective militant supporters mainly includes the so-called Islamic political groups, namely the Rabita Al Alam Islami, the Jaamat-e-Islam, supporters of the Afghan-based Hizbe-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyer, and the like (commented by Dr. Imtiaz Ahmed in June 2001). Secondly, it is about the proliferation of small arms and chemical and biological weapons. As an example, when the Mong Tai Army of Golden Triangle drug lord Khun Sa surrendered to the Yangon authorities in 1996, it handed over assault rifles, machine guns, rocket launchers and even SA-7 surface-to-air missiles (SAM). More worrisome is the fact that despite repeated denials by Myanmar, accusations of chemical and biological weapon use by the Myanmar military against 'ethnic' insurgents have surfaced from time to time. There is no guarantee that such weapons would not be used to promote or contain militancy in the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.


It is alleged that, the Myanmar military apparatus is aware of drug production within the country. Among the neighbours only China and Thailand took serious notice of narcotic drugs routed from Myanmar. Among other countries, only USA took measures to eradicate drugs that originate from there. But like human rights violations, drug is not a strong force to pressurise the military junta. Quoting US Secretary of State, Ms Madeline Albright ('Myanmar abetting drug trafficking' 29 July 97), "an alarming rise in drug abuse and AIDS infection had been noticed in Burma. Narcotics production has grown in Burma year after year, defying every international effort to solve the problem. As a result, drug traffickers who once spent their days leading mule trains down jungle tracks are now leading lights in Burma's new market economy and leading figures in its new political order." She argued that it would be hard to imagine a lasting solution to the region's narcotics problem without a lasting solution to Myanmar's political crisis. Given the porous border and weak monitoring system in our bordering areas surrounding Myanmar, it is lot easier for the drug cartels to use our land as a suitable transit route. The availability of easy drugs is a looming danger for our country too and who knows what amount of drugs are really being transported through our southern border. We can never know the exact figures.


Indian home minister P Chidambaram declared recently that Maoists are acquiring weapons through Bangladesh, Myanmar and possibly Nepal. "In terms of the threat to security from Indian sources or internal sources, Naxalism remains the biggest threat. There is, of course, the other threat, which is cross border terrorism but that is emanating from across the border," he said. "There is no evidence of any money flowing in from abroad to the Maoists. But there is certainly evidence of weapons being smuggled from abroad through Myanmar or Bangladesh, which reach the Maoists. We know now that the weapons are coming through Bangladesh and Myanmar and possibly Nepal. The border is very porous." Such an open accusation from a minister raised concern in many corners and future relationship of this trio might be affected by such attitudes.


(The writer is a MPhil researcher in Peace and Conflict Studies Department,  Dhaka University.)








Recently, a company called Complete Genomics announced 10 new customers for its genome-sequencing service. The price was not specified, but the company said its goal is to offer the service for $5,000 within a year.

