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Monday, November 23, 2009

EDITORIAL 23.11.09

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month november 23, edition 000357, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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

























7.      GUYS AND DOLLS -











1.      TALK IT OVER

2.      OUT OF COURT

















































































the statesman


































































1.      BDR TRIALS








1.      ON THE MOVE

2.      HOOCH SAGA






















1.      BE HUMBLE




































Madhu Koda's two-year reign as Jharkhand Chief Minister was about the most scandalous in Indian history. As has now been revealed, he leased 11,000 acres of mining land to largely fake companies and front entities. In bribes and kickbacks, Mr Koda's cohorts seem to have earned thousands of crores, making him potentially the richest first-generation politician in India. However, what is turning out to be an even bigger scandal is the manner in which the Government is treating Mr Koda. He has repeatedly refused to present himself before the Enforcement Directorate, claiming illness and then arguing he is too busy with the Jharkhand Assembly election and will try and find time after the proverbial last vote has been counted. Conveniently, the UPA Government is also taking it easy, allowing Mr Koda a long leave of absence from the law. This has given rise to the feeling that the Congress is worried about the outcome of the coming election. In case the NDA fails to win the majority that it is widely expected to get and a hung Assembly results, the Congress may need the support of Mr Koda's MLAs. That is, of course, if any of the half-a-dozen candidates he has sponsored — one of them is his wife — win the people's confidence in the first place. If, on the other hand, the Congress and its allies surprise themselves and win in Jharkhand, they will have no need for Mr Koda. Presumably, he will then be summoned to the ED's labyrinthine offices in central Delhi, subjected to hard questioning and forced to confess to his alleged crimes. If this is indeed the Congress's plan, it has reduced elections, politics and, most important, the course of law and justice to a complete and unmitigated farce. How can the Congress and its supposedly upright partners in Jharkhand talk of seeking a mandate for clean governance and promise to work for the welfare of the poor and the downtrodden, when they are more or less protecting crooks who have cheated the wretched residents of one of India's most impoverished States — ironically Jharkhand has 40 per cent of the country's mineral wealth — of millions? This is a crime that deserves the harshest possible punishment, if only to set an example and deter others from following in Mr Koda's footsteps. Yet, the Congress seems to treat the whole affair as morally negotiable.

The question is not just of Mr Koda. It is now clear that the State of Jharkhand has been swindled of its wealth by wily operators who kept a fly-by-night Government in business between 2006 and 2008. These people, whoever they may be, need to be identified and punished too. As head of the State Government in that period and as a prime suspect in the case, Mr Koda has a lot of answering to do. It is essential that he begins to cooperate with the ED immediately. The manner in which the investigation is proceeding is giving rise to the perception that important people — in Jharkhand and further afield — want to bury the case forever. Perhaps the fear that Mr Koda will implicate others and even senior Congress/UPA politicians in Delhi and other parts of India will be put in the dock is triggering anxiety. India is no stranger to such cover-ups. A vigilant Opposition must ensure the Koda scam does not end up like so many others and that the machinations of the Congress, and of the tin-pot Chief Minister it once backed, do not succeed. Of course, the voters of Jharkhand also have a role to play.






The statement by All-Party Hurriyat Conference leader Mirwaiz Umer Farooq that China is a stakeholder in the resolution of the 'Kashmir issue' is as sinister as they come. According to the separatist leader, given that parts of Jammu & Kashmir are under Chinese occupation, Beijing has an 'automatic interest' in the region. How perceptive of the Mirwaiz. China has had an 'interest' in Jammu & Kashmir for more than four decades. It has been in occupation of Aksai Chin since 1962 and controls certain portions of the Northern Areas that were ceded to it by Pakistan. It is no secret that China views Jammu & Kashmir as a strategic pawn that can be used against India. So if we were to believe the separatist leader, a country that has illegally occupied parts of this country and has done deals with Pakistan to acquire certain other parts, which too were illegally occupied by the latter in the first place, has now become part of the solution! Nothing could be more ridiculous. Contrary to what the Hurriyat leader says, China, far from being a positive influence vis-à-vis Jammu & Kashmir, is actually part of the problem. There is only one thing that China can do with respect to the situation in the State: Further complicate it. It is noteworthy that the Mirwaiz's statement comes days after US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao, in a joint statement, indicated possible mediation by China in settling the 'Kashmir issue'. And right on cue the Kashmiri separatist leader went to the media with his 'I love China' line.

All of this is a matter of serious concern for New Delhi. China can in many ways get under India's skin. The issuance of separate stapled Chinese visas to Kashmiris is a classic example. The visas, which have recently come to the notice of the authorities, are a direct challenge to India's sovereignty over Jammu & Kashmir. India has rightly put out a citation that those who have such visas will not be allowed to travel to China. But separatist leaders like the Mirwaiz, not unexpectedly, have been pressing New Delhi to accept these visas as legitimate. It is fast becoming apparent that at some level there is an understanding between China and the separatist forces in the Kashmir Valley. With Pakistan busy tackling terrorism at home, organisations like the Hurriyat are turning to China for guidance. In such a scenario, India must hold firm. There can be no dialogue with Beijing on Jammu & Kashmir. The so-called Kashmir problem is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan. Our stated position — that the whole of Jammu & Kashmir is an integral part of India — is non-negotiable. Any discussion on Jammu & Kashmir can only take place with Pakistan under the right circumstances. Thus, China would do well not to poke its nose where it doesn't belong.



            THE PIONEER




The National Investigation Agency has launch a detailed probe into the role that David Coleman Headley — a US citizen of Pakistani origin — and Tahawwur Hussain Rana — a Canadian citizen of Pakistani origin — had in setting up terror infrastructure in this country. The probe may take many months as it appears that the duo had set up a solid network. America's FBI has done a superb job in tracking and arresting Headley and Rana. No matter how much one maligns the security procedures in the US, the truth of the matter is that they are effective and have been successful in preventing terror strikes on American soil since 9/11. I sometimes wonder if this could ever happen in India where security systems are handicapped by vote-bank politics.

After the Headley and Rana episode, our Government has little option but to enforce strict visa regulations. The internal security situation is far from happy in Pakistan and Afghanistan and there is utter chaos with bombings taking place on a daily basis. The terrorists are gaining in strength with each passing day. We are in the middle of a war and unless we act with ruthless intent and crack down on sleeper cells and terrorist sympathisers within the country, we are heading for another disaster like 26/11.

I feel sorry for film director Mahesh Bhatt and his family. His son Rahul could have been treated more kindly for being forthcoming about his association with Headley and his voluntary co-operation with the security agencies in the investigation. Nonetheless, the probe into the Headley affair has to be thorough and it would be premature to arrive at any conclusions at this stage.

There are many in India with close links to Pakistan — through family, business interests, academic and cultural associations. The vast majority on both sides of the border would like to see relations improve between the two countries. But sadly, this positive thinking is seen as a weakness by those obsessed with extreme religious dogma.

Media reports about the four people who have been arrested for distributing fake currency through Bangladesh and that of Mohammed Ali, the Pakistani spy with an Indian passport who was recently arrested from Delhi airport, prove that there are huge gaps in our systems that terrorists and anti-national elements can exploit. The war against terror can never succeed if these systems are not strengthened sufficiently and the loopholes plugged.

With relentless 24x7 media coverage into the Headley-Rana case, facts can sometimes be misreported. It is important to remember that disclosures are still at a preliminary stage and there is little doubt that both the US and India will pursue the investigation with great urgency.

There is also little doubt about the fact that at senior levels of the Government action is being taken to prevent people like Headley and Rana from operating against this country. But lapses remain at lower levels. I was shocked to see Kavita Karkare tearfully express her anguish that the bullet-proof jacket that her late husband Hemant Karkare was wearing when he was shot dead by Ajmal Amir Kasab and his fidayeen colleagues and the file relating to its procurement are missing. Can it really be possible that the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad chief died because of a defective bullet-proof jacket? This must attract the attention of those in authority.

Pakistan has spoken in many voices with respect to the dossiers on 26/11 submitted by India. But after the arrests of Headley and Rana by the FBI, does it really need further proof of how certain forces in that country are complicit in spreading terrorism? And will the US be willing to suspend aid to Pakistan if Islamabad fails to act against terror groups operating from its soil in a decisive manner? We have acted with maturity and restraint vis-à-vis Pakistan but there are political and emotional limits which cannot be crossed by any political party in a democratic set-up.

I am deeply distressed with the recent trend where political authority is being disputed and held to ransom by financial clout and muscle power. We have seen unfortunate events in Andhra Pradesh after the tragic demise of former Chief Minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy. The situation is no better for the BJP in Karnataka. We are also witnessing organised plunder of public resources in Jharkhand where not only former Chief Minister Madhu Koda but every political party is involved in scams worth thousands of crore. Look at the muted interest with which the probe into the Koda scam is being conducted! It appears that the only one really interested in the truth is the media.

The Koda scam is truly baffling as Rs 4,000 crore is involved, and in a single instance Rs 600 crore was deposited in a national bank. Can this be treated as a routine, legal transaction under our existing laws? The assets of Jharkhand have been looted by successive State Governments. Yet we are going to have another election and in all probability all those responsible for the present state of affairs will once again be the policy-makers in the State.

We are heading for serious trouble in the future and, as I have mentioned earlier, the lack of transparency in political donations is leading to massive corruption and extortion. Most of these funds become legitimate wealth as many political families are producing business tycoons of exceptional merit and making a mockery of political authority. The interests of a small minority are holding the entire system to ransom.

I am truly disappointed that few in the ruling party or in the Opposition are willing to dare and make an issue of this. But at the end of the day, we get the kind of Government we choose. Unless our polity is able to produce better leaders and we the public are able to exercise our franchise to put such people in power, things will continue to remain unchanged.







Vice Chief of air staff, Air Marshal PK Barbora's statement that women cannot be inducted in the IAF as fighter pilots as they are not 'fit' for combat operations holds no water as there is historical evidence that clearly suggests women have emotional courage to withstand the brutality of war, including imprisonment as prisoners of war, wartime stress — as was demonstrated during the two World Wars.

Women pilots in the US military flew during the Panama, Grenada and Desert Storm operations, although they were kept out of the cockpits of combat aircraft from 1976 to 1993. But since then they have been allowed to fly combat aircraft with no rider about pregnancy. If the strongest air force of the world can induct women as fighter pilots, then why not India?

Close to home, hundreds of women of Indian descent in Malaya responded to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's call and volunteered to form a women's combat force — the famous Rani Jhansi Regiment — of the Indian National Army. Although the force was not used in combat, it broke traditional barriers.

Besides, nowadays with unmanned aircraft being increasingly used, conflicts of the future are likely to be technology-driven. Fewer soldiers will be required in the battlefield. Therefore, the gender of fighter pilots will be of little significance.

The induction of women can help the IAF overcome the manpower crunch that it is confronting at present. Furthermore, the 'no pregnancy rule' suggested by Air Marshal Barbora is completely unfounded. While male pilots are entitled to paternity leaves, denying their female counterparts their right to become mothers is not only inhumane but tantamount to disregarding women's rights.

By suggesting that women are not worth of the heavy investment made on training fighter pilots as the IAF expects 12 to 14 years of service from them, is Air Marshal Barbora trying to say that male pilots never go on leave? They do take time off for unforeseen family responsibilities but a pregnancy is more or less planned. Therefore, maternity leave can be planned beforehand.

The understanding of the fact that maternity leave is no paid vacation and every woman is entitled to it as her right will put things in the right perspective. Moreover, retraining a trained fighter pilot will be much more cost-effective than training a new pilot.

With the Indian Navy commissioning its first women navigators, the IAF cannot be seen to be lagging behind.








When being is defined by the ideology of anti-establishment, one manifestation of it could be a high level of public spiritedness. Sometimes persons whose being is defined by anti-establishment get sucked into inserting themselves into a material engagement with public issues instead of being bystanders and critics.

If the engagement occurs via a political party and unexpected election triumph, then the process of adjustment to reality can be painful if not bitter, as Trinamool Congress Member of Parliament from Jadavpur, fading rock star Kabir Suman has only just found out. His discomfiture over discovering the limitations of what he can do, as a member of the establishment, is no less than the Trinamool Congress's faced with a rebel within the ranks.

The difference, between the growing disillusionment of Kabir Suman with the 'system' to which he now belongs and the Trinamool Congress, is one of experience. The Trinamool Congress has had others, many far cannier than Kabir Suman to begin with, voicing their frustration about their powerlessness to initiate changes and make a difference. Some like former IAS officers Mr Bikram Sarkar quit; others like Mr Nitish Sengupta distanced themselves; and still others retired into private life. None of them were inexperienced and so understood that the promise of change was a slogan; it helped the Trinamool Congress make political inroads.

The Kabir Suman-Sucharu Haldar problem is, therefore, generic; their outbursts are symptomatic of an older malaise: The limitations of political parties hungry for power in fulfilling their promises. The public-spirited may feel that as members of the establishment their role is to be efficient about delivering on promises to constituents. Political organisations that position them self as anti-establishment may not share the same zeal to get things done, because they are in reality part of the 'system'.

If the Trinamool Congress leadership is annoyed by the complaints it is because they do not need an over eager beaver to begin making changes in the way things work, efficiently. A system with its leakages, its waste and its amnesia is easier to use for purposes other than delivering promised development to constituents and ensuring that the benefits are delivered in full measure. For where half or even quarter measures will suffice to get voters to endorse the political platform again and again, why should anyone bother with doing the whole thing?

If the MP gets things done then what happens to the network of political intermediaries whose power emanates from their capacity to facilitate or hamper the doing of things. MP Sucharu Haldar's complaint that he is being pressurised over the utilisation of his MPLAD funds illustrates the point; intermediaries of the Trinamool Congress have a stake and they cannot be cut out by well meaning public-spirited amateurs.

However, as the anti-establishment party, the Trinamool Congress cannot afford to have MPs with grievances, because that discredits its politics captured in the slogan of change. Kabir Suman and Sucharu Haldar as outsiders have unwittingly perhaps put their finger on the problem that faces a party like the Trinamool Congress.

In West Bengal, politics is divided as establishment or anti-establishment. Over the years, the Communist Party of India(Marxists) has graduated from being the permanent opposition to becoming the establishment. The Trinamool Congress has occupied the vacated space and is the current anti-establishment force in West Bengal. The Congress, though in the opposition vis-à-vis the CPI(M), is nevertheless an establishment party having once upon a time reigned in West Bengal and because it continues to run the Government at the Centre.

There is a fundamental divergence between calling for a change and doing things differently. The first is about power shifting from one political party to another. The second is about the ways in which power is employed after the change of Government happens. It is obvious that people like Kabir Suman and Sucharu Haldar believe that as members of the powerful elite their responsibility is to use that power in ways that are significantly different from the past.

In the context of West Bengal achieving the goal of doing things differently is much harder than for instance in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. The Trinamool Congress cannot get away by defeating the CPI(M) and becoming the ruling party. Unlike Mr Lalu Yadav or Mr Nitish Kumar or Ms Mayawati or Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav or the Shiv Sena or the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena where incumbency rearranges, irrespective of the flaws in the manner of redistribution, the socio-political power equations.

The Trinamool Congress does not have a specific constituency there are no caste or identity divides in West Bengal that would be automatically altered. The Trinamool Congress's constituency includes the expanding numbers of voters aggrieved with the establishment. Having positioned itself as the anti-establishment, breaking away from the Congress, confronting the CPI(M), opposing land acquisition for industrialisation, opposing the policy of Special Economic Zones, it needs to sustain that act in order to keep voter sympathy.

The Trinamool Congress is the new party, unburdened by the past. It is not an establishment party unlike the CPI(M) and the Congress, both of whom have ruled the State for almost 30-year spells. A rebel within its ranks challenges its brand equity. However, the rebel could also serve a purpose; Kabir Suman raging against systemic obstacles is also the voice of conscience. Being permanently opposed to the establishment, an angry Kabir Suman within the Trinamool Congress can become a glorified gatekeeper; detecting infiltration of the bad old ways in doing things. It will, therefore, depend entirely on Ms Mamata Banerjee on how she handles the very volatile presence of her public-spirited allies and not just Kabir Suman.








The Prime Minister and I have been in correspondence for sometime now on the issue of how to improve schooling in India. The entire edifice of education, especially higher education, is built upon the extremely dubious foundations of a school system in the public domain which has virtually broken down. I refer here to the rural and municipal schools to which the vast majority of our less than prosperous citizens send their children for education.


These schools are in a shambles. We still have a number of single-teacher schools, most rural schools and many municipal schools are without a proper building, very few of them have even rudimentary teaching aids and library facilities, the number of teachers is inadequate and in any case many village teachers do not stay in the villages or attend school and the quality of the teachers and what they teach are both highly defective. Naturally, there is a high drop-out rate and some of the schools, though not all of them, impart literacy, none of them actually provide an education. How can we build a modern nation, how can we develop trained manpower, how can we feed the institutions of higher learning when the very source from which all this has to come is itself totally incapable of providing any education at all?

In this bleak picture we have the shining example of our Navodaya schools. These are rural based, residential, very much in the public domain, have a reasonable infrastructure of buildings, laboratories and teaching aids and have a cadre of teachers definitely a cut above the average teachers in India. Their students represent a cross-section of village society from the lowest to the highest caste and, because the basic facilities are provided by the State, these knowledge hungry rural school children have outstripped every school in India in the CBSE examination. Obviously, this is a model of schooling which has demonstrated its success and, therefore, I suggested to the Prime Minister that we should have at least 10,000 such schools in rural areas in the next five years. My idea was examined by the Government and ultimately the Ministry of Human Resource Development informed me that 6,000 model schools have been approved, with 2,500 being set up in 2009-2010. Obviously, the Prime Minister liked my idea as on August 15, 2007, in his address to the nation delivered from the ramparts of the Red Fort, he had made the above announcement.

It is said that man proposes but god disposes. In India the Prime Minister proposes and the Planning Commission disposes, because his announcement has been set at nought by the Planning Commission, I am afraid that the Human Resources Development Ministry, by refusing to expand the public domain to include these schools, is suggesting that the schools should be set up through private participation. This, mind you, with the full knowledge that no business investor would put in his money in a system in which the country would undoubtedly earn rich rewards by educating thousands of children, but where the private investor would get no money return on his investment. The scheme is, therefore, stillborn.

I have personally pleaded with the Minister for Human Resource Development that these schools must be set up and his standard answer is that he has no money. One Maoist strike near the capital would surely lead to the creation of 10 battalions of armed police, each costing Rs 50 to 100 crore. Where does this money come from? The Commonwealth Games will be held at Delhi in 2010. How have we raised money for funding the infrastructure for the Games? The IIT Guwahati was cleared for an investment of Rs 1,200 crore. Where does this money come from? We are setting up a number of new IIST and IISM and Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research, each of which will cost about Rs 1,000 crore. From where will this money come? This is simply a case of skewed priorities because whereas this country can find the funds for high profile expenditure, when it is a question of schools we plead that we have no money. A nation which gives such a low priority to educating its children can never develop, all the slogans of India shining notwithstanding.

I have a little message for the Prime Minister, whose public announcement to the nation has been so wilfully short-circuited by the Planning Commission and the Ministry of Human Resource Development.

When Shyama Charan Shukla was the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, he passed an order that had some financial implications. The Finance Department, which had already seen the file before the order was passed, however, virtually tore into it and trotted up arguments against its implementation.

"After my final order in a case no department, especially the Finance Department, has the authority to criticise it or oppose it, because my order is that of the Chief Minister and shall be deemed to be of the Finance Minister also. After my final order the department concerned has only one duty, which is to implement the order and report compliance", Mr Shukla said.

The Prime Minister has sanctioned the setting up of Navodaya schools. Now the only role left for the Planning Commission, the Finance Ministry and the Human Resources Development Ministry is to implement it, prepare a programme for setting up the rest 3,500 schools and report compliance to the Prime Minister and to the nation. This is the least that the Prime Minister should expect from his Government.









Trinamool Congress MP Kabir Suman's complaint against the panchayats in Jadavpur, West Bengal, where his rights to take up development works have been stunted, is one face of MPLADS. There are several other experiences. But essentially the scheme is anti-democratic. If a sitting MP gets Rs 2 crore per year totalling Rs 10 crore in the course of a full Lok Sabha term, it is a great deal of money to help him consolidate his seat for his re-election. He can use the money to make sure that almost no one else can contest against him successfully. Conceptually, he can manage to save Rs 2 crore out of Rs 10 crore for campaigning in the next election. He could promise each of the MLAs or potential MLAs in his area say Rs 50 lakh each. Arrangement would be that up to the figure of Rs 50 lakh he would endorse any scheme that an MLA friend recommends.

How much of the fund will be deployed usefully and how much selfishly will depend on the MP. All that an MLA has to promise the MP is his continued support. The balance Rs 4.5 crore could be used to oblige all or any influential person in the constituency who comes up with a request. With such organised distribution of money, how difficult would be the challenge before any rival at the end of five years. The distribution would be over and above what other favours the MP can dole out normally with the help of his position. If by chance, the figure is quintupled to Rs 10 crore per year, as proposed by the Standing Committee of the Lok Sabha, only heaven can help any rival to get elected.

No doubt, there are MPs who are shortsighted and do not deploy their grants with re-election in view. For example, there was one MP who won in 2004 and lost in 2009. During the five years he was Minister, he followed an openly known policy of charging 10 per cent in cash for signing anyone's proposal of development in his constituency. He did not oblige with any deed free of charge. There are a number of MPs who are careless and do not use their grants sufficiently. They must be upright but not organised enough to deploy the money for rightful projects. Unfortunately, the local Government or the District Collector does not normally offer any help in implementing projects. Nor do the panchayats.

When I was in Parliament, for the two years, I was entitled to a total of Rs 4 crore. Having only a small industry in Vadodara, I approached the Collector who said his department cannot not help build anything. He readily phoned the District Planning Officer to cooperate with me in sanctioning the projects. He could do nothing more. After some thought, I decided to approach Sulabh with the idea of building public lavatories in the city. This organisation had the required machinery to design each set of toilets and to deal with the municipality in obtaining the sites, constructing the public lavatories and, thereafter managing them. Over the years, 46 sets were built in Vadodara and today they are all functioning satisfactorily. Without this organised help, I do not know how usefully I would have deployed the funds.

Rs 41 lakh were spent in donating several hi-tech heart diagnosis machines at the Vadilal Sarabhai public hospital in Ahmedabad. A community centre at Gorwa in Vadodara and seven halls in Government schools were constructed by the Municipal Corporation although normally it does not help. A whole building was constructed by the State Reserve Police at Makarpura for its own primary school. Ten bus stands in the city and a hundred more in the district might not have seen the light of day but for Sulabh reluctantly agreeing to come to my help. Incidentally, there is still money available for another three sets of public lavatories but no suitable sites could be located.

All this work has been done by incurring Rs 4 crore and 28 lakh gathered in bank interest while various projects were in progress. Does not that show how the implementation machinery is more important than the funds? I have no doubt that a great deal of money is being wasted even by well meaning MPs on account of deficient machinery. I gather that one or two political parties do take on the responsibility of implementation of MPLADS projects in order to earn goodwill for themselves. But the normal advice by political parties is go by the requests of the local workers and keep them happy. Such advice results in the mushrooming of NGOs who can legally accept the money from the District Planning Officer on the MP's recommendation and then do what they think best.

MPLADS can be anti-democratic in another sense. Under the Westminster model, a majority of MPs are free to vote out the Government if it does not function to their satisfaction. They either propose a vote of no-confidence or vote against the Government on a Financial Bill. If an alternative Ministry is not formed, the Lok Sabha would be dissolved and fresh elections called. Which MP could get re-elected, and who would not, is unpredictable. How many MPs would have the detachment to risk their MPLADS grants, by collaborating to topple the Government?







It was ostensibly about obscenity, but it was really about corruption and censorship — and in the end, justice prevailed. Last week a Zambian court found journalist Chansa Kabwela not guilty of "distributing obscene material with intent to corrupt public morals." What obscene material? She had sent photographs of a woman giving birth in a hospital parking lot during a nurses' strike to senior Government officials.

Zambian President Rupiah Banda called a Press conference and declared the photographs "pornographic." Soon after, Kabwela was arrested on obscenity charges. She faced a five-year jail sentence if she were found guilty — but Mr Banda's real motive was probably the fact that the paper Kabwela works for, the Post, constantly accuses him of corruption.

The Post is probably right. Mr Banda succeeded Levy Mwanawasa, a President of unquestioned integrity, after the latter died of a stroke last year. But unlike Mwanawasa, he has failed to pursue the previous President, Mr Frederick Chiluba, a monumentally corrupt man who has been ordered by a British court to repay Zambia $ 55 million that he had stolen.

Mr Banda has not tried to collect the $ 55 million from Mr Chiluba, and has stopped any further action against him in Zambia's courts. An unsympathetic observer might wonder if some of Mr Chiluba's stolen millions have bought Mr Banda's complicity. The Post wonders that out loud, so Mr Banda went after its news editor, Chansa Kabwela.

The pictures Kabwela sent out were not pornographic. Rather, they were horrific: Images of a woman in the midst of a breech birth, the baby's legs dangling out between her own while its head was still inside her. It all happened in a hospital parking lot (she had already been turned away from two clinics), but nobody would help her because of the strike, and the baby suffocated.

Her appalled and furious relatives brought pictures of the scene to the Post. Kabwela did not publish them because they were so upsetting, but she sent copies to senior officials together with a letter urging them to intervene and settle the strike. That's when Mr Banda declared the images pornographic and had her arrested.

The courts are still independent in Zambia, and in the end Kabwela was found not guilty — but many of the witnesses were genuinely more shocked by photographs of a woman naked from the waist down than by the horror of what was actually happening. As one witness said: "We are all Zambians here. We all know this is not allowed in our culture."

The word you're looking for is 'prudish,' and it applies to a lot of African popular culture. Never mind what's actually happening. We don't want to hear about it, and we certainly don't want to see it. The Zambian elite has been devastated by HIV/AIDS — the higher the social class, the worse the death rate — and yet nobody wants to talk about sex, let alone about the links between sex, power and violence.

Go a thousand kilometres south to South Africa, and the gulf between appearances and reality is even wider. Last June the country's Medical Research Council published a study about rape and HIV which reported that 28 per cent of South African men admitted to having raped a woman or a girl. (A further three per cent said that they had raped a man or boy.)

Almost half the rapists said they had raped more than one person, and three-quarters of them said they had carried out their first assault before the age of 20. They didn't use condoms, and they were twice as likely to be HIV-positive than non-rapists. This is a national calamity that is killing more people than a middle-sized war, and causing a huge amount of pain and grief. Yet few South Africans are even willing to talk about it.

Many Africans will be feeling very defensive at this point, but a lot of this reminds me of where I grew up. There was an amazing amount of low-level violence around — you saw it literally every day — and there was also a huge amount of sexual predation. In the boys' school I went to, the male teachers molested the boarders on an industrial scale, although day-boys like me were fairly safe. And none of it was ever admitted or discussed in public.

Now I live in a culture where we are no longer prudes. Everything is out in the open, including trivialised, commercialised sex on a hundred channels. Around half of all marriages end in divorce, but gays, once persecuted and forced to hide, can also get married if they want to. You can still mugged in the street, but the level of casual violence — usually men beating up on women or kids — is sharply down. I bet that the real figures for rape are down a lot too.

I like the transformed culture I live in now a lot better — and it occurs to me that what we are seeing in Africa now may be as transitional as what I grew up with in Newfoundland. In which case the moral and cultural changes that socially conservative Africans see as a descent into darkness may actually be a move towards the light.

The writer is a London-based independent journalist.








MIR WAIZ Umar Farooq is wrong when he says China has a stake in the Kashmir issue. By occupying Aksai Chin and accepting the illegal gift of the Shaksgam Valley from Pakistan, Beijing has gatecrashed into the Jammu & Kashmir issue, but it has no stake.


China has in the past tried to pose itself as a neutral in the dispute between India and Pakistan over J& K. It has even accepted that the transfer of the Shaksgam Valley is subject to the final settlement of the dispute. Though it has given aid and comfort to Pakistan generally, on the issue of Kashmir it has not been particularly helpful. It did blackmail India into accepting a ceasefire in the 1965 war when Pakistan looked like losing. But neither in 1971, nor in the Kargil war did it play any kind of a role.


But of late, Beijing seems to have changed its mind. The issue of stapling visas for people of the state visiting China is one sign of this. Another very obvious one is the invitation to the Mir Waiz to visit the country. The government of India has been correct in not objecting to the visit. At the same time it is on sound grounds to insist that it will not accept stapled visas.


Probably it is not a coincidence that the Mir Waiz has lauded the recent Sino- US joint statement calling for Beijing to play a role in promoting " peace, stability and development" in South Asia. Getting Beijing to play a larger role may also fit into the Obama Administration's desire to hasten the dispute resolution process in the region. However, between the desire and the implementation there is a shadow — that of China's not- so- friendly attitude towards one of the principals, India.







THE Unicef's State of the World Children report which ranks the country a low 49th in a list of 194 countries, is a damning indictment of the Indian state. While there is no denying that the figures have bettered since the country signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child ( CRC) in 1992, this improvement is just not good enough. Five thousand children under the age of five still die every day in India, translating into one million deaths within the first month of birth, and another million within the age of five, every year.


The fact that a large number of these deaths can be prevented through simple measures should jolt the authorities out of their complacency. Needless to say, the mortality rates have a direct link with the economic status of the parents. In fact, the educational level of the mother, too, is a factor here. The scene is as bleak on the nutritional front, with 55 million children under the age of five being underweight.


The Centre can cite some initiatives it has taken to improve this state of affairs but unless they lead to significant changes at the ground level their efficacy will remain open to question.







THE Telecom Regulatory Authority of India's ( TRAI) move to proactively fix the ceiling on the charges that can be levied for providing number portability at Rs 19 will be widely welcomed by consumers. That the move has happened a couple of months before number portability itself actually happens, is both laudable, and sets a healthy precedent for the regulator itself to follow. By clearly spelling out the rules in advance, TRAI has made the process transparent to all.


This is a sharp change from the past.


Number portability itself has been subject to a number of delays and stumbling blocks, most engineered by existing interests in the telecom industry. The reason is obvious. By allowing consumers to change service providers, without subjecting them to the inconvenience of changing their mobile number in the process, it allows free play to competitive forces. Those who provide better services, and a more attractive talk plan, will be able to pull customers.


With India's mobile subscriber base slated to hit 533 million by next year, the game will also change. The focus will shift to switching customers from competition, rather than simply adding new ones. It becomes all the more imperative, therefore, that the regulatory body plays a proactive role in protecting consumer interests.








THE attack on the leading Marathi editor Nikhil Wagle and two offices may be shocking but are not surprising.


There has been, in urban Maharashtra a palpable sense of crisis in the Shiv Sena about the new outfit by Raj Thackeray having stolen its thunder. The leading writer Shobha De, no less, even singled out the younger man as having " felt the pulse of the street" in the recently concluded State Assembly polls.


The Shiv Sena was in crisis. What better way to retrieve lost ground than intimidating an editor and his staff whose only defence lies in pen, camera and computer board? The fist it appears in India of 2009 is far mightier than the pen, the muscle of the bully over the word. It is not a party or a leader who alone should be singled out. It is the very nature of politics that sees bravery and courage in the politics of intimidation.


It is not an editor or a media house that is under threat. It is the right of free speech, the freedom to express one's views, the freedom, within bounds of the law and decency, to cause offence.


Were dissent to die, democracy would be lifeless. Were free speech to end, the country would be akin to a prison. The very defence of the Shiv Sena speaks volumes. The editor, its leaders say, had caused offence several times to the Marathi people. The people of one of India's largest states, one that gave this country some of its finest sons and daughters, the home of reformers who reshaped the course of our joint history, are now said to be in crisis.


First, it was the campaign against the so called outsiders, the taxi drivers and chatwalahs who make Mumbai their home so they can remit money to pay for a child's education, lessen the burden of farm family back home in the plains of the Ganga.


Now, it is Maharashtrians who dare to differ with the tiger of the Shiv Sena. After all, more than four decades ago this was how a cartoonist launched a career in the arena of politics. First it was Communists, and then it was south Indians. Over the last two decades, the targets have shifted, sometimes this minority and sometimes that one.


All along the larger parties have watched, waited and struck deals when it suited them. The Congress saw in the rise of the Sena in VP Naik's long tenure as chief minister, the perfect stick to beat labour unions and leftists with. By the late Eighties, defence of saffron, a colour associated traditionally with renunciation, was pressed into service for the pursuit of power.



The tighter of the Sena and the lotus flower of the ascendant Bharatiya Janata Party took them to the position of a powerful Opposition in Mumbai and New Delhi and made them partners in power in the state as well as Centre.


It is striking how nearly 17 years on, the massacres of Mumbai have gone unpunished, the leader of a party who day in and out referred to practitioners of faith as ' harive saap' or green serpants, found the police and the ministers could not find a clause in the Criminal Procedure Code that he had violated.


What the elder Thackeray did, the younger soon excelled at. In 2004, aspirants coming to Mumbai to appear for a railway entrance exam were beaten up on the railway stations, with the police as mute spectator. ' Ask not for whom the bell tolls', the poet John Donne wrote, ' it tolls for thee.' But what is striking about the Maharashtra of today like the Gujarat of today, is how few voices are raised in protest. In Pune, where a mob attacked and vandalised the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, barely a few down men and women, mostly aged litterateurs, many since deceased, gathered to protest.


This ability to garner support for the right to speak is lifeblood for democracy.


It is but natural that an opinion should cause offence and that a view should provoke others to disagree with its proponent.


Of course, the tradition of trying to wrest the public space over to one group and deny others any voice at all is not new or novel to India or Maharashtra in particular.



Ramakrishna Govind Bhandarkar, the great historian and Orientalist himself was witness to the power of the mob when he clashed with Bal Gangadhar Tilak on the issue of the Age of Consent Bill. In the 1890s, the government, under pressure from social reformers embarked upon a new legislation. This was not a revolutionary measure: it would simply have raised the age of consent for Hindu girls from ten to the age of twelve years.


The measure, much like prohibitions on Sati earlier in that century, was attacked by conservatives.


Leading the group were nationalists who were proud to be extremists in opposition to the Raj. The law they felt would endanger the family and interfere with religion. The Shastra would give way to secular legislation.


Voices were raised in support of the measure.


Among them was Vivekananda who asked if religion meant being a mother at a tender age.


There was Jyotiba Phule who saw this as the orthodoxy shackling women's rights. Bhandarkar for his part contested the readings of the Shastra. He drew on his formidable knowledge of Sanskrit to show there was no such sanction in the Shastra for under age marriage.


The extremists were not able to hold ground. But they struck at a weaker target. The Parsi social reformer Bahram Shah Malabari was assaulted in public. The Reform Conference had its stage broken up and its speakers forcibly dispersed. Malabari was publicly attacked and in print. He was, the articles said, a Parsi who dare not meddle in the affairs of Hindus.


Community came before nation, and culture before women's rights. And needless to add, coercive power ranked above free speech.


The campaign against the age of consent had an ugly side, a mood of intolerance, a streak of fanaticism.


It did not merely differ with its opponents. It sought to crush them, literally and physically. It is a different matter that social reform continued. Its spirit did not break.



Such incidents are easy to dismiss as the products of personal ambition and the petty affairs of parties and factions. But this might be to err and err seriously. It is not a paper or a channel, an essay or its contents that are at stake. It is the failure all round of so much more.


First, the failure of the government to do its minimal duty to protect those that need the shield of the law. Equally so, it has to wield the law to bring to account the accused. Further, it is the silence of the many. It is this as much as state inaction that emboldens the bully.


It is the idea of an India that gives us all our space to live, breathe and speak in. How can a country be part free and part silenced? If the ruling party is serious about being claimant to a liberal space, the time for deeds has come. Deeds, not words. Or else the nightmare in Mumbai and Pune will be one for all of India.


The writer teaches history in Delhi University








IN the increasingly fragmented polity, the narrow line that divides the treasury and the opposition gets thinner by the day. As Congress leaders continue to strut around with an air of arrogance that is a perversion of their real strength — the party has after all 207 of the 542 Lok Sabha MPs — there is a real chance of the line disappearing altogether. Back to back victories in by- elections and the retention of crucial states like Maharashtra and Haryana have made Congressmen believe in their own invincibility.


The haughtiness of the Congress is forcing the disparate opposition and even some alliance partners to find common ground, as was witnessed when the winter session of Parliament opened last Thursday. UPA allies like the DMK joined the Left, BJP, RJD, TDP and Samajwadi Party in the massive farmers rally organised by Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal that disrupted life in the capital and brought Parliament to a standstill. It is an important moment.


Not since 1989 have parties across the political spectrum joined hands on a common anti- Congress platform. The issue being remunerative prices for farmers, it was perhaps foretold that the Congress led government would capitulate and revoke the ordinance on sugarcane pricing.


But that's beside the point. My hunch is that the assorted non- Congress parties, whether allies or opposition, think the Congress has an attitude problem. A veteran opposition leader recently told me that he had not seen such arrogance even during the eighth Lok Sabha when Rajiv Gandhi's Congress had occupied nearly four- fifth of the seats in the lower house. The arrogance is harder to digest because without the support from outside of parties like the SP and the BSP, the government is technically still in a minority.


Under sustained pressure from the opposition, the government backed down on the sugarcane issue. I suspect this is just the beginning and we will in the near future have plenty of opportunities to find the government with its back to the wall. This week, the prime minister is off to Washington. The Left parties, which opposed the Indo- US nuclear deal last year and the SP whose support bailed out the government in the confidence motion last year, will be keeping a close watch. Much hype was built around the visit which is the first state visit of the Obama administration. A lot of the hype was punctured last week during the course of Obama's tour of China, Japan and South Korea; India wasn't even a blip on President Obama's radar. Worse, by asking his Chinese hosts to act as a middleman on Indo- Pak matters, Obama showed his priorities.