What struck me was not the announcement itself, but the name of the CEO: Cliff Reid, the CEO when I knew him in the 1980s of a text-search company called Verity. The connection hit me almost immediately. Genes are, in a sense, the instruction language for building humans (or any other living thing). And language is symbols that interact to build meaning. And, yes, of course, it was the same Cliff Reid I knew back in the late 1980s.
What Complete Genomics is doing with the $91 million it has raised so far is exciting. It has built a genome-sequencing factory and plans to build several more over the next few years. Many academic and commercial research facilities want one, as do several countries. What I find interesting are the implications. Right now, a genome is akin to a novel written in an unknown language. There is a huge amount of information in there, but we cannot understand it. Imagine getting a copy of Tolstoi's War and Peace in Russian and (assuming you cannot read Russian) trying to figure out the story. Impossible. That is pretty much the situation of natural language understanding at the time Reid joined Verity. On the other hand, we have started recognising some words - specific genetic variants - that seem to correspond to certain incidents in history. In the case of genetics, those incidents are diseases and conditions. And just as it usually takes several individuals to cause an incident, so it often takes several genetic variations, plus ambient factors, to cause a disease. Genes often work together, sometimes aided by factors such as a person's diet or behaviour, to cause a condition. There are two key challenges in genomics. One is simply detecting the genes, alone or in combination, that seem to lead to certain diseases. That alone can be useful. With enough data, we can then figure out that the same "disease" is in fact a variety of different disorders, some susceptible to particular known treatments and some susceptible to others or simply incurable. For this, mere correlation is sufficient. People with BRCA-derived breast cancer benefit from treatment with perception, whereas those with other kinds of breast cancer do not. We do not know why, but the correlation is clear. The second challenge is to understand how the genes interact among themselves or with other factors to produce the condition, which should enable the development of new preventive measures or treatments based on the details of how the condition begins and how it progresses. That, of course, is much more interesting - and harder to do. In a sense, it is the difference between matching words and understanding a piece of text. So, it is no surprise that Reid has found a role in this new marketplace. Complete Genomics and its competitors are about to create huge amounts of data. CGI's edge is not just sequencing the genomes cheaply, but also refining the data into lists of variations. In other words, for most research the questions revolve not around an entire genome, but around the relevant differences of any individual's genome from the norm.

There are common differences, like the differences between blue eyes and brown eyes, or even between people likely to have Crohn's disease and those who are unlikely to have it. Then there are differences that result simply from a "broken" gene, which is not a variant but simply a mistake. Most of these are harmless; the really harmful ones do not survive long enough to show up anywhere. The researchers' task is to find meaning from all this data. We are just at the beginning of this process, which will take many years. While some researchers are looking for statistical correlations, others are studying how the individual genes interact. For all of them, access to genome sequences is important. But the genomes mean little without the corresponding medical records, just as the Russian novel - in any language - means little without a corresponding knowledge of Russian history. Obtaining that history requires consent from the individuals whose genomes are sequenced. It also requires a lot of data processing to make the records usable. Much of the information is simply not recorded. And much is still on paper, or in scanned images, insurance company records, and pharmacy transactions. There is a standard language for representing diseases, but in many cases the records containing this language might as well be hidden in mattresses.

The current movement in many developed countries towards electronic medical records will improve health care directly, but it will also lead to much improved information liquidity to help genetic and other medical research. We now have the ability to sequence genomes at increasingly lower costs, and we are slowly making the corresponding health information computer-readable. Companies such as Complete Genomics are developing software that can process the information. There is, of course, still a huge amount of data to collect and process, and huge amounts of research and discovery to happen. But it is hard not to be optimistic about our increasing medical knowledge. The challenge five years from now will be to turn all that knowledge into practice through better preventive measures, better drugs, and better care.


(The writer, chairman of EDventure Holdings, is an active investor.)









THE row between cruise ship operator Carnival and the Human Rights Commission over the company's intention to ban schoolies from their vessels could be a taste of what is to come if the Rudd government accepts the National Human Rights Committee's recommendation that Australia adopt a charter or statutory bill of rights. The difference, however, would be that such issues would be more likely to be thrashed out in court, mainly to the benefit of lawyers.


While far from being the most complex or significant human rights issue on the horizon, the question of whether schoolies, with their propensity for binge drinking, should be allowed to set sail unsupervised illustrates the problems that arise when legal systems and bureaucracies become mired in the rights debate.


Carnival Australia, which operates P&O, Princess and other cruise ships, sought an exemption from discrimination laws in order to ban people under 21 cruising between November 1 and January 30 each year unless accompanied by a parent or guardian. The company argued that schoolies and other under-21s had caused "an exponential increase in alcohol-related security incidents".


Holidaymakers who have saved up for a cruise or a break at Surfers Paradise and been confronted by shrieking, vomiting schoolies would no doubt agree, arguing that as paying customers they, too, have rights, to expect normal, civilised behaviour from others around them. A ban might also be seen as a commonsense, protective measure, based on the same principles that restrict the purchase of cigarettes and alcohol to those aged 18.