This has flummoxed even pro- US elements in the establishment.


As Manmohan packs his Manmohan bags for the long journey, the news out of Washington is not encouraging either. PTI reports that the Obama administration has sought yet another " assurance" from India on nuclear non- proliferation, in the absence of which, the US will not issue licences to US companies to enter into civilian nuclear trade with India.


Though couched in diplomatese, in an interview with India Today magazine last week, the US Ambassador in Delhi, Timothy Roemer also made it clear that " the Indian government has all along known about… our licensing procedures.


These are not new demands". The ambassador also spoke about the liability legislation that the US is pressing for, which, in the event of things going wrong due to faulty design or technology, would absolve American suppliers of all liability and put the onus of paying compensation on the Indian government.


Among the more than 80 bills that are to come up before Parliament during the ongoing winter session is the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill 2009.


The government will be very eager to push it through but the opposition parties, having tasted blood once, will not let the government have it easy.


The Manmohan visit was finalised months ago, but as it nears, it appears to be a case of bad timing. The warmth of the reception he is expected to get and the elaborate fare at the banquet inside heated tents on the White House lawns notwithstanding, it appears that Obama will have far more on his mind when Manmohan is around. The last time he went to the White House, George Bush was in office and Manmohan gushed " MR President, Indians love you". He won't be saying that this time.


Smoke and mirrors on Bundelkhand


MORE on the Yuvraj. If the content and timing of some of the official announcements are anything to go by, the policies and programmes of the central government are dictated not by the wise men and women who make up Manmohan Singh's cabinet but by Rahul Gandhi. For more than a year now, young Rahul has tirelessly championed the cause of the blighted Bundelkhand region, that comprises 14 districts spread over Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. That the union cabinet approved a Rs 7000 crore package on the day that farmers from western Uttar Pradesh held a rally that virtually terrorised the capital's central district should come as no surprise since UP figures high on Rahul's agenda. But there is a rider.


It is not clear if the package that was announced is in addition to the outlay of Rs 39,000 crore for the state approved by the Planning Commission in the middle of October or if the Plan panel had exercised its prerogative and asked the state government to redirect the amount from the money approved in its annual plan. Mayawati is already livid with the Congress over its fixation with Bundelkhand and is opposed to a separate authority being set up for the region — the Bundelkhand Development Authority, as Rahul has demanded. She had boycotted last month's meeting with the Planning Commission and instead sent her minions to work out the plan outlay at Yojana Bhavan.


It is her contention that a special focus on Bundelkhand can only be at the cost of the other districts, if as she believes, the state is asked to set aside a considerable portion of its annual outlay for the region. If her fears are true, what the UPA government is doing is nothing less than a con- trick. And the government and the Planning Commission would be letting down its Prince Charming very very badly.



AFTER farmers descended in thousands and held the capital to ransom last Thursday and the opposition stalled Parliament, the government finally buckled and amended the ordinance on sugarcane prices but the question persists. Who are the real gainers? The Opposition, the Congress, farmers or the mill owners? The issue was triggered by an ordinance whose aim, the government claims, was to insure farmers against the risk of market prices crashing in years of glut. The long march of farmers led by a united opposition for a fair price to cane growers held the capital to ransom for all of last Thursday.


Last year's Fair and Remunerative Price( FRP) was fixed at Rs 80 and this year it was raised to Rs 129.


Conventional wisdom would suggest farmers would be a happy lot, so why did they descend in thousands in Delhi? Simple. The ordinance takes away the right of state governments to unilaterally hike procurement rates, something that states hitherto did regularly for free political dividends. Every time the state hiked rates, millers paid higher rates to cane growers and the Centre paid more for the levy sugar it collected for the Public Distribution System. Indeed, the Centre and the millers are locked in litigation over arrears amounting to Rs 14,000 crore.


Now the ordinance prevents this by stating explicitly that rates announced higher will be paid by the states. The ordinance also shuts the door on a demand of over Rs 14,000 crore that the Centre owes the millers if it goes by the Supreme Court's observations.


The morcha in and outside Parliament has had some interesting fallout.


First a rattled Congress went into a huddle to carve a new strategy.


And even as the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party chief and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar decided to re- look at the ordinance, a Congress Secretary said Rahul Gandhi had taken up the matter with the prime minister who has promised early reversal that would be in the interests of the farmers. So there you have it. A Congress leader asks the Prime Minister to withdraw an ordinance issued by a Congressled government at the Centre and a party spokesman says it's the Yuvraj's victory. The more important fallout is that the pro- farmer morcha may turn out to deliver a bonanza to mill owners because with the ordinance now quashed, it will revive their Rs 14,000 crore arrears.



STRANGE are the ways of the UPA government. Unless there is a motive that remains top secret, the ordinance promulgated recently — again under a fig leaf cover that Parliament was not in session — to bifurcate the Central University of Jammu and Kashmir into two separate central universities is bizarre.

Henceforth, there will be a central University of Kashmir whose jurisdiction will be limited to the Kashmir division of the state and the Central University of Jammu whose territorial jurisdiction will lie within the Jammu division of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.


If there is such a thing as defying logic, politically or otherwise, this is it and outside of a few people in Lutyens' Delhi, nobody has a clue why a problem has been created where none existed. Apart from the recurring extra expenditure, the Centre will now have to set up infrastructure for the new Jammu University, not to speak of legal imponderables over the transfer of assets and liabilities of the universities. My hunch is that there is someone well connected with an eye on a Vice Chancellor's job and an ordinance has been issued just to create one more job for one more fellow traveller.






MEDIA reports indicate that Union environment minister said last week that, " If there was a Nobel Prize for dirt and filth, India would get it." He has a made relevant point even if the words may sound taunting.


Indeed, why are we such a dirty nation? Civic authorities should be held responsible for not keeping the cities and villages clean. However, citizens are equally responsible for their pitiable civic sense. On their part, the Capital's Resident Welfare Associations do precious little in ensuring hygiene in most localities.


I propose that civic authorities must launch an awareness drive immediately to guarantee a clean and healthy India. Delhi and its satellite townships must serve as an example for the rest of the country.


Schools must include hygiene, civic sense and the environment studies as regular topics of study. And here's an idea: why not the Central government initiate a " Cleanest city in India" award?

Mahesh Kapasi via email



The Ahmedabad cricket Test match last week between India and Sri Lanka was perhaps one of the most boring five days of a cricket fan's life. Just 21 wickets fell across seven days, and seven batsmen hit centuries including a mammoth double hundred by Mahela Jayewardene.


Who is the BCCI fooling? We may be happy that Rahul Dravid is back in peak form and Sachin Tendulkar scored his 30,000th run in international cricket while hitting his 43rd century in Tests. There is even talk him reaching 100 international hundreds what with his 45 tons in One- Day Internationals.


But the reality is that such pitches kill Test cricket. A recent analysis by a cricket website showed that Tests in India are some of the worst matches for results. In the past five years, only two Tests out of the 27 played in Australia have been without result. In South Africa, only three Tests ended in a draw out of 29. In India, only 13 of the last 24 matches produced results.


Clearly, the BCCI is killing its own golden goose to chase the proverbial golden egg in the form of Twenty20 matches and ODIs. If cricketers lose sight of playing for the country in Tests, the overall quality of cricket would go down. The BCCI, surely the most powerful cricketing body in the world, should have greater sense than just producing dead pitches where meaningless records are being created.

Saransh Mehra via email



THIS is with reference to the editorial " Bitter sugar politics" ( November 21). The suggestion to remove sugar from the list of essential commodities makes sense.


Let market forces decide the retail price of sugar, just as is the case with edible oils. On its part, the government could import sugar as and when need to check any adverse price fluctuation.


The phenomenal figure of Rs 14,000 crore which was paid by the government towards the difference in PDS procurement and retail prices could be used for subsidising the high cost of imported sugar when demand is more than supply.

Manjula Pal via email







The perpetrators and planners of the outrageous attack on the offices of two news channels in Mumbai and Pune must be punished, and fast. Shiv Sena has already owned up to the attack and its leaders have even justified it. The government has promised action and arrested a few people, but it remains to be seen if they follow through.

The Maharashtra government needs to stand by the rule of law if it genuinely wants to end this menace of political violence. It has not shown much inclination to do that so far, despite repeated incidents of violence and rowdyism by the Sena and its off-spring, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). The ineptitude of the government has surely not been lost on the two Senas, which are competing to promote a chauvinistic agenda. The Shiv Sena even targeted a national icon like Sachin Tendulkar for refusing to toe its line. There is reason to fear that the government's failure to crack down on miscreants is more by choice than chance. The Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party, partners in government, have denounced the violence but they have shied away from confronting the hate speech of the Senas, especially the MNS, through political and administrative action.

Such masterly inactivity could stem from the calculation that the emergence of the MNS has split the Sena's support base. The Congress and the NCP ducked anti-incumbency to win a third term in office mainly because of a divided opposition. The two parties seem to hope that the MNS will continue to check the Sena and vice versa and tilt electoral politics in their favour for ever. In our view, this approach is shortsighted and dangerous for the future of Maharashtra, as it gives a fillip to chauvinism. The cost of allowing a society to become hostage to imaginary fears of being economically and culturally swamped by 'outsiders' can be enormous. Nevertheless, it's possible that there are genuine grievances which underlie (but do not justify) the scapegoating of outsiders. The Sena and MNS have full liberty to state their point of view and try to garner support for it. But the government needs to draw the line when they threaten or mete out physical violence, or otherwise violate the law.

All political parties must come together to isolate violent elements and prevent them from hijacking the state. The primary responsibility, however, rests with the government. Rule of law is paramount in a democracy. Grievances can be raised and redressed only through legal means and on non-violent platforms. That must be non-negotiable, otherwise governance will collapse and we will join South Asia's other failed states.







What a difference a year makes. India's automobile manufacturers were left reeling due to decreased consumer spending in the wake of the global economic crisis. But as the economy has improved and the government's stimulus measures kicked in, customers are back and how. October car sales were up 34 per cent, the highest increase recorded in two years. India has shown a 19 per cent rise in car sales since the fiscal year began in April. It's one of the few markets where sales have grown - unlike the US and Europe, where sales have remained flat.

But while India's domestic market has meant good news for global auto majors, they have another reason to cheer. India's technical expertise, strong engineering skills and large supplier base mean that the country is an attractive destination for automakers to export from. Indeed, until September this year, India had exported almost three lakh cars a sharp 32 per cent rise over the same period in 2008. For manufacturers like Hyundai, the second-largest carmaker in the country, India is an important hub to export to over 100 countries, including high-quality markets in Europe. Other big names in the auto industry, like Renault-Nissan and Volkswagen, are also ramping up production in India, both for the domestic market as well as for exports. Even the embattled Ford is refurbishing a plant from where it aims to start exporting next year.

India's competitive advantage comes from its high degree of skill and relatively lower cost of production. Analysts estimate that the cost of developing a small car in India is as little as $225 million compared to $400 million in Europe. And though costs in China are comparable, the automobile industry there hasn't yet developed the skills needed to meet strict European requirements. Still, India is a relative flyweight in the global car export stakes Japan exports five million cars a year and South Korea, three million. It's not skill deficiency that accounts for the difference, but rather a lack of adequate transport and energy infrastructure.

Improvements will have to be made in those areas if current rates of growth are to be maintained. The government is likely to roll back excise duty cuts that benefited the auto industry, while the European version of America's cash for clunkers scheme will soon end, probably drying up demand there. That makes it imperative that we adopt the right policies to keep manufacturers interested in India as an export hub.







Washington: Smile but keep your eyes open. In line with the late Ronald Reagan's principle of dealing with the Soviet Union trust but verify Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should be cautiously watchful when he visits President Barack Obama this week.

Manmohan Singh is a naturally careful person. He can keep an enigmatic smile on his face even as he lets his mind move from green to amber. We can be reasonably confident he won't be carried away by the clamour of drums and trumpets that will accompany his visit to this town, the first state visit by any world leader since the Obama administration took charge in January. He will be feted at a White House dinner and guests will raise glasses offering toasts. But he has to ensure that amidst all that noise the warming Indo-US relationship doesn't become toast.

President Obama has returned from Beijing after an apparently successful visit during which he described China as an economic partner that had "proved critical in our effort to pull ourselves out of the worst recession in generations". The fact that the Chinese government holds $800 billion in dollar-denominated US securities no doubt helped the president utter several such words welcoming the growing partnership between the world's two biggest economies. He didn't utter too many words stressing the values of democracy and human rights to avoid annoying his hosts. Although at a joint appearance with President Hu Jintao he did speak of "America's bedrock beliefs" in fundamental rights, which he added were "universal rights", and that China should resume talks with the Dalai Lama, he by and large saw the difficulty of being impolite when visiting the home of America's chief creditor.

Which is why we Indians have to recognise a reality. We may aspire to a seat at the high table of world power but China is already sitting at the head of the table along with the United States. It has enough IOUs in its pocket to stop anyone from pushing it around. We also are a billion-strong nation, a democracy to boot and growing economically at a still impressive rate given the global conditions. But, realistically speaking, we are a second or perhaps third tier force in the eyes of the United States.

Which is also why we shouldn't be surprised that Obama saw nothing illogical about asking China to partner it to help build peace between India and Pakistan. In issuing such a joint statement, some say the US president may have been obliquely saying that China should stop instigating Pakistan; but if he did, he was being too oblique for most of us to notice. As Raja Mohan of Singapore's Rajaratnam School observed at a conference here last week, it's like inviting the fox into the chicken coop. China is a huge part of the problem in South Asia, it would be best if it were kept out.

Perhaps those of us who had assumed that Obama would restore America's world image after eight years of battering under Bush were only too right. President Obama's global popularity is very high. He has toured a record number of countries in his first year and has shown a polite and friendly face everywhere to try to restore America's moral authority at the summit of world power. In fact, his apparent eagerness to please is worrisome.

Occasionally, he has literally stooped to be polite. Early in his administration he bowed before the Saudi king in a gesture that raised eyebrows at home; on this trip to East Asia he bowed before the emperor of Japan making many wonder whether he was acting like the president of a republic or being a starry-eyed fan of royalty.

In China he gave an impression of wanting to avoid offending his hosts at all cost. He participated in a discussion with students all handpicked party members and trained beforehand by Chinese government handlers and spoke mildly of the benefits of a free flow of information for every society. After his joint appearance with President Hu, he seemed to acquiesce with the Chinese decision not to allow questions from reporters.

And what has Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, been advising him? She famously ran a TV commercial during the primary presidential campaign last year suggesting that Obama the candidate was not experienced enough to take a 3 a.m. telephone call requiring the president to make a bold decision in a crisis. What's she saying now? With her vast experience of world affairs, she should have been able to advise the president on, say, how not to upset India with a bring-on-the-Chinese-for-peace statement just before the Indian prime minister's visit to the US. Did she?

Manmohan Singh will receive a warm reception here. President Obama won't bow Singh is only a prime minister but he will bend over backwards to be friendly. The prime minister must make his own, realistic assessment of the president and the US administration's willingness to accommodate India's global as well as regional concerns. India will continue to need US support in the foreseeable future in its quest for prosperity and security. But how much does the US need India?

The writer is a former executive editor of this paper.







Your report English Next says global English may mean the end of English as a foreign language.

English has become a second language for most people across the world. People are using it more and more in their own countries. They are not learning it as a foreign language. It is largely to communicate as a language of business and employment.

You say in India "very many know a few words, but only a few have a high level of competence in both local and more standard varieties" of English. What is the basis of this conclusion?

The majority of students in Indian higher education do not have good enough English. There is no hard data on this, but in 2007, the International English Language Testing System examination conducted by the British Council in India showed that only a third of the candidates had good enough English to be studying at the under-graduate level. It was a self-selected group of students from across the country that wanted to study abroad. Only a third of them scored 6.5 or higher out of 10. Universities have expanded, but the problem is still there. Most of these students are in affiliated colleges. We are not talking about Delhi University or JNU. If you move out of the main highways, you hear less English in India.

You argue that for India to become a superpower, it would need better English-speaking skills. What is the correlation between economic prowess and English-speaking skills, especially since economic superpowers like Germany, Russia and Japan use little English?

In Russia, English has become the working language. It's the corporate language for Germany. Brazil is going to teach English to its students from class I starting next year. The way wealth is created is different after globalisation. Even in mid-1990s, Belgians were teaching English to Chinese so that they could communicate with German and Italian engineers installing machines in their steel factories. In India, not many know the changes that have happened outside. India used to think 'we speak English, so we have an advantage'. You don't get special advantage if everyone speaks English. Twenty years ago you had this special advantage. China is teaching English to a much wider demographic whereas in India, it continues to be to a fairly elite group.

Your report mentions it will be China who will determine the speed at which other Asian countries shift to a global English model?

I think China sets the trend. If China hadn't started learning English, India could have remained more competitive. Everyone has to improve his act with regard to this.







The glancing reference to South Asia in the Barack Obama-Hu Jintao joint statement on November 17 in Beijing has raised a storm of comment in India, not least from the South Block which read it as insinuating a third party into what it insists must be a bilateral Indo-Pakistan relationship. We read the statement as insinuating a larger claim.

The statement says among other things: ''The two sides support the improvement and growth of relations between India and Pakistan [and] are ready to work together to promote peace, stability and development in [the South Asia] region.'' This can be read as a reversion to cold war practice when the two superpowers took it upon themselves to manage regional relations.

It is curious and disquieting to find the Obama administration on the eve of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Washington slighting India's security interests in South Asia. Was there adequate consultation and deliberation? Where are the voices in the Obama administration that know China is not a disinterested party in South Asia? China has a long history of helping Pakistan against India. And China has made strategic moves via Myanmar and Balochistan and territorial claims in India's north-east that are inimical to India's security and territorial integrity.

Where were the voices to remind those drafting the joint statement that the Clinton and Bush administrations had recognised India as a strategic partner and as a global as well as a regional power? The Obama team may have been right to pursue a policy of cooperation rather than confrontation with Beijing, but is China the country to be asked to promote peace and stability in the South Asia region?

As the Indian PM begins his visit to Washington, what should Obama's team be telling the president about India? Let's start with the China-India equation. In the short run, China is dependent on exports to the US to sustain its prosperity and political stability and the US is dependent on China for buying the debt, currently at over $800 billion, that sustains US government spending for economic recovery. But in the medium to long term India may be better positioned than China, politically and economically, to work with the US for global peace and prosperity.

India's population pyramid has a broad base of young people and a proportionately smaller peak of older people. If India can properly feed and educate its young population it will have a workforce better positioned to sustain a productive economy. China's one- child-per-family policy has produced an inverted population pyramid; proportionately fewer young people to work in the economy and to support an ageing population. China's spectacular economic growth has been based on low cost obsolescing industrial technology; India's impressive but less spectacular growth has been based on new technologies, particularly in IT services. India's economy is oriented to its domestic market, while China's economy is export-oriented, a condition that makes China more vulnerable to global economic shocks and to its bilateral relationship with its largest trading partner, the US.

India's political legitimacy seems more secure because it is rooted in a proven, stable democracy that periodically can and does ''throw the rascals out'' while China's seems less politically secure because the legitimacy of its authoritarian regime is dependent on high levels of economic growth. And India's income distribution, while leaving much to be desired, may be politically more viable than China's where burgeoning income inequalities have accompanied its rapid economic growth.

Finally, India has increasingly proved that it can influence the world via soft power, the power of its capacity to live peacefully and democratically with difference, the power of the modernity of its tradition, the power of its creative writers and popular films. Perhaps the Obama team should advise the president not to put too many of his eggs in the China basket so that enough go into India's.

The writers are professors emeriti of political science, University of Chicago.






In close circles, senior family members often whispered and teased father and grandpa on their unabashed crush on Hollywood movie stars. The old gentlemen, avid movie-buffs, were enamoured no end by sultry stars of their time, Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich. I wondered how the old boys would have reacted to the news that their dream girls, the perfect women, were really not women in the light of new revelations! No doubt this shocking news would have had them falling off bar stools in the officer's mess or wherever they were hanging out in old Lahore. Luckily for them there was little sex testing in those pre-partition days, and certainly no certain professor Wiebke Arlt, Dept of Medicine, Birmingham University, to play spoilsport. If you haven't heard, Arlt is the researcher who has 'found out' that many a 'tall, slender, very beautiful with peachy skin' glamour queen has 'mismatched chromosomes'. To cite an example, the prof holds up Garbo and Dietrich as cases in point glam dolls who were, well, technically born male!

'They would look and behave like a girl,' Arlt says, 'But they do not have a uterus... They can't bear children.' In every other way, they exude sizzling femininity, though. That information may be hard on fans of the famous femme fatales. Millions of hot-blooded males in the WWII era who saw Garbo had their bifocals fogged up when the sultry Swedish screen siren went `Gimme a whiskey with ginger ale on the side and don't be stingy with the whiskey, babe', or when the other blonde bombshell in a low-cut, sequined black dress, pencil-thin eyebrows, and bedroom eyes crooned 'Falling in love again' in the movie Blue Angel. Sitting with long legs straddling the back of a chair, she sent pulses racing and had the guys in a sweat. Would this have happened if the intrepid Arlt had brought this news to earlier generations? "Then again one never knows... about men," says the wife enigmatically, adding a twist to the disturbing scenario. Remember that funny dude chasing Jack Lemmon dressed as a woman in the movie Some Like It Hot? Try as Jack might to put off the guy, he doesn't succeed even after he pulls off his wig and yells, "I am not even a woman!" The dude, Osgood, famously said, and got firmly embedded in cinematic lore, with the line, "Well, nobody's perfect!"








The Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) have a branding battle and the world outside gets hurt. In a scenario that's becoming painfully familiar, both collectives of sainiks are on a mission to come out looking the loudest, the craziest and the most visible embodiment of reactionary violence between the two. Perhaps this is the shakedown before things settle down with the MNS permanently carrying the powder keg that the Shiv Sena's patriarch Balasaheb Thackeray concocted decades ago. Perhaps the two Senas will feed off each other in a battle of survival that involves only one principle: our goons are more effective than yours but let both our goons ply their trade. Whatever the case may be, Friday's blatant attack on the offices of Hindi and Marathi TV news channels IBN7 and IBN-Lokmat in Mumbai and Pune by a Shiv Sena mob poses a serious question: do we play into the hands of groups like the MNS and Shiv Sena by treating them as political parties rather than what they really are — shock-troopers terrorising the citizenry under the sanction of parliamentary politics?


Only a few days ago, the MNS made it to the news by assaulting a legislator inside the Maharashtra assembly building. Then came Bal Thackeray's sniding remarks in the Shiv Sena publication Saamna against Sachin Tendulkar's comments against rabid Marathi parochialism. Mr Thackeray was well within his rights to make his opinion public, as was anyone else to make his or her opinion about Mr Thackeray's rant public too. Where the ball rolls too far from the court each time is the violence that is subsequently unleashed. This 'dramabazi' must be stopped and stopped with the same fanfare that accompanies Sena vandalism and goonery.


It wouldn't be out of place to ask ourselves — as well as those authorities whose task is to see that law and order don't become casualties at the altar of agitprop politics — whether we have become complacent while dealing with the MNS and the Shiv Sena. At some level, their extra-judicial behaviour has been accepted as a necessary irritant that can be tolerated because 'sainiks will be sainiks'. Political parties that abhor the ways of both the Senas, too, pussyfoot about and worry more about the 'backlash' of taking action against these political terror units rather than taking firm action against them to send out the message that criminal activities won't be tolerated. This must stop. And for starters, the law must come down hard not only on the perpetrators of the mahyem unleashed on the news channel offices on Friday but also on the party that makes such attacks so easy to carry out and exists on them.








Chinese have it. But as far as their sales at the ongoing India International Trade Fair in New Delhi go, they have it in too little time. It turns out that while the world, India included, keeps banging on about cheap and sub-quality Chinese goods, exhibitors from the People's Republic at the trade fair left midway as they had achieved their sales target in less than a week. Ok, so they were traders not making retail sales but only taking bulk orders. But going by the interest in Chinese durables (sic), one can be pretty sure that cheap wholesale goods, rather than border disputes and competing rates of growth are where India-China people-to-people relations are at.


The Chinese reputation for hardsell with soft prices matched with the Indian reputation for haggling and having one's focus on bargain prices are the ingredients of a perfect demand-supply fairy tale. Some Sinophobes, of course, see it as the perfect S&M relationship in the making.


But we'd rather see it in a different way. Instead of comparing the scales of preparation that went into hosting the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the one that are underway to make the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games more than just operational, why don't we, proud land of the baniyas, wake up and smell the ginseng and learn something about the 'economics of scale' from the Chinese traders who've left Delhi for their homes already.









It does seem that Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh chose an inopportune time — the eve of the crucial UN climate negotiations — to endorse the findings by a retired scientist that Himalayan glaciers have not been 'retreating' any faster than they have been for the past century. The study by V.K. Raina, a former Deputy Director General of the Geological Survey of India, has apparently not been peer-reviewed. No less a person than R.K. Pachauri, who chairs the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has rubbished the report as "totally unsubstantiated scientific opinion".


However, Ramesh may not be as club-footed as he appears. The move is in sync with his far bigger gaffe in unilaterally altering India's endlessly-stated position by offering greenhouse gas emission cuts voluntarily and, what is more, putting these up for verification by supranational agencies. He is only articulating the proclivities of a section of this country's elite, which believes that it is in our interests to ally with the US in our foreign policy, possibly as a counter to China. Although Ramesh did a volte-face when confronted with a political backlash, we should not be surprised if Prime Minister Manmohan Singh enters into bilateral energy technology deals with the US when he meets President Barack Obama in the White House later this month, subverting the UN negotiations.


As it happens, the International Federation of Environmental Journalists (IFEJ) recently held its congress in Delhi where two top glaciologists briefed the media. Admittedly, the science is complex because glaciers are masses of ice in motion and unless one has time-series data it is difficult to estimate the rate of retreat or, indeed, whether they are retreating at all.


However, Rajesh Kumar from the Birla Institute of Technology at Pilani demonstrated that the Gangotri glacier, source of the Ganges, has retreated by 2.29 km in 117 years, but the highest rate was recorded between 1966 and 1971, when it retreated by 92 metres a year. While the rate in subsequent years has not been anywhere as high, it is on the retreat.


Between 1976 and 1990, it has lost 10 per cent of its area, the highest recorded since 1942. His photograph of the
Gangotri's 'snout' last month clearly shows water flowing under the mass of ice, revealing melting.


Similarly, his studies of the Kafni glacier in Kumaon show that its snout has retreated by some 21 metres a year between 1977 and 1990. But in subsequent periods, it hovers around 10 metres a year. This period, between 1976 and 1990, has witnessed unprecedented industrial growth throughout the world, India not excluded, and this has meant the relentless burning of fossil fuels. What other explanation can there be for this spurt in the glacier's retreat? Just like in global warming, which has a far more even trend, there are some years which aren't as hot as others; we know far less about Himalayan glaciers, often referred to as the world's 'third pole'.


Prof Syed Iqbal Hasnain, now at The Energy & Resources Institute, travelled to Leh to meet the IFEJ journalists recently. He is studying the "disappearance of Himalayan ice" and what is controversially known as the Asian Brown Cloud.


Particulates emitted into the atmosphere due to inefficient chulhas and dirty vehicles have landed up as 'black carbon' on the glaciers, hastening their melt. Although this was officially denied when it surfaced in 1991, it is now conclusively proved from the work of V. Ramanathan from the University of California at San Diego, who also briefed journalists in Delhi.


As much as half the glacial melt can be attributed to black carbon and in his article in Nature in 2008, Ramanathan estimated that average temperatures in the Himalayas have risen by 0.25 degrees per decade in recent years. This poses a real danger to the 'water tower of Asia': 1.3 billion people in South Asia rely on glacial melt for their rivers to flow, along with the monsoon. As journalists learned in Leh, villagers who depend on such melt are very much aware of the decline, scientific squabbles notwithstanding. Prof Hasnain has installed instruments in several glaciers and found that Chhota Sigri in Himachal Pradesh, for instance, is declining by 40 metres per year. He predicts that Himalayan glaciers will retreat by 43 per cent by 2070 and by 75 per cent by the end of the century.


Raina's thesis runs counter to that of the IPCC's authoritative working group report, which in 2007 asserted that Himalayan glaciers "are receding faster than in any other part of the world and, if the present rate continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high if the Earth keeps warming at the current rate". The IPCC has always been accused, if anything, of erring on the side of caution and this section was contributed by ten scientists, peer-reviewed.


Darryl D'Monte is Chairperson, Forum of Environmental Journalists of India (FEJI)


The views expressed by the author are personal








The overtures of two former chief ministers — Uma Bharti and Kalyan Singh — to the BJP appear to be prompted by their desire to return to the saffron party, in view of the fast-changing political developments. Though Bharti has clarified that she would prefer becoming a part of the NDA since she had some differences with her erstwhile party, Kalyan Singh has no such qualms. In fact, both are weighing their chances by sending feelers to various leaders and, perhaps, feel that they may get accommodated in the new-look BJP.


Both Bharti and Singh are Lodhs and both were popular leaders. Among second-generation leaders in the BJP, Bharti was the only mass leader before Narendra Modi came on the scene. Her disillusionment with the party was on account of the coterie around L.K. Advani, which she felt was always conspiring against her.


Bharti's feeler to the top leadership was sent when it became more or less clear that her tormentors were going to be replaced. But she has reservations now, since the RSS, under pressure from the D-4 leaders — Venkaiah Naidu, Arun Jaitley, Ananth Kumar and Sushma Swaraj — seems to have changed its stance towards them.


In the case of Kalyan Singh, his love affair with Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav is over. He now feels that the party used and then dumped him. The timing of his dumping coincides with that of Rajnath Singh's exit as party chief. The push factor behind Kalyan leaving the BJP was its president, Rajnath. Now with Rajnath out, the field is open for him to make his importance felt again in the saffron brigade. But vested interests may ensure that both Kalyan and Uma remain out.


But what could be most distressing for the RSS is that it has reconciled to the possible continuation of the D-4 leaders in their positions of importance under pressure. In other words, Mohan Bhagwat — the RSS Sarsanghchalak who had publicly belittled the four prominent leaders — has taken a U-turn. He has allowed a junior functionary of the Sangh, Manmohan Vaidya, to issue a clarification on his stand, thereby, again spelling hope for these leaders.


In doing so, the RSS has not only diluted its earlier stand but the Sarsanghchalak has ended up with egg on his face. More important, the four leaders close to Advani have realised that the chief was vulnerable to pressure and so can be pressurised in the future too.


The entire episode is somewhat similar to what had happened in 2005 when the then RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan, in an off-the-cuff remark to Shekhar Gupta in his TV show, had stated that both Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Advani should retire from active politics. The Advani coterie had swung into action and the RSS, through Mohan Bhagwat — who was at that time the Sarkaryavah (general secretary) and the second-in-command — had diluted Sudarshan's wish.


The tradition continues even now and the office of Sarsanghchalak stands compromised. In the latest instance since the clarification has come from Vaidya, who is many notches below Bhagwat, the RSS chief's desire to appear as the Sangh's new (Lauh Purush) stands rusted and beyond repair. It is as if a section officer of a ministry was to issue a clarification on a policy statement made by the Prime Minister. It would have been far better if Bhagwat himself had eaten his own words rather than make Vaidya do it.


The fallout of the episode could have serious repercussions for Nitin Gadkari who is being portrayed as the RSS's choice for the BJP president's position. If he were to fail, the RSS will have to face the consequences.

The chances of Gadkari succeeding will now depend on the extent of cooperation that he gets from the D-4 leaders, whom the RSS wanted out but now says they were never out. Politicians are not gullible and the present RSS chief is certainly in for a very rough time unless he speaks upfront on the subject. This round has gone to Advani. Between us.









P R A M O D T I WA R I , C O N G


Sunita Aron in Lucknow


Some time ago a Congress leader shared information about a closed-door meeting held at Congress President Sonia Gandhi's residence, during the Lok Sabha polls, to evaluate the party's prospects in Uttar Pradesh (UP).


"As we kept raising the bar, Gandhi smiled and said she would be happy if we gave her back the nine seats (the Congress already had)," the leader said.


The Congress eventually won 21 seats -- and the party was as surprised as everyone else.


The situation has not changed much since then. The Congress, which lacks competent candidates and a committed cadre in UP, is still unsure about its electoral prospects in the next assembly elections, the bugle for which has been sounded by its competitor, Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Mulayam Singh Yadav.


Historically, doing well in Uttar Pradesh is crucial to winning power in Delhi because the state sends the highest number of MPs -- 80 even after the birth of Uttarakhand -- to the Lok Sabha. And up to 1985, when the Congress last won the assembly elections, the party's principal vote banks were the Dalits, Muslims and upper-caste Hindus. But in the last two decades, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), with its upper-caste urban Hindu base and the SP and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) -- with their constituencies being the other backward castes (OBCs) and Dalits, respectively -- made the Congress virtually irrelevant in the state.


Now, the Congress, though still finding its feet on the shifting sands of UP, is back in the reckoning.


Though the assembly elections are two-and-a-half years away, the main players have started making discreet moves on the political chessboard of the state.


"Wait and watch. Muslims will not desert me at any cost. People wrote me off in 1981 and 1991, but every time I sprang a surprise," said a beleaguered Yadav, who swung into action immediately after his daughter-in-law Dimple lost the Firozabad Lok Sabha seat to the Congress' Raj Babbar in the November by-poll. "We are gearing up for our next battle against the Congress in 2012."


Senior Congress leader Pramod Tiwari said the SP leader could no longer fool the people of UP. "Till yesterday, he (Yadav) was embracing the Ram Temple hero Kalyan Singh," said Tiwari. "Today, he is demanding reconstruction of the Babri Masjid."


Former BJP leader Kalyan Singh, who joined hands with Yadav, was chief minister of UP in 1992, when the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya was demolished for building a Ram Temple in its place.


Many Muslims in the state dumped the Congress after 1992. In their eyes, the Congress government at the Centre had lost credibility for not being able to stop the demolition.

Some returned to the party in this year's Lok Sabha polls. "Muslims now have an option as the Congress is not untouchable for them," said C.P.M.

Tripathi of Gorakhpur University, who has been associated with the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation. "But much would depend on the candidates."


Yadav, who made a futile bid to consolidate the backward caste votes (52 per cent in the state) with the support of Kalyan, a backward caste leader, is back to wooing Muslims. He is desperate to revive the winning `M+Y' -(Muslim (18 per cent) and Yadav (7 per cent) -- combination, which worked so well for the SP in the past.


Known to perform best when pushed against the wall, Yadav dumped the "Temple Hero" this month and revived the Babri Masjid issue by projecting another firebrand leader -Maharashtra MLA Abu Azmi -- as the party's new Muslim face.


The party hopes Azmi will strike a chord with two important sections of the electorate -- those Muslims who want nothing less than the reconstruction of the mosque and the millions of UP migrants who feel threatened by Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.


However, Yadav's magical `M+Y' formula may not necessarily work again.

"We welcome Mulayam's decision to dump Kalyan," said Naeem Hamid, former member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. "But the community has moved forward since the demolition days. Azmi's appeal may now influence only a small fraction of our voters."


However, Azmi's tour of the state starting from December 6 -- the day the Babri Masjid was demolished 17 years ago -- may energise the BJP and hardline Hindu organisations such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.


Kalyan is waiting for the BJP to open its doors for him. The party, in decline in the state and facing a paucity of leaders, may again give him an entry despite thefactthathedidnotimprovetheparty's performance in the 2007 assembly polls.


Though the ruling BSP did well in the November by-polls, the party too is feeling the heat. Officials in the chief minister's secretariat are already working out development plans that Mayawati may roll out in the coming months.


Winning by-elections has enthused the BSP cadre, but the party is cautious and does not want to make longterm projections. "The voter is intelligent. The MLA of a ruling party is always a better choice than that of the Opposition," said a BSP leader. "The MLA can become a minister and he has better clout in the district administration."


All political players seem to have picked up Congress leader Rahul Gandhi's slogan "Mission 2012", which seeks to revive the Congress and return it to power in the country's most populous state after more than two decades.


Will the BSP and SP be able to protect the electoral ground they captured from the Congress in the last two decades

The battle ahead is going to be decisive -- and the knives are out.







AMAN SETHI IN NEW DELHI Last week, the Delhi High Court struck down a right to information application filed at the Election Commission, bringing an unprecedented standoff between two of India's most respected institutions to a temporary halt.


In the case of the Election Commission of India (EC) versus Chief Information Commission & others, the decision came in favour of the EC, which is that a citizen has no right to ask for confirmation of the results of the assembly elections of 2007 in three constituencies of Manipur.


To understand the implications of the court's order, imagine you suspect your ATM incorrectly displays the money available in your bank account.

You could compare the printed account statement with the information displayed by the ATM, but what if your bank refuses to let you?

"All we wanted was to confirm that the information displayed by the control unit of the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) continues to be consistent with the information recorded on form 17 c," said Ali Naqvi, advocate, who filed the RTI application on behalf of Neelesh Misra, a journalist with Hindustan Times.


"This would ensure that the technology behind the EVM is solid and the information does not erode with the passage of time."


Form 17c records all information pertaining to polling and counting for each constituency.


Despite the intervention of the Central Information Commissioner, the EC refused to part with the information on the plea that according to the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, the information could be released only on the directions of a competent court.


The matter was taken up by the Delhi High Court, which upheld the EC's position.


In his judgment, Justice Sanjiv Khanna presented three arguments: First, in prior cases, the Supreme Court has ruled that specific allegations must be made against elected candidates before a re-inspection of ballots may be allowed.


Second, while the right to information is enshrined in the RTI Act, 2005, it must be balanced against the Representation of People's Act, 1951, which ensures the secrecy of voting -- both at the time and after the votes are cast.


Finally, after the results have been declared, ballot boxes are considered to be in the custody of a competent court, not the EC. Hence, the EC cannot be asked to furnish information that it does not legally have.


But EVMs are not ballot boxes.

"There are specific challenges to incorporating an electronic process in our elections," said Menaka Guruswamy, lawyer, Supreme Court. "The law does not consider the contemporary reality of EVMs."


Guruswamy points out that all the Supreme Court precedents cited in the judgment are in the context of manual voting and predate the RTI Act.


Section 22 of the RTI Act states that it shall override all existing laws, and Section 6(2) states: "an applicant making a request for information shall not be required to give any reason for requesting the information". This directly contradicts Justice Khanna's first argument.


The argument concerning secrecy is also on shaky ground. "The EVM provides for complete voter secrecy," said P.V. Indiresan, chairman of the expert committee for the technical evaluation of EVMs. "On pressing the `result' button on the machine, the only information given is a candidatewise tally of votes and the date and time of polling." Thus, the EVM's display does not compromise voter secrecy.


The third argument could cause the most long-term damage. By ruling that the EC has no legal access to information stored in EVMs after the results have been declared, the Delhi High Court has effectively barred the EC from conducting tests on its own voting machines.


The Indiresan Committee has recommended that the EC conduct a periodic recounting of votes at selected booths "to generate a climate of confidence about the infallible nature of (the) electoral process".


With the high court ruling out the possibility of such recounts in the absence of a specific allegation of malpractices, the people's confidence in electronic voting machines will be eroded. If the EC cannot test its own machines, who can?








Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is the Obama adminstration's first state guest, and his visit is expected to clarify a range of niggling doubts about the Indo-US equation. While George W. Bush and Dr Singh decisively inaugurated a new chapter with the nuclear deal, which promised to be only the beginning of a beautiful friendship between two like-minded democracies, was that turnaround for keeps? When Obama was still an unknown quantity during the presidential campaign, he struck a couple of wrong notes with his scare talk about outsourcing, and Democrat mutterings on non-proliferation. In recent months, there has been palpable unease on the Indian side of the equation, as the Obama administration seemed to have simply let go of the India plot. It has tended to use Pakistan as the fulcrum for South Asia, and sees India as one knotty strand in the Afghanistan tangle. Gen McChrystal's report on "increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan" being likely to "exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani countermeasures" hasn't helped, and nor has Obama's recent visit to China, where he seemed to tacitly endorse a mediatory role for China in South Asian affairs. It seemed to suggest that India had simply fallen between two stools — Pakistan and China were urgent priorities for different reasons. Of course, given Obama's complete immersion in his difficult domestic agenda and two battlefronts, this perception is probably more circumstantial than conscious.


Manmohan Singh's visit will be significant in how it manages to convey the congruence of Indian and US interests, India's economic stakes and its participation in security matters — while also pointing out the Indian perception on Afghanistan and Pakistan and where it may depart from the American vision. India must also hammer home the fact that it is invested in maintaining independent and valuable ties with both the US and China.


Meanwhile, there are several concrete deliverables on the Indo-US agenda, from an agreement on nuclear reprocessing procedure to expanding areas of consensus on climate action, financial and tech transfers, counter-terrorism cooperation and expanded intelligence exchange. Defence ties have been dramatically amped up after the nuclear deal, and there is expected to be much greater emphasis on education and cultural synergies. Informally, India and the US have strong economic and social links that have their own robust logic. What this visit seeks to put across is a cogent argument for a natural Indo-US partnership.







The "pendency problem" — or the unacceptably large backlog of cases in our court system — has become something of a mantra. Judges, politicians and legal administrators repeatedly cite this as the number one problem plaguing our justice delivery system. Less frequently recounted are concrete proposals that address this pendency problem. For instance, the need to reduce mindless government litigation has been often voiced, not least by Law Minister Veerappa Moily himself. But such statements of intent have not been accompanied, as yet, by any action plan. It is in this context that the Delhi high court's brick-and-mortar solution to backlogs — arbitration facilities in court premises — is so noteworthy.


The state-of-the-art arbitration facility will be headed by four judges and a governing panel, with arbitrators drawn from retired judges, lawyers and chartered accountants. The procedure in these arbitration courts will be far quicker, and will significantly reduce the burden on the courts. For world over, arbitration proceedings have helped solve disputes that would have otherwise stretched for years. They also hasten out-of-court settlements by warring parties who might otherwise use the judicial process as a negotiating tactic. By permitting retired judges and lawyers as arbitrators, the courts will also ease the acute personnel shortage they are facing.


The proposal is the brainchild of Delhi HC Chief Justice A.P. Shah, who presided over the court's landmark decision to decriminalise homosexuality. His latest reform is as bold, as far reaching. With our courts bursting at the seams, something has to give. So far, it has been delays stretching onto decades, causing many to argue that in India, the process is the punishment.


Reforming this involves a host of changes, such as increasing budgets for courts, limiting adjournments, reducing ill-thought-out appeals by government officials, using information technology, and alternative mechanisms such as arbitration. Some of these must be instituted by the law ministry, others by the judiciary itself. The Delhi high court's model idea not only reduces its own burden, it also sends a message to other courts to follow suit.






First impressions matter. And nowhere does a city, a country for that matter, announce its self-image and aspirations as at the airport. Our airports, till recently, and then too only the bigger ones, were only just that bit better as necessitated by matters of safety and the negligible fear of embarrassment we had. However, among the multifarious changes imposed upon us by the political economy of a globalised world, and almost two decades after we began liberalising our own economy, our metropolitan and non-metro airports are on course to radical makeovers, with Delhi and Mumbai leading the way.


 Most passengers on a given day may not be using an airport for the first time, but an airport assumes arrivals of newcomers to a city. As far as first impressions go therefore, the significance of how the airport looks to the visitor cannot be understated. It's her first point of cognition as to how a city sees itself — the first instance of the city's self-image. And for a resident too, it is no less emblematic of the kind of importance given to public spaces.


 The T3 terminal under construction in Delhi, about four months from completion, is set to propel the capital into the club of 21st-century airports. With 78 aerobridges and a capacity to immediately handle 27 million combined international and domestic passengers (to be enhanced in the coming years), it will stand comparison with the likes of Beijing's imposing new state-of-the-art airport. It hasn't come too soon, given that Delhi recently became India's busiest airport, having handled about 24 million passengers for 2008-09. An airport is ideally a marriage of high aesthetics and user-convenience. The T3 terminal promises to be just that, and should be the inspiration, if not the template, for airport modernisation across the country.








There is something brewing in Indian agriculture and it isn't sweet. Delhi got a glimpse of it last week as sugarcane farmers, mostly from western Uttar Pradesh, gathered in the capital to protest the government's most recent amendment to the sugar procurement policy.


On sugar, the government is stuck between a rock and a hard place. There has been a record rise in retail prices of sugar since UPA-II took office in May. The government would argue that a less than satisfactory monsoon is to blame. But that's not much comfort for the aam aadmi. The government sought to put a cap on prices by fixing a fair and remunerative price (FRP) for sugar which is at least Rs 30 per quintal lower than what some states (most importantly, UP) were offering sugar farmers. The farmers, of course, saw this change as a policy in favour of the mills which would now be able to procure sugar more cheaply. Hence the protests about the UPA being anti-farmer. The government has now passed any burden of a higher procurement price mandated by states on to millers.


While this may send the farmers back to their villages, it will not solve the other half of the government's problem. If mills have to pay higher rates to farmers, they will surely pass the burden to wholesalers who will, in turn, pass it to retailers and by extension to the aam aadmi. If not the farmers, the consumers will rise in protest.


There is a similar problem in wheat and rice where the government has hiked minimum support prices (MSP) by unprecedented amounts in recent times —wheat and rice MSPs were hiked by around 20 per cent each in both 2007-8 and in 2008-09. Someone will have to bear the final cost — either the government (which is already reeling under huge deficits) or the consumers, not all of whom are prosperous farmers and are usually net buyers of food.


Also, the fact that there is an MSP for some crops and not for others potentially leads to another major distortion. Farmers will, following the assured price signal, move away from producing agricultural goods not covered by MSP to those covered by MSP.


Aware of the link between consistently rising MSPs and food


inflation for the consumer, the prime minister expressed concern about this trade-off in reply to a question asked by a young child on why food prices are so high, on a recent Children's Day interaction. But he did not offer a solution. That's not because he doesn't know of one. His reformist economist instincts would indicate that he does. But he perhaps worries about how the political process will react to ideas of agricultural reform. Good economics has, so far, not made for good politics with the Indian farmer.


But we may have finally reached a point of inflexion in the interaction between agricultural output and food inflation, which may present the government a unique opportunity to reform the orthodox political economy of Indian agriculture. For the longest time now there seems to be a consensus on at least two key policy positions in Indian agriculture. First, the overarching need to be self-sufficient in food. Second, that the government, not the market, must set prices for key agricultural goods. Both positions are guided by a general suspicion of the capacity of the market mechanism to deliver fair prices and quantities to both farmers and consumers. Now, in the face of dissatisfied farmers and dissatisfied consumers, that consensus may have reached its breaking point. And about time too.

Even politics may be more amenable to change as there are few things politicians fear more than sustained food inflation. The rate of food inflation, in a most recent estimate is nearly 15 per cent, much higher than the overall wholesale price inflation rate of just over 1 per cent. Those with a long memory will remember how the BJP was first routed in its stronghold of Delhi on the single issue of high onion prices.


The solution to all this is to decontrol pricing in agriculture and to encourage trade, both exports and imports. Consider how this would work in sugar since it's the most in the news. At the moment, there is no way to determine what the fair price of sugarcane is since the government does not allow a free market. Once pricing is decontrolled farmers may indeed get a higher price than what the government is giving them. But to keep local prices in check, so that they do not


become absurdly high, the government must be liberal with imports. In the years of shortage, like in the current year, local farmers will command a higher price but consumers can be protected by aggressively allowing cheaper imports from elsewhere — Pakistan which has surplus sugar would have been a good bet this year.


All this sounds okay, but what about a situation in which farmers, for some reason, are unable to get a reasonable price locally at all? For one, the government should facilitate exports but, given the supply chain bottlenecks, this will need time. In the meanwhile, given that farmers have the ability to organise themselves effectively, a government cannot afford to not have a back-up plan. Here, the government would be well advised to consider a direct cash transfer programme to farmers who need a supplementary income in times of distress. That would not distort the market for consumers and would provide the necessary income support for farmers.


A similar direct cash transfer policy should be considered for the poorest consumers too. Instead of the government procuring vast amounts of foodgrain (and distorting the market) and then distributing it inefficiently through a moribund public distribution system (count in the vast amount which just rots in warehouses), it should just transfer the same amount of money to the poor to buy the foodgrain at market prices.


Of course, you can argue that there are multiple reasons for the spike in food prices beyond just government interference in the market, not least a bad monsoon, international shortages (in pulses in particular), and high commodity prices in the global market which is flush with liquidity in the aftermath of worldwide stimulus. But the fact is that these are beyond the direct control of the government. The best way to counter external shocks is to have our own farm house in order.








You can definitely be excused for not knowing Herman Van Rompuy or Baroness Catherine Ashton — for it seems as though most of Europe was blissfully unaware of the duo. Plucked from relative obscurity during a dinner meeting last Thursday, Rompuy has been appointed to the post of president of the European Union and Ashton is the new foreign policy chief of the Union. These appointments follow the ratification of the hotly contested and severely delayed Lisbon Treaty, one which aims to revamp the bloc, enhance its stature in the international arena and give it a new face.


And many faces there were — to choose from. For much of the past month former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's name was being floated. It was well recognised that he possessed the stature of a senior statesman on the international stage and carried with him years of experience and could hold his own opposite President Obama and Premier Hu. Then there was Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, a celebrity in Europe along with the likes of David Miliband, and Vaira Vike-Freiberga, the former Latvian president.


But, behind the scenes the Eurocrat elite dominated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel decided the new president would be "low-profile, from a small country."


In fact, something of a template had been decided upon following the new treaty's ratification. One position would go to a man and the other a woman, the bloc would be balanced politically as one appointee would be centre-right and the other centre-left, and that one would come from the EU's bigger territory and the other would be a smaller state representative.


This type of thinking is consistent with EU states strategy: a powerful president could lead to an erosion of sovereignty. In fact Van Rompuy seems somewhat of an adequate fit. He was tasked with the role of balancing the opposing Belgian and Flemish factions in his home country — a job that he did remarkably well. Ashton — previously a trade commissioner — has been credited with bringing to the table an elusive deal with South Korea. Thus, Van Rompuy was seen as someone adept at "building consensus" and Ashton an "effective administrator".


Naturally the issue of accountability has been raised. The EU finds itself in a bit of a fix in this situation. Should there be a Europe-wide election, the concept of national sovereignty is not simply challenged but could get negated. Furthermore, should a shortlist be prepared, the national leader is held accountable should he favour a candidate from a foreign country.


The man behind the idea of a European president, former French President, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, took a backseat by stating that "EU leaders had not chosen a George Washington" but rather they had opted for a president who would be "one of them rather than above them."


Speaking on the new appointments, the Europe specialist at Chatham House said, "In Beijing, Moscow and Washington policy-makers and analysts will be hard pressed to discern anything from these appointments. Neither seems to signal any clear intent for a new direction and character for the EU or the future direction of its foreign policy."


What can be deciphered from the new posts are the powerhouses of the EU — Germany and France. It should be noted that only after the French withdrew support for Blair and sided with Germany that a softer candidate was opted for. Further, by appointing a British individual to the chair the foreign policy post, Britain remains somewhat pacified.


However, the bloc has another opportunity to display its direction, this time through economic appointments.


Two other posts need to be filled in January — those of Europe's economic commissioners. The European Council on Foreign Relations maintains that it is these two positions which "have real power to shape Europe's economic destiny." France and Germany now appear to have a free hand in deciding who occupies these positions. 


The two appointments seen so far have been of the lowest common denominator. What remains to be seen is whether the economic commissioners that will be appointed are merely to pacify the bloc — thereby failing the restructuring proposed by the Lisbon Treaty — or whether they take the EU in a new direction.


Thus far, the bloc has punched below its weight. The next round of appointments will indicate whether the EU is moving in a new direction — and whether it has the capacity and political will to evolve.








Barack Obama has been criticised for kowtowing to the Chinese and the Russians over the last few months. But so far, this is all about atmospherics. The administration has not made any unilateral concession of substance to either country. It is taking a strategic view that developing strong relationships with both countries, particularly China, will yield long-term benefits. Strangely, however, that strategic focus has been lost in dealing with Asia's other rising giant, India.


At one level the administration is being friendly. India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh comes to Washington this week for the first official state visit of the Obama presidency. There will be nice words said in public about the ties between the two great democracies. But underneath this lies an unease.


Indian officials worry that the Obama team does not have the same fundamental orientation as the Bush administration regarding India's role in the 21st century. Some Obama officials publicly criticised the nuclear deal championed by George W. Bush, a deal that the Indians regard as basic recognition of their status as a major power. They worry that a Democratic administration could succumb to protectionism. They worry that it is too cozy with China.


These concerns will pass as the two sides get to know each other better. The more lasting danger is that the Obama administration, now intensely focused on the war in Afghanistan, will look at South Asia largely through that prism. Since Washington desperately needs Pakistan's cooperation in that conflict, it is tending to adopt Pakistan's concerns as its own, which is producing a perverse view of the region.


In his leaked report, Gen. Stanley McChrystal warned that "increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani countermeasures." This is a bizarre criticism. India is the hegemon of South Asia, with enormous influence throughout the subcontinent. Its GDP is 100 times that of Afghanistan (not a typo). As Afghanistan opened itself up after the fall of the Taliban, the cuisine, movies, and money that flowed into the country were, naturally, Indian. This is like noting that the United States has had growing influence in Mexico over the last few decades.


The Indian government's aid to Afghanistan has mostly gone to build infrastructure. And while New Delhi is trying to gain influence with the Kabul government, US officials tell me that Indian intelligence has limited operations in Afghanistan. America can't and should not want India to banish itself from its own subcontinent. In fact, India's objectives are exactly aligned with America's — to defeat the Taliban and to support the elected Afghan government.


Pakistan's objectives, on the other hand, are not the same as Washington's. Islamabad has long argued that it has a right to see a pro-Pakistani government in Afghanistan. Asia expert Selig Harrison has noted that in an interview with him in 1988, Pakistan's President Zia ul-Haq demanded "a regime to our liking" in Kabul. Last year a Pakistani general told the director of national intelligence that Pakistan had to support the Taliban in Afghanistan, "otherwise India will reign." Having created the Afghan Taliban, Pakistan has still not taken any steps to dismantle it. Even now, while attacking the Pakistani Taliban in South Waziristan, it has not disturbed the leadership of the Afghan Taliban in Baluchistan.


The Obama administration has also seemed to endorse the idea that if only the dispute over Kashmir were resolved, Pakistan would suddenly attack all the terror groups it has supported over the years. Now, it's fair to say that India is far too prickly about Kashmir, but the only path to any resolution there will lie in building trust between Pakistan and India. That's unlikely to happen while Pakistan refuses to go after the terror group that also planned the Mumbai attacks, Lashkar-e-Taiba.


Generals like McChrystal — no matter how smart or tough — should not make policy, because they confuse the imperatives of the battlefield with a broader view. Obama must keep in mind that South Asia is a tar pit filled with failed and dysfunctional states, save for one long-established democracy of 1.2 billion people that is the second-fastest-growing major economy in the world, a check on China's rising ambitions, and a natural ally of the United States. The prize is the relationship with India. The booby prize is governing Afghanistan.










The writing on the wall is clear. We are not going to have a legally binding climate agreement at Copenhagen next month. The US refusal at the APEC Summit to commit to cuts in green house gases, pending Senate approval of domestic climate legislation, puts a question mark on an effective agreement. Instead, continued legal negotiations to secure a new beginning from Copenhagen towards an era of sustainable low carbon-growth by setting a conclusive deadline next year is a near possibility. This premonition was evident in India's nuanced shift in climate diplomacy by scaling down demands of deeper cuts of greenhouse gas emissions on the part of developed countries from 25 to 40 per cent by 2020 to 25-30 per cent as the best stake to bring all the countries on board for clinching a climate deal.


That the US has agreed to quantify cuts in the near future is nonetheless positive, for US involvement is imperative for an effective deal on climate change as it accounts for more than twenty per cent of the global emission of greenhouse gases. Two things become clear: one, this will silence many skeptical voices raised in the US and elsewhere about scientific certainty and IPCC's projections, as the effects of climate change are already visible; second, significant commercial opportunities associated with forestalling climate change is noteworthy as the global market for low carbon technologies is estimated to amount to USD 3 trillion per year by 2050. Already, it is estimated that industries such as renewable energy, waste management and water treatment will be worth USD 700 billion globally by 2010, on par with the value of the global aerospace industry.


There is already a flurry of activity going on in the US on the climate front. Climate litigations have increased in the US courts by attempting to create or force either actual climate-based regulations, or judicially imposed injunctive relief that would effectively impose standards for greenhouse gas emissions. The plaintiffs are mainly state governments and interest groups dissatisfied with the pace and substance of the federal government's actions in the climate arena. For instance, the Inuit Circumpolar Conference filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in December 2005 claiming that US climate change policy violates their rights by degrading the Arctic. The World Heritage Committee, which implements the World Heritage Convention to which the US is a party, has received four petitions to designate certain World Heritage Sites as endangered because of deterioration caused by climate change. In response, the committee in July 2006 adopted a set of recommendations on ways to respond to the threat of climate change. In early 2007, nearly 400 Inupiat villagers in the Alaskan town of Kivalina filed a legal suit in a US district court accusing twenty-four oil, gas and electric companies of being responsible for emitting tons of green house gases causing sea-ice, used to protect the natives of Kivalina from winter storms, to melt. The suit has two claims: one to recover monetary damages for past pain and ongoing contribution to global warming and second, damages caused by certain defendant's acts in furthering a conspiracy to suppress the awareness of the link between these emissions and global warming.


Preventing climate change need not imply slower growth in either developed or developing countries. Developing countries have claim to rights of subsistence emissions as the global poor are entitled to develop. There is a duty to create and maintain carbon sinks but there is also the duty to incentivise and transfer clean technology. The latter is required in order to meet people's energy needs in a way which does not cause climate change and which does not also expose their users and others to other unreasonable risks. Thus, there are a variety of different mitigation, adaptation and compensation responsibilities consistent with UNFCCC fairness and the common-but-differentiated responsibility principle and respective capabilities. Therefore any global deal on climate change must built upon the Bali-Roadmap, one that requires deep cuts in rich countries and nationally appropriate mitigation action by developing countries; adequate financial support from rich to developing countries; enhanced action on technology development and transfer; and strong action on deforstation. For instance, the REDD (reducing emission from deforestation in developing countries), scheme at Bali aims to allow poorer nations to sell carbon offsets to rich nations in return for not burning tropical forests, and encourages parties to undertake pilot projects to address the main causes of deforestation. This is a welcome step. This programme will focus, for example, on assessments of changes in forest cover and associated green house gas emissions, methods to demonstrate reductions of emissions from deforestation and the estimation of the amount of emission reductions from deforestation.


Thus concerted action to fashion a global deal on climate change, beginning from Copenhagen, must lay the foundation for a future era of dynamic low-carbon growth that succeeds in both cutting emissions and promoting sustainable development in developing countries.


The writer is associate professor at the Faculty of Law,

University of Jammu







President Obama's visit to China this week inevitably invites comparisons between the world's two leading powers. You know what they say: Britain owned the 19th century, America owned the 20th century, and, it's all but certain that China will own the 21st century. Maybe, but I'm not ready to cede the 21st century to China just yet.


Why not? It has to do with the fact that we are moving into a hyperintegrated world in which all aspects of production — raw materials, design, manufacturing, distribution, fulfillment, financing and branding — have become commodities that can be accessed from anywhere by anyone. But there are still two really important things that can't be commoditised. Fortunately, America still has one of them: imagination.


What your citizens imagine now matters more than ever because they can act on their own imaginations farther, faster, deeper and cheaper than ever before — as individuals. In such a world, societies that can nurture people with the ability to imagine and spin off new ideas will thrive. America — with its open, free, no-limits, immigrant-friendly society — is still the world's greatest dream machine. Who would cede a century in which imagination will have such a high value to an authoritarian society that controls its Internet and jails political prisoners? Remember what Grandma used to say: Never cede a century to a country that censors Google.


But while our culture of imagination is still vibrant, the other critical factor that still differentiates countries today — and is not a commodity — is good governance, which can harness creativity. And that we may be losing. I am talking about the ability of a society's leaders to think long term, address their problems with the optimal legislation and attract capable people into government. What I increasingly fear today is that America is only able to produce "suboptimal" responses to its biggest problems. Why? Because at least six things have come together to fracture our public space and paralyse our ability to forge optimal solutions: 1) Money in politics has become so pervasive that lawmakers have to spend most of their time raising it, selling their souls to those who have it or defending themselves from the smallest interest groups with deep pockets that can trump the national interest. 2) The gerrymandering of political districts means politicians of each party can now choose their own voters and never have to appeal to the centre. 3) The cable TV culture encourages shouting and segregating people into their own political echo chambers. 4) A permanent presidential campaign leaves little time for governing. 5) The Internet, which, at its best, provides a check on elites and establishments and opens the way for new voices and, which, at its worst provides a home for every extreme view and spawns digital lynch mobs from across the political spectrum that attack anyone who departs from their specific orthodoxy. 6) A US business community that has become so globalised that it only comes to Washington to lobby for its own narrow interests; it rarely speaks out anymore in defence of national issues like health care, education and open markets.


These six factors are pushing our system, which was designed to have divided powers and to force compromises, into the realm of paralysis. To get anything big done now, we have to generate so many compromises — couched in 1,000-plus-page-bills — with so many different interest groups that the solutions are totally suboptimal. We just get the sum of all interest groups.


The miniversion of this is California. Californians had hoped they could overcome their dysfunctional system by electing an outsider, a former movie star, Arnold Schwarzenegger. He would slay the system, like the Terminator. But he couldn't. Obama was elected for similar reasons. People had hoped that his unique story, personality and speaking skills could bring the country together, overcome paralysis and deliver nation-building at home. A lot of the disappointment settling in among Obama voters today is prompted by their dawning realisation that maybe, like Arnold, he can't. China's leaders, using authoritarian means, still can. They don't have to always settle for suboptimal. So what do we do?


The standard answer is that we need better leaders. The real


answer is that we need better citizens who will convey to their leaders that they are ready to sacrifice, even pay, yes, higher taxes, and will not punish politicians who ask them to do the hard things. Otherwise, folks, we're in trouble.








In his article in these pages ("The futility of a caste census", IE, November 14) eminent sociologist A.M. Shah has expressed apprehensions about a caste census in the 2011 Census. He mentions many difficulties which will make a caste census impracticable and futile. He points out that "what is your caste?" is a complicated question and the Census can't address its ambiguities.


Knowledgeable sources like the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC), and myself personally have never suggested a caste census, but only a census of socially and educationally backward classes/other backward classes (hereafter BCs) in the same way as scheduled castes (SCs) and scheduled tribes (STs) are covered in every Census. In a BC census, the difficulties mentioned by Shah would not arise. There is no need to ask the question "What is your caste?" In the case of SCs and STs the Census enumerator hands over to the respondent the state schedule of SCs/STs or reads it out to him, if illiterate, and asks him whether he belongs to any of the castes/tribes therein, and if so which. In the case of BCs also, it is necessary to follow only the same procedure. There is a central list of BCs for each state.


Population and other information in respect of BCs are required for two reasons. On the positive side, it is necessary for better developmental planning for each category of BCs with the goal of eliminating the backwardness of each of them and bringing every BC to the level of upper castes on every economic, educational and social parameter. On the negative side, it is necessary to silence the repeated attack, in numerous writ petitions, against reservation for BCs on the ground that their population is not known, though the BCs are not responsible for this lacuna. The Supreme Court has on every occasion rejected this argument but it will still continue to pop up again and again. There is a misconception that SCs and STs are constitutionally recognised categories but BCs are not. This is not true. The constitutional recognition of SCs and STs are in articles 341 and 342 and for BCs in article 340. Only, there was gross delay in implementing article 340 at the central level till as late as 1990, though lists of BCs were made in the peninsular provinces and princely states even before Independence. The total number of BCs for all states in the central list is only 1963, not a forbidding or formidable number compared to SCs and STs.


Following a Parliamentary Committee Report, the Census Commissioner enumerated recently various difficulties in conducting a census of BCs. For example, he raised the issue of differences between the central list and Sstate list which raises doubts about which list should be followed. Differences between the central and state lists are minimal and are mainly in two or three states. Certain communities included in those state lists in the past were rightly excluded from the central list. In any case, Census is a central operation by a central organisation and has to follow only the central list. A number of communities mentioned by Shah like Marathas, Jats (except in a part of Rajasthan), Kammas and Reddys will not have to be covered by a BC census because they are not in the central BC list.


Many oppressed/depressed castes/communities have assumed suffixes pertaining to upper castes/communities or new high-sounding names. This is true of BCs including BC Muslims as well as SCs. Some examples are Andhra Pradesh's Nayi-Brahmin, Delhi's Jangid Brahmin, and Bengal's Rajbanshi. There is no doubt or confusion about their identity because the state BC commissions, Mandal Commission, Central Expert Committee of 1993 and NCBC have done a thorough job of listing all such synonyms of each caste in a single entry. Migrants also do not pose a problem. Usually they carry with them their original name, like UP's and Bihar's Rajbhar migrants in Punjab and Haryana and Bundelkhand's Lodh migrants to AP.


Inter-caste, inter-religious, inter-regional or international marriages mentioned by Shah are also not a problem. These are still rare and are mostly among metropolitan, cosmopolitan, migrant non-BCs and do not come into the picture of the BC census. As noted by the landmark Mandal judgement, the general practice even for non-resident Indians is to seek spouses for their children from the same caste back in India. In the rare instances of SC-non SC spouses and their children, Supreme Court judgements have provided guidance. They would also apply to the rare cases of BC-non BC marriages.


The question then boils down to who should conduct the BC census. The Census organisation says that it cannot take on the additional burden and wants it to be left to state BC commissions. These commissions and the NCBC are far behind the census organisation in infrastructure and capability. It is only the central Census organisation that can undertake this. It should be strengthened to the extent necessary for this inescapable task. The Government of India will have to take urgent decisions on this so that Census 2011 is also not lost.


The writer is former secretary to the Government of India







There has been much scepticism, mostly unwarranted, over the direction Indo-US ties will take under Barack Obama, who at least superficially seems less enthusiastic about India than his predecessor George Bush was. But let's not forget that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is on a state visit to the US in Obama's first year in office—if Obama wasn't interested, this would not have happened. However, the plain fact of the matter, which we must learn to accept in India, is that Obama has a number of priorities as President, and India may with perfect justification not figure on the top of the list. One of the reasons is that India and the US now have a fairly stable and well-entrenched relationship, which doesn't need constant reaffirment with grand gestures. As our columnist today says, this is a relationship based on shared values and in the long run India may end up playing the role the UK has, as a close and reliable ally of the US. Also, a lot of Indo-US exchange takes place out of the domain of government—trade, investment, movement of labour, culture—and this will continue no matter who is the President.


Of course, we cannot and should not grudge the fact that the US focuses more often on China and Pakistan than it does on India. In the case of China, let's face it, they are a much bigger economy and share a way deeper economic relationship with the US than we do. If India exported as much to the US as China did, and held as many US treasury bills as China does, India too would get the kind of attention that China has got from almost every US President in recent times. The answer to this is to strengthen our economic foundations, not grudge others. Of course, the US could have been wiser than to issue a joint statement with China, which contained a reference to India and Pakistan. In the world of power and diplomacy, such statements are an irritant more than anything else. Similarly, on Pakistan, India has to come to terms with the fact that Pakistan has a crucial role to play in the US war on terror, at least that's the perception in Washington. We cannot rely on the US alone to handle our problems with Pakistan. Again, like it is with China, we need to pull up our own efforts vis-à-vis Pakistan. Remember also, that Obama is up against unprecedented challenges at home—economy, climate, healthcare—and his presidency depends on his success at home. So, just because Obama's attention is devoted elsewhere is no reason to believe that India is unimportant for the US in the long run. It will always be important.






As per the latest in a frenetic listing of new measures that India's environment minister has been announcing ahead of the Copenhagen climate summit in December, it appears that the government is set to release green GDP data from 2015. Created by US commerce department researchers during the Great Depression, the GDP measure is probably the indicator that gets the most global attention today. But a growing body of work has been gathering momentum to argue that GDP growth rates do not reflect vital aspects of national wealth, such as changes in the quality of a nation's natural resources and ecosystems. Green GDP reflects an alternative accounting measure that adjusts for environmental costs of economic activities. Preparing such a measure of how it's prepared for sustainable economic development is an important step ahead in India's accounting paradigm and policy measures. As Joseph Stiglitz wrote recently, what you measure affects what you do; when you don't measure the right thing, you don't do the right thing. To be clear, GDP is and will remain a key gauge for market output. What's being put on the table is a complementary, rather than substitute, measurement. And as on so many other fronts, China has taken the lead on this one too, publishing its first green GDP data in 2006. Next year, however, it cancelled plans to publish this report. Media suggested at the time that this move came from a reluctance to acknowledge the seriousness of environmental degradation—that had caused the world's worst air and water pollution—and the findings that about 7,50,000 people were prematurely dying just because of urban air pollution.


So, let's face it, green GDP is a challenging endeavour. It will force us to face up to bad news and take mitigative action. But there are indications that UPA-II, and more specifically its environment minister, is taking the green agenda seriously. Even though the global Copenhagen summit looks like it will be dead on arrival, the government hasn't ceased moving on announcing climate initiatives. It's moving ahead on establishing the National Environmental Protection Authority, which will be an autonomous agency to monitor the progress and implementation of environmental laws. Towards this end, it's putting the National Green Tribunal Bill in front of the Parliament this session. Plus, as The Indian Express has reported, the government is moving to make sustainable low-carbon economic growth the central element of the 12th five-year plan. And the Bureau of Energy Efficiency has begun work on the fuel-efficiency labelling mechanism that will assign star-ratings to vehicles according to their fuel-efficiency levels. One could go on. But the bottomline is while India hasn't budged from the 'promoter pay' principle in international negotiations, its domestic announcements mark an altered attitude—we are doing the right thing.







Manmohan Singh visits the White House tomorrow on the first state visit of the Obama administration. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown will have to content himself with watching the coverage on the BBC. The US-British 'special relationship' was the dominant alliance of the 20th century for both nations. Together, they liberated Europe, kept it free and made it whole. Along the way the citizens of the US and Britain enjoyed decades of security and prosperity. It will be remembered as one of history's great alliances.


As effective as the relationship with Britain was for the 20th century, it is insufficient to meet the security challenges that the US is likely to face in the remainder of the 21st century. The US must develop a new special relationship with a superpower of tomorrow that shares its values and security concerns. India must become America's new Britain.


The US-British relationship, formed quickly and out of necessity in the crucible of the Second World War, has strengthened further in the years since. Now the two nations' military, diplomatic and intelligence structures are so well coordinated that cooperation on matters large and small is the default mode.


It will take years, decades perhaps, for the US and India to elevate their relationship to this level. It is in the strategic interests of both India and the US to begin the process now. They must not wait for World War III. For India, the strategic considerations are clear. It is surrounded by two types of neighbours: trouble and potential trouble. The best of the lot (Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh) are barely capable of governing themselves, with internal problems that threaten to spill into India. And we know what the worst of the lot is capable of.


Thus far, India has been able to keep its enemies and potential enemies at bay by fighting border skirmishes and building a credible nuclear deterrent. It has not yet faced threats to its very existence. One day it might. To prevent this day from coming, and be ready in case it does, India must start behaving like the world power it so desperately wants to be. Superpowers earn their status by building military power and projecting it far and wide. India should stop asking for a seat on the UN Security Council and start building a world-class navy.


India will not become a superpower overnight. In the meantime, it needs to take out insurance against the threats it faces today. It should align itself as closely as possible with the US, the only global power that shares its core values. This alliance will give India the time it needs to develop the military strength to defend against a threat to its very existence.


If India needs the US, why does the US need India? Three strategic realities argue for the US putting India on the fast-track to a special relationship. First, Britain is a declining power, and in the coming century will be ill-suited to enhance US security. Britain is too small, too economically weak and in the wrong part of the world. While Britain will be a close US ally for the foreseeable future, the partnership will increasingly become no more than symbolic as the gulf between US and British strength continues to widen. Britain's decline leaves a void that the US must fill.


Second, the global centre of gravity—economically and militarily—is shifting from the transatlantic region to Asia. The odds of a major war in


Europe this century are low. One cannot say the same for Asia. The US needs an ally in Asia it can rely on tomorrow as much it relies on Britain today.

Third, India is uniquely capable of taking on Britain's role. It shares US security concerns in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and has a strategic location nearby these and other potential trouble spots. It has a thriving free market economy and technological base that together can fuel enough military might to compensate for Britain's decline. Finally, both India and the US share core values with Britain: democracy, human rights, the rule of law and free market. These values will underpin the US-Indian relationship, just as they have underpinned the US-British relationship.


Yet, even as Singh and Obama look towards a future together, Britain need not despair. The Goths sacked Rome in 410 AD, but 80 years earlier Emperor Constantine had shifted the capital of the Empire east to Byzantium. Thanks to his foresight, the Empire lived on for another 1,000 years. The British Empire is history, and the sun may be setting on Britain as a world power, but its influence will live on. Two of its former colonies are now coming together to protect its values in the 21st century, and beyond.


The author is a former US diplomat







The fate of the Copenhagen Summit was sealed in Beijing at the G-2 meeting last week. This is the new reality of global politics. China has been very reluctant to throw its weight around. But this time as the deadline approached, both the US and China realised that, like it or not, they were being painted as the two villains of the Copenhagen Summit. The largest polluter and the fastest growing polluter decided that they were not yet ready to face the music. Thus, we will have a declaratory meeting this year and then hopefully a proper signing up exercise next year in Mexico City.


All talk of 'just a few days left to save the world' has to be abandoned. If anyone thought that was literally the case, they may as well give up all hope and cancel their pensions. But the fact is that while the science of global warming is not in doubt (not by me anyway, despite the stunning news that Gangotri is cooling down as the world is warming up—thanks to the power of Vedic Hindutva?), the apocalyptic timetable was always a bit off-putting. If climate change is as vital as its champions say, then we should allow much more time, much more patience to arrive at a consensus rather than threaten ourselves and each other with stories of annihilation.


Apocalyptic stories may have the opposite effect of the one intended. Some readers may recall that in the early 1980s, we were threatened with forecasts that we all would get AIDS given the rate at which it was spreading. If one believed that forecast, then there was no point in sexual restraint since one was going to die in any case. Luckily, the rate of the spread of AIDS was not constant and human behaviour responded to the disease.


Nor was the world harmed by the prospect of nuclear annihilation, which threatened for fifty years during the Cold War. Indeed, now many nations, including India, just love the nuclear bomb. It is a 'must-have' item on any nation's shopping list. It would be hard for today's lovers of the nuclear bomb to comprehend why idealists started the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). Maybe they made a difference but the world somehow managed not to blow itself up.


Even so the idea that climate change is vital for our future well-being does not privilege it above other issues such as development. The Doha Round is no less vital at least for the next 20 years and it is still not finished after six years. The WTO has a consensual negotiating culture with one nation one vote. Whenever it arrives at a final agreement, it will be abided by. This is because the WTO also has the institutional means of enforcing its decisions. Kyoto was declaratory and did not come into effect several years after, and has been breached by the EU countries among others, and no one has punished them for it. The EU managed to sabotage emission targets by wrecking the market for carbon trading by underpricing carbon emissions not once but twice. Countries sign up to targets in international fora, but when the leaders return home, their own polluting industries always come first.


The lesson from all this is that there will no doubt be an international agreement on climate change but it will not be easy or quick. Governments know that whatever the expert opinion, the voters are not ready to sacrifice their way of life yet. An opinion poll in The Times showed that in the UK only 41% believe that global warming is due to human activity. But it also showed that car driving aside, people were willing to contemplate higher prices to tackle emissions. Thus, taxing air travel is acceptable. People have got the message about recycling and conserving water, and buying long-life light bulbs. It will be many such small changes in household behaviour that will eventually make a difference.


There is also a gaping hole where new technology can move in. Most carbon emission is due to the technology of power generation and passenger transport. Renewable energy sources will help, as will, nuclear energy, even though I think it is expensive and dangerous since waste disposal poses a huge threat. But we must, sooner or later, have motor vehicles not running on petrol and once that happens, there will be a sea change.


This will happen if governments stop subsidising the old car industry and make room for new technologies.


Obama missed a trick when he let GM survive without asking it to scrap its old machines and install technology for greener vehicles.


So relax. Copenhagen does not matter. After all, do you believe that poverty will be eliminated because the UN adopted the Millennium Development Goals?


The author is a prominent economist and Labour peer







Quite similar to the tariff war in the telecom sector, a pricing war is brewing among the domestic commodity and equity bourses. However, while telecom sector players have slashed tariffs to gain new subscriber base and expand the market, incumbent stock and commodity exchanges have reduced transaction charges to protect their existing territory from the threat of new players entering the fray.


Ahead of the launch of trading by Indian Commodity Exchange (ICEX), jointly promoted by Indiabulls Financial services and MMTC, Multi Commodity Exchange (MCX)—the existing dominant player in the commodity trading—has drastically reduced its transaction charges to Rs 2.50 up to a turnover of Rs 250 crore from its existing charge of Rs 4 up to a turnover of Rs 20 crore.


Similarly, in the stock exchan-ges segment, sensing threat from the entry of MCX'SX (promoted by MCX and Financial Technologies) into equity and derivate trading, the NSE in September slashed its transaction charges by over 7% from Rs 3.50 per lakh (0.0035%) of the traded value on each side to a slab-based fee structure of Rs 3.25 up to total traded value of Rs 1,250 crore a month.


The move was soon followed by an announcement of similar reduction in transaction charges by India's oldest bourse, the BSE, which has steadily lost its market share in equity and derivative segment to NSE.


As competition in any sector benefits the end-user, this latest pricing war will definitely help traders and investors to transact higher volumes at a lower cost, which will also help exchanges to boost their trading volume. But like the telecom industry where increased competition had resulted in wireless subscription growing by over 10 million per month, the key question here is whether the pricing war among stock exchanges will develop the industry and help promote equity culture among the masses.


So far, less than 5% of the household savings in India are in capital markets. In this context, the latest pricing war among the existing exchanges is directed more to check any defection of their trading members towards rivals than to gather more investors.








The Central Empowered Committee (CEC) of the Supreme Court could not have used clearer language than it has done in recommending that illegal mining must be stopped in six mines in two villages of Andhra Pradesh's Anantapur district that border Karnataka. In a report submitted to the Supreme Court in connection with a writ petition, the CEC has made it clear that mining activities in this reserve forest area must be suspended until the boundaries of the iron ore mine s are demarcated afresh. The committee has found the State government's report to be "shockingly lacking in objectivity, fairness and impartiality." The demarcation of boundaries has therefore to be undertaken by a team consisting of senior representatives of the Survey of India, and the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, in addition to the State agencies in Andhra Pradesh. The controversy relates to mining companies in Obulapuram and H. Siddapuram villages, in which the BJP's Tourism Minister of Karnataka, G. Janardhana Reddy (of Bellary), and Congress MP Jaganmohan Reddy, the son of the late Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, have interests. The entire opposition in A.P. has been demanding a probe into the alleged illegal mining in the region, and Chief Minister K. Rosaiah has responded positively by asking for a CBI investigation into the complaints.


The CEC's report nails the falsehoods resorted to by the YSR administration on previous complaints. Chief Minister Rosaiah, who has played it by the book so far, must heed the CEC's advice and crack down on illegal mining, in the interest of the rule of law as well as the environment. The committee has suggested that for the mining done outside the approved leases an "exemplary cost, equivalent to the normative market value of the iron ore extracted from the area" must be imposed on the leaseholder. The power and influence wielded by an unsavoury business partnership, which makes light of State and political boundaries and resorts to extra-constitutionalism to satisfy its greed, has been felt in both States. The Bellary Brothers, flexing their financial muscle, succeeded in bringing Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa to his knees as the price for being allowed to continue in office. Their power springs directly from politically facilitated access to these iron ore mines. As Union Labour and Employment Minister Mallikarjun Kharge has suggested, the CBI investigation requested by the Andhra Pradesh government must be extended to cover possible illegal mining in neighbouring Karnataka. Taking on this unholy nexus of business and politics will be a stern test for both State governments — and for the country's two leading political parties.







The Centre has been forced by the groundswell of protest from farmers and opposition parties to agree to amend a controversial section of a recent ordinance on sugarcane pricing. Pricing issues in the sugar industry involving the cane growers, the sugar mills, the State governments, and the Centre are complex and have, on many previous occasions, generated acrimony. The latest controversy was set off by the Centre's decision last month to amend the Essential Commodit ies Act, 1955 and the Sugarcane Control Order, 1966 through two ordinances that appear to have been issued in haste and without consulting all the parties. Starting with the premise that the levy price of sugar must be fixed on "a fair and remunerative basis," the Centre went on to fix a uniform price for sugarcane across the country that would give farmers a fair deal. Levy sugar is the portion of production sugar mills offer the government for its public distribution system at below market prices. The two ordinances effectively aimed at overhauling the pricing mechanism for sugarcane. The practice hitherto was for the Centre to announce a statutory minimum price (SMP) for sugarcane but the sugar mills had to pay a much higher price because the State governments invariably fixed a higher floor price, known as the 'State advised price.'(SAP)


The Centre's decision to announce 'a fair and remunerative price' (FRP) in lieu of the SMP has been contentious, especially because it seemed to set a cap. If State governments fixed higher SAPs, they would have had to bear the additional cost of levy sugar resulting from the higher sugarcane price. The major implication is that the sugar mills would not have paid anything more than the centrally advised FRP. Apart from the additional fiscal burden it might have entailed, the States faced an erosion in the powers they have enjoyed in administering sugarcane prices. With most of the major political parties, including the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, opposing the new policy, the Centre thought it expedient to virtually restore the status quo ante. The FRP will be merely a new name for the SMP. The sugar mills that stood to gain under the new policy have also been asked to write off the Rs.15,000 crore due to them on account of levy sugar supplied at prices based on the SMP of sugarcane rather than on the higher SAPs they had actually paid. While sugar pricing still remains unsatisfactory, the Centre's latest attempt suggests that any change will run into opposition from one or the other of the stakeholders that will be difficult to surmount.









"By god," said al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in a 2002 broadcast, "the youths of god are preparing for you things that would fill your hearts with terror and target your economic lifeline until you stop your oppression and aggression."


Ever since February, authorities have detected almost a dozen jihadist operations targeting the United States — or using it as a staging post for attacks elsewhere. In March, at least 20 men were reported to have returned home to fight with the Islamist group al-Shahab — recruited by a Somali-American cell operating out of Minneapolis. Four men were held in May for planting inactive explosives, provided by a police informant, outside synagogues in New York. The next month, seven North Carolina men were held for planning attacks in Israel and Pakistan.


September saw the detection of three major plots. Inspired by Islamists at a Flushing mosque, and his imagination fired by the Indian televangelist Zakir Naik, Afghan-born and Pakistan-trained Najibullah Zazi is alleged to have been preparing to set off several improvised explosive devices. Jordanian Hosam Maher Smadi and Illinois resident Michael Finton were also held for attempting to set off car bombs which had been provided to them by undercover agents.


In October, the Federal Bureau of Investigation held David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Rana. First held on charges of planning an attack on the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten in Copenhagen, the two men are now thought to have played a role in the reconnaissance which preceded the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai.


In the weeks after the Headley-Rana arrests, U.S. authorities held Boston resident Tarek Mehanna and Ahmad Abousamra for conspiring to provide material support to terrorists. The men were allegedly planning attacks on shopping malls, using automatic weapons.


And at the end of the month, FBI agents killed Detroit mosque leader Luqmaan Ameen Abdullah, after an exchange of fire with members of Ummah — an Islamist group said to preach hatred of the U.S. and provide its members with arms training.


None of these cells was linked — but each had complex ties to the ideological and combat infrastructure of the global jihadist movement, often located in Pakistan. Even as U.S. policymakers agonise over their choices in the region, it has become clear that once-distant enemies now pose a real threat at home.



Ever since September 11, 2001, jihadist groups have repeatedly targeted the U.S. Indeed, their offensive long pre-dates the massive attacks: as early as 1999, we now know, Seattle-based Oussama Kassir was attempting to set up a jihad training base in Oregon, with finance raised from United Kingdom-based Islamist cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri.


Osama bin Laden's lieutenant, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the architect of the September 11 attacks, is known to have been planning what he called a "Second Wave" attack on the Library Tower in Los Angeles. Mohammad recruited Malaysian nationals Masran bin Arshad, Mohammed Nazir bin-Lep, Mod Farik bin-Amin and Zaini Zakaria for the operation.


Links with both Pakistan and Afghanistan became evident. The men are believed to have trained at al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan between 1999 and 2001; interestingly, Zakaria possessed a pilot's licence. In his book, At the Centre of the Storm, the former Central Intelligence Agency chief, George Tenet, wrote that a Baltimore-based Pakistani national, Majid Khan, provided funds to the Jemaah Islamiyah for the operation.


British-born Richard Reid participated in a separate Mohammad-led operation, targeting an American Airlines transatlantic flight that left Paris in December 2001. Reid's ankle-high hiking boots were packed with plastic high-explosive.


In 2003, authorities in Saudi Arabia arrested five Bahrain nationals for their alleged role in planning a cyanide-gas attack on the New York subway system. Few details have become public on the operation, which is thought to have been authorised by the al-Qaeda. Later, in April 2005, British national Dhiren Bharot was held along with Nadeem Tarmohamed, Qaisar Shaffi and four other men for planning bomb attacks in the U.S., including the headquarters of Citigroup, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.


Evidence that emerged during Bharot's trial showed he had trained in Pakistan in 1995, and proceeded to serve with the Lashkar. In The Army of Madinah in Kashmir, which he published in the U.K. in 1999, Bharot claims to have fought against "Hindu aggressors." Bharot's disillusion with the fighting in Jammu and Kashmir, which he described as "semi-farcical" and a "secondary rate jihad," led him towards the al-Qaeda.


But the policymakers in the U.S., who saw counter-terrorism through the al-Qaeda prism, failed to understand that it was not the sole threat. Even as the al-Qaeda was degraded, the Lashkar-e-Taiba and other Pakistan-based groups began to provide infrastructure for anti-U.S. jihadists.


In June 2005, France convicted Lashkar-e-Taiba linked Mustapha Ghulam Rama, Hassan el-Cheguer and Hakim Mokhfi for having funded shoe-bomber Reid's operations. Algerian-born Cheguer and Mokhfi, it turned out, had trained at Lashkar camps in Pakistan. Rama was closely linked to the Lashkar's commander for transcontinental operations, Sajid Mir — Headley's suspected handler.


Lebanese national Assem Hammoud was held in April 2006 for planning to target Port Authority Trans-Hudson commuter trains running between New Jersey and New York. Hammoud's cell, described by FBI Assistant Director John Miller as "a self-initiating cell that had access to [the] al-Qaeda," included operatives from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan, Palestine and Iran. Hammoud also told the Lebanese police he had planned to travel to Pakistan to train at a Lashkar-run camp.


Months after Hammoud's arrest, authorities in the U.K. charged 24 British-born Muslims with seeking to blow up multiple transatlantic flights over U.S. cities. Key suspect Rashid Rauf, a Birmingham-born British national of Pakistan origin, escaped from a Pakistani jail in 2007, and was believed to have been killed in an airstrike last November. However, recent media reports suggest that he is still alive, and located in Pakistan's northwest.



Increasingly, new jihadist cells are independent of organisational structures: "Jihadi-Salafi ideology," the New York Police department stated in an official report, "is the driver that motivates young men and women, born or living in the West, to carry out autonomous jihad via acts of terrorism against their host countries."


Back in 2004, police in New York arrested Shahwar Matin Siraj and James Elshafay for plotting to bomb the Herald Square subway station. Neither of them possessed military training; they had, however, been promised an improvised explosive device by New York police informant Osama Eldawoody. Pakistan-born Siraj moved to the U.S. in 1999, after struggling through high school. His grades at St. Andrew's High School in Karachi were undistinguished; interestingly, Siraj told a psychologist that he was often taunted for his parents' affiliation to the Aga Khan sect, reviled by orthodox believers. Siraj said he had little interest in either religion or academia while at school, his interest focussing instead on cricket and video games. He was drawn to Islamist causes while working at a religious bookstore run by his uncle in New York, where he encountered school dropout Elshafay.


Islamists also proved adroit in using the Internet to mobilise. In July 2006, the FBI held Syed Haris Ahmed and Ehsanul Islam Siddiquee for having prepared short digital video recordings of potential targets in the Washington DC area. The former FBI Director, Robert Muller, told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the men "had long term goals of creating a large network of extremists in preparation for conducting attacks." Sidiquee sent the reconnaissance tapes to Younis Tsouli, a U.K. resident of Moroccan origin, who for several years ran an elaborate network of jihadist websites using the screen-name Irhabi007 ["Terrorist007"]. Tsouli and University of Leicester-trained biochemist Waseem Mughal were held by British authorities in October 2005.


Like members of the Students Islamic Movement of India-linked jihad cells held in 2007, Ahmed and Siddiquee gained rudimentary combat skills at outdoor camps. Both men gained in paintball gun and survival training in the woodlands of northwestern Georgia and Washago, Canada.


Many new jihadist cells have been built around activities. Members of a Northern Virginia-based Lashkar-e-Taiba cell detected in 2001, for example, participated in paintball gun exercises, as did cadre involved in a Miami-based jihadist unit that was broken up in 2006. Mohammad Shahzad Khan, leader of the cell that bombed London's underground train system in July 2005, also bonded with his group during paintball gunfights.


Earlier this year, a North Carolina jury indicted eight local residents for their links with a jihad cell which planned to target a military base in Quantico, Virginia. Prosecutors say Daniel Patrick Boyd, whose Islamist sympathies were forged while working in Peshawar assisting refugees displaced from Afghanistan, purchased 11 weapons for the assault. The group financed its operations by robbing banks and narcotics dealers. One cell member, Jude Kenan Mohammad, is believed to be still in Pakistan.


Even as it moves to address the causes of the rising tide of jihadist violence at home — among them resentment over foreign policy, racism, religious bigotry, and Islamist institutions that exploit them — the U.S. will have to work to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorist groups in Pakistan.








In the wake of the 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai, many observers predicted that the outrage would prove a turning point in the global struggle against terrorism. A year on, however, it is far from clear if the attacks, and the lessons they hold out, have in fact changed the world's perception of the problem of terrorism — and the responses it necessitates.


Few things today are, superficially at least, as consensual as the need to fight terrorism. International public opinion was indeed shocked by the Mumbai attacks; commentators articulated their outrage; leaders expressed their condemnation. If there was any such thing as a global impact of the Mumbai attacks, its nature was at the very least ambiguous.


True, messages of sympathy did abound. At the practical level, many countries offered their services as soon as the Indian government started articulating its technical needs for counter-terrorism. Proposals for equipment and training of special forces did multiply. But it is not clear that India has received the kind of effective solidarity that the genuine sense of a common threat should have generated.


If there is one single thing that has characterised the global response to the Mumbai attack, it is confusion. On the one side, all major actors have understood the nature of the problem. Many comprehend the responsibility, at the very least indirect, that India's neighbour Pakistan bears for the brutal terrorist attack against India. Moreover, all major countries did pressure Pakistan to crack down on militant groups operating from its soil.


At the same time, however, the world's anti-terrorism objectives clashed with the larger anti-insurgency objectives of the war in Afghanistan. Some of the major players in the international community started asking India to exercise restraint in its reaction. India was called on to make concessions, notably in the form of accepting an early resumption of dialogue with Pakistan.


The idea was that this dialogue would help persuade the Pakistani security establishment to commit its means in the fight against insurgents in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and more generally along the Afghan border. This does not mean, of course, that the world absolved Pakistan of any responsibility to act in the wake of Mumbai. However, by acting as they did, key world players implicitly accepted the illusion that the Pakistani posture was essentially reactive. The underlying suggestion was that should India prove willing to address Pakistan's concerns, Islamabad would show greater goodwill in its commitment to anti-terrorism.


That the Mumbai attacks took place in the context of the "war on terror"— language the new administration in the United States has partly toned down but not abandoned — did not help. After seven years of waging a largely unsuccessful anti-Taliban war in Afghanistan and an uncertain anti-terrorism struggle, the temptation to implicitly blame India's intransigence, or at least share the responsibility for the worsening situation on both South Asian neighbours, was considerable. Many in the international community jumped on the bandwagon.


In such a context, and as its own security situation deteriorated, it became relatively easy for Pakistan to convince the international community that it was facing a threat from its periphery. It argued that this threat was the consequence of the war in Afghanistan and its participation in the international effort against terrorism. It was not necessary to approve of Islamabad's policy in order to accept this idea.


The Indian government shares part of the responsibility for the idea gaining credence. If it fought Pakistan's argument diplomatically, it left the international public space wide open for Islamabad's propaganda. It made little difference, given the growing currency this discourse enjoyed, that the organisations Pakistan was combating at the time — the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and the Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi — were not actively fighting in Afghanistan. In fact, they had been created of the Pakistani state. Their mere existence demonstrated Pakistan's commitment against terrorism. The generic term 'Taliban' made them radicals of the worse kind which needed to be fought and eliminated if possible. New Delhi and Islamabad were thus deemed to be facing the same enemy and the weaker of the two had to be helped and encouraged. Pakistan was still responsible for its own "mistakes," but was no longer the sole one to be blamed. India and the rest of the international community, it was argued, shared a collective responsibility in the increase of violent extremism.


In the process, the mistakes of the early days of the anti-Taliban offensive in 2001-2002 were repeated and, in a way, aggravated. When the U.S. administration had de facto accepted a distinction between regional and internationalist groups, it lessened the pressure on Pakistan to crack down on them, provided it showed some results in the fight against the al-Qaeda. The nature of the main operator of the Mumbai attacks, the Lashkar-e-Taiba was, and is, still misunderstood. Although the organisation has had a global agenda from the time of its creation, it is still perceived by many western observers as a regional organisation active mainly in Jammu and Kashmir.


Despite this, the distinction between regional and internationalist groups was considered operational. More important though, it meant that the growing role of the LeT (and other parent organisations) on the Afghan border was either unnoticed or considered marginal; at least of only secondary importance in FATA itself.


Post-Mumbai, then, the Pakistani security establishment and its terrorist proxies won the battle of ideas, although by default. Everybody protested and blamed the attackers. But neither India nor its actual or potential partners put up the kind of intellectual fight that was necessary to counter the pernicious arguments that turned the victim into a part-culprit. Ironically, though, Pakistan — which ultimately emerged from the process as a victim —fell victim to its own propaganda.


For one, the state's embrace of the argument it made on Mumbai left the population in a state of total psychological denial, unable to understand the motivations of an attack which made no sense to the vast majority of citizens. The trauma of the attack was evaded through all sorts of conspiracy theories which represented Pakistan as the victim of a Hindu-Zionist plot backed by the U.S. Confused, too, were many Pakistani intellectuals who, deprived of any prospect of a real political alternative, preferred to choose radical nationalism as their last resort. They encouraged, if not fed, the popular paranoia which they often shared.


Infinitely more worrying, however, was the confusion of a part of the Pakistani security establishment. It still did not realise that it was about to lose control of the Frankenstein it had created. In believing that it could reassert its dominance over the terrorist groups which were ultimately to turn their weapons against their sponsors, this part of the security establishment demonstrated that blindness had been added to arrogance.


There is a real possibility, over time, of an increased polarisation of populations along religious lines, which could erode the social and national cohesion as well as the trust between nations and their government. This outcome will be hastened if, by action or perhaps more importantly by omission, impunity and even legitimacy are conferred on such acts.


Terrorism is primarily a political struggle, and has to be fought as such. Refusing to do so will make political violence an acceptable means of solving political issues and lead to the erosion of the solidarity and determination of the international community. Sadly, the world's failure to respond appropriately to Mumbai has given a victory, if by default, to the terrorists who attacked the city.


(Frédéric Grare is with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.)







American and Afghan officials have begun helping a number of anti-Taliban militias that have independently taken up arms against insurgents in several parts of Afghanistan, prompting hopes of a large-scale tribal rebellion against the Taliban.


The emergence of the militias, which took some leaders in Kabul by surprise, has so encouraged United States and Afghan officials that they are planning to spur the growth of similar armed groups across the Taliban heartland in the southern and eastern parts of the country.


They are hoping the plan, called the Community Defence Initiative, will bring together thousands of gunmen to protect their neighbourhoods from Taliban insurgents. Already there are hundreds of Afghans who are acting on their own against the Taliban, they say.


The endeavour represents one of the most ambitious — and one of the riskiest — plans for regaining the initiative against the Taliban, which is fighting more vigorously than at any time since 2001.


By harnessing the militias, U.S. and Afghan officials hope to rapidly increase the number of Afghans fighting the Taliban. That could supplement the U.S. and Afghan forces and whatever number of U.S. troops President Barack Obama might decide to send. The militias could also help fill the gap while the Afghan army and police forces train and grow — a project that could take years to bear fruit.


The U.S. officials hope the militias will encourage an increasingly demoralised Afghan population to take a stake in the war against the Taliban. "The idea is to get people to take responsibility for their own security," said a senior U.S. military official in Kabul, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "In many places, they are already doing that."


The growth of the anti-Taliban militias runs the risk that they could turn on one another, or against the Afghan and the U.S. governments, as has happened in the past. The Americans say they will keep the groups small and will limit the scope of their activities to protecting villages and manning checkpoints. For now, they are not arming the groups because they already have guns. The Americans also say they will tie the groups to the Afghan government. These checks aim to avoid repeating mistakes of the past — creating more warlords, who have defied the government's authority for years, or arming anti-Soviet Islamic militants, some of whom came back to haunt the U.S.


The plan echoes a similar movement that unfolded in Iraq, beginning in late 2006, in which Sunni tribes turned against Islamist extremists. That movement, called the Sunni Awakening, brought tens of thousands of former insurgents into government-supervised militias and helped substantially reduce the violence in Iraq. A rebellion on a similar scale seems unlikely in Afghanistan, in large part because the tribes here are so much weaker than those in Iraq.


The first phase of the Afghan plan, now being carried out by U.S. Special Forces soldiers, is to set up or expand the militias in areas with a population of about a million people. Special Forces soldiers have been fanning out across the countryside, descending from helicopters into valleys where the residents have taken up arms against the Taliban and offering their help. "We are trying to reach out to these groups that have organised themselves," Colonel Christopher Kolenda said in Kabul. Afghan and U.S. officials say they plan to use the militias as tripwires for Taliban incursions, enabling them to call the army or the police if things get out of hand.

The official assistance to the militias so far has been modest, consisting mainly of ammunition and food,

officials said. But U.S. and Afghan officials say they are also planning to train the fighters and provide

communication equipment. "What we are talking about is a local, spontaneous and indigenous response to the Taliban," said Hanif Atmar, the Afghan Interior Minister. "The Afghans are saying, 'We are willing and determined and capable to defend our country; just give us the resources'."


In the Pashtun-dominated areas of the south and east, the anti-Taliban militias are being led by elders from local tribes. The Pashtun militias represent a reassertion of the country's age-old tribal system, which binds villages and regions under the leadership of groups of elders. The tribal networks have been alternately decimated and co-opted by Taliban insurgents. Local tribal leaders, while still powerful, cannot count on the allegiance of all of their tribes' members.


Militias have begun taking up arms against the Taliban in several places where insurgents have gained a foothold, including the provinces of Nangarhar and Paktia.


So far, there appears to be some divergence in the American and Afghan efforts. While U.S. Special Forces units have focussed on helping smaller militias, Afghan officials have been channelling assistance to larger armed groups, including those around the northern city of Kunduz. In that city, several armed groups, led by ethnic Uzbek commanders as well as Pashtuns, are confronting the Taliban. "In Kunduz, after they defeated the Taliban in their villages, they became the power and they took money and taxes from the people," Mr. Atmar said. "This is not legal, and this is warlordism."


One of the most striking examples of a local militia rising up on its own is in Achin, a predominantly Pashtun district in Nangarhar province that straddles the border with Pakistan. In July, a long-running dispute between local Taliban fighters and elders from the Shinwari tribe flared up. When a local Taliban warlord named Khona brought a more senior commander from Pakistan to help in the confrontation, the elders in the Shinwari tribe rallied villagers from up and down the valley where they live, killed the commander and chased Khona away.


The elders insisted that the Taliban stay away from a group of Afghans building a dike in the valley. When Khona's men kidnapped two Afghan engineers, the Shinwari elders decided they had had enough. "The whole tribe was with me," one of the elders said in an interview. "The Taliban came to kill me, and instead we killed them."


Since the fight, the Taliban has been kept away from a string of villages in the Achin district that stretch for about six miles. The elders said they were able to do so by assembling a group of more than 100 fighters and posting them at each end of the valley. — © 2009 The New York Times News Service







When Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, heard a few weeks ago that the House took less than an hour to unanimously approve an unemployment bill that had languished for a month in the Senate, aides said he did not know whether to laugh or cry.


In the polarised Senate, even popular bills and generally acceptable executive branch nominees that eventually win easy approval first have to crawl though time-consuming procedural thickets. Now it is hard to see how Congress will make up for the lost time. While the Senate hopes to devote most of December to a landmark debate on health care, time is running out on a number of other difficult and significant issues that must be resolved by the end of the year.


What follows the Thanksgiving recess may be a headlong rush into a legislative train wreck. Among the obstacles on the track is raising the national debt limit, always a wrenching vote for lawmakers trying to avoid looking like out-of-control spenders. Congress must also either finish seven more spending bills or pass another stop-gap measure to keep the government operating past mid-December. Provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire. Highway construction and unemployment programmes need an extension. The federal estate tax will temporarily lapse without Congressional intervention. To top it off, lawmakers also await President Barack Obama's decision on how to proceed with the war in Afghanistan, and they must decide how to pay for any increase in troops.


As they brace for the frantic finale, Democrats blame Republicans for all of it, saying the minority party in the Senate has slowed almost everything Democrats have sought to do, filibustering even routine matters.


Republicans do not see it that way. They say Democrats have caused some of the delays by feuding among themselves, failing to use their 60-seat majority to full advantage. They say that in the debates on the unemployment bill and other issues, Democrats refused to let them offer amendments out of a desire to avoid politically treacherous votes.


And now the Republicans say that if they want to clear the calendar, Democrats ought to scrap the health care legislation and focus on the more pressing issues of the moment, like the spending bills and the Patriot Act.


"That's what we ought to be doing," Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, said on Friday. "It would probably take from now until Christmas to do all of these measures that we should be dealing with. Instead, we're spending time trying to do something the American people clearly don't want."


And when Republicans see something that they think the public does not want — or that they themselves do not want — they do not consider it their obligation to help Democrats advance what they view as flawed policy. "It is true that we have not helped them do bad things," said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Mr. McConnell. — © 2009 The New York Times News Service






Professor M.S. Swaminathan's outspoken advocacy of the need for a second Green Revolution to put Indian agriculture back on track with spirited support from the media, which was dealt with in this column last week, has struck a chord with a cross section of readers - scientists, journalists, academics, and also laypersons. Some of them have come up with suggestions on how to take up the cause of agriculture and the millions of people subsisting on it, and on the major role the media can play.


K.A. George of Thiruvananthapuram proposes in his e-mail that the government should initiate a national agricultural mission under the leadership of "lead farmers" in all the 600-odd districts of India with a view to improving farm productivity. The lead farmers, he explains, should be selected on the basis of their track record in agricultural innovation and experimentation. He hopes their expertise and experience will help improve the performance of under-achievers and under-performers. He wants the media to expose "the heinous motives and actions of our politicians" who tend to treat farmers as mere vote banks and often stop with offering them "sops and incentives" that do little to better the lot of the farmers in a sustainable way.


Pisipati Sriram of Hyderabad observes that farmers in States that are known as "rice bowls" had been reduced to paupers because of "the wrong policies" pursued by successive governments. "Somewhere down the line," he says, "even the media have ignored the nation's food giver and his problems." In his perception, the "inadequate and peripheral" references in the media to issues concerning agriculture and Dalits who constitute the majority of farm workers are the result of "a shift in the perceptions of the coverage by news houses, with news becoming more city-centric or urban-centric and also lifestyle-centric." Mr. Sriram also criticises the media for "unfortunately" losing sight of the impact of population growth, a key parameter in development issues.


Agricultural scientist V. Rajagopal of Tirupati attributes "the present tendency among the media to ignore with insensitivity and contempt" issues relating to food, agriculture and hunger, to the attitudinal change in media establishments, often driven by "profit motive". However, he has a word of praise for The Hindu for its wide coverage of the issue of suicide by farmers in large numbers in 2007, and also for the continued publication of its "well-produced" annual "Survey of Indian Agriculture." He suggests more coverage for agriculture on a regular basis.


M. Ragothaman of Chennai makes the significant point in his e-mail message that on account of drought and inter-State river disputes the talented among the farmers have been forced to sell their cultivable lands to the land sharks "with the active connivance of the powers that be." This had led to a drastic fall in the extent of land under cultivation and also the migration of marginalised farm workers to cities.


"The Green Revolution is a paradigmatic example of good science followed by good public policy resulting in huge benefits for large numbers of people," observes M.A. Kabeer of Dharapuram in his response. Noting that agriculture has been on the decline in recent years, growing at a far lower pace than the overall economy, he recalls how the government was forced to go for import of food grains for the first time in 2006, giving rise to serious concerns about food security. "Now a burgeoning population, a growing middle class with more purchasing power, and erratic weather are among the factors that create food scarcity, pushing up prices and requiring a new agricultural leap forward."


What Churchill said of Stalin


From Thiruvananthapuram, C.V. Gopalakrishnan, a veteran journalist who retired from The Hindu several years ago after a long and highly productive career, has e-mailed his recollections on an article, "Stalin: a remarkable comeback" (Op-Ed page, The Hindu, November 12, 2009) by Vladimir Radyuhin.


The article was about the "remarkable comeback" of Joseph Stalin, who died in 1953 as Prime Minister of Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). It said that Stalin, who was projected as a tyrant soon after his death, came a distant 10th in the list of Russia's greatest historical figures in 1989. After 20 years, Stalin has now been voted as the third best Russian leader of all time. It was in 1956, just three years after his death, that CPSU general secretary Nikita Khrushchev, in a speech at the historic 20th party congress in 1956, denounced the "personality cult" and massive reprisals during the Stalin regime. Stalin's embalmed body was removed from the Kremlin mausoleum where it lay beside V.I. Lenin's, and Stalingrad stripped of its name despite its World War II heroic fame. "The rise in the late leader's position in public esteem is a bewildering turnaround," Vladimir Radyuhin said. He described it as a birthday present to Stalin.


Mr. Gopalakrishnan says the article reminded him of how all the books and articles that projected him as a tyrant immediately after his death in 1953 did little justice to his complex personality and character. He adds: "Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister during the Second World War (1939-1945), despite his prejudices, had given a revealing projection of Stalin with whom he had developed very cordial relations. In The Aftermath, which he wrote during the interwar years, while recalling that Stalin had earlier been a theologian, he had pointed out that the Soviet dictator's regime of cruelty should be seen in the context of the record of the Russian Orthodox Church. Churchill's account of the killings by the Communist regime in the Soviet Union did not differ much from that of the killings by the Church earlier." Mr. Gopalakrishnan's point is that these killings by the Church in medieval Europe must be seen as having set a precedent for the killing of the anti-proletarian bourgeoisie in the Soviet Union.








There are high expectations worldwide of a positive outcome at the Copenhagen summit on climate change in early December despite seemingly unsurmountable hurdles due to the position taken by the United States. President Barack Obama is believed to be in favour of joining the rest of the world in fighting global warming but the US Congress and the public are still sceptical. Some activists claim this is because the American people have been fed misinformation by the powerful electricity and coal lobby — who fear, it is said, that if the US accepts a cap on emissions, it would send the price of electricity sky high. Most US power utilities use coal, which is highly polluting. If America joins the global warming protocol, they will have to buy carbon credits. They can still pollute, but the price will get a lot higher. It is estimated the US will have to pay $2 billion to buy carbon credits if it continues to pollute the way it is now — and these will have to be passed on to the consumer in the form of higher power charges, which will hit hard those who are already reeling as a result of inflation and the credit crunch.


It is important that Copenhagen succeeds and does not get bogged down in the kind of North-South wrangling that has stalled the Doha Round of WTO talks. In this case, however, both Europe and Japan have gone the extra mile on legally-binding emission quotas. India and China have signed the non-legally binding agreement. The Bric nations — Brazil, Russia, India and China — as well as South Korea and the least developed countries of Asia and Africa believe that the developed countries have, over centuries, polluted the earth, but now want to put the onus on developing countries to start cleaning up. India has one of the lowest carbon emission rates — 1.2 tonnes per person annually, set against 21 tonnes for the US and 24-25 tonnes for China.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has made India's position clear: greenhouse gas emissions must be calculated on a per capita basis to ensure that any climate change agreement is truly equitable. He has even given the developing world an assurance that India will keep its per capita carbon emissions below that of developed nations and would never exceed their average per capita emissions. The US, however, insists that India and China are the two countries which will grow in future, unlike the developed world, and they have to accept a cap on emissions. This is absolutely unacceptable to both India and China, and rightly so. The United States, despite former vice-president Al Gore's high-voltage campaign against global warming, remains sceptical on whether all the steps taken really help to stem global warming. It is also dead set against strengthening the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and wants its own environment protection agency to monitor carbon emissions. The hopes of India and the developing world are fixed on two key issues in Copenhagen: one, that the US join the global warming protocol; and two, that the developed countries help the developing world with funds and technology to make "green" their industries. China has already said the developed countries should contribute one per cent of their GDP — around $350 billion — to this end.








The widening chasm between India and Bharat is perhaps best reflected in the manner in which electricity is consumed. The neon-lights of Mumbai and Delhi beckon many with their glitter, but large swathes of territory across the country literally remain in the dark more than six decades after political independence.


The government remains obsessed till today with building mega power projects — even our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had second thoughts about gigantic "temples of modern India" wreaking havoc on the lives of the underprivileged — while paying lip service to renewable energy. Global warming and climate change have become fashionable buzz-phrases, but many remain blissfully oblivious to the harsh ground reality.


Sections of the elite (especially those who wear dark suits and ties in summer and sleeveless shirts in winter because they live and work in airconditioned comfort) guzzle energy in quantities that are voracious by Indian standards, while others living in remote villages walk many miles to charge their cellphones.


Both the macro and micro aspects of the stark disparities in patterns of energy consumption in the country are

highlighted in a recently published report by Greenpeace India entitled Still Waiting: A Report on Energy Injustice.


The total installed power generating capacity in the country has gone up more than threefold over the last two decades from 58,012 megawatts in 1989 to 1,52,148 mw in 2009 or an increase of 162 per cent. Between 1992-93 and 2005-06, the average annual consumption of electricity by each Indian has risen by 52 per cent, from 283 units (or kilowatt hour) to 429 kwh. Yet official statistics reveal that as high a proportion as 40 per cent of the total number of households in the country — most of them living in rural areas — still do not have access to electricity.


In this report as well as an earlier one produced in 2007, Greenpeace argues that the Indian government is

"hiding behind the poor" by quoting the large number of people living without electricity as the main reason to continue building large centralised power projects based on conventional technology (coal, large hydro or nuclear) despite their known "deleterious" consequences.


One may or may not entirely argue with this position but what is certainly unexceptionable is the

recommendation contained in the Greenpeace report (that has been made by many others as well) that in view of India's widely dispersed population and the stark inequalities in income and wealth, there is an urgent need to better integrate within the broader framework of energy policies, decentralised renewable energy systems (based on wind, small hydro schemes, solar photo voltaic cells and biomass).


India is currently the fourth largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world and we are expected to reach No. 3

position in the near future. Yet the fact remains that per capita energy consumption in the country is pathetically low if one goes by international comparisons. In 2007, India's annual per capital energy consumption (543 kwh) was less than a fifth of the world average (2,752 kwh) and less than a fourth that of China (2,328 kwh). The comparison is even more dramatic when one looks at energy consumption by the average American (13,616 kwh), the Swede (15,238 kwh) and the typical citizen of the United Arab Emirates (16,161 kwh).


If one looks at sources of electricity generation in India, the pattern has not changed very much in recent years. Roughly two-thirds of the total power generated in the country is from large thermal plants: 53 per cent using coal, 11 per cent using gas and one per cent using oil. Hydro electricity accounts for a quarter of the total electricity produced while nuclear power is three per cent. This implies that all forms of renewable energy accounts for less than eight per cent of the total power produced in the country. We clearly have a long way to go and hopefully, Union minister in charge of non-conventional energy, Farooq Abdullah, will take his job seriously — as seriously as he takes the affairs of Jammu and Kashmir.


There is a tendency among sections of decision-makers to dismiss the arguments put forward by organisations like Greenpeace as raving and ranting by a bunch of fuddy-duddy idealists, whose faith in non-conventional energy, is unrealistic since renewable energy is unlikely to be able to meet the growing demands of a desperately power-hungry nation. Be that as it may, the latest Greenpeace report is worth reading for the heart-rending case studies it contains.


The cover juxtaposes an aerial photograph of brightly lit Mumbai streets against a picture of Sarojini Rama Naik, who lives in Mahime village in Dakshina Kannada district, Karnataka, holding a candle. She spends a full day in a week walking 10 kms to recharge her mobile phone so that she can be in touch with her children who live and work in cities. This, indeed, is the other side of the great Indian telecom revolution.


The inside cover of the publication carries a photograph of an emaciated 52-year-old Kamruddin who lives in Bokapahadi village that adjoins underground fires that have been burning for decades in Jharia in Dhanbad district, Jharkhand, where the country's most expensive coal is mined. Kamruddin, like thousands of others, has been suffering from respiratory ailments for more than three decades and is currently in the terminal stage of pneumoconiosis, a killer disease that afflicts coal miners in particular.


This is India, whose Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had humble antecedents and whose eyesight may not have been as poor had he not had to spend long hours during his childhood studying by the dim light of a hurricane lantern. Power has to become more than a mere metaphorical expression to the people.


Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator








I am not a strong believer in conventional form of worship. I believe that work is the real form of worshipping God. I always believe in doing my duty and giving my best to whatever I do. I honestly do justice to my job and that will take care of the end result.


At the same time I go to temples occasionally not to ask God for materialistic things but for mental calmness and peace. I don't ask God for any thing personal or materialistic.


We are here to do our duty and leave the rest to the Almighty. Worship alone won't do magic. In my case, whenever I worked hard and did my duty, I got fruitful results.


So, I believe in working. It is the truest and the best form of worship. Hardwork is the best form of prayer.


(As told to Prashanth Bhat)


 Sravanti Ravi Kishore is a popular Telugu film producer








As we reach the first anniversary of 26/11, the obvious questions are "Are we better prepared?" The answer is "Yes, there is greater awareness and coordination amongst various agencies, despite manpower and material shortages." "Is it possible to foil all 26/11-type future attempts?" The answer is, "No. Though government sanctions for manpower and equipment are in place, these will be progressively inducted only by about 2015". The recent spate of "Red terror alerts" should not surprise anyone, since the risks of a terror attack by land, air or sea will be highest between now and October 2010, with a view of disrupting the Commonwealth Games. As time passes, and hopefully our anti-terror mechanism gets more effective, the nation's vulnerability to terror attacks will reduce.


Just as infiltration risks increase in Kashmir with the melting of snow, the risk of small boat terror attacks off the west coast (and piracy off the distant Gulf of Aden) increases with the end of the monsoons by early October each year. The infamous Kuber trawler-type terrorist operations of 26/11 become possible between October and May when the seas are calmer, putting at risk, vital installations, tourist spots, hotels, schools etc. in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa and the rest of the west coast. Enterprising terrorists may also use larger merchant ships from Pakistan or the piracy-infested Gulf of Aden to reach targets on the west or east coast or Andaman and Nicobar islands and disembark terror teams by small rubber boats to spread carnage. Alternatively, Bangladesh-based ISI-LeT-supported terrorists maybe tempted to use the sea routes to carry out terror attacks on the east coast. In addition, terrorists may attempt to strike hinterland targets using land and air routes.


Though the newly-created Indian Marine Police (IMP) has set up some of the planned seven dozen coastal police stations, they have only received about four dozen of the total of 20 dozen small five-tonne and 12-tonne-high speed boats. The IMP needs more than 500 small high-speed boats and about 12 dozen coastal police stations for more effective patrolling.


The badly needed chain of coastal radar stations, with real-time data links are yet to be installed, though committees have travelled the globe to assess similar systems in foreign lands. It is expected that phase 1 (west coast) of this Rs 300-crore Coastal Radar Chain may be ready by 2010. Also, while all vessels (including fishing boats) above 20-metre length have been fitted with the Electronic Automatic Identification System (AIS), a suitable AIS is yet to be found for the thousands of very small fishing boats. About a thousand Distress Alert Transmitters (DATs) have been given free by the government to fishing boats, who can raise a radio alarm in case of being attacked by terrorists. But do remember that each coast of India has over 1,50,000 small fishing boats, with no modern navigation or communication devices. There is an urgent need to provide free AIS and DATs, along with communication sets, to at least two to five out of a group of every 30 to 50 fishing boats. Some progress has been made in giving identity cards to fishermen, and the same also needs to be implemented for sailors sailing on international and domestic shipping.


The Indian Coast Guard (ICG) with 7,000 men, 70 vessels and 44 aircraft, has received government sanctions for doubling its manpower, patrol vessels and aviation assets, but this will be achieved only by 2015. In my opinion, the ICG urgently needs to quadruple its strength. Fortunately, post-26/11, the ICG has been permitted by the government to search suspected ships in harbour. A new ICG shore station was commissioned in Karwar in November, while similar stations are expected to become operational by February 2010 in Veraval (Gujarat) and Murud Janjira (Maharashtra).


Pre-arrival notification (PAN) of merchant ships, 96 hours prior to entering port, is being given by the shipping agents to the port authorities and the ICG. The crew of every merchant ship must face the immigration and customs authorities and obtain clearance in the same manner as at the international airports.


The Indian Navy, too, will need time to induct the proposed 80 plus 15 small Fast Interceptor Craft (FIC) and get trained men for its 1,000-strong Sagar Prahari Bal. In the interim, existing manpower and hired boats are being used for security of ports and offshore oil rigs. To additionally cater to the east coast and the island territories, the Navy will require a total of 200 FIC and a 3000-strong Sagar Prahari Bal. The Navy needs to have force levels to ensure complete Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) of every object moving at sea, in our present EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) of 200 nautical miles.


The long-neglected harbour police and city police, earlier equipped to deal with petty criminals, are slowly receiving equipment and training to prepare for challenges posed by fourth generation warfare terrorist threats of the 21st century. There are no reports as to whether the over 1,50,000 manpower shortages in the police force have been made up. Similarly, it is to be presumed that the intelligence agencies (IB and RAW) will need till about 2012 to recruit and train badly needed field operatives, and also induct electronic snooping equipment.


Other issues of maritime security which need to be implemented and audited are proper implementation of the ISPS (International Ship and Port Facility Security Code), CSI (Container Security Initiative), AIS (Shipborne Automatic Identification System) and the proposed LRITS (Long-Range Identification and Tracking System). The issue of land and air security too needs attention. The porous land borders with Nepal, Bangladesh and Burma need to be sealed. The gaps in radar-cum-fighter-cum-anti-air missile coverage of the IAF need to be plugged. It is time we emulated the American system of photographing and electronic fingerprinting of every incoming visitor at our international airports, seaports, railway stations and bus stations. To conclude, the possibility of terror strikes till about 2015 is still very high. The only interim antidote is real time cooperation with international intelligence agencies, continued 24x7 alert and a public declaration that India will respond with a military strike at the source of terror in case of another terror strike.


Vice-Admiral Arun Kumar Singh retired as Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command, Visakhapatnam









The drama that unfolded on the streets of Delhi on Thursday — the first day of the winter session of Parliament — was emblematic of how politics is played out on important issues in this country. The people with a grievance and a demand were the sugarcane farmers from western Uttar Pradesh, a powerful and rich lobby.

The people who gained maximum political mileage from it all were the leaders of the opposition parties, who were desperately looking for a substantial issue to confront the government. They stalled the proceedings of the two Houses and joined the protesting farmers on Thursday and continued to do so on Friday as well. It was a perfect photo opportunity.

What should baffle anyone is as to why the farmers and opposition politicians have to come out on to the streets over an issue that ought to be fiercely debated on the floor of Parliament, in the state assembly and in public meetings across UP's sugar belt? Why is it that the Centre does not consider objections from various quarters until it comes to a boiling point?

The issue at stake is indeed complicated and despite the sense of satisfaction all round at the end of the day, it has not yet been rationally resolved. The central government issued an ordinance mandating that the state government pay the amount over and above that set by the Fair and Remunerative Price (FRP) that the Centre pays, as against the state advised price (SAP) which is set by the state government and which is likely to be higher than the FRP. The Centre wanted the state to pay the difference.

The Central government's ordinance was in response to a Supreme Court decision asking the government to pay arrears to sugar cane mill owners for cane they bought from farmers. The UP government was obviously not in a position to pay the difference. The change in the Centre's position requires mill owners to foot the bill.

It is quite clear that the central government is trying to do an impossible balancing act — pleasing the farmers, the sugar mill owners and ensuring an adequate supply of sugar for consumers at large — and it is faltering all the way.

Instead of intervening at a time of crisis where such intervention is justified, it has become a permanent stakeholder in the sugar sector. The opposition parties instead of flaying government for its blundering on the policy framework are only too happy with little gains which they flaunt as victories.







The attack on the offices of the IBN news channel in Mumbai and Pune, apparently by members of the Shiv Sena is not the first time that party has attacked the media.

Given the history and ideology of that party, the tenets of democracy are more than likely to be treated with contempt. Parties like the Sena believe that they operate with extra-constitutional authority and all too often, unfortunately, they have been allowed to get away with it.

But the current attack is not just about the Sena overreaching itself with its customary arrogance that it will get away with it. There has been a sense of desperation about the party since the emergence of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and that has become more marked since it did so badly in this year's Lok Sabha and assembly elections.

The Shiv Sena bears all the signs of a party in decline and last week's violence — five incidents in all — is possibly symptomatic of that. To make matters worse, it severely misjudged the public's feelings about Sachin Tendulkar and Bal Thackeray's remarks about the cricket hero were not appreciated.

Nothing of course can condone the Sena's behaviour and especially not its attack on the media. As politician after politician assiduously pointed out, the media is a pillar of democracy, the fourth estate and to some the fourth pillar as well. Much as politicians may dislike media criticism, the fact is that India cannot be a vibrant democracy without freedom of expression, paramount in which is the freedom of the press.

The veiled hints to the media that it should be sensitive about attacking Bal Thackeray are bound to backfire. The Sena's advisers now need a crash course in sensitivity to these times of 24-hour news television.

The ball is also now in the court of the state government, which has to make good on its promise to take strict action against those responsible for the attacks. It is usually considered to be soft on the Shiv Sena and MNS to suit its own political agenda.

But this is one of those times when the rule of law must prevail. The bullying belligerence of the  Sena's party workers must be squashed and here the onus also falls on the police at the lower levels where there is often reluctance to take on the Sena.


 Democracy will survive these attacks, but it is also imperative that the State establish itself firmly against all threats to the Constitution.








Just the other day my sister was walking down the stairs of Cottage Industries in New Delhi. Walking up were two middle-aged women who had NRI written all over them: comfortable walking shoes, big hand bags, yesteryear's kurtis and an expression of bemused confusion. The two stopped when they saw her. Sorry, make that saw her wine-coloured tussar silk sari. They didn't quite say: "Oh, my God you are wearing a sari!!" but did use words to that effect. The two were visiting from Europe and were shocked by the absence of saris on the streets of Delhi.

It was almost as if they had perchance happened upon the Holy Grail: "Can we feel the silk," asked one of them. I imagine my sister, Nina Puri, mustn't have been too surprised by their eager-beaver interest in what she was wearing. A fortnight earlier coming out of the British Library in London, she encountered a similar reaction to her sari from a young Brit-desi. Obviously, saris are getting to be a rare species of apparel, even in the diaspora. There are times when you can't spot even one in the desi shopping heaven, Oxford Street.

The sari isn't quite going the kimono way. But it seems to change its status often. I use the word status the way millions now use it on Facebook — the latest public confessional — to describe their state of being at that precise moment. The versatile drape — "five and a half yards of pure mischief" as fashion designer Suneet Varma once memorably described this unstitched apparel sari to me — has been leading something of a see-saw existence

Until fairly recently, the sari had been banished to the realm of behenji-dom. It even began to be pushed to the sidelines in Bollywood, beginning with the millennium. If at all actors Katrina Kaif, Deepika Padukone, Kareena Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra wore saris, they were more like costumes, basically wedding wear. For younger women a sari reeked of convention; it was the very antithesis of modernity.

For a growing number of older women the sari became the antithesis of freedom; it chained them to the past. Not only did they feel more emancipated in pants and dresses, they also saw themselves as more cosmopolitan in western attire.

The 'status' of a sari has changed yet again. Ever since Hollywood actresses and international celebrities have been flirting with saris (Madonna, Elizabeth Hurley, Posh Beckham, Goldie Hawn, Gisele Bundchen, and most recently, Jessica Simpson) have worn them with elan, the sari has reclaimed its 'cool' status in the rule books of our fashionistas. Certainly, the fact that Gianni Versace and Galliano had adapted the sari was not lost on them.

The sari is also being sexed-up in the homeland, for the Bright Young Things. Actually, it's the blouse that has undergone the more radical metamorphosis. "An accessory of differentiation", as the ever-quotable Varma describes it, the sari blouse allows a woman to express her personality: bold, coy or orthodox. And yes, flaunt her oomph factor.

So, in came the designer halter necks, Chinese collar blouses, corset blouses, embroidered or lace blouses, blouses encrusted with crystals or pearls, off-shoulder blouses. Backless blouses started escorting the sari. And then came the ultimate show stopper — the absent blouse. The photograph of Gisele Bundchen in a green sari, unaccompanied by a blouse recently graced the cover of a fashion magazine.

I suppose it is back to the future. Before the Victorians imposed their moral code in India, women in many communities didn't wear blouses. As for the sexy sari: Can anything better Raj Kapoor's iconic wet sari scenes or Smita Patil frolicking in the rain with Amitabh Bachchan in Namak Halal?

As for aunties like me, the sari is forever: It reveals but it can also conceal as much as you want.







By the time Manmohan Singh visits the White House on November 24, president Barack Obama would have largely recovered from the jetlag after his travels in east Asia.

But one can be sure that the impressions the optimistic and focused leaders of the three great economic powerhouses of the region, ASEAN, Japan and China, would have made on him will be considerably more lasting. Now the leader of Asia's fourth great economic powerhouse comes calling. But while the others would have focused mostly on economic and financial issues, the Indian prime minister will have a very different agenda.

Despite an economy that is soon expected to grow at a faster rate than China's and quadruple by 2020, taking it very high up the global pecking order, regional politics will for the foreseeable future be high on India's agenda. As far as India is concerned its troubled geography with Pakistan and China still determines its priorities.

Despite the spin that is being imparted to this being the first "state visit" hosted by president Obama and therefore the importance of India's place in the US's world view, the view from India is still somewhat different. The high level of expectations for Indo-US relations was set by his predecessor. It is unlikely that Barack Obama will come close to it.

To do so would require President Obama to first delink India from Pakistan. George Bush did this deftly by telling Pakistan quite simply that "you are not India." On the other hand the Obama administration has tried to enmesh India into its Af-Pak formulations, by suggesting that the road to peace in that country lies through Kashmir. His Af-Pak pointman, ambassador Richard Holbrooke even tried to make New Delhi a regular port of call during his much publicised swings into South Asia till New Delhi gently told him off. 

As far as India is concerned Pakistan's problems are its own doing and the US's follies in the past have a good deal to do with them. With Afghanistan fast becoming Obama's war, India has empathy for his predicament but there is little it can do to help. To do so would imply acceptance that the jihadi terrorist on Pakistan's western border is a different animal than that on its eastern frontier?

One thing is clear and that is Pakistan makes no such distinction. The Washington Post reported that the ISI has spirited away the Afghan Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, from his Quetta safe house to another one in Karachi to save him from US drone attacks. A few days before this, deposed Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf in a widely published interview stated that the ISI maintains active relations with all terrorist groups operating in Pakistan. It would seem with friends like this the US doesn't really need any enemies.

And to expect India to jeopardise its own future by putting Kashmir on the Indo-Pak table to enable the US to get out of its predicament would be to ask for the moon.

Obama has compounded this by suggesting in Beijing that the US would now like China to play a role in improving India-Pakistan relations. For nearly 60 years India has fobbed off US attempts to interpose itself in India-Pakistan relations.

Since Eisenhower's time this has been a no-go area for official US diplomacy. Now Obama wants to bring China into the equation? It shouldn't tax one's imagination too much to figure out how India will react to this suggestion. 

That a country that was reported even last week in the US media as having gifted fifty kilograms of fissile uranium to Pakistan along with bomb designs and the wherewithal to make dozens more nuclear bombs, should now be a facilitator for improving India-Pakistan ties would seem quite absurd to India.

Manmohan Singh leaves for the US just a few days after India's Parliament reconvenes. One can almost be sure that the house will give him an earful on this and insist that he read the riot act to Obama. Singh is a gentle sort of person, but he will definitely convey the sense of India's Parliament. But he will have to do Parliament's bidding. That is how our system works.

Apart from shifting course on India, another definite interpretation in India to this would be that Obama is giving up the two-decade old notion of a unipolar world system led by the US, and favours the notion of a new bipolar world order, with the US and China acting in concert, even if not as equals.

Whatever be the extent of US indebtedness to China, India will not be quite willing to accept this formulation, particularly since having for so long been cast as China's rival, it increasingly sees itself as one.

China has revealed its hand whenever it mattered to India be it at the IAEA or on the expansion of the UN Security Council or when opposing UN resolutions to brand Maulana Masood or Hafiz Sayeed as terrorists. Today even as India begins to have fewer doubts about where it stands vis-à-vis China, it is being gnawed by doubts where it stands vis-à-vis the USA.

The writer is a commentator on international affairs






The Talmudic conception of mankind is that of a unity, deriving its character from a common origin and a common destiny. The basic elements of this doctrine are already enunciated in the Bible which traces the origins of the human race to a single person who is formed by God in His own image. It is in the Talmud, however, that this doctrine reaches its fullest maturity.

"Why did the Creator form all life from a single ancestor?" inquired the Talmud, and the reply is, "that the families of mankind shall not lord one over the other with the claim of being sprung from superior stock … that all men may recognise their common kinship in the collective human family."

Human behavior may be infinitely varied, but human nature which underlies it, is essentially the same. Man is a creature of earth and at the same time a child of God, infused with the divine spirit. Appraised in moral categories, all people are endowed with the tendency to see in their own persons the ultimate ends of their being and the tendency to seek transcendent ends toward which their own persons are but contributing instruments.

Out of these two tendencies flow good and evil, which thus reside, in varying measure, to be sure, in every individual as part of his indigenous equipment for life. If you but probe sufficiently, one Talmudic maxim advises, you will discover that "even the greatest of sinners" abound in good deeds as a pomegranate abounds in seeds.

On the other hand, the greatest of saints have their share of moral imperfection.2 All human beings are, so to say, cut from the same cloth and there are no absolute distinctions between them.

This doctrine of equality does not assert that individuals duplicate one another. Their uniqueness is mental as well as physical, and they all have a special function to fulfill in the realisation of the cosmic purpose.

From The Wisdom of the Talmud by Ben Zion Bokser







Here's a special quiz: for DNA readers. Which two of the following four men are terrorists: David Coleman Headley; Tahawwur Hussain Rana; Vilas Pandurang Warak; Rahul Mahesh Bhatt?

American investigators working for the FBI think it's the first two which is why they have been arrested. On the other hand India's own National Investigating Agency (NIA) seems to think it's Warak and Bhatt who are the offenders and has been treating them accordingly.

Perhaps this is not a time for levity considering that issues of national security are involved, but the fact remains that the NIA has treated Rahul Bhatt and Vilas Warak with a callousness which goes far beyond mere insensitivity. And in the manner in which it has handled these two young men you can see why the NIA fails in its primary duty which is to investigate terror plots and if possible, foil them.

There is no doubt that it has failed in this job. Rana — who has a Canadian passport — was in India for three weeks in November 2008 and left days before 26/11.  During his stay here he visited five cities: Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Pune and Kochi. 

Headley — who has a US passport —  also visited these five cities; in fact, he made as many as nine trips into India between 2006 and 2009, but neither he nor Rana were on the radar of the NIA as possible suspects who needed to be monitored. Yet, they were under the FBI's surveillance — Headley for as long as a year before he was arrested last month and Rana for about half that time.

Intelligence gathering relies on a network of informers, some of whom would be part of an agency like NIA, but many more of whom would be freelancers or people on retainership  who provide information for payment or for reasons of patriotism.

While the first kind, the freelancers, are essential for a continuous flow of information within groups likely to cause problems, there can be a huge informal network of the latter, citizens who out of nationalistic altruism will report suspicious activities on one, and only one condition. That condition being that there has to be a responsible and responsive person in the police or the NIA who will listen carefully, take notes diligently and ensure anonymity.

Instead of that we get a sordid spectacle of Rahul Bhatt and Vilas Warak being hounded by the NIA, their names being made public so that the media could harass them, and worse, being treated as if they were under some kind of cloud. And why?  Because they had the misfortune of meeting Headley by chance and getting to know him. How were they to guess that Headley had a criminal past or evil future intentions when the NIA tself had no clue ?

In the US or the UK, the identity of witnesses is never revealed. A press release would have merely said "Two men are helping the police in investigations."

If Bhatt and Warak were volunteering information to the FBI or Scotland Yard, they would not have been summoned to the police station in the full glare of publicity; instead plainclothes  men would have visited them in their homes and made discreet inquiries.  You can't blame the media for highlighting a story; it is up to the authorities to make sure the media does not get the story in the first place.

In a while the frenzy of the current excitement will die down and Rahul Bhatt and Vilas Warak will get back to their normal lives. But will the ordeal they have gone through encourage other people to volunteer information to the police or NIA in the future?

Would you go out of a patriotic sense of duty to report suspicious activities if there was a good chance that you yourself would be treated as a suspect? Is anyone now surprised why our intelligence agencies never gather any intelligence?

The writer is a commentator on social affairs







Nobel laureate Dr Amartya Sen estimates that 100 million women have disappeared from South Asia and Africa in the last three decades. While people might quibble about whether this figure is 100 million or 50 million, the point is that the news should be horrifying, and the trends daunting to the future of humanity. Whether or not climate change kills us, this certainly will. The fewer the women there are, the fewer the children there will be. Five or 10 men might gangrape a woman, but she can still only carry a single pregnancy at a time. Even for those patriarchal so-and-so's who think of women as baby-making machines, the killing of women and girls is bad news, if not for you, then certainly for your grandsons.

But the future is already with us. The larger Patel samaj in Gujarat realised the calamity a couple of years ago and called a huge yagna to swear to protect female foetuses (As far as I know, no research has been conducted into whether live female births among the 12 lakh people who took this oath have risen). In some Patel villages in Gujarat, there is not a single female under the age of 20 years — a sure sign of genocide against women, on for more than 20 years. People from Haryana go shopping for family wives in Kerala and take back unfortunate women — bought for sex and housework — to families where they understand no one, can speak to no one. And I do mean 'family wife', for she is shared by all the males in the family.

Do we, from the so-called sabhya samaj, think of any of this when we plan huge wedding and huger dowries for our daughters? When we rush around buying kilos of gold, hundreds of saris, a new house for the groom's family, and so on, do we see the direct, possibly the only relevant connect, between disappearing daughters and our own actions?

The government takes many steps to curb the killing off of girl children, most of them useless and leading to even more corruption and crime. Most of us know of doctors who, banned from running sex determination tests openly for fear of prosecution, do this very thing and inform the bride's family by greeting them with Jai Matadi (It's a girl) or Jai Ramjiki (It's a boy). And innovative and greedy businessmen have set up rickshaw testing labs which go around slums and villages, giving the families information at their doorsteps.

But this is only one part of the story. Why are we not speaking of dowry deaths, those hundreds of thousands of young women married with dowries, who are tortured and forced to kill themselves or worse, tortured and killed? Did the dowries insure their wellbeing? Or do we just concern ourselves with getting the daughters off our hands and saying to ourselves that we have fulfilled our roles as families? Why has an issue that used to be spoken of with horror become so commonplace that we do not even speak of dowries being given in hushed voices any more? When does a crime become so common and so lauded that it becomes convention?

I can hear some of you say, "Ha barabar chhe pun shun kariye, ena vagar koi paranshe nahi. Dikrine kyar sudhi ghare rakhay?" (Yes, that's all right. However, there is no alternative, how long would one keep their daughters at home?) Ask yourself this question bluntly — given that there is in India nearly a 50 per cent chance that your daughter or sister will be tortured and killed, do you really want that for her? And then I hear you say, "Pan samaj shun kaheshe?" (What will society say?) Again ask yourself, "Shun kahashe?" (What will it say?) That you are a lousy parent? That this is established practice in 'our' samaj? That "kutumb nu naak kapai jashe?" (Will the family's reputation suffer a blemish?) That your neighbour gave a dowry of 50 lakh and you will be diminished by giving less? That this is the way you show your love and care?

Let them say all of that. Once again ask yourself what is more important to you, your daughter's life or your "naak"?

Have you ever sustained a burn? And shrieked? Then imagine your daughter burning, from kerosene poured over her, or yet another imagined stove burst. Imagine the million-fold pain she is going through. And know that you are responsible.

I am being harsh, because the time has come to confront the worst in our society, to become an outcast, and to fight for her life. Be the first. Say no to dowry - yours, your child's or your sister's. Nothing that society can do to you will hold a candle to your child or you or your sister not being tortured or killed. The time is now. Tomorrow will definitely be too late.







Faith can move mountains, they say. Doggedness can move bureaucracy. Ask any one of the silent soldiers who work for no gain, but for public good, and try and change a rule, a law, a given, so that others can benefit. They have the vision to see beyond what is, to what can be, and then they try to grab the wheel of change in their grasp and turn it just a little.

More often than not, they find the wheel is tightly tangled in red tape. Or sometimes it is complete lack of attention to a fact, that jams the wheel with rust, making it impossible to move it.

At this point many give up. Ramming their fist into the wall of governmental neglect and bureaucratic inertia is a thankless task, and really creates a frustration that spoils one for the many other aspects of life.

It does not really affect me, is a posture that can develop as the thwarted do-gooder goes on to pick up the other threads of his life.

Others, however, are more dogged, and keep trying to find a chink in the armour of disregard, be it public or organisational disregard. And in due course, the chink helps to create a gap, and a foot is thrust into the door and a voice filters through to wake those sleeping inside, to stir them into perhaps reluctant action, and get a change effected.

One such example is a letter that has just come in from the Western Railway office. That a foot overbridge will be constructed so that platforms 1 and 2 would be connected to 3 and 4 at Parel station. This simple letter is the result of incessant knocking on the doors of the concerned authority, by someone who realised that the two foot overbridges leading out of the two functional platforms of Parel, were crowded to bursting point.

The confusion worsened when there was a train coming in, and passengers at the top of the bridge wished to rush down, and the stairs were crowded with people climbing up from a train that had just departed. Nothing new in this, but Parel is one of the stations that feeds three major hospitals, and the sick and infirm have a tough time keeping up with the healthy in a hurry. Connecting the platforms would at least give an option, and divide the crowds. This would ease the congestion on the two platforms which were being serviced by the trains, as commuters would be able to use the empty platforms to come and go to the overbridge.

The idea was simple, but the resistance, though broken down to the level of 'send us a letter', did come back at that stage. The letter lay in some tray or the other, as letters to busy public servants are wont to doing; and the public they serve continued to suffer the brunt of his being too busy to serve them.

But some people never say die, and like a terrier worrying a rag, the letter writer continued to press his case. Finally, it reached the ears of a senior official, who dispelled the clouds of junior babus who hid him from public view, and the matter moved ahead. Two years fter the proposal was first sent, this letter had been delivered by snail mail!

It is cause for jubilation, and proof that even in the mills of government action, the wheels can grind, and though slowly, they sometimes grind exceedingly small!









It appears that the Shiv Sena and the MNS are holding a competition as to who is able to do more damage to the image of Maharashtra. Almost every day, one or the other of them comes up with an outrage which has no place in civilised society. On Friday, it was the turn of the Shiv Sainiks who ransacked Hindi and Marathi TV news channels IBN-7 and IBN-Lokmat in Mumbai and Pune and assaulted its editor and other staff members, some of them women. They vandalised the office and the outdoor broadcasting van of the channels, shouting that they would not accept any criticism of the Shiv Sena and its chief Bal Thackeray. The message was clear: SS troopers can criticise, threaten or beat up anyone – even Sachin Tendulkar — they want and the others cannot even protest about this utter highhandedness.


It is not just the Shiv Sainiks who are responsible for this kind of behaviour. They have obviously the full backing of their top leaders. Shiv Sena MP and Editor of its mouthpiece Saamna, Sanjay Raut, blatantly declared that "the attack on the IBN is definitely by Shiv Sena workers and some of them are even office-bearers…. We are not afraid of the consequences and will face it". Since the leaders have admitted that it is they who engineered the attacks, they must be punished for the audacity, and the cases of rioting and attempt to murder registered against those who indulged in vandalism must be extended to its leaders.


When some MNS MLAs had manhandled Samajwadi Party MLA Abu Azmi right there in the Assembly, MNS leaders had also cocked a snook at everyone in a similar manner. The tolerance shown towards their storm trooping tendencies has encouraged them instead of shaming them. It is time the country told them that "enough is enough" in clear terms. Any party which acquiesces in their unacceptable behaviour for political reasons would be harming its own cause because such loose cannons can fire at anybody. The Thackeray chauvinists have already narrowed down their hardline Hindutva agenda to espousing the cause of Marathis only. They will try to divide society even further if they are not stopped in their tracks. 








Although the government has bought political peace and managed to calm the agitated sugarcane growers, who had disrupted normal life in Delhi on Thursday as Opposition MPs crippled Parliament's functioning for two days, the reprieve is temporary and comes at a considerable cost to the Centre. It is obvious the UPA government did not want to be seen as anti-farmer, especially in UP. The farmers might have returned home somewhat happy over the "victory", their battle for an acceptable sugarcane price is far from over. The sugar mills may not, and cannot, afford to pay the cane price of Rs 280 a quintal they insist on. The sugarcane-producing states should also feel relieved as they will not have to pay the state advised price.


The Ordinance had allowed the Centre to fix a "fair and remunerative" price for sugarcane in place of the statutory minimum price. It had passed on the responsibility of paying the state advisory price, which raised the sugarcane price significantly, on the states. Given the debilitated condition of state finances, it practically meant farmers would not receive the price they used to get under the previous practice. Hence, the protests. A divided and demoralised Opposition suddenly found an issue and forced the government to backtrack.


The rollback of the offending clauses of the Ordinance will hurt the Centre the most as it may have to pay the sugar mills the difference between the state advised price and the levy sugar price. The arrears of the sugar mills are estimated at Rs 1,400 crore. The issue of sugar and sugarcane pricing needs to be discussed calmly involving all stakeholders. A viable solution seems to be to keep off politics and let the sugar mills and farmers determine the price. If mills pay less, farmers would shift to other crops. If farmers insist on a higher price and the government forces the mills to pay it, the sugar industry would turn sick, ultimately harming the interests of farmers. The government can build a buffer stock with market purchases or imports and check price fluctuations so that the consumer is not hurt.








Here is more proof, if it is needed, that India has been faltering in the way its treats it children. According to UNICEF's State of the World Children report, 5,000 children below five years die every day. Children succumb to prenatal complications, respiratory infections, diarrhoea, etc. What is more regrettable is that these infections are preventable. Earlier reports, too, slammed India's track record on infant mortality rates and child malnutrition.


One of the reasons for the high rate of child deaths is malnutrition. Even in relatively developed states like Punjab 27 per cent children below three years are underweight. Severe malnutrition has been reported among children less than three years in rural Madhya Pradesh leading to the death of many children. Though the government has several nutrition programmes in place, doubts have been raised about is implementation. Undeniably, there has been a perceptible improvement in social parameters like access to clean drinking water and school attendance of girls, yet many hurdles remain in the protection of children, especially among the Scheduled Tribes and the Scheduled Castes. On the health front, even though immunisation is considered one of the most cost effective interventions, only 54.1 per cent of the nation's children are fully immunised and nearly 11.3 per cent have not received any form of vaccination. Early marriage of girls and inadequate healthcare are the other factors behind the lower survival rate of children.


There is urgent need to combine care, nutrition and medical treatment. To prevent prenatal complications, institutional deliveries have to be improved. Besides, mother and child need to be treated as one as the mother's low nutritional status has a direct bearing on her child's birth-weight. The government must address the problem at the grassroots level and fulfil its responsibility towards children. 
















Diplomacy, one might add, is the international face of politics, of which camouflage is an essential ingredient. Surely, the main thrust of diplomacy is to provide global sustenance to a nation's socio-political-economic advancement and, therefore, its foreign policy and diplomacy have to be in sync with national economic advance.


India had a good start — the Nehru years. But thereafter this country has lacked a global diplomatic thrust that matched India's national advancement in different phases of the post-Independence era. The weakness lay in the lack of a cutting edge in foreign policy. The prompter of this pattern, it could be said, was a weak national economy. Consequently, Indian diplomacy has been hitched to a foreign policy that lacked forceful thrust, resulting in an ambiguous direction. Pakistan, for most of these years, has been the prime obsession of Indian foreign policy: fitted into the non-alignment pattern of relationship with the super powers, and a disjointed relationship with the rest of the world.


Not the leader shaping events, but a nation led by events outside its ambit. Thus, Indian diplomacy, flowing from an inept foreign policy, had a meek appearance. But the time has come to break this straitjacket pattern and to devise foreign policy and reshape diplomacy that promotes initiatives in realising national objectives, with the economy in the forefront.


We are witnessing a changing face of global diplomacy. It is the economic clout that now provides the core of foreign policy the world over, and that should be India's prime methodology too. India has risen from the shambles to a surging economy with a global standing. It must, therefore, use its economic clout to restructure its foreign and diplomatic policy.


Ties with the sole super power, the United States, and China — a close neighbour and a rising world power — with Russia, Japan, the European powers, the developing nations, and Pakistan have to be appropriately structured. There has to be a link in this pattern, and a chain reaction, which India has to take into account while devising its foreign policy setting.


Much work and painstaking scrutiny of the ingredients is called for in the foreign policy exercise. Restructuring ties with the US should, of course, be a priority. But alongside, among the priorities, must also be reshaping of relationship with two nations in our immediate neighbourhood — China and Pakistan. One is termed a "failed" state, and the other a fast rising world power with a mighty economic clout. It is here that special attention is needed to give a new direction to our ties. Pakistan is in the melting pot while China's upward mobility is a phenomenon by itself. An appropriate relationship with the two neighbours will give India a big punch both in the international and domestic spheres. It is the Indian economic clout which will open the way forward in both cases.


With China, the relationship is complicated by the legacy of the boundary dispute and the 1962 border conflict. Meanwhile, economic ties have received a big jump — despite rivalries of two big developing nations in their bid to surge forward. Despite all the hurdles, China has become India's number one trading partner. Both countries have to learn that the world is big enough to accommodate India along with China. India has a lot to learn from China's economic dexterity, just as China has been silently taking a leaf from Indian upswing in information technology - even Indian advances in nuclear technology.


For a breakthrough in their relationship, the two countries have to get past the boundary dispute. Bilateral talks have already laid the basis for a solution — nearer than ever before. It is a package deal, based on the position expounded by the veteran Chinese statesman, Chou Enlai, in 1961, that alone can clinch and seal a solution. To get past the lingering dispute on small patches of land, India should use its vast economic leverage in economic interaction to win over adamant Chinese postures.


With Pakistan, too, it is India's economic clout that can serve as a lever to win friends and power. If economic interaction and trade can register a big leap with China, despite the border dispute, so can be the result in ties with Pakistan.


History and geography dictate that we give a bigger priority to the relationship with Pakistan — a state and a

people with whom India has been tied by an umbilical chord for centuries. The Partition based on the criterion of religion — the two-nation theory — has not completely snapped this umbilical chord. But it is this two-nation theory that has plunged Pakistan into a maelstrom. It is the undefined concept of an Islamic Republic that has placed Pakistan in peril, a resolution of which cannot but have a profound impact on India-Pakistan relationship.


Is the struggle of Pakistan with the Taliban, claimants to the throne of an Islamic state, the climax of the model

of statehood that Pakistan chose while separating from India? Yes, it is. The model presented by Mohammad Ali Jinnah — an Islamic republic with modern secular governance — has not worked anywhere, least of all under a democratic framework that Pakistan has sought to imbibe in small periods of its existence.


It is Kemal Ataturk who put the issue to test in Turkey — and he selected the secular model under a democratic

framework. This secular democratic model does not fit in with the two-nation theory on which Pakistan is based, the prime impediment being the anti-India plank that guides Pakistan, particularly its army. The result is Talibanisation. Its horrid face frightens the people of Pakistan, including the political class — with the result that a big majority of the Pakistanis support the battle to eliminate the Taliban. The consequence is seen in the first-ever army drive against the Taliban in Waziristan.


Aside from taking the Taliban head-on, Pakistan needs to end the anti-India hatred ensuing from Partition. Indications are that much of the political class is keen on beginning a new chapter of ties with India. But the Indian response is faltering. The demand that the terror outfits based in Pakistan must first be eliminated is unrealisable. And so, there is an impasse. It is India that is better placed to make a new beginning in India-Pakistan ties. The demand that the Pakistan government brings the 26/11 perpetrators to book is fair and Islamabad accepts this. But the Pakistan government wants to wriggle out of its duty: It must deliver. India on its part needs to bring greater flexibility to Indo-Pak relations. Even if a "composite dialogue" is delayed, relationship with the people of Pakistan need not be shut off.


India's economic clout, stepping up bilateral trade in a big way, is the potent weapon for an opening. Economic and trade relations are immensely beneficial to both countries and the people at large — they offer a hefty bonanza. Use a small part of Indian foreign currency reserves. A dollar trade loan can be the lever that produces wonderful results. Add to trade, cooperation at the level of the people. In music and culture, and even cricket: a sport that excites millions in India and Pakistan.


That is the onset. Hitherto, Indian policy should be two-pronged — one poised towards the Pakistan government and the army and the other towards the people. A back-channel diplomacy is needed to break the bottlenecks on all issues, including Kashmir.









Sitting one evening alone at home, I decided to watch one of the many reality shows that one keeps hearing about. Not being able to sit through the one I had chanced upon, I did what most of us do while watching T.V., I used the remote and surfed through various channels.


I was amazed both at the formats of these shows and the "performance" of the actors. I am sure that a lot of the situations are simulated for the all-elusive TRPs. As far as the producers are concerned, if entertainment means a bunch of unhappy bawling babies being placed in the care of celebrities, then so be it. What amazes me is that not only are these shows aired daily but that they find so many takers.


What is so fascinating and interesting in the lives of other people? Are we so afraid of dealing with our own lives that this vicarious living provides us with an excuse to procrastinate? Are we so detached from our own realities, so disinterested in our own lives that we watch the lives of others unfold? When are we going to stop and take stock of our own lives if all we worry about is which celebrity to vote out of a programme?


Reality struck me a week ago while I was enjoying a cup of tea with my teacher of English in her lovely home in the hills. When I came away with a bunch of fresh, real chrysanthemums, I wondered when I had last actually enjoyed a cup of tea.


Reality strikes me everyday when I feel the lump in my throat as I realise that my daughter is growing up faster than I would like and that in another three years she will have spread her wings and flown away. This is the reality that I choose to stay with and focus on, because all the reality shows on earth cannot give me the joy of a wonderful evening spent with one who taught me so much when I was young.


May be it's time to look at our own realities and find the joy and happiness that is really real, one that will stay in our minds and hearts forever and will never be interrupted with commercial breaks and changing TRPs. If only we would listen to our children, even if all they seem to be doing is rattling off their never-ending trials and tribulations. We must remember that they are the ones who are real and their reality will impact our lives much more than a Rakhi Sawant or a Rahul Mahajan.


I, for one have found reality in the drawings on my refrigerator, the hurriedly made birthday cards and the lovely little gifts got back by both my son and daughter after hikes, even though they have hardly any pocket money to speak of. I have found reality in the fresh flowers and cups of tea with my teacher. What about you?









Crossed Khukuri banners, green, white and yellow flags of the Gorkhaland Janmukti Morcha (GJM) and thousands of Gorkha ex-servicemen and their families had gathered at the martyrs' memorial in the middle of the Batise railway loop to Darjeeling, the finest observation point of the magnificent Kanchanjunga range.


Interspersed in the intense three-day all-India conference at Darjeeling this month, the GJM was commemorating the 280 "martyrs who had laid down their lives for the greater cause of their motherland".


Even as Member of Parliament Jaswant Singh, elected from the Darjeeling hill areas and an ex-serviceman himself, laid the first wreath, four more Gorkhas of East Frontier Rifles from Darjeeling hills were killed in a Maoist ambush in West Bengal.


Uniformed Gorkhas wearing GLP (Gorkhaland Personnel – not Police) flashes gave the GJM's undisputed leader, Bimal Gurung, a guard of honour, maintained traffic, good order and military discipline.


Welcome to Ayo Gorkhaland (Gorkhaland is Coming).


The new Gorkhaland Andolan followed when Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) supremo Subhash Ghisingh was evicted from power in 2007 by Bimal Gurung, who piggybacked Indian idol III Prashant Tamang, a Kolkata Gorkha policeman. He galvanised all Indian Gorkhas to help them discover their common identity.


Indian Gorkhas are distinct from Nepali Gorkhas and are scattered all over the country, notably in J&K, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, North Bengal Sikkim, Dooars and the North-East and, like Israelis once, are in search of a homeland. Perception differences and government policy have simultaneously blurred and accentuated the identity crisis.


The arguments about how Gorkhas came to Darjeeling as economic migrants, soldiers of fortune, and through the British annexation of the territory go on even as apolitical organisations like the Bharatiya Gorkha Parisangh under former MP Dil Kumari Bhandari of Sikkim and the Dehradun-based Gorkha Democratic Front, despite the physical separation of organisations, strive for a national identity. Indian Gorkhas united to showcase Prashant Tamang as an Indian idol and secured a Gorkha victory. Yet, there are differences between the BGP and the GJM.


The largest concentration of Indian Gorkhas is in North Bengal in the hill district of Darjeeling comprising subdivisions of Kurseong, Kalimpong and Darjeeling and parts of Dooars. It has a Gorkha population of nearly 22 lakh compared to six lakh in Sikkim, which became a state in 1975 following Indian annexation.


The region is of great strategic value. It is contiguous – or nearly contiguous – to four countries – Nepal, China, Bhutan and Bangladesh. The vulnerable Chicken's Neck and Siliguri Corridor and the National Highway 31 A to Sikkim along with the only road and rail links to the North-East along the Tiger and Sevok bridges lie in this area.


The Darjeeling hill areas are richly endowed, blessed with the world's finest tea, exotic tourism, rare timber, famous schools and colleges, revered Hindu and Buddhist shrines and the incredible Gorkha soldier.


These special assets were effectively projected during the conference organised by the GJM's ex-servicemen branch. The bulk of the programme was devoted to tracing the history of Gorkhaland, the all-India spread of Gorkhas and their role in India's freedom struggle and after.


The demand for Gorkhasthan was made much before Independence and even accepted by the undivided Communist Parety of India. Although Subhash Ghisingh started the Gorkhaland movement in the late 1980s, he has left behind a legacy riddled with corruption and tarnished with the charge of sleeping with the enemy – West Bengal.


Ghisingh secured the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) in 1988 and by 2006, its inclusion in the Sixth Schedule, incorporating the status of a tribal area. The struggle for statehood got lost in the politics of survival till a new leader, a Ghisingh protege, Bimal Gurung was born.


"Ghisingh has betrayed the Gorkhaland cause by accepting the Sixth Schedule, an option we have rejected outright. There can be no alternative to statehood," he said at the conference where he was the last speaker at the conference. Throughout the day he kept sipping countless cups of salted tea and listening to speakers that included Jaswant Singh and Dil Kumari Bhandari.


Before taking the podium which had in the backdrop, the proposed map of Gorkhaland – stretching from River Mechi on the Nepal border to Sunkosi river bordering Assam – and flanked by pictures and Mahatma Gandhi and himself, he took off his shoes. His one-hour presentation in Nepali was punctuated by dramatic cries: "Gorkhaland is not our demand: It is our right".


His style and delivery were electrifying, Gurung sounding a bit like Hitler, justifying the claim of Gorkhaland, not necessarily in any offensive language. According to him – and it was news for many – this was the 27th and last time the cause for a Gorkha homeland would be advanced.


He promised that the GJM would present a comprehensive case at the fourth round of tripartite talks on December 21, 2009, at Darjeeling involving the Centre, the state and the party. Pointing to Jaswant Singh, he said they had chosen a wise man from the desert to guide the movement in the mountains and "take our voice to Parliament".


Making the briefest of speeches, Jaswant Singh counselled patience, restraint and eschewing violence. He promised that a Gorkhaland would happen in due course. His battlecry: Jai Kali, Jai Mahakali Aayo Gorkhali" resounded in the Darjeeling Club theatre, the venue of the conference.


Delhi has for the first time appointed an interlocutor, former Lt Gen Vijay Madan from the Gorkha Regiment, who was posted at the Eastern Command in Kolkata during Gorkhaland I. Mr Gurung wants the DGHC scrapped, its 6,000 contractual workers regularised, the Sixth Schedule withdrawn before joining the December dialogue.


On an earlier occasion, he had threatened to shoot himself at Darjeeling's holiest Mahakali temple if Gorkhaland was not realised by March, 2010. The GJM has launched a non cooperation movement like not paying taxes, electricity bills and banning the sale of liquour without imposing any restrictions on home-made intoxicants (rakshi) which Gorkhas love. At one stage they were contemplating closing down schools but better sense prevailed.


By all accounts the GJM is a well-knit organisation and hugely motivated. The 30,000 ex-servicemen together with a growing students' wing and around 11,000 GLP make a powerful team.


Not just due to its strategic location, the central government fears that with a Gorkha Sikkim (they call themselves Sikkimese), Maoists running riot in Nepal and several Gorkha pockets of dissidence nearby, including Bhupalese (Bhutanese of Nepali origin), Gorkhaland could well become the launch pad for Greater Nepal. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said recently: "There can be no second partition of Bengal but we can consider a special status for the entire North Bengal".


Some ideas short of full statehood being thrown up are a special status beyond the Sixth Schedule; conferring greater autonomy for self-governance; and attaching the region to Sikkim state.


Former Chief Minister Narbahadur Bhandari of Sikkim used to say: "We accepted to merge Sikkim with India but we certainly have no wish to be submerged by it" in reference to both the construction of the Teesta Hydel project and Greater Sikkim by amalgamating other Gorkha areas in the region.


The tripartite talks can only buy more time but the formation of Gorkhaland seems deservedly inevitable: from Ayo Gorkhali to Ayo Gorkhaland. The challenge is in making it graceful and painless.









For the past some weeks a two-member committee, set up by the Punjab government, has been struggling hard to take the state out of the current fiscal mess. The committee members – Sukhbir Singh Badal and Manoranjan Kalia – have met a number of times without coming to any conclusion.


The poor fiscal health of the state is impacting the pace of development and may even lead to the stoppage of salaries/pensions. The state woefully lacks many essential services like education, health, power and irrigation. A large number of schools are without teachers and hospitals without medicines and doctors.


There is an acute shortage of electricity and water supply, and irrigation courses require urgent repairs. Punjab may further slip downward as the Finance Minister, Mr Manpreet Singh Badal, fears.


The committee has hinted at a charge on electricity motors at farms. The quantum is being debated. While Sukhbir Badal wants the minimum rate per horse power, Mr Kalia insists on a higher amount. This difference is not based on any rationale, but the political constituency each one caters.


Since the BJP is an urban Hindu party, it cares more for its constituents. It recently got the increased electricity charges in the urban areas stalled on the plea that since farmers are getting free power, why the urbanities should pay more.


The Akalis push hard for farmers, their electorate. The two parties often find themselves in a bind on crucial issues. The industrial policy recently announced by Mr Kalia offering major concessions to the industrial sector has left many Akalis fuming its approval by the Chief Minister. Whether it attracts any industry, given the grim power situation and the poor infrastructure, is another matter. The differences between the two partners do make political sense, but defy any economic logic.


The Chief Minister may finally veto any withdrawal of the power subsidy in the farm sector since he understands the political cost, yet the issue of subsidy will remain hot.


Over 1.5 lakh farmers have left farming in Punjab during the last decade to move to the urban areas. Farming compares poorly against trade and industry. Even a petty trader can make in five years what a farmer would take 15 to make. This is one major reason for the indebtedness of farmers and their suicides. Punjab farmers are under a debt burden of Rs 32,000 crore despite bumper crops of paddy and wheat.


It is true that many farmers in Punjab would like to have quality supply of electricity than free supply. But this argument comes due to two reasons; they want quality and adequate supply and since the water table is falling each crop season, they are forced to dug deeper, spend huge sums of money and feel cheated at the end. The state ought to take care of the grower of food. The current level of subsidy is welcome otherwise. They suffer government apathy and poor governance, besides large-scale and deep corruption.


Next year the tightrope walk may become too hard to continue. The government may not even be able to pay salaries and pensions which mean Rs 1,000 crore per month. What will come out of the ambitious annual plan of Rs 8,400 crore is anyone's guess. The state is unable to clear bills of infrastructure projects by the public works, irrigation and public health departments. The state has no other way but utilise funds received under central schemes.

The state may not have enough to pay salaries and may run out of its loan limit any time. It will be forced to seek the Centre's help to stay afloat. There is a committed expenditure of Rs 18,000 crore on salaries, pensions and interest payments for this fiscal. Punjab is raising loans ranging between Rs 500 and 700 crore every month while the total annual available limit is Rs 6,219 crore.








The tough Firozabad by-election made Rahul Gandhi change the way the Congress treated by-elections. Till now it was an unwritten code that big leaders would not campaign in minor battles. Arch rival Mayawati decided to keep away from canvassing and Mulayam too kept away from campaigning even though it was his daughter-in-law contesting.


The local party unit and son Akhilesh were asked to take care of the battle whereas the Congress heir apparent swept the poll turf with a visit, tilting the scales in favour of Raj Babbar. There was a lukewarm turnout from the Yadavs. The Babbar camp led by AICC General Secretary Digvijay Singh mobilised voters in big numbers to the booths.


Also, Lodh votes do not seem to have backed the SP. The Lodh-Yadav combo and Muslims used to be the winning formula for the SP. So on hindsight, Mulayam must be regretting his decision now. The negative sentiment in the Lok Sabha polls may have played a role in such a course of action.


By convention, political bigwigs stay away from by-elections but Chief Ministers are in charge. But Rahul's Firozabad trip may prompt leaders to shed their inhibitions.


Star campaigners


The Samajwadi Party had a whole lot of stars for the election of daughter-in-law Dimple vs Raj Babbar. But Mulayam Singh realised that the old brigade of Sanjay Dutt, Jaya Pradha and Jaya Bachchan were a flop show and then he changed his tune to vote for the bahu. The second phrase was "you need to choose between "gaddhar" Raj Babbar and between Dimple your bahu".


Raj Babbar got his star power from son Pratik and daughter Juhi. But the real star of the election campaign since the last two years has been Salman Khan. Sallu was campaigning all over the country for the Congress candidates.



You just cannot ground Kamal Nath. He may be on to Surface Transport now from the globe-trotting Commerce and Industry, but there is no match for his lifestyle in the Manmohan Cabinet.


This Doon boy's birthday on November 18 is a grand affair every year. Posters portraying him in a business-style dress instead of a politician's familiar "kurta pyjama" were plastered all over Delhi, Bhopal and Chhindwara, his constituency. Well, Kamal Nath has always been known for his style.


An evening with kids


People associate fashion designers only with Page 3, but there is also a philanthropic side to them that goes unnoticed. The movers and shakers of the fashion world sat down and enjoyed an evening with special children. There was no snobbery or attitude being thrown around; only humility and a feeling of spreading joy in the limited way they could.


The designers included Ritu Kumar, Manish Arora, Ranna Gill, Rajesh Pratap Singh, J.J. Valaya, Namrata Joshipura and Rohit Gandhi-Rahul Khanna. The Tamana students, most of whom are spastic or suffer from Down's syndrome, walked the ramp with professional models with ease. As the special children did the catwalk, the pros walked barefoot – setting the mood for a show that showed the grounded side of Indian fashion.








With the Supreme Court of Bangladesh upholding the death sentence on the assassins of founder President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, justice has finally been delivered after a long legal battle that dragged on for 13 years. Thirty-four years after Mujib was assassinated, along with 20 others including his wife and three sons, the deliverance of justice, if anything, should certainly help restore people's faith in the country's judiciary that has never been known for impartiality. In fact, had it not been for his daughter Sheikh Hasina, who, being abroad at the time survived the attack to become Prime Minister one day, it is doubtful whether the guilty would have ever faced any punishment. For it was Hasina who, after becoming premier for the first time in 1996, removed the legal barriers that had been placed by the post-Mujib military governments to protect the killers, though she couldn't help complete the process during that stint. The proceedings were put on the backburner during the subsequent governments led by Khaleda Zia. This time, however, the Hasina-led government has done well to enable law to take its own course. After all these hindrances, the killers have finally got what they deserved, with five of them being condemned to the gallows. With Dhaka now engaging the Interpol, it is expected that the six others who are still at large will also be brought to justice in course of time.

With this verdict history too has come a full circle. With Hasina again in power, there are much improved relations between India and Bangladesh which is reminiscent of the time when Bangabandhu, who led the country to independence from Pakistan in 1971, was in power. Good relations between Bangladesh and India during his time were a logical conclusion of the '71 war, for the huge role India played in the fight for freedom – from sheltering millions of refugees and training pro-liberation fighters, to fighting off Pakistani troops occupying the erstwhile East Pakistan. Mujib however had many enemies due to his pro-India image, and his decision to turn Bangladesh into a one-party democracy proved to be a fatal mistake that probably led to his assassination. The murder took Bangladesh in a completely different direction, with Armymen and civil politicians loyal to them coming to the forefront. Those involved in the coup plot or those who stood to benefit from the plot will perhaps invariably say that the assassination helped Bangladesh get rid of being a client state to India. Such feelings, which persisted through the reigns of both Gen Zia and Gen Ershad and also that of former PM Khaleda Zia, however, have to be in place in some quarters even now, especially among Islamic fundamentalists. With the Hasina government now hounding out northeastern militants, particularly ULFA, from Bangladeshi soil, she no doubt has infuriated many anti-India forces. Post-Mujib verdict, the threat perception has grown bigger. All in all, it is expected that the Hasina government will weather such storms to maintain peace and stability in the country and ensure that its ties with India remain as good as ever.







Innovative ideas coupled with industry can work wonders. In fact it is the formula scripting success story for a host of individuals. Two innovators of the State have not only earned laurels for themselves but they have also made the State proud with their achievements. Kanak Gogoi and Uddhav Bharali have displayed once again that if one has the idea and can chart the direction and the steps how it can be translated into a reality it can result in innovation. The duo's patience and perseverance have not gone in vain. Their innovations have ultimately got the due recognition and honour which they so rightfully deserve. Both Kanak Gogoi and Uddhav Bharali have been honoured with the National Innovation Award. It was a great moment for them when President Pratibha Devisingh Patil presented the awards to them at a function held in New Delhi. Kanak Gogoi won two awards for his compressed air vehicle and gravity bicycle .Uddhav Bharali was presented the award for his pomegranate peeler device. Gogoi's gravity bicycle can be run using the gravitational pull while his compressed air vehicle uses compressed air as its fuel. Bharali, who had won the National Innovation Award on an earlier occasion, developed his pomegranate peeler after several years of experimentation. This machine is now in high demand in the developed countries where pomegranate juice is very popular.

Kanak Gogoi and Uddhav Bharali have displayed that the ability to think differently with a purpose can result in innovative ideas which if pursued with dedication can result in innovations which can work wonders. Innovation requires the right amount of freedom and the right amount of chaos to generate new ideas. For innovative ideas to germinate good knowledge base can come in very handy though it is not a prerequisite. To encourage the spirit of innovation the authorities on their turn should evolve bold policy measures to enhance competition and hunger for undertaking research and development (R&D). It must be coupled with judicious government support. There has to be an open door policy as a structured environment cannot create innovation. A good infrastructure, literacy, adequate power supply and conducive support from the authorities can go a long way in providing the much needed support to the potential innovators. Studies have shown that creating an environment fostering innovation has always resulted in bringing the best out of the people with ideas. Considering the latent talent in the State the Government should evolve a policy to encourage innovations and provide the innovators with the necessary support.








This year (2009) is the 30th anniversary of normalization of diplomatic relations between USA and China since 1979. The era of 'competitive coexistence' is over and now the US inextricably intertwined with China in many areas of mutual advantage and concern like finances, trade, and energy needs, impact on the planet's environment including security aims and requirements that enhanced the prospect of common strategic interests in the region. This seems an era of coordination and cooperation between China and the United States, particularly after the change of guard in Washington, since Barrack Obama came to power replacing George Bush. Since then the Americans began to formulate its new China policy by informing Americans about China and China policy; identifying local impacts of China policy and trade; building political will to address China policy by mobilising grassroots Americans to engage their fellow citizens and encourage their elected officials and political candidates to act in the national interest on China not in support of past tradition or special interests; Congressional hearings on the current state of USA-China relations including a complete security review; allow China's participation in the International Space Station; renegotiate or amend the China Trade Relations Act or fold the law into a new binding Treaty; introduction of legislation for a binding Treaty between these two nations, and so on.

All this was distinctly echoed during the US President Barrack Obama's recent visit to China. From the start of his presidency, Obama dispensed with the customary China-bashing and immediately declared the need for a strong bilateral relationship with China in order to tackle many problems that confront the world, not least the economic downturn, climate change, nuclear proliferation and terrorism. The actions of his administration followed his rhetoric. His two Chinese-American cabinet members, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, were among the first high-ranking officials to visit Beijing and begin the dialogue on collaboration. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's first trip after taking office was to China. Defence Secretary Robert Gates also made an official visit. Obama's actions brought results. The White House announced its intention to send special envoy Stephen Bosworth to Pyongyang which was undoubtedly an important shift from the unilateral approach of the Bush administration. So also, US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg recently described the future of US-China relations in terms of strategic reassurance just as the US and its allies made clear that they are prepared to welcome China's arrival as a prosperous and successful power. In fact, America needs a supportive Chinese market and wants China to move towards a market-based value for its currency. So Obama's meeting with President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao concentrated more on economic issues and Af-Pak policy, which affects the regional power balance but won't touch any controversial issues.

In fact, Obama's visit highlighted China as a key global player as the country at present is involved in major international disputes such as the showdowns with Iran and North Korea, and used its position on the UN Security Council and its economic leverage to influence events around the globe.

China also wants to be a dominant regional player in northeast Asia, recently hosting a summit in Beijing with the Japanese and South Korean leaders. The nation's economic expansion has led to a demand for raw materials around the world and the rapid expansion of China's presence in countries such as Guinea, Myanmar, Sudan and Venezuela. Human rights groups say China is propping up repressive regimes to secure its access to critically important raw materials. China's rapid economic expansion outpaces growth in the United States, 8.9 per cent in the past quarter against 3.5 per cent in the United States, giving Beijing huge economic leverage.

These may be bilateral matters between United States and China; no third party should have any objection regarding this and justly so. But this will be utterly a superficial observation as the strategic relations between US and China, that so long existed in opposite poles would certainly affect the regional balance. New Delhi has every reason to be concerned about what is going on between Washington and Beijing behind the curtain. There is every possibility that after getting US ratification or rather assistance, China will get encouraged to go forward with its evil design particularly against India which has always been a part of Chinese policy in the sub-continent, e.g. using of Pakistani card against India. This became quite loud and clear during US President's China visit and the joint statement issued by the leaders of both the countries. US president Barrack Obama gave a monitoring role to China in South Asia, particularly between India and Pakistan, a fact that has stuck in New Delhi's throat. This was a rare occasion when a US president acknowledged that Beijing has a role to play in the India-Pakistan relationship. The move, if serious, runs counter to predictions of US foreign policy experts that the US would not acquiesce in a future Chinese hegemony in the region. While New Delhi maintained a studied silence on the joint statement, it infuriated officials in the foreign office because it brought back nasty memories of another US-China joint statement by Bill Clinton and Jiang Zemin on June 29, 1998. Then too, it was Clinton and Jiang, in what India considered offensive language, scolding India and Pakistan for their nuclear tests. India had reacted sharply then, buffeted by general international condemnation after the tests. This statement was setback in the Indian efforts to build a relationship with the US without China complicating the issue. The question is whether the US was pressured into giving China a bigger role in the region in return for other favours in areas like the North Korean and Iranian nuclear issues. The Indian government, which has always opposed third party intervention in the India-Pakistan dialogue, has enough reasons to be worried about the new development.

The joint statement also shows that Washington is agreeable to the idea of China playing a bigger role in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which is another issue that can rattle New Delhi.

On the other hand, in a delicate balancing act, US President Barrack Obama supported early resumption of talks between China and the Dalai Lama's representatives while describing Tibet as part of this country. On India's part while forging stronger ties with the US, India should keep in mind that it was China who first started the game when it had effectively made use of Pakistan for many decades as its proxy to weaken and intimidate India. Washington should be cautious in dealing with China so that it does not have adverse impact on Indo-US relations and ensures balance of power in the sub-continent.








Sri Sathya Sai Baba's moral and spiritual influence has swept over 176 countries of the world and millions of people belonging to different religions are his ardent followers and devotees. Baba exhorts all to love the motherland and become aware of the universe. He says "All is one, be alive to everyone; the world is one, be good to everyone. A person is born in India or any land not through accident but on purpose." He wants that we all love our motherland and also do not speak ill of or cause harm to another's motherland. In fact he asks everyone to recall the opening verse of the Vedas and to sincerely follow it: "Let us progress together, let us move together, let us spread the light we have gained from studies and let us live together as friends without discord."

Sai Baba's pivotal teaching is to serve everyone and thereby to extend love to everyone. Love is the central theme of Sri Sathya Sai organisation. To explain further the relation of service and love, a Telugu poem says "Just as the birds have two wings which help them to fly, love and service are like the two wings which enable man to reach his goal of life quickly. So selfless service can achieve love and unity of mankind.

The Sai-movement and its devotees dedicate to promote universal love. Sai Baba has showed his love through service to mankind under broad heads – educare, sociocare, medicare and aqua-care. Sai Baba says, "For health, the heart is important. For knowledge, the head is important. For the body, water is essential. All these three healthcares, education and water should be provided free. They should not be commercialised. All these come from God."

Sri Sathya Sai University (formerly Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher learning, Deemed University) is a pioneer in integral education and aims at balanced development of the body, mind and heart. To achieve the theme, 'Education is for life and not for a mere living', the system aims at character building and education is offered free for all irrespective of caste, creed, religion, status etc with admission policy based on merit, enrolling men and women from all over the country or even outside. Sai Baba, the Chancellor of the University says; "The end of education is character, the end of knowledge is love." This aim is abundantly reflected in the scheme of education of the university. The National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) has accredited A++ level to the university; top grade among the universities in the country.

The university established in 1981 comprises three campuses, Prasanthi Nilayam campus for met at Prasanthi Nilayam, Andhra Pradesh, Anantapur campus for women at Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh and Brindavan campus for men at Whitefield, Bangalore, Karnataka. It offers courses in undergraduate programmes in Arts, Science and Commerce; postgraduate programmes in Arts and Science; Professional programmes like MBA (Finance), BEd, MTech (Computer Science), MTech (Applied Optics); Research and Doctoral programmes like MPhil and PhD programmes.

"Service to man is the highest form of worship" says Sai Baba. His service to humanity in the domain of healthcare has been phenomenal. To bring it to the reach of common man, the advanced procedures like heart, kidney and brain surgeries in urban and rural areas, Sai Baba has established two super speciality hospitals, one at Puttaparthi )Prasanthigram) and the other at Whitefield, Bangalore with the sole purpose of making available the advanced technologies of diagnosis and medical care totally free of cost to all rich or poor regardless of religion, caste, creed or country.

The first hospital at Puttaparthi (Prasanthigram) became functional on November 22, 1991 and now it has 300 beds with 11 operation theatres along with a sophisticated cath lab, gastrointestinal endoscopy facility and others totally free state-of-the-art medical and surgical care to all. The hospital has the departments of Cardiology, Cardio Thoracic and Vascular Surgery, Irology, Plastic Surgery, Opthalmology, Orthopaedics and Gastroenterology.

Inaugurated on January 19, 2001 with 333 beds and 8 operation theatres (4 cardiac and 4 neuro) the Whitefield hospital can perform more than 6 cardiac surgery, 8 neuro surgery and 18 cardiac catheterizations per day. The hospital has recently acquired state-of-the-art Picture Archival and Communication system from Fuji making it completely filmless hospital. The hospital also provides undergraduate BSc courses in Nursing, Imaging Technology, Perfusion Technology, Anesthesia Technology, Medical Laboratory Technology and Cardiac Technology free of charge. Sri Sathya Sai Medical Trust has shown that the hospital is eminently equipped with the experience and ability, not only to construct and equip such a super-speciality hospital, but also to run it efficiently.

To provide drinking water to million in Rayalaseema area Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust has covered 731 villages in Ananthapur district by laying 2500 kms of pipelines, constructing hundreds of reservoirs and overhead tanks at the cost of Rs 300 crore, in 320 villages in Medak and Mehboobnagar districts in Telengana.

Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust has provided drinking water to 10 million people in Chennai City at a cost of Rs 200 crore through Sai Sathya Sai Ganga Cannal from Kandeleru reservoir in Andhra Pradesh. This project demonstrates the love for the people when a private charitable trust has been able to execute such a big project to bring the water of the river in one state to the people of another. Another big project to draw water from the Godavori river to cater to the drinking needs of the upland and backward tribal areas in 230 villages in East Godavari districts and 220 villages in West Godavari district by laying 1175 kms of pipe lines covering 7.80 lakh population.

The devastating floods of September 2008 caused human tragedy and submerged large areas in the four districts of Kendrapara, Jagatsingpur, Cuttak and Puri of Orissa creating havoc and making people homeless. The flood ravaged people of these areas saw sunshine when Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust has taken up a massive project of constructing over 700 houses including primary school buildings.

(Published on the occasion of 84th birthday of Sri Sathya Sai Baba).








What should the nation expect from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's ongoing visit to the US? Steady progress in the development of a strategic partnership between the two countries is the short answer. This is not the stuff of fireworks or momentous announcements, but significant nevertheless.

Sure, there are tangible things to negotiate, such as technology transfer, Pakistan's perfidy, China's role in south Asia, financial crisis, climate change, renewable energy, H1B visas, protectionism, and so on. And we are bound to hear stately announcements on the progress made in each area. But the sub-text would be more important.

The sub-text is that of sustaining and consolidating a strategic shift in US perceptions on the distribution of geopolitical power, which was heralded by the Bush administration's unprecedented and successful efforts to make India admittance to the nuclear club, even if as an associate member. The commentary on President Obama's east Asian
tour has focused too much on his kowtowing to Beijing.

China is indeed the pre-eminent driver of world growth right now, and also holds a very large hoard of US treasury bills whose continuation in Chinese hands is vital for the fate of the dollar. Washington has good eason to be sensitive to Beijing's sensibilities.

As a rising world power, Beijing necessarily is Washington's strategic partner. But there is no reason for Indians to worry that this strategic partnership rules out a similar partnership between Washington and New Delhi.

The world today has a single superpower when it comes to
military might. But economic power is more widely distributed. From pandemics and demographics to religion-based terror and finance that can be regulated only through global coordination, there are many factors that make it necessary for these multiple centres of military and economic power to cooperate, for the world to keep going.

Cooperation can come only through dialogue, bilateral as well as multilateral. It is only natural that the largest military and economic power, the US, would engage all the other significant military and economic powers in sustained dialogue. And India has recently qualified as a strategic partner in this sense. Dr Singh goes to Washington not to seek favours, but to build that partnership.








We welcome the department of telecom's (DoT) decision to build a new communications network for the country's armed forces, take it up in a 'mission mode' and complete the project in three years, that is, by early 2013. But allow us to ask, what took you so long?

Awareness of a coming spectrum scarcity and the need to upgrade the archaic communication systems of the armed forces to new, spectrum-efficient ones to free up scarce spectrum for civilian communication use has been around since the turn of the century.

Formal discussions between the DoT and the defence ministry to this end had begun in May 2005. A Trai paper in September 2006 had identified the spectrum that was required. It requires neither rocket science nor a degree in communications engineering to appreciate that unless the armed forces have an alternate, secure and state-of-the-art communications system in place, they cannot vacate spectrum.

So why didn't work on building an alternate system begin at least three years ago? Since DoT is the agency charged with facilitating the expansion of civilian communications, the onus was on it to take the initiative and facilitate spectrum release by defence.

Instead, DoT shuffled its feet, shuffled paper and shifted goal posts for itself, for expansion of second-generation services, for commencement of third-generation (3G) services and so on, with the result that 3G has been still-born, so far, if you discount the MTNL and BSNL offerings that are yet to find commercial acceptance.

Killing future generations is an act called infanticide, and DoT stands guilty of this crime.
Wimax and 3G auctions have been clubbed together and delayed on telecom minister A Raja's watch, depriving people in rural areas of high-speed broadband and its attendant benefits.

If this is the efficiency of facilitation that the government brings to bear on the success story of India's infrastructure, what should we expect in other, less tractable sectors?







There can be no better evidence of Air India's inexorable fall from grace: the Maharaja may be given his marching orders. Time was when the public sector airline had the privilege of having the only maharaja officially recognised — as well as bankrolled and promoted — by the government of India, long after the privy purses of the rest of the princes were summarily abolished.

To cadge a line from the Diana legend, the portly gent in the long red coat, puffy striped turban, upturned moustaches and modestly downcast eyes, has been a 'people's maharaja', loved by passengers even though they ultimately rued accepting his invitation to fly India's national carrier.

To keep the behemoth flying despite disastrous performance levels, one idea that has emerged is to morph the Maharaja into a suited-booted corporate czar, in the hope that it would entice passengers to opt for Air India once more.

It would seem that the public sector aviation company has forgotten that two decades ago, a similar move to oust the Maharaja resulted in such popular outrage that the amiable aristocrat was reinstalled forthwith. Of course, much has changed as Air India now no longer rules the skies anywhere. Yet, if there is a modicum of affection and respect left for the carrier, it is mainly for what it once was, not what it has become.

At a time when a maharaja legacy is paying handsome dividends to royal scions in the hospitality and political sectors who have been wise enough to invest in re-burnishing existing images rather than inventing entirely new ones, Air India is illogically considering the latter.

Before making the mascot doff his achkan and turban in favour of a sleek suit, the airlines' managers should note that even erstwhile maharajas are invariably in full traditional regalia to give tourists a right royal experience. Luckily for Air India, its maharaja is in a better shape than the airline and needs no booster shot. Of course, merely madeover maharajas will not guarantee success, the entire product he is selling must be in keeping with what he promises.







One major reason for the disintegration of Janata Party government was the 'dual membership' tussle. When some Socialist-oriented Janata leaders insisted that the Bharatiya Jan Sangh members among them give up their RSS membership in order to end their dual political loyalty, the latter refused, saying that their ideological and political attachment to the Sangh was unshakeable.

Then the Jan Sangh was repackaged as the BJP by retaining, and by making no secret of, its umbilical cord with the RSS. Almost three decades of functioning as the RSS' political wing, it is interesting to see a section of the BJP now expressing its frustration over a relationship that they and their predecessors had been so proud of.


So then, what is it that is making the BJP, or at least a section of it, so painfully unhappy with the RSS now? Or, what is that preventing this unhappy BJP lot from dumping the RSS and declaring freedom?

The reason for their suffocation on being dictated by the RSS is simple: it started after the new sarsanghachalak Mohan Bhagwat's comments that the person who will succeed Rajnath Singh as the new BJP president will be someone other than Venkaiah Naidu, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and Ananth Kumar.

The RSS also made it public that the Sangh expects L K Advani to step down as Opposition leader without much delay. These pronouncements have triggered a wave of quiet and not-so-quiet dissent within the BJP about how Bhagwat and the RSS are trying to take over and control the BJP and its affairs.

While, undoubtedly, viable democratic politics in India is demonstrably at odds with the RSS ideology and there exists a plausible case for the BJP to cut itself free from the RSS, it is difficult to see the current debate on RSS-BJP ties as stemming from anything other than purely personal grievances.

But then, this is not the first time a political party has witnessed internal differences over personality clashes or leadership selection. The Congress split thrice over such issues. The Janata Dal underwent serial divisions over the same problems. So why can't the BJP too get caught in a crisis that afflicts Indian political parties?


The hypocrisy of BJP leaders resenting the RSS' umpire-cum-selector role in the BJP's affairs can be matched only by that of Mr Mohan Bhagwat's own periodical claims, echoing that of his predecessors, that his outfit has no political role and is busy in its cultural activities. It is common knowledge that every BJP leader makes use of, or invents, opportunities to demonstrate his or her reverence for the RSS brass from time to time.


Even Atal Bihari Vajpayee, considered the most liberal of the BJP lot, took care to periodically renew his political insurance within the Parivar by declaring himself as a swayamsevak. L K Advani, arguably the brightest and the most successful RSS product in terms of organisation building, is always proud to recall his early years as a full-time pracharak. So is Narendra Modi.

Even days ahead of Mr Bhagwat making public his preference for a leader from outside Delhi to head the BJP, the whole world saw how the then-aspiring but by-now-rejected four leaders called on the RSS chief at his Jhandewalan camp office. How many of us believe the purpose of their mission was to tell Mr Bhagat to stay fully focused on cultural matters? Also, remember not one of Mr Advani's proteges in the BJP showed the personal courage and political conviction to stand by him when the RSS ordered his public ejection, post-Jinnah.

Similarly, how many think Mr Bhagwat and his colleagues discuss issues relating to art and culture when they meet BJP leaders periodically? It is often said that as prime minister, A B Vajpayee did keep the RSS brass at a safe distance. But then, it is also a fact RSS leaders understood the strategic importance of the BJP winning power with a coalition and the need to facilitate that through some temporary adjustments like putting on hold core political planks such as the Ram temple, Article 370 and the demand for a uniform civil code. But that never meant that the RSS let Vajpayee shunt out Narendra Modi after the Gujarat riots, which were a test case of the Parivar's 'Hindu assertion'.

Anyone is entitled to fantasise that the BJP would refashion itself as a Swatantra Party-like 'liberal rightist party' by shunning the RSS and mending and its doctrine. But politics doesn't work on fantasies. The birth and growth of the BJP have been based on ideological grooming by the RSS. It is the RSS shakha network and affiliated outfits that form the crucial core constituency of the saffron party. In short, it will be easier for the RSS to dump the BJP and create another saffron party than for the BJP to break free from the RSS.

Therefore, when the BJP faces multiple crises, and when most of its post-Vajpayee/Advani 'national leaders' have proved to be a bickering bunch sans mass appeal and electoral credentials, it is time for the RSS to play doctor. Some of the patients are sulking, not because they have a problem with the doctor or his medicine but fret over who should get the first shot.








It is hard for international observers of the United States to grasp the political paralysis that grips the country, and that seriously threatens America's ability to solve its domestic problems and contribute to international problem solving. America's governance crisis is the worst in modern history. Moreover, it is likely to worsen in the years ahead.

The difficulties that US President Barack Obama is having in passing his basic programme, whether in health care, climate change or financial reform, are hard to understand at first glance. After all, he is personally popular, and his Democratic Party holds commanding majority in both the Houses of Congress. Yet, his agenda is stalled and the country's ideological divisions grow deeper.

Among Democrats, Obama's approval rating in early November was 84%, compared with just 18% among Republicans. Among Democrats, 58% thought the country was headed in the right direction, compared with 9% of Republicans. Only 18% of Democrats supported sending 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan, while 57% of Republicans supported a troop build-up. In fact, a significant majority of Democrats, 60%, favoured a reduction of troops in Afghanistan, compared with just 26% of Republicans. On all of these questions, a middle ground of independents — neither Democrats nor Republicans — was more evenly divided.

Part of the cause for these huge divergences in views is that America is an increasingly polarised society. Political divisions have widened between the rich and poor, among ethnic groups (non-Hispanic whites versus African Americans and Hispanics), across religious affiliations, between native-born and immigrants and along other social fault lines.

American politics has become venomous as the belief has grown, especially on the vocal far right, that government policy is a 'zero-sum' struggle between different social groups and politics.

Moreover, the political process itself is broken. The Senate now operates on an informal rule that opponents will try to kill a legislative proposal through a 'filibuster' — a procedural attempt to prevent the proposal from coming to a vote. To overcome a filibuster, the proposal's supporters must muster 60 of 100 votes, rather than a simple majority. This has proven impossible on controversial policies — such as binding reductions on carbon emissions — even when a simple majority supports the legislation.

An equally-deep crisis stems from the role of big money in politics. Backroom lobbying by powerful corporations now dominates policymaking negotiations, from which the public is excluded. The biggest players, including Wall Street, the automobile companies, the healthcare industry, the armaments industry and the real estate sector have done great damage to the US and world economy over the past decade. Many observers regard the lobbying process as a kind of legalised corruption in which huge amounts of money change hands, often in the form of campaign financing in return for specific policies and votes.

Finally, policy paralysis around the US federal budget may be playing the biggest role of all in America's incipient governance crisis. The US public is rabidly opposed to paying higher taxes, yet the trend level of taxation, at around 18% of national income, is not sufficient to pay for the core functions of the government.

As a result, the US government now fails to provide adequately for basic public services such as modern infrastructure (fast rail, improved waste treatment, broadband), renewable energy to fight climate change, decent schools and healthcare financing for those who cannot afford it.

Powerful resistance to higher taxes, coupled with a growing list of urgent unmet needs, has led to chronic under-performance by the US government and an increasingly dangerous level of budget deficits and government debt. This year, the budget deficit stands at a peace-time record of around 10% of GNP, much higher than in other high-income countries.

So far, Obama seems unable to break this fiscal logjam. To win the 2008 election, he promised that he would not raise taxes on any household with income of less than $250,000 per year. That no-tax pledge, and the public attitudes that led Obama to make it, block reasonable policies.

There is little 'waste' to cut from domestic spending, and many areas where increases in public spending are needed. Higher taxes on the rich, while justified, don't come close to solving the deficit crisis. America, in fact, needs a value-added tax, which is widely used in Europe, but Obama himself staunchly ruled out that kind of tax increase during his election campaign.

These paralysing factors could intensify in the years ahead. The budget deficits could continue to prevent any meaningful action in areas of critical need. The divisions over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could continue to block a decisive change in policy, such as a withdrawal of forces. The desire of Republicans to defeat the Democrats could lead them to use every manoeuvre to block votes and slow legislative reforms.

A breakthrough will require a major change in direction. The US must leave Iraq and Afghanistan, thereby saving $150 billion per year for other purposes and reducing the tensions caused by military occupation. The US will have to raise taxes in order to pay for new spending initiatives, especially in the areas of sustainable energy, climate change, education, and relief for the poor.

To avoid further polarisation and paralysis of American politics, Obama must do more to ensure that Americans understand better the urgency of the changes that he promised. Only such changes — including lobbying reforms — can restore effective governance.

(The author is a professor of economics and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University)
© Project Syndicate, 2009








 It would be obvious to any analytical mind that atmasuddhi or clarity within is measured by the wisdom and maturity that one obtains. As noted by Montaigne, the most manifest sign of this wisdom is 'continued cheerfulness'. It thus automatically follows that any process or steps towards atmasuddhi would also be marked by cheerfulness, peace and healthy acceptance.

The intelligent aspirant (sadhaka) would thus evolve for himself the appropriate 'road map' and a system of dos and don'ts (sadhana), as best suited to his individual nature for attaining his spiritual objectives and cherished dreams.

Besides the basic and obvious steps — such as on right observances, needed physical and mental exercises, healthy habits and lifestyle, satsang, joyful hobbies and pursuits — the aspirant would naturally be led, where required, also to the higher stages. Prayer, in its right and true sense, indeed is also applicable to agnostics. When directed to the evolved self within and those motivating forces, which abound all over, these would be more efficacious than cringing pleadings for personal favours.

In a highly powerful article (Reader's Digest, July, 1983) on attaining this authenticity, strength and clarity within, Ardis Whitman outlines particular steps to, and guidelines for, such a pursuit. Paying attention "to what is going on in your life, inwardly and outwardly" and spending "time with yourself" — these would help unlock those latent powers, releasing the accumulated clutter and the spiritual vacuum within.

Steps to such atmasuddhi would also be similar to attainment of excellence in any field. Hence, the modern management concepts would also be applicable for this pursuit. Planning, organising, controlling and leading, by also ensuring timely review to guard against the 'single slip' and against the weeds of the past sneaking in — these would follow, manifesting in that wisdom ('continued cheerfulness'), balance, poise, precision and maturity.

Signs of such cleansing within would be easing of situations, relationships and circumstances all over and the aligning and coming together of things with the increased harmony within and without — Henry Thoreau's concept of "living with the licence of a higher order of beings". No "dreary intercourse of daily life" would ever prevail.

Various indeed are the manifestations and signs of atmasuddhi as it guides the seeker in his progress, the 'Pilgrim's Progress'!






Desired objectives of tax policy can be achieved only when it is properly administered. Failure in appropriately administering the tax laws allows tax evaders to thrive. This defeats the purpose of a fair tax policy and threatens the canon of equity.

It is widely believed that tax evasion in India is rampant: in taxes on income and property, and in domestic trade taxes. This needs to be tackled on various grounds. Politically, the most important thing on the part of the government is to have a strong will to fight it out. Administratively, this is possible through the following measures:

There should be just one integrated permanent account number (PAN) for all the central and state taxes including
income tax, goods and services tax (GST), stamp duty and registration fee and so on. Under-pricing in real estate is further checked through real estate surveys by zones, which is being done in some states for stamp duty and registration fee.

An integrated management information system (MIS) along with IT-enabled business process model (procedures) for each tax that entails least interaction with the tax department is essential.

It is important to streamline procedures for speedy determination of tax disputes (Special courts need to be set up) and have special focus on training for detection of tax frauds. Deterrent penalty for tax evaders is a must.

In countries like Belgium, Greece and France, there is a provision for confiscation of personal rights like possession of firearms or driving licenses of persons found guilty of tax evasion. A similar law should be put in place in India too. Such persons should also be debarred from holding an elected office, including directorships in companies.

Economically, it would be useful to disentitle tax evaders to avail of the facility of payment of taxes in instalments and getting credit facility from banks. Socially and morally, the tax laws should permit wide publicity (through media) of persons found guilty of tax evasion. Social conscience needs to be aroused amongst people against tax evasion, for attaching social stigma to tax evaders and to work as sentinels for identifying black marketers and tax dodgers.

(*Foundation for Public Economics and Policy Research)







Estimates may vary, but clearly, the size of the black economy is monstrously large. Several factors are responsible for this. The type of faulty tax structures that we designed for ourselves, the ineffective and inefficient manner in which we implemented and enforced the tax laws and the lukewarm societal disrespect towards tax evaders have all contributed to the mess we are in. Surely, the problem is not acute — it's chronic. Perhaps we need to move forward in all directions with a bold and renewed agenda.

Take indirect taxes. The goods and services tax (GST) has the merit of self-policing. The confluence of different central and state taxes and duties in the holy GST is the right answer to correct the historical wrongs. But much would depend on the design of GST. It must be comprehensive to cover goods and services alike.

Ideally, it should have one rate for goods and services. Unduly high GST rates or a differentiated tax structure would again throw back the old problems of implementation, avoidance and evasion. Alongside, we need to provide a world-class modern and efficient tax administration using IT and reduce compliance cost for the assessees.

As for direct taxes, history is the best teacher. The experiment with high tax rates with zeal to punish the rich failed miserably. The narrow tax base has eroded the revenue buoyancy. The complicated tax laws and procedures erupted in unholy alliances.

It is high time to realise that moderate tax rates that are perceived as not 'pinching' by the society can only induce the tax evader to change his heart. In fact, a flat tax rate of 10% or 15%, with most tax collected as tax deducted at source (TDS), is best suited to accelerate transition from black to white.

Finally, a new approach in tax administration — for both direct and indirect taxes — is called for. People's aversion to tax departments seems to have gone beyond a simple dislike for paying taxes. The tax laws and procedures must be rewritten. Those who wish to mend their ways and pay taxes or duties should be encouraged rather than punishing so heavily that they turn indifferent.








Climate change is one of those issues I try to avoid. Not because I don't think it's important but simply because it's almost impossible to comment or write on something where my I/O error, as they say in techie, is so garbled.

Let me give you a small example. If I go for the climate change stuff here, I OD on carbon footprints, neutrality, evils of air travel, green taxes, emissions, emissions, emissions. Of course, at the more erudite gatherings, I get an overdose of China, how snotty India is being in blocking a global deal, and why we're being cantankerous.

After the recession, thankfully, the tone of those discussions have changed from hectoring and lecturing to a more muted acceptance of the post-modern global reality.

Now, what would be the point of telling my readers in India that they should cut down on air travel or switch

off the lights when not in use?

It would make as much sense if I tried to convince the Guardian's readers that, yes, we really do recycle everything in India, including newspapers, old clothes and mobile phones, for sound economic reasons, and have always done so. (I've tried. They just don't believe it. They think I'm talking about rubbish-scavengers. They also don't believe that we have converted to CNG only already in places, banned plastic bags etc, when they're still trying to get their act together on taxing SUVs.)

One could well be writing from Mars. This is the one subject in which misinformation rules — despite the net, despite the free flow of information and exponentially increasing numbers of people travelling around the world to see for themselves.

It's the one subject on which everyone has a view, and nobody has even a glimmer of an original idea — no, not even the activists who keep draping ribbons all over the Big Ben from time to time.

Even the experts, whether in India or Copenhagen, keep parroting the same old tired concepts. Here's where the huge gap lies. Amidst the plethora of myths and scare-mongering — mostly indulged in by the environmental lobbies that are probably doing more harm than good to their own cause by creating bogeymen the real issues get obfuscated. The real experts are science blokes, not very good at getting their message across in screaming headlines.

We need to get back to basics. For instance, India doesn't think it's important to constantly shout about how energy-efficient we already are — simply because we don't have any energy. Or how naturally sustainable (we call it cost) conscious Asian and Indian consumers already are. Or that recycling doesn't have to be a burden, it can generate an entire sub-economy, and could be scaled to a global trade level.

The American public, who in a recent poll voted overwhelmingly against giving any financial aid for battling climate change to developing nations, think that China is this ticking environmental bomb — but they're judging China from their own consumption patterns, not the reality. Apparently, Americans still use petroleum for domestic heating. Wow.

Now that Mr Obama has publicly accepted what everyone already knew, that the Copenhagen summit will not yield any tangible results, we have another year to sit back and review everything.

The fact is, no binding agreement is ever going to come out of any climate change negotiations, as the agenda is today. The current agendas are about as rusted as that old toaster I've bin storing 'cos I can't figure out how to get rid of it. Kyoto was a long, long time ago. The world has changed, but the discussions haven't.

To recap quickly, what we want is for rich countries, whose fragile economies are absolutely dependent on high rates of consumption, to cut down consumption. For developing countries, whether it's India, China or sub-Saharan Africa, to stop raising their people's standard of living.

Also, for rich country taxpayers to subsidise the cost of clean energy for potential economic competitors. And developing countries, to pay for the past misdeeds of the rich. Oh, yes, the carbon credit market is supposed to do the trick — why, exactly why a system that allows you to buy as many emissions as you can afford help to reduce the overall damage to the eco-sphere is beyond me. It ain't common sense.

Do you really see a world reverting to pastoral life like the Amish? God, these guys are worse than fantasy writers. It's like those Wall Street derivatives. We're going to have to wake up to the fact that the basic assumptions were all wrong, and the model a stupid one.

Natural disasters are not new in history: people and societies have always moved to avoid everything from the Ice Age on. But borders and immigration is a 20th century phenomenon. If you have a potato famine in Ireland today, millions can't move to America.

I've recently been hearing a few, lone scientific voices saying that instead of emissions, the global focus should shift to research. It's a science problem, only a scientific breakthrough can provide a final solution. That's the only sensible thing I've heard in a long, long while.








It's hard to remember the gloom and doom in India nine months ago. The Sensex had crashed along with real estate and commodities. The IMF spoke of a negative feedback loop, whereby a credit shortage caused a production shortage, which led to bankruptcies and a further credit shortage, in a vicious downward cycle.

Nine months later, the stock market has almost doubled. Real estate companies once regarded as insolvent crooks are able to raise millions of dollars. Commodity prices have shot up. Investors are behaving as though another party without end has begun. Bubbles are inflating everywhere, with no sign of caution induced by the bursting of the last bubble.

Some analysts fear that the bubbles will burst very soon. India, China and some other countries may have recovered, but western countries face a distinct risk of a double-dip recession. Housing is again in the doldrums in the US, and foreclosures continue to rise. A record number of US banks have been seized and closed down by the regulator. Commercial real estate is heading for a massive bust, endangering real estate financiers. Unemployment looks like rising to 11% or more.

Many western countries registered positive growth in the last quarter, leading to hopes that the recession has ended. But the latest data warns of the possibility of a second downward dip. Analysts fear that a double-dip recession can erode confidence and generate new panic, causing bubbles to burst across the globe.

I think the danger of that is close to zero. Markets in the West have already factored in the possibility of a double dip. Regulators everywhere are aware of and prepared for that risk. Indeed, the mad rush of dollars into emerging markets is occurring precisely because investors believe that growth prospects are far better in emerging markets than the West. Over $15 billion has flooded into India this year.

No doubt the bubbles inflating today will burst eventually. But they will continue inflating for a long time because the US will, for the foreseeable future, keep flooding the world with dollars at virtually zero interest. To check the possibility of a double-dip recession, the US Federal Reserve looks certain to follow an easy money policy for a long time. Economists like Paul Krugman are calling for a fresh fiscal stimulus to avoid a double dip. Finance Ministers in all western countries are emphasizing the need to avoid any early exit from the massive monetary and fiscal stimulus of 2008: they fear unemployment and recession much more than future bubbles. So, the flood of dirt-cheap dollars is going to continue for a long time.


Some Americans worry that this will eventually cause inflation. Maybe so, but the US Fed is far more worried about the possibility of deflation (systematically falling prices) caused by a double-dip recession. Japan in the 1990s suffered economic stagnation for a decade because of deflation, and the US is determined to avoid that path. The Fed will happily risk inflation in order to avoid deflation. So, it will keep interest rates at virtually zero for the foreseeable future.

What happens when the Fed increases money supply by over a trillion dollars, and lends at virtually zero interest? The dollar is an international currency whose impact is felt across the world. Investors and speculators everywhere know that growth prospects are much better in emerging markets than in the West. So they are borrowing hundreds of billions of dollars at dirt-cheap rates to buy stocks, real estate and commodities in emerging markets.

Hence, asset bubbles are inflating not just in India but in all emerging markets. The MSCI emerging markets index is up 71% in dollars this year, the biggest gainers being Brazil (140%), Russia (127%), Indonesia (105%), China (102%) and Turkey (90%). India is up 83%. Some Indians now worry that unsustainable bubbles are growing. The RBI may exit from its easy money policy early in 2010, as inflation is building up. But as long as a global tsunami of dollars keeps flooding into emerging markets, asset prices in India will keep rising.

In other words, investors rushing into real estate and stock markets are acting rationally, not foolishly. You may think they are myopic morons who have learned nothing from the bursting of the last bubble. In fact they fully understand that booms and busts are intrinsic parts of a market system, not aberrations that can be avoided. The secret of staying ahead is to ride the bubbles when they are inflating and get off before they burst. Right now, it's time to ride.









Rob Wilson, president, business and general aviation, of Honeywell , the world's largest maker of airplane controls, told Peerzada Abrar that his company's engineers in India have developed the next-generation flight management system and are set to play a significant role in evolving Honeywell's local presence as well. Excerpts from an interview:

What kind of engineering innovation do you see coming from Honeywell's India research centre?

Our flight management system (FMS), designed and developed by engineers in India, is flying on Gulfstream G650's first flight. It is a very complex technology which will allow Gulfstream to take advantage of every current and future air traffic modernisation functionality worldwide. The product will be driven by the engineers here.
We have made a strategic investment in our general aviation product line, the Bendix King, which is mainly focused on the North American market for design and development. We moved their major products KSN 770, which offers the latest in aviation digital Nav/Comm technology.

Several hundred engineers are working on that design and development. We are also developing flight control for small GA aircrafts. It is a control technology in the US, which limits our ability to sell all over the world.
The engineers in India are developing indigenously-designed flight control in co-operation with National Aerospace Laboratories, to offer it worldwide.

How complex are these technologies and can engineers in India move up the value chain?

The kind of work we are doing in India for the future is quite advanced and complex. For instance, FMS is on the order of 3-4 million lines of software code, that probably is the highest level of interaction and complexity. There is no limit for working on most advanced products. We are already working on some of the new software and products that have applications on the most advanced jets, that even haven't been announced yet.

Do you see more offshoring and outsourcing by global aviation industry to emerging markets like India?

We look at it from a global perspective, it is going to grow where the best work is done. Business jets are made worldwide and it is all about overall growth.

As chairman of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, what is the outlook for the aviation industry?
After contracting, it will start expanding again from 2011 and we will get back into shape by 2015. However, in India, which has a small fleet of over 300 aircraft, roughly around 120 jets, it is growing faster at 10-15%.








Equities may correct 5-10% in the medium term, but any correction is likely to be gradual, said Satish Ramanathan, head of equities, Sundaram BNP Paribas Mutual Fund. In an interview, he said only certain pockets of the market are 'overvalued' and that there is still value in sectors such as power, banking and infrastructure. Excerpts:

How do you see the market playing out over the next 2-3 months?

The market has to consolidate the gains made over the past few months. We will have to see a sustained growth in earnings returns, so that investors have the confidence to take a long-term view. Our view is that a robust earnings growth will set in from FY12 onwards.

Do you agree with the general perception that the market is overvalued?

I wouldn't say that the market, as a whole, is overvalued. But certain segments definitely are. To some extent, many of the large-cap names in the software sector are, some of the leading oil & gas stocks, and some of the large-cap names in the infrastructure are.

Are you fully invested at the moment?

Yes, we are.

Does that not expose you to the risk of not being able to buy stocks at lower levels in case the market corrects sharply?

That is a market risk we are willing to take. At the same time, we have been increasing our exposure to some of the defensive stocks, gradually. This will cushion our portfolio, to some extent, in the event of a market correction.

As and when a correction does set in, how steep do you expect it to be? What are the key near-term risks?

The market may correct 5-10% in the medium term, but the correction is likely to be a gradual. A key risk for the market is the government not delivering on its infrastructure promises. Expectations are high, and if the government doesn't live up to it, we could see some of the global investors heading for other markets.

The consensus for the time being is that the huge amount of cash on the sidelines will delay a meaningful correction. What is your view?

To an extent, maybe 'yes'. Cash on the sidelines can delay the correction. But it doesn't always happen that way. The moment there is a steep fall, most investors step back. They will wait, so that they can buy at even lower prices, and that could cause the market to go down some more.

Yet, the market stability now is much better than what it used to be in the past. That is partly due to the emergence of the domestic insurance industry as a key source of inflows. The two pillars of long-term money — domestic insurance and foreign institutional investors (FIIs) are supporting the market very well for now.

What about mutual funds? Have they been big buyers?

There has not been much money coming into equity schemes over the past few months, ever since the entry load norms have been changed. All financial products are finally push-products. Somebody has to go investors and convince them to shift money from their savings accounts to mutual funds.

Have you participated in some of the recent initial public offerings and qualified institutional placements?

Yes, we have. The short-term performance has been disappointing. But we will continue to look at future issues on a case-by-case basis. The advantage of subscribing to IPOs and QIBs is that you get to buy a sizeable chunk in companies where you are bullish on the long-term prospects without impacting the market price.

What is your view on interest rates in the short term?

We don't expect them to rise unduly. The key to interest rates will be the success of the government's disinvestment programme. If the divestment succeeds, the government will be able to keep fiscal deficit in check, and may not have to borrow too much. But if the stake sale plan doesn't succeed, it could set off a chain of negative events, beginning with higher interest rates.

Which are the sectors that you are bullish on?

We are bullish on infrastructure, power, banking, and within banking, PSU banks, as they are attractively valued. We are also increasing the proportion of defensive stocks in our portfolios.









Levi Strauss India, the wholly-owned subsidiary of San Francisco-based denim giant Levi Strauss Co, has been instrumental in accelerating growth of the denim market in India.

The 1994 entry of the inventor of jeans in India received a tepid response as Pepe Jeans and Arvind Brands' Lee locked on to youth connect faster. It was only at the turn of the century that this age group embraced Levi's as its 'Low rise-Dangerously low' campaign, coupled with an altered entry-level pricing and expanding distribution network, found a place in the consumer mind space.

From then on, Levi's made all the right noises, be it 'Live unbuttoned' or 'Diva rules'. Its focus on the women's market backed by celebrity endorsements has helped it grab almost 40% share in the Rs 2, 000-crore Indian branded denim market. Levi's also has a made-for-India non-denim street wear brand, Sykes. Levi's long-term focus on India is about to yield rich dividends with the company set to notch Rs 500-crore sales this year, thereby becoming one of the first international apparel brands to successfully replicate its global brand appeal here.

Today, with a leading share of the premium and super-premium branded denim market, it banks heavily on product innovation and a superior retail experience to drive growth. Levi Strauss India marketing head Shyam Sukhramani spoke to Sreeradha D Basu about product innovation and how Levi's is trying to excite the Indian youth. Excerpts:

After fifteen years of operations in India, how does it mark a new beginning for the Levi's brand?

The past 15 years of the Levi's presence has revolutionised the way consumers wear premium jeans in India. Today, jeanswear as a category is the youth's most preferred casual choice. This has been driven primarily by innovative new products that have been brought out consistently by Levi's since its launch. We will continue to build on the affinity that the consumer has for the brand by increasing the pace of new product launches. Product newness and innovation will be supported by the launch of new formats and shopping experiences for the consumers. Consumers will be increasingly rewarded as well with the introduction of the 'Levi'sLOOP' – our loyalty programme. We are currently piloting in Bangalore and plan to roll out nationally in the near future. A key focus for us going forward is to ensure that we empower a large portion of the urban population to access the Levi's brand a lot more and increase the share of the product in their wardrobe.

How are Indian customers different from other markets?

Indian consumers are upgrading their choices and demanding the best of international trends at their doorstep. While their consumption pattern is becoming similar to their western counterparts, they are a lot more demanding and brands that deliver inherent value are their first choice.

With Priyanka Chopra as your latest brand ambassador, how fruitful do you think your association with her and other youth icons like Shahid Kapoor for LSS will be for your brand?

Bollywood stars are the true celebs who drive mass aspiration and fashion sensibility. Levi's has seen on a string of Bollywood stars and will continue to do so in the future as well. Our latest ambassador Priyanka has launched the collaboration line that we have developed with Tarun Tahiliani. This line, which has been recently released in retail, is doing very well.

What is your take on lifestyle trends and consumer behaviour among the Indian youth?

India is a very important market for Levi's Strauss & Co, to drive future growth and salience for its brands. Consumers in India are coming of age – and with that awakening are opening up the largest youth market in the world. India is an extremely interesting market in that consumers here have a lexicon that is global and yet uniquely Indian. Levi's will continue to leverage its global expertise and credentials to bring the latest in
jeanswear to consumers in this country. We also recognise the extreme importance of being able to speak to our consumers in a language that resonates with them. This is one of the key reasons that we have consistently chosen to promote the Levi's brand through associations with the best of Indian talent – whether they be actors like Priyanka Chopra, or designers like Tarun Tahiliani.


How do you plan to use innovation to compel consumers to buy?

Consumers today want more, better and more frequently. In what may well become a 'game changer' in the organised retail industry for premium branded apparel, the new EMI scheme announced by Levi's allows consumers to get into their favourite Levi's whenever they please, as often as they please, as much as they please, at no additional cost, and from anywhere in the Levi's brand's wide network of exclusive stores. This enables many more young adults across the country access to the Levi's brand.

How do you plan to develop denim as a luxury concept?

We will be launching collaboration lines with leading Indian and international designers in the future to develop the Luxe Denim category. Our latest collaboration with Tarun Tahiliani is already in retail. More recently we had launched a collection designed by Damien Hirst, the highest paid living artist, based out of the UK. Soon we will be launching a line designed by Jean Paul Gaultier and a collaboration that we have done with House of Holland from the UK.

For a heritage brand like Levi's, what is the way forward in the Indian market? What are the challenges you face?

Levi's has an extremely rich history of more than 136 years! Since we created the category of jeans, we truly understand our consumers' evolving needs. This understanding and expertise has driven us to deliver compelling new products that are rooted in our heritage or are at the cutting edge of future trends.

We relaunched the quintessential 501 jeans that has driven fresh reappraisal of this product and grown adoption significantly. We were the first brand to launch Levi's Redwire jeans, that enabled consumers to carry their music with them in their jeans! Cutting across consumer segments and aspirations, the Levi's brand has a quintessential appeal amongst youth that enables us to experiment across multiple axes of heritage and modernity. This ability drives our entire marketing mix, be it product innovation, retail experience and communi-cation. Our future task is to bring this unique proposition to a large part of the Indian consumers and empower them to adopt premium jeans!








Nomura Holdings, the largest Japanese broking house, has been increasing its presence, especially after the acquisition of parts of Lehman in Asia and Europe last year. After kicking off operations in March 2007, it has already invested around $550 million in India. It has also taken a 35% stake in LIC Mutual Fund. In a conversation Kenichi Watanabe, president and CEO of Nomura Holdings and Nomura Securities, talks about the road map ahead. Mr Watanabe says that as the East starts gaining importance, he wants to make Nomura, the investment bank representing Asia, a force with wider reach. This is even as the firm is now looking at the NBFC business in India. Excerpts:

What are your plans for India? Nomura is also looking at acquiring an NBFC licence, can we have your perspective?
As an investment bank representing Asia, what we would like to achieve is localised businesses. If we talk about commercial banking business, that might be too far fetched at this time. First of all, we would like to start off by applying for the NBFC licence as well as other necessary licences to expand our business.

The NBFC would help us in lending to corporates. After the merger with Lehman, we are trying to shift part of our focus from offshore business to onshore business in India. One of the things that I understand is already taking place is the financial reform and this is one area where we would like to see where we can add value. We think we can add value to infrastructure development, through possibly an infrastructure fund.

I believe that all the centres of culture, art activities were in the East a very long-time ago and then shifted to the West, but are now shifting back to the East. And that is why I think India is now a very key component of our business.

What makes Japanese investors stick around for a longer time than funds from other markets?
When you look at the big picture, not only Japan but other investors around the world take a short period or a long period (as the case may be).


Essentially, these investors will continue to invest in the market and exit when there is a profit to be made. In the overall investment portfolio for Japanese institutional investors, the portion of their investments in India or India-related portfolio is very limited that is why I believe in going to medium-to-long term as they would try to increase the exposure.

I also believe that retail investors are also underweight in investment opportunities in India. Japanese have this dream or this aspiration to try to become a part of India which has a historic link right from the days of the Buddha or admiration towards the Indian philosophy or the Indian culture.

What kind of growth do you see in your international business?

For the first half of 2009, the earnings from outside Japan were more, but it was not so deliberate. As we expanded business, it worked out. One of the key objectives that I have been saying internally is we overall need to be profitable for the coming fiscal year.

Also, one of the things, which we continue to emphasise on, is that markets going forward are going to see large changes.

We believe in order to be profitable, we need to try and capture more share in terms of client-related business. In a 5-10-year horizon, what I am trying to achieve is to become an investment bank that represents Asia as a key starting point and become a global investment bank with a global reach.

Are there any other pieces that you need to add to the group?

We need to have more emphasis on Europe and US operations. We would also like to try to expand more to the Middle East. The areas where we want to try and expand going forward in Asia include China, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Korea. The time of Asia has returned. How we expand in each of these countries will of course depend upon the licence acquiring process.

Regulators and governments have raised concerns on high bonuses paid to investment bankers. Your comments.

As long as people work properly within the rules and make money for the company, they should be properly compensated. This is the basic principle. When the Enron incident happened, the US reacted very rapidly and introduced the Sarbanes Oxley that I think was one of the extreme changes in the legislative power.

Some of the measures announced by the UK or the US regulators may affect the finance industry going forward. The fundamental basics should be that each and every financial institution should have proper discipline among its ranks and pay their employees according to the profits with discipline.

It is a difficult balance between the individual financial institutions and the soundness of these institutions versus how we maintain macro prudence of both the local and global economies.

Looking back, was buying parts of Nomura a right decision?

In Asia we acquired the entire Asia Pacific franchise. One of the key reasons was the importance of becoming active in Asia. In Europe, the strategy was slightly different on how we approached the acquisition. We captured some highly talented people from the European franchise of Lehman, not all of them like in Asia Pacific. Trying to poach some rain makers from a large pool of 8,000 people is impossible in a short time span.

The other aspect was the concept of team work. That is why rather than just poach one individual from a certain team, it was far better for them to come in as an entire team within each of the product and co-operate with other people to create larger teams.

Given the linkages between the financing and advisory, will Nomura look at picking a stake in a bank or have a strategic tie-up with a bank?

Depending on market conditions and the outlook for individual markets, Nomura will continue to look at investments and/or applications, subject, of course, to regulatory approval, which would add value to the franchise and shareholders. The basic principle is that we want to make sure we are not in conflict with clients.

We might work together with different global banks on a deal by deal basis or a case by case basis, maybe, form a temporary JV or alliances to get deals done.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




AT last the American Right and Left have one issue they unequivocally agree on: You don't actually have to read Sarah Palin's book to have an opinion about it. Last Sunday Liz Cheney praised Going Rogue as "well-written" on Fox News even though, by her own account, she had sampled only "parts" of it.

On Tuesday, Ana Marie Cox, a correspondent for Air America, belittled the book in the Washington Post while confessing that she couldn't claim to have "completely" read it.

Going Rogue will hardly be the first bestseller embraced by millions for talismanic rather than literary ends. And I am not recommending that others follow my example and slog through its 400-plus pages, especially since its supposed revelations have been picked through 24/7 for a week.

But sometimes I wonder if anyone has read all of what Palin would call the "dang" thing. Some of the book's most illuminating tics have been mentioned barely — if at all — by either its fans or foes. Palin is far and away the most important brand in American politics after Barack Obama, and attention must be paid. Those who wishfully think her 15 minutes are up are deluding themselves.

The book's biggest surprise is Palin's wide-eyed infatuation with show-business celebrities. You get nearly as much face time with Tina Fey and the cast of Saturday Night Live in Going Rogue as you do with John McCain. We learn how happy Palin was to receive calls from Bono and Warren Beatty "to share ideas and insights". We wade through star-struck lists of campaign cameos by Robert Duvall, Jon Voight, Naomi Judd, Gary Sinise and Kelsey Grammer, among many others.

Equally revealing is the one boldfaced name conspicuously left unmentioned in the book: Levi Johnston, the father of Palin's grandchild. Though Palin and McCain milked him for photo ops at the Republican convention, he is persona non grata now that he's taking off his campaign wardrobe. Is Johnston's fledgling porn career the problem, or is it his public threats to strip bare Palin family secrets as well? "She knows what I got on her" is how he put it. In Palin's interview with Oprah last week, it was questioning about Johnston, not Katie Couric, that made her nervous.

The book's most frequently dropped names, predictably enough, are the Lord and Ronald Reagan (though not necessarily in that order).

Easily the most startling passage in Going Rogue, running more than two pages, collates extended excerpts from a prayerful letter Palin wrote to mark the birth of Trig, her child with Down syndrome. This missive's understandable goal was to reassert Palin's faith and trust in God. But Palin did not write her letter to God; she wrote the letter from God, assuming His role and voice herself and signing it "Trig's Creator, Your Heavenly Father". If I may say so — Oy!

The question journalists repeatedly asked last week — What are Palin's plans for 2012? — is a red herring. Palin has no obligation to answer it. She is the pit bull in the China shop of American politics, and she can do what she wants, on her own timeline, all the while raking in the big bucks she couldn't as a sitting governor. No one, least of all her own political party, can control her.

The fact-checking siege of Going Rogue — by the media, Democrats and aggrieved McCain campaign operatives alike — is another fruitless sideshow. Palin's political appeal has never had anything to do with facts — or coherent policy positions.

The more she is attacked for not being in possession of pointy-headed erudition, the more powerful she becomes as an avatar of the anti-elite cause.

Just look at the stops and the faces on her carefully calibrated book tour. The affect is emotional — the angry air of grievance that emerged first at her campaign rallies in 2008, with their shrieked threats to Obama, and that has since resurfaced in the Hitler-fixated "tea party" movement (which she endorses in her book). It's a politics of victimisation and sloganeering with no policy solutions required beyond the conservative mantra of No Taxes.

After the Palin-McCain ticket lost, conservative pundits admonished her to start studying the issues. If Going Rogue and its promotional interviews are any indication, she has ignored their entreaties during her months at liberty. Last week, Greta Van Susteren chastised Oprah for not asking Palin "one policy question", but when Barbara Walters did ask some, Palin either recycled Dick Cheney verbatim (Obama is "dithering") or ran aground. Her argument for why "Jewish settlements" should be expanded on the West Bank was that "more and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead". It was unclear what she was talking about — unless it was the "rapture" theology that requires the mass return of Jews to settle the Holy Land as a precondition for the return of Christ.

The discredited neocon hacks who have latched on to Palin as a potential ticket back into power have their work cut out for them. But it's better for Palin's purposes to remain as blank a slate as possible anyway. Matthew Continetti, the author of the just-published Persecution of Sarah Palin and her most persistent cheerleader after William Kristol, wrote in the Wall Street Journal that her role model for 2012 should be Bob McDonnell, the new Republican governor-elect of Virginia, who won on "a bipartisan, centre-right approach". What Continetti means is that Palin could still somehow fudge her history as McDonnell did; his campaign kept his career-long history as a political acolyte and financial beneficiary of Pat Robertson on the down-low.

But no matter how much Palin tries to pass for "centre-right', she's unlikely to fool that vast pool of voters left, right and centre who have already written her off as unqualified for the White House. The GOP establishment knows this, and is frightened. The demographic that Palin attracts is in decline; there's no way the maths of her fan base adds up to an Electoral College victory.

Yet among Republicans she still ties Mitt Romney in the latest USA Today/Gallup survey, with 65 per cent giving her serious presidential consideration, just behind the 71 for her evangelical rival, Mike Huckabee. Culture is politics. Palin is at the red-hot centre of age-old American resentments that have boiled up both from the ascent of our first black President and from the intractability of the Great Recession for those Americans who haven't benefited from bailouts. As Palin thrives on the ire of the left, so she does from the disdain of Republican leaders who, with a condescension rivalling the sexism they decry in liberals, belittle her as a lightweight or instruct her to eat think-tank spinach.

The only person who can derail Palin is Palin herself. Should she not self-destruct, she will doom GOP hopes of a 2012 comeback. But the rest of the country cannot rest easy. The rage out there is larger than Palin and defies partisan labelling. If Obama can't tamp down that rage across the political map, Palin will at the very least pave the way for a demagogue with less baggage to pick up her torch.






There are high expectations worldwide of a positive outcome at the Copenhagen summit on climate change in early December despite seemingly unsurmountable hurdles due to the position taken by the United States. The President, Mr Barack Obama, is believed to be in favour of joining the rest of the world in fighting global warming but the US Congress and the public are still sceptical. Some activists claim this is because the American people have been fed misinformation by the powerful electricity and coal lobby — who fear, it is said, that if the US accepts a cap on emissions, it would send the price of electricity sky high. Most US power utilities use coal, which is highly polluting. If America joins the global warming protocol, they will have to buy carbon credits. They can still pollute, but the price will get a lot higher. It is estimated the US will have to pay $2 billion to buy carbon credits if it continues to pollute the way it is now — and these will have to be passed on to the consumer in the form of higher power charges, which will hit hard those who are already reeling as a result of inflation and the credit crunch. It is important that Copenhagen succeeds and does not get bogged down in the kind of North-South wrangling that has stalled the Doha Round of WTO talks. In this case, however, both Europe and Japan have gone the extra mile on legally-binding emission quotas. India and China have signed the non-legally binding agreement. The Bric nations — Brazil, Russia, India and China — as well as South Korea and the least developed countries of Asia and Africa believe that the developed countries have, over centuries, polluted the earth, but now want to put the onus on developing countries to start cleaning up.


India has one of the lowest carbon emission rates — 1.2 tonnes per person annually, set against 21 tonnes for the US and 24-25 tonnes for China. The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, has made India's position clear: greenhouse gas emissions must be calculated on a per capita basis to ensure that any climate change agreement is truly equitable. He has even given the developing world an assurance that India will keep its per capita carbon emissions below that of developed nations and would never exceed their average per capita emissions. The US, however, insists that India and China are the two countries which will grow in future, unlike the developed world, and they have to accept a cap on emissions. This is absolutely unacceptable to both India and China, and rightly so. The United States, despite former vice-president Mr Al Gore's high-voltage campaign against global warming, remains sceptical on whether all the steps taken really help to stem global warming. It is also dead set against strengthening the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and wants its own environment protection agency to monitor carbon emissions. The hopes of India and the developing world are fixed on two key issues in Copenhagen: one, that the US join the global warming protocol; and two, that the developed countries help the developing world with funds and technology to make "green" their industries. China has already said the developed countries should contribute one per cent of their GDP — around $350 billion — to this end.








President Barack Obama's visit to China this week inevitably invites comparisons between the world's two leading powers. You know what they say: Britain owned the 19th century, America owned the 20th century, and, it's all but certain that China will own the 21st century. Maybe, but I'm not ready to cede the 21st century to China just yet.


Why not? It has to do with the fact that we are moving into a hyper-integrated world in which all aspects of production — raw materials, design, manufacturing, distribution, fulfilment, financing and branding — have become commodities that can be accessed from anywhere by anyone. But there are still two really important things that can't be commoditised. Fortunately, America still has one of them: imagination.


What your citizens imagine now matters more than ever because they can act on their own imaginations farther, faster, deeper and cheaper than ever before — as individuals. In such a world, societies that can nurture people with the ability to imagine and spin off new ideas will thrive. The Apple iPod may be made in China, but it was dreamed up in America, and that's where most of the profits go. America — with its open, free, no-limits, immigrant-friendly society — is still the world's greatest dream machine.


Who would cede a century in which imagination will have such a high value to an authoritarian society that controls its Internet and jails political prisoners? Remember what Grandma used to say: Never cede a century to a country that censors Google.


But while our culture of imagination is still vibrant, the other critical factor that still differentiates countries today — and is not a commodity — is good governance, which can harness creativity. And that we may be losing. I am talking about the ability of a society's leaders to think long-term, address their problems with the optimal legislation and attract capable people into government. What I increasingly fear today is that America is only able to produce "suboptimal" responses to its biggest problems — education, debt, financial regulation, health care, energy and environment.


Why? Because at least six things have come together to fracture our public space and paralyse our ability to forge optimal solutions:


1) Money in politics has become so pervasive that lawmakers have to spend most of their time raising it, selling their souls to those who have it or defending themselves from the smallest interest groups with deep pockets that can trump the national interest.


2) The gerrymandering of political districts means politicians of each party can now choose their own voters and never have to appeal to the centre.


3) The cable TV culture encourages shouting and segregating people into their own political echo chambers.


4) A permanent presidential campaign leaves little time for governing.


5) The Internet, which, at its best, provides a check on elites and establishments and opens the way for new voices and, which, at its worst provides a home for every extreme view and spawns digital lynch mobs from across the political spectrum that attack anyone who departs from their specific orthodoxy.

6) A US business community that has become so globalised that it only comes to Washington to lobby for its own narrow interests; it rarely speaks out anymore in defence of national issues like healthcare, education and open markets.


These six factors are pushing our system, which was designed to have divided powers and to force compromises, into the realm of paralysis. To get anything big done now, we have to generate so many compromises — couched in 1,000-plus-page bills — with so many different interest groups that the solutions are totally suboptimal. We just get the sum of all interest groups.


The mini version of this is California, which, as others have noted, is becoming America's biggest "failed state". Californians had hoped they could overcome their dysfunctional system by electing an outsider, a former movie star, Arnold Schwarzenegger. He would slay the system, like the Terminator. But he couldn't.


Obama was elected for similar reasons. People had hoped that his unique story, personality and speaking skills could bring the country together, overcome paralysis and deliver nation-building at home. A lot of the disappointment settling in among Obama voters today is prompted by their dawning realisation that maybe, like Arnold, he can't.


China's leaders, using authoritarian means, still can. They don't have to always settle for suboptimal. So what do we do?


The standard answer is that we need better leaders. The real answer is that we need better citizens. We need citizens who will convey to their leaders that they are ready to sacrifice, even pay, yes, higher taxes, and will not punish politicians who ask them to do the hard things. Otherwise, folks, we're in trouble. A great power that can only produce suboptimal responses to its biggest challenges will, in time, fade from being a great power — no matter how much imagination it generates. Grandma said that, too.








AT last the American Right and Left have one issue they unequivocally agree on: You don't actually have to read Sarah Palin's book to have an opinion about it. Last Sunday Liz Cheney praised Going Rogue as "well-written" on Fox News even though, by her own account, she had sampled only "parts" of it.


On Tuesday, Ana Marie Cox, a correspondent for Air America, belittled the book in the Washington Post while confessing that she couldn't claim to have "completely" read it.


Going Rogue will hardly be the first bestseller embraced by millions for talismanic rather than literary ends. And I am not recommending that others follow my example and slog through its 400-plus pages, especially since its supposed revelations have been picked through 24/7 for a week.


But sometimes I wonder if anyone has read all of what Palin would call the "dang" thing. Some of the book's most illuminating tics have been mentioned barely — if at all — by either its fans or foes. Palin is far and away the most important brand in American politics after Barack Obama, and attention must be paid. Those who wishfully think her 15 minutes are up are deluding themselves.


The book's biggest surprise is Palin's wide-eyed infatuation with show-business celebrities. You get nearly as much face time with Tina Fey and the cast of Saturday Night Live in Going Rogue as you do with John McCain. We learn how happy Palin was to receive calls from Bono and Warren Beatty "to share ideas and insights". We wade through star-struck lists of campaign cameos by Robert Duvall, Jon Voight, Naomi Judd, Gary Sinise and Kelsey Grammer, among many others.


Equally revealing is the one boldfaced name conspicuously left unmentioned in the book: Levi Johnston, the father of Palin's grandchild. Though Palin and McCain milked him for photo ops at the Republican convention, he is persona non grata now that he's taking off his campaign wardrobe. Is Johnston's fledgling porn career the problem, or is it his public threats to strip bare Palin family secrets as well? "She knows what I got on her" is how he put it. In Palin's interview with Oprah last week, it was questioning about Johnston, not Katie Couric, that made her nervous.


The book's most frequently dropped names, predictably enough, are the Lord and Ronald Reagan (though not necessarily in that order).


Easily the most startling passage in Going Rogue, running more than two pages, collates extended excerpts from a prayerful letter Palin wrote to mark the birth of Trig, her child with Down syndrome. This missive's understandable goal was to reassert Palin's faith and trust in God. But Palin did not write her letter to God; she wrote the letter from God, assuming His role and voice herself and signing it "Trig's Creator, Your Heavenly Father". If I may say so — Oy!


The question journalists repeatedly asked last week — What are Palin's plans for 2012? — is a red herring. Palin has no obligation to answer it. She is the pit bull in the China shop of American politics, and she can do what she wants, on her own timeline, all the while raking in the big bucks she couldn't as a sitting governor. No one, least of all her own political party, can control her.


The fact-checking siege of Going Rogue — by the media, Democrats and aggrieved McCain campaign operatives alike — is another fruitless sideshow. Palin's political appeal has never had anything to do with facts — or coherent policy positions.


The more she is attacked for not being in possession of pointy-headed erudition, the more powerful she becomes as an avatar of the anti-elite cause.


Just look at the stops and the faces on her carefully calibrated book tour. The affect is emotional — the angry air of grievance that emerged first at her campaign rallies in 2008, with their shrieked threats to Obama, and that has since resurfaced in the Hitler-fixated "tea party" movement (which she endorses in her book). It's a politics of victimisation and sloganeering with no policy solutions required beyond the conservative mantra of No Taxes.


After the Palin-McCain ticket lost, conservative pundits admonished her to start studying the issues. If Going Rogue and its promotional interviews are any indication, she has ignored their entreaties during her months at liberty.


Last week, Greta Van Susteren chastised Oprah for not asking Palin "one policy question", but when Barbara Walters did ask some, Palin either recycled Dick Cheney verbatim (Obama is "dithering") or ran aground. Her argument for why "Jewish settlements" should be expanded on the West Bank was that "more and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead". It was unclear what she was talking about — unless it was the "rapture" theology that requires the mass return of Jews to settle the Holy Land as a precondition for the return of Christ.


The discredited neocon hacks who have latched on to Palin as a potential ticket back into power have their work cut out for them. But it's better for Palin's purposes to remain as blank a slate as possible anyway. Matthew Continetti, the author of the just-published Persecution of Sarah Palin and her most persistent cheerleader after William Kristol, wrote in the Wall Street Journal that her role model for 2012 should be Bob McDonnell, the new Republican governor-elect of Virginia, who won on "a bipartisan, centre-right approach". What Continetti means is that Palin could still somehow fudge her history as McDonnell did; his campaign kept his career-long history as a political acolyte and financial beneficiary of Pat Robertson on the down-low.


But no matter how much Palin tries to pass for "centre-right', she's unlikely to fool that vast pool of voters left, right and centre who have already written her off as unqualified for the White House. The GOP establishment knows this, and is frightened. The demographic that Palin attracts is in decline; there's no way the maths of her fan base adds up to an Electoral College victory.Yet among Republicans she still ties Mitt Romney in the latest USA Today/Gallup survey, with 65 per cent giving her serious presidential consideration, just behind the 71 for her evangelical rival, Mike Huckabee. Culture is politics. Palin is at the red-hot centre of age-old American resentments that have boiled up both from the ascent of our first black President and from the intractability of the Great Recession for those Americans who haven't benefited from bailouts. As Palin thrives on the ire of the left, so she does from the disdain of Republican leaders who, with a condescension rivalling the sexism they decry in liberals, belittle her as a lightweight or instruct her to eat think-tank spinach.


The only person who can derail Palin is Palin herself. Should she not self-destruct, she will doom GOP hopes of a 2012 comeback. But the rest of the country cannot rest easy. The rage out there is larger than Palin and defies partisan labelling. If Obama can't tamp down that rage across the political map, Palin will at the very least pave the way for a demagogue with less baggage to pick up her torch.









SO, the famed prosthodontic smile emerged from its plush Islamabad dugout and took itself off to corruption-ridden Afghanistan last Thursday, where in Kabul it mingled and met with the world's brightest foreign secretaries, and the Aga Khan.


Our besieged president travelled to that dangerous city presumably at the behest of the US State Department in a tit-for-tat gesture politely acknowledging Afghan President Hamid Karzai's presence (House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's "unworthy ally") at his own swearing-in ceremony when the two Af-Pak head honchos sat side by side.


As Asif Zardari braved Kabul, back in his own homeland his freed-by-his-predecessor media was concentrating on the corruption scenario presented under his government. The fact that Transparency International has downgraded Pakistan in the ranks of the world's corrupt countries is not as damaging as the perception of corruption that permeates the ranks of his country's citizens and of those citizens of the world who seek safe investment havens.


Excuses have been made in the press by certain commentators that though corruption impedes growth and economic development, in the initial stages of nation-building and economic take-off eliminating corruption could cause greater stagnation. Our power sector has been cited as one example. A convoluted explanation is that we now suffer from a power deficit because in the 1990s, during the second Benazir Bhutto government, we scrapped too many IPP deals on corruption charges. We would have been better off, it is mooted, with available electricity even if it came with tainted deals.


Amongst others, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are cited as examples of countries that have had highly corrupt take-offs, followed by clean-ups and structured accountability. China is massively corrupt, but is flourishing economically as is Thailand, and India has taken off to some extent and must now clean up corruption. This defence does not wash in our case. Corruption has eaten into the vitals of this country to the extent that it lies crippled. It is nowhere near take-off point.


Another excuse made by this government's feeble defenders is that it is unable to tackle the many problems that beset the people as it is under constant attack over corruption charges. This again does not wash. Corruption there has to be, in all countries democratic or otherwise, as that is the nature of man. But corruption must be limited, it must not be allowed to impede growth, governance and negate law and order.


A "competent" government can be forgiven to a certain extent for controlled corruption as long as it delivers and gives to the country what it is supposed to give in return for having been voted in. Our governments apart from not delivering rob to the hilt, plunging us downwards with nary a care as most of their members have no stake in this country.


Some of us might be willing to put up with a certain amount of corruption were we satisfied that the taxes we are paying are being put to our use and benefit and not simply being delivered into a bottomless cavern into which plunge the fingers of the non-tax-paying politicians who have a free run of the country and its assets.


The most hideous example of corruption has been the NRO, bequeathed to us by a blend of past president, Pervez Musharraf, and the USA. This expedient bit of legislation has stripped the country of thousands of millions (or is it billions?) of needed rupees. It ends its life on the auspicious occasion of the national cattle cull, November 28. Can any amounts be recovered, we must ask our government and our courts, or are they lost and gone forever? The list of the beneficiaries is awesome.


Corruption takes many forms — moral corruption is as rampant as is the material corruption we live with, and moral corruption with its hypocrisy and bigotry is as highly insidious, eating not into the national exchequer and the country's assets but into the national mindset. Corruption, material and moral, also kills.


Material corruption in this city of Karachi, the largest of the land, has been responsible this year alone for the death of 266 so-called political activists of the main political parties that make up the deplorable Sindh government, all of whom it can safely be said were involved in scams mostly concerning the grabbing of land or the division of spoils extorted from the public.


Corruption and venality have almost put paid to the environment of this country, from the stripped hills of the northern areas, down through the NWFP and the hills of Murree, over the plains of the Punjab, swirling into barren Sindh and debased Karachi. Our cities are amongst the most polluted and most environmentally degraded in the world, merely because our governments and administrations are adept at making money by ensuring that measures to prevent pollution and degradation are never undertaken.


On the moral corruption front, we have the blasphemy laws, an open invitation to the amoral to settle scores or to misappropriate properties with the greatest of ease.


The Hudood ordinances are an equally open invitation to those who believe that women are expendable — in the cabinet of 80-odd, in itself a form of corruption, we have two sitting ministers who subscribe to this view.


Again and always, back to the Founder-Maker of this country which has staggered along for 62 years under unbelievably inept and corrupt leaderships. Three days prior to its birth, Mr Jinnah called corruption and its attendant bribery 'one of the biggest curses' afflicting the subcontinent and firmly told his future legislators that 'it must be put down with an iron hand.' The opposite happened. The flabby fist ensured that corruption flourished








It's easy to dismiss Sarah Palin.


She's back on the trail, with the tumbling hair and tumbling thoughts. The queen of the scenic strip mall known as Wasilla now reigns over thrilled subjects thronging to a politically strategic swath of American strip malls.


The conservative celebrity clearly hasn't boned up on anything, except her own endless odyssey of self-discovery. And she still has that Yoda-like syntax.


"And I think more of a concern has been not within the campaign the mistakes that were made, not being able to react to the circumstances that those mistakes created in a real positive and professional and helpful way for John McCain," she told Bill O'Reilly.


Yet Democrats would be foolish to write off her visceral power.


As Judith Doctor, a 69-year-old spiritual therapist, told the Washington Post's Jason Horowitz at Palin's book signing in Grand Rapids, Michigan, "She's alive inside, and that radiates energy, and people who are not psychologically alive inside are fascinated by that."


US President Barack Obama, who once had his own electric book tour testing the waters for a campaign, could learn a thing or three from Palin. On Friday, for the first time, his Gallup poll approval rating dropped below 50 per cent, and he's losing the independents who helped get him elected.


He's a highly intelligent man with a highly functioning West Wing, and he's likable, but he's not connecting on the gut level that could help him succeed.


The animating spirit that electrified his political movement has sputtered out.


People need to understand what the President is thinking as he manoeuvres the treacherous terrain of a lopsided economic recovery and two depleting wars.


Like Reagan, Obama is a detached loner with a strong, savvy wife. But unlike Reagan, he doesn't have the acting skills to project concern about what's happening to people.


Obama showed a flair for the theatrical during his campaign, and a talent for narrative in his memoir, but he has yet to translate those skills to governing.


As with the debates, he seems resistant to the idea that perception, as well as substance, matters. Obama so values pragmatism, and is so immersed in the thorny details of legislative compromises, that he may be undervaluing the connective bonds of simpler truths.


Americans who are hurting get angry when they learn that Timothy Geithner, as head of the New York Fed

before becoming Treasury secretary, caved to the insistence of Goldman Sachs and other AIG trading partners that they get 100 cents on the dollar when he could have struck a far better bargain for taxpayers.


If we could see a Reduced Shakespeare summary of Obama's presidency so far, it would read:


Dither, dither, speech. Foreign trip, bow, reassure. Seminar, summit. Shoot a jump shot with the guys, throw out the first pitch in mom jeans. Compromise, concede, close the deal. Dither, dither, water down, news conference.


It's time for the President to reinvent this formula and convey a more three-dimensional person.


Palin can be stupefyingly simplistic, but she seems dynamic. Obama is impressively complex but he seems static.


She nurtures her grassroots while he neglects his.


He struggles to transcend identity politics while she wallows in them. As he builds an emotional moat around

himself, she exuberantly pushes whatever she has, warts and all — the good looks, the tabloid-perfect family, the Alaska quirkiness, the kids with the weird names.


Just like the disastrous and anti-intellectual W., this Visceral One never doubts herself. The Cerebral One

welcomes doubt.


On Afghanistan, Palin says, W-like, that the President should simply give Gen. Stanley McChrystal a blank

check. But Afghanistan is a wrenching decision, and we do need the closest exit ramp. So the President should get credit for standing back and studying the issue, and for not rubber-stamping the generals' predictable urge to surge. But the way he has handled the perception part has allowed critics — including generals — to cast him as indecisive.


McChrystal and Gen. David Petraeus should have been giving their best advice to Obama — and airing their

view against scaling down in Afghanistan — in confidence. Instead, McChrystal pushed his opinion in a speech in London, and Petraeus has discussed his feelings in private sessions with reporters. This creates a "Seven Days in May" syndrome, where the two generals are, in effect, lobbying against the President and undercutting him as he's trying to make a painfully complex, life-and-death decision.


This time, Obama should adopt Palin's straight-from-the-gut approach, call the generals into the Oval and tell them, "Your pie-holes you will shut or rise higher you will not. Because, dang it, the President I am!"








EMOTION and heat eject light and balance from every debate on the delicate and complex issue of expanding the role of women in the Indian armed forces. Yet even against that backdrop, utterly insensitive was the Vice Chief of the Air Staff in declaring that it would not be cost-effective to train women as fighter pilots since they could be off the active duty list for long periods when "in the family way". He certainly invited the flak now directed at him, and his "personal opinion" alibi only fuels the outrage. For even if was not brazen gender-bias, it reflected the attitude that has men in all three defence services failing to recognise their women colleagues as equals. Would the Vice-Chief guarantee that every man trained as a fighter pilot is available for combat duties 24x7? Some might even detect the fighter pilot's habitual air of superiority ~ he did not mention the availability-factor in respect of transport/helicopter pilots. The senior officer could not claim to have been unprepared for the query. It was bound to be raised in the context for the forthcoming Presidential sortie, and he would have done well to articulate some valid concerns instead of reducing the issue to one of mere rupees: more so since the IAF's activities are anything but frugal. An ability to handle the media with adequate transparency and awareness of larger realties and sensitivities eludes many of the top brass. Simultaneously, the very vocal "activists" flaying the IAF must not blind themselves to prevailing social norms ~ remember that women trainees at the Officers Training Academy objected to a male swimming instructor!

Since this tricky issue crops up every now and then ~ did not the defence minister take a drubbing in Parliament ~ it is now unavoidable that defence experts, social scientists etc be part of a national commission to formulate a comprehensive policy on women and the defence services: define the combat duties to which they can be committed, the way they plan their families, their being granted permanent commissions and so on. There are serious issues which simply cannot be ignored or wished away, and getting "hyper" is not the way out. There was one insightful truth to Air Marshal PK Barbora's otherwise disastrous media session: he said it would not be difficult to have a couple of women fighter pilots for "purpose of show". From day one, women were inducted into the military's officer cadres essentially for that purpose ~ that's why policy pronouncement is imperative.







IT is nothing short of an irony that Lalu Prasad is campaigning hard in a state that he did not want in the first place. The former Bihar chief minister's brand of politics has produced a string of bitter ironies that now finds him shifting states and may even see him creeping into a vacuum in Jharkhand. Adding to the irony is his alliance with Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party while his RJD claims to be still part of the UPA at the Centre. If all this is difficult to digest, the Congress is in an equally unnatural alliance with the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha set up by Babulal Marandi, the first BJP chief minister in the state who was dislodged, fell out with his party and has now been picked up by the Congress for his ethnic credentials. All this and Madhu Koda's unrelenting ambitions despite the investigations against him in the Rs 2,000-crore scam have produced a jigsaw puzzle that voters are unlikely to solve by the time elections are held. Trinamul's maiden entry represents a tentative effort to spread its wings but, for the rest, voters are confronted with a pathetic choice of tainted leaders.

Lalu's journey into the tribal state represents a desperate attempt at political rehabilitation. He had virtually burnt his bridges with the Congress but did not expect to be so comprehensively defeated in the parliamentary election. A tie-up with the LJP did not work in the Lok Sabha poll and amounts to another wild gamble in the coming election.

The silver lining for Lalu is that while the tribals recall his resistance to a separate state, they are disillusioned about leaders of their own flock. Both the Congress and BJP have taken turns to raise tribal hopes only to contribute to the disturbing list of discredited leaders. Lalu has entered the fray expecting voters to forget the past and consider him above those who have betrayed the confidence placed in them over the past nine years. If he pulls off a miracle, it may find him back in the reckoning in Bihar and induce a change of heart in the Congress. He may be expecting too much but has nothing to lose.








IT would be an understatement to describe Bal Thackeray's swipe at Sachin Tendulkar as intemperate; it was no less repugnant than the parochial mayhem that Mumbai has witnessed at the instigation of Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, more recently the assault on MLAs who took the oath in Hindi. The uncle and nephew ~ whose equation is less than cordial ~ seem intent on reducing one of the more important states of the country to a sinister outpost of puerile provincialism. The cricketing icon's submission was a statement of reality ~ "Mumbai belongs to India... I am proud to be a Maharashtrian, but first I am an Indian". It was perfectly in accord with the Indian ethos, pre-eminently the mosaic of unity in diversity. And the message must have been resounding when he asserted that "all Indians have the right to come and stay here (Mumbai)".
The trends are ominous if truth can provoke the Shiv Sena chief's crass counter-blast, if couched in the contrived use of cricketing metaphors ~ specifically the warning to Sachin not to "lose on the political pitch whatever you have earned on the cricket pitch". The elder Thackeray even has the gall to play the umpire by declaring Sachin as "run out". Such metaphors are not even mildly amusing; they are revolting specimens of an inadequate grip over the language. The nephew's crudity of action has been matched by the uncle's crassness of expression.

Has Bal Thackeray been driven by the politician's instinctive urge to survive, most particularly after the electoral rejection? For it is quite obvious that he is trying to upstage, if not settle scores, with Raj after the impressive gains of the MNS in the recent assembly election. Ergo, this exercise in competitive chauvinism is intensely political. Arguably, Sachin Tendulkar is the icon who has been caught in the cross-fire between the Shiv Sena and the MNS. The Sena chief has been exposed by the general condemnation by the political class, even a muted one from its ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party.







Austerity is now the buzzword in official circles. On 7 September this year, the union finance ministry directed all ministries and departments to reduce non-plan expenditure by 5 to 10 per cent in the current financial year in view of the economic downturn and the drought. The underpinning was that the recession had forced the government to initiate an economy drive. Perquisites are history, austerity is the new agenda for babus, at any rate till the good times roll again.

Therefore, ministers and politicians must first set an example ~ by returning to more socialist ways. Shashi Tharoor and his boss were, rather discourteously, asked to shift from the five-star hotels to a government bungalow in Lutyen's Delhi though not a single paisa had been spent from the government exchequer for their stay in five-star comfort. There was considerable fuss over the minister of state tweeting about travelling in what he called "cattle class" which is a well-known colloqualism for travelling in the economy class. Sonia Gandhi shunned the executive class and travelled economy, Rahul took a train to Ludhiana that got stoned en route. And for Pranab Mukherjee, economy is the only favoured class in which he is accustomed to travel. Finally, the corporate affairs minister Salman Khursheed issued a veiled threat that the government was thinking of regulating the "vulgar" salaries and perks currently enjoyed by some private sector CEOs. Rahul Gandhi joined the bandwagon: "I am always austere. Politicians should always be austere." None disagrees with him; they should lead by example. But facts point to a different story.


THE external affairs minister and his deputy were ejected from a five-star-hotel to move to a bungalow which would command a rental of Rs 60 lakh a month in terms of the market value. The Left parties allowed such luxurious bungalows, allotted to MPs, to house the offices of their frontal organisations, such as the DYFI and Citu.  And the hidden cost was borne by the state exchequer for five years.

The circular on austerity measures envisaged cost-cuts in domestic and foreign travel, advertising, publicity, office expenses, seminars and conferences and purchase of vehicles. Exhibitions and seminars abroad will be discouraged, while conferences in five-star hotels have been banned. Also ruled out is first-class air travel at government expense. Purchase of vehicles has been curbed.

Normally, such directives escape the attention of the general public. But our politicians are ever so anxious to demonstrate before the electorate their concern for the economy and the extent of sacrifice they are prepared to make. Hence the party diktat followed; the ministers and MPs will have to gear up for a 10 per cent cut in their monthly salaries.

How much does this work out to? On an average, for a minister it comes out to Rs 1800 and for an MP Rs 1600. According to a modest estimate, a minister's salary, allowances and perks total approximately Rs 11 lakh per month. A cabinet minister is entitled to a 16-member personal staff and junior ministers 13. In addition, they are provided with security guards, a fleet of at least three cars with unlimited petrol, unlimited domestic and international phone calls and, of course, free train and air travel. And these freebies, including spacious accommodation, are not subject to the Fringe Benefit Tax which the CEOs of the private sector have to pay.
For an Indian politician, a five-year span is a long enough period to do pretty well for oneself. If a Haryana MLA can add Rs 5 five crore to his net worth during this period, it does not require a statistician to assess the wealth of a minister or an MP at the conclusion of his tenure. The use of official perquisites for private gain at the cost of the public exchequer is a common phenomenon though our politicians routinely reel off slogans of austerity for public consumption.


BARACK Obama takes his children to school in his own car. And how many chief ministers, or ministers of a state or the Centre can emulate Dr Manmohan Singh who drives his Maruti to renew his driving licence?
Salaries, allowances and perquisites must always be linked with performance. While reviewing the first 100 days in office of UPA II, the Prime Minister expressed his unhappiness over the record of some of his colleagues. The railway minister told the media that most of the ministers of state were yet to be assigned any work. The frequency with which she directs Trinamul's ministers of state to visit West Bengal, there to appear in the local television channels, must make one wonder whether they are rendering any real service commensurate with their ministerial position in the national government.

Political compulsions determine the size of the cabinet. However, economic considerations may sometimes compel a downsizing. Though the context is different, it is time perhaps to replicate the Kamaraj Plan of the early sixties. This will call for tremendous political courage. But its fallout will be far-reaching assuming that the savings that will accrue to the exchequer may not be enough to reduce the fiscal deficit which is now around 10 per cent of the GDP. The electorate may even get the impression that the political leaders have progressed from tokenism to the route of sacrifice. If indeed ministers and politicians practise austerity, it will be less difficult to curb extravagance and control the cost of governance. The era of real austerity will then actually begin.








The annual speeches of the chairman of Reliance tend to be strung with superlatives. Untutored readers might get the impression that he is incurably self-satisfied. What gives a lie to such an impression is the strong sense of tasks undone. Mukesh Ambani achieved two milestones this year. It was the first full year of operation of the Jamnagar refinery, and the first year of commercial gas production from the Krishna-Godavari field. The ownership of the latter is contested by his brother, Anil; but there was no trace of concern on that count in Mr Mukesh Ambani's speech.


More important is the fact that the government has effectively fenced Reliance out of the domestic market for petroleum products by underpricing middle distillates from its own refineries. That has not inconvenienced Reliance too much; according to its chairman, its profit margin last year was 20 per cent, which would be the envy of most refiners. But he must see the immense difficulty of penetrating the domestic market for petroleum products. He faces a dirty competitor in the government. Despite its enormous size, Reliance had till recently confined itself largely to the domestic market. The government has made this strategy unviable. And the Krishna-Godavari field is still at an early stage of development; it is capable of considerable expansion. So Reliance will have much more oil and gas, and will have to find markets for them. They will have to be converted into products that the government does not offer unfair competition in — principally chemicals and non-vehicular fuels. Reliance is going to have to change its product pattern considerably in coming years.


The theme of Mr Mukesh Ambani's speech was transformation. Reliance will have to transform itself from a refining to a chemical product company. But if its profitability continues at its normal level, this transformation will not be enough. It will have to grow out of oil and gas into unrelated areas. For long, it has contemplated entering retail, which offers an enormous market and an opportunity for technological transformation. Reliance is not the only company to be attracted to retail; all industrialists who have done well in booming India have thought of it. But none has managed to make an inroad. Small shopkeepers have considerable political clout, and politicians like Mayavati are eager to oblige them. State governments have largely sabotaged the modernization of the retail industry. This suggests that Reliance, which for its entire history has been domestically oriented, will be forced before long to reach out of the country. Mr Mukesh Ambani cannot defeat the big-brother government. There is not enough room in this country to accommodate 19th-century socialist rulers as well as a 21st-century enterprise.







The mayor of the North Pole has found his very own Grinch. The United States of America's postal department has decided to shut down the voluntary service given by a small town in Alaska that has created magic for children for 55 years. Thousands of volunteers have been answering children's letters to Santa Claus forwarded to them by the US postal service. But last year one volunteer was discovered to be a registered sex offender, and the USPS, alarmed at the possibility of privacy violation through details in the children's letters, has switched off the magic. For the mayor, the USPS is close to Theodor Geisel or Dr Seuss's Grinch, who stole Christmas. The warmth created by the work of people trying to give unknown children the intangible gifts of trust, hope, and love may have taken years to spread but is easy to destroy. The USPS apparently finds Operation Santa too risky to carry on with.


As with many Christmas tales, this one too is touched with the quality of fable. A world of innocence rudely shattered by the entrance of crime and sex is one way of looking at it. Or it could be the gossamer fragility of human connection, torn to shreds by the clumping feet of Grinch-like killjoys. But there is another, more adult, fable too. The man for whose sake Operation Santa is being shut down may not have been looking out for tempting details, but instead trying to be part of a joyful community effort. If the justice system lets him go free, why should the USPS brand him unfit to reply to children's letters? So can an offender never outgrow his reputation? Or is all this an elaborate plan to make children more 'realistic'? Because of the shadow that has fallen on this rare world of human magic, this year numerous children will be disappointed that Santa never replied, and as many adults near the North Pole left without a way to communicate the contagious warmth of the soul.









Tread warily, for you can no longer be sure what does or does not constitute lèse majesté.

Sachin Tendulkar completed last week 20 years in international cricket. The flow of homages seems to be ceaseless. A cricket commentator, himself a most able all-rounder who ended his cricketing career as captain of the national Test team, has in fact issued an edict: no criticism of Sachin Tendulkar is going to be any more tolerated in this country; whoever criticizes the cricket genius for whatever reason deserves to be put in the cooler.


Bertolt Brecht might have pitied a nation which needs a hero. He never had a large clientele along these shores. Indians adore heroes, cricket heroes in particular. And one particular hero, Sachin Tendulkar, beats all others. Whoever dares to say one ill word about him or the quality of his cricket, in the view of the noted cricket commentator, ought to find himself behind bars.


Maybe the gentleman was speaking at the height of his emotions and did not intend to be taken literally. His words still betray an attitude of mind. He could have, for instance, said that those who continue to find fault with Sachin must be forced to wear a dunce cap and do the lap at the Wankhede Stadium. Or he could have suggested that the offending person must one evening stand drinks for one hundred hard core Sachin devotees. But no, he goes to the extreme, he wants a summary prison sentence for Tendulkar detractors.


This attitude has authoritarianism written all over it, and has several layers embedded in it. First is the all too common stance of I-know-best-and-whoever-disputes-my-point-of-view-is-talking-through-his-hat-and-must-pay-for-his-insolence. There is also a trace of an anxiety complex: the stature the hero has attained arouses the protective instinct in his admirers who want to guard against any development that could make that status vulnerable. The pinnacle of glory their hero has reached, one would have thought, must fill them with loads of confidence. What happens is precisely the reverse; the acolytes grow extraordinarily touchy and fly off the handle at the least provocation; sometimes the provocation is only an imagination of their mind. They have been rendered combustible material; very often not even a pretext is necessary for them to explode. They begin to behave like street bullies. Such behaviour gradually gets grafted on as their second nature. Soon, almost imperceptibly, the second nature ceases to be so; it becomes their principal identity.


In the Indian climate, such no-holds-barred praising to the sky of the hero can have a further hazardous consequence. Adulation turns into worship, the heroes and heroines cease to be ordinary mortals, they are elevated to the pantheon of deities. Others might abide the question, the gods and goddesses are free. Whoever drops a comment which could be interpreted as somewhat disrespectful of the reigning deity attracts the sternest of censure, or even worse: a kangaroo court takes over and dispenses instant justice to the suspected non-believer.


If the kangaroo court is to be the final arbiter of social justice, and the attitude of mind exhibited by Tendulkar devotees is to be accepted as representing society's frame of preference, the spin-off could be extraordinarily piquant. For instance, it would no longer be permissible for anyone to suggest that gods too happen to have feet of clay. Once the acolyte's injunction becomes the accepted social norm, nobody would have the courage to mention that, apart from that truly magnificent innings at Hyderabad, the overall record of Tendulkar in the recent ODI series against Australia has been, as they say, nothing to write home about. Things might so develop that even if Tendulkar muffs a dolly catch or is bowled middle stump or foolishly runs himself or a partner out, any unfriendly comment on such maladroitness on the hero's part would be ruled out of order. And if your favourite Indian batsman's name is not Sachin Tendulkar but Sunil Gavaskar or Gundappa Viswanath, you would be well advised to just shut your trap, discretion being the better part of valour.


Another factor underlying this kind of claustrophobic authoritarianism is the fabulous money a cricket celebrity these days earns in this country, fabulous money, which makes him the wielder of inordinate influence. This influence ensures that the hero's near and dear ones — including his favourite players, commentators, reporting journalists — also come to earn pots of money. In this epoch of free-market economics, the ability to make money and assist others to make money is a crucial ingredient of social and political power. Wealth and the power that wealth begets add to the accumulating hauteur. The person who acquires money and power of such magnitude begins to believe in his own invincibility; his acolytes do the same. Aggressive behaviour thus stems from two opposite directions: the fear of slipping from the peak leads to nervous manners, the sense of omnipotence too makes one blow the fuse every now and then.


The peremptory verdict handed down by Tendulkar's starry-eyed admirer cannot therefore be dismissed as idle patter to be ignored. The mindset triggering off this genre of comments is capable of causing incalculable social harm. Hero power fuses into money power. Money power buys muscle power, which paves, at least partly, the way to political power. Such power can go to the head. Since one has got used to always having one's way, denial of one's expressed desire or dissent with one's expressed views or a negative judgment on aspects of one's deeds or demeanour can, in the circumstances, induce volatile and, not infrequently, violent reactions. Consider the episode a few years ago of that spoiled brat, son of a powerful politician, who walked into a New Delhi bar close to midnight and commanded the hostess to serve him whisky. Since it was after legal hours, she politely refused. The young man, inebriated with the sense of power, would not take no for an answer. He persisted with his demand and was increasingly loud and increasingly insolent. When the girl could not be made to contravene the rules, the fuse blew. Conceivably a quantum of machoism too was at work: how dare this slut of a woman not comply with his order, is he not so-and-so? The young man pulled a gun and shot the girl dead. The rest is history.


At first blush, the analogy may appear a bit far-fetched. The trajectory of the mental process of the Tendulkar devotee is nonetheless not far different from that gun-wielding young man now serving a life sentence. Intolerance is a malady with diverse manifestations. Some put up with dissent with a shrug of the shoulder or accept it with wry humour. Some others, however, react with murderous frenzy. We are witnessing a variant of the same frenzy in Maharashtra, courtesy the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. Everyone, irrespective of his or her personal preference, is to be forced to take the oath of office in Marathi, otherwise off with his or her head, never mind what the Constitution says: this is authoritarianism unbound. That everybody must swear unquestioning and undying loyalty to Sachin Tendulkar is an equally frightening proposition, and puts democratic polity under great strain.


A disturbing thought sneaks in. Has this intolerance of dissent ancient roots? The concept of veerabhogya vasundhara — the world belongs to the winning hero — has been an integral part of Indian mores for aeons. It can be interpreted in several different ways, including one which confers legitimacy on freebooting of every description on the part of the hero. It is then but one step from asserting that whoever interferes with the hero's whimsies, deserves to have his head chopped off.


This also is a problem: we take adages handed down the ages far too seriously.








It was ostensibly about obscenity, but really about corruption and censorship — and in the end, justice prevailed. On November 16, a Zambian court found the journalist, Chansa Kabwela, not guilty of "distributing obscene material with intent to corrupt public morals". What obscene material? She had sent photographs of a woman giving birth in a hospital parking lot during a nurses' strike to senior government officials.


President Rupiah Banda called a press conference and declared the photographs "pornographic". Kabwela was arrested on obscenity charges. She faced a five-year jail sentence if found guilty. But Banda's real motive was probably the fact that the paper Kabwela works for, the Post, constantly accuses him of corruption.


The pictures Kabwela sent out were not pornographic. Rather, they were horrific: images of a woman in the midst of a breech birth, the baby's legs dangling out between her own while its head was still inside her. It all happened in a hospital parking lot (she had already been turned away from two clinics), but nobody would help her because of the strike, and the baby suffocated.


Her appalled and furious relatives brought pictures of the scene to the Post. Kabwela did not publish them because they were so upsetting, but she sent copies to senior officials together with a letter urging them to intervene and settle the strike. That's when Banda declared the images pornographic and had her arrested.


The courts are still independent in Zambia, and in the end Kabwela was found not guilty — but many of the witnesses were genuinely