As the current debate has shown, however, human rights are never absolute, and what is viewed as a basic right can be seen as a wrong by those with a different mindset.


The HRC has ruled that banning schoolies from cruising would be inconsistent with the Age Discrimination Act and a disproportionate response to the problem of misbehaviour. It rejected Carnival's view that "without the under-21s policy, it is unable to ensure the health, safety and security of its passengers". The Commission has put the onus back on the company to maintain security, raising issues about the rights of businesses to withhold their services if it is in their commercial interests. Under a bill of rights, the litigation wars could continue at prohibitive cost until the next schoolies week.


As the rights debate unfolds, it is unclear how, if at all, such a Bill would add to the rights currently enjoyed by Australians. Significant sections of the community believe that such a bill would erode rights enjoyed for generations, including religious freedom and freedom of speech. In Canberra last night, Cardinal George Pell cited examples of senior human rights bureaucrats, including Race Discrimination Commissioner Tom Calma and Conrad Gershevitch of the Race Discrimination Unit comparing religion and human rights to oil and water -- substances that do no mix. The pair are on record, the cardinal noted, advocating that governments "manage" religious freedoms through "moderation of the public sphere" with a "gentle and gloved" hand. Such an approach would be a retrograde step in a vigorous, free democracy. At least, in the absence of a bill of rights, Australians can ignore nanny's advice without fear of litigation.








Kevin Rudd on Wednesday:

THE Leader of the Opposition asks about the processes which apply to the individuals currently on board the vessel. Can I draw his attention first of all to the correspondence from the secretary of the Department of Immigration dated 16 November, which describes the non-extraordinary nature of the procedures which apply here.


Craig Emerson and George Brandis on Sky News Agenda yesterday:

Emerson: This is not a typical situation. It was a rescue at sea, not in Australian waters. There has been an attempt by the Coalition to describe this as part of the normal arrival of asylum-seekers in Australia. It's not, it was a rescue at sea. So it's a very unusual situation.

Kieren Gilbert: Why can't the government say this is a special circumstance?

Emerson: Well, we have said that this is a rescue at sea. That is different from the regular way that asylum-seekers who arrive by boat get themselves into Australian territorial waters and are then transferred to Christmas Island. It is unusual in those circumstances.

Brandis: Either it's an extraordinary situation or it's a non-extraordinary situation. Which is it? ?

Emerson: It is a rescue at sea.


Chris Evans on Radio National Breakfast yesterday:

WE didn't make an offer. What we made was an agreement with the Indonesian government. Once that was finalised we put that in writing, codified it, and showed it to those on the boat.

Winston Smith is lectured by his friend Syme in George Orwell's 1984:

"YOU haven't a real appreciation of Newspeak Winston," he said almost sadly. "In your heart you'd prefer to speak Oldspeak with all its vagueness and its useless shades of meaning. You don't grasp the beauty of the destruction of words. Do you know that Newspeak is the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year? Don't you realise the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? Has it ever occurred to you Winston that by the year 2050, at the very latest, there won't be a single human being alive who could understand the conversation we are having now?"


Malcolm Turnbull yesterday:

THE Prime Minister's claim that there was no special deal has been comprehensively, universally disbelieved. But I am afraid to say the disbelief extends past that centre-right newspaper which the Prime Minister is so unhappy with at the moment. Tony Wright in The Age, Annabel Crabb in The Sydney Morning Herald -- not many people would say that was a right-wing newspaper. Even in his own town, Dennis Atkins wrote in The Courier-Mail "the consensus view that the Rudd government provided a special deal is now stronger than the much-trumpeted world scientific agreement on the causes behind climate change". The disbelief extends even to the ABC. Barrie Cassidy:"just to say there's no special deal is silly."


Phew what a scorcher! The PM in Question Time yesterday:

ADELAIDE has experienced the first spring heatwave ever since its records began in 1887. I presume that the climate change sceptics up the back and the absolute deniers in the centre over there, would say all of these are merely unhappy coincidences in the data and you can choose to embrace what the science says or simply deny what it says and therefore take no action.


Penny Wong in the Senate yesterday:

THE key issue when one looks at climate is to look at trends rather than the weather over a short period.


Saving the planet, one scalp at a time. Julia Gillard yesterday:

APPRENTICES are doing work on the frontline of tackling climate change and today they demonstrated the green skills transforming Australia's workplaces. They learned basic skills in solar energy, green plumbing, organic hairdressing.








YOU can already see the advertising campaign Labor will take to the next election if the opposition partyroom shanghais Malcolm Turnbull on climate change. Whoever leads the Coalition to the 2010 poll would be targeted as a hyprocrite, opposing an emissions trading scheme virtually identical to the one their side took to the 2007 election. If that leader is Mr Turnbull, he would be subjected to intense ridicule, given he was the environment minister in charge of the Howard government's scheme.


If opposition members needed any indication of how damning that advertising campaign might be, they were given it in parliament this week as Kevin Rudd and Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner attacked the Coalition's position ahead of a likely vote in the Senate next week.


As Mr Tanner caricatured Senate Liberal leader Nick Minchin ("out there in his fatigues . . . chasing all these conspiracies . . . incubating a kind of rural militia from backwoods Montana in the Senate"), the Prime Minister used the heatwave to attack the "deniers".


What a mess, what a misjudgment, what a wasted opportunity to win political mileage from amending the ETS and putting the focus on the holes in the government's position. Instead, Senator Minchin, aided and abetted by Barnaby Joyce -- and now it seems by Tony Abbott -- appears willing to consign the Coalition to dinosaur status by voting down the ETS in the belief this will attract support from rural Australia.


It may do so, but the politics of climate change are clear. According to Newspoll, the environment ranked alongside the economy in importance before the 2007 election, and significantly ahead of industrial relations. In September this year, Newspoll found 67 per cent of Australians favoured the ETS scheme.


Even more important, climate change was one of the issues that helped paint John Howard as tired and out of touch. Mr Rudd's continuing popularity reaffirms the need for the conservative parties to modernise.


This paper has given the planet the benefit of the doubt on global warming. The science is not definitive (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007 found scientists were 90 per cent sure we are experiencing anthropogenic warming). But there is certainly scope for Mr Turnbull to separate himself from conspiracy theorists such as Senator Minchin. This paper accepts the ETS as a market-driven and ultimately bipartisan scheme. After all, when Climate Change Minister Penny Wong needed an ETS, her departmental head, Martin Parkinson, had only to dust off the one he had handled for Mr Howard.


Some Coalition members may genuinely believe they were railroaded into an ETS in 2007 and that they don't want one now. But it is hardly a viable political strategy to dump the legislation, humiliate the leader, split the Coalition (and the Liberal party), recant on policy argued to the Australian electorate just two years ago and position yourself as Luddites in the environmental debate.


The Coalition is correct to try to amend the ETS legislation and it has already scored an important victory with the exclusion of agriculture from the punitive side of the scheme and the expectation farmers will be able to make money through carbon trade-offs. Equally, the government is now under pressure, thanks to the negotiating skills of Ian Macfarlane, to agree to the Coalition's demands for extra industry compensation and concessions for coalmining. But rather than positioning themselves to claim credit for these amendments, Coalition members such as Senator Joyce are intent on pursuing their own leadership ambitions.

Led by Senator Minchin, the Coalition is walking into a neatly laid trap. Mr Abbott, who has argued the ETS should be passed to avoid a double dissolution election, has now done an about-turn. He is an able media performer, but his grilling on ABC TV's Lateline on Thursday night revealed the difficulties of conducting a complex debate on the science at this stage. Climate change does not lend itself to a battle between television soundbites and Mr Abbott should not have left himself exposed to the label of denialist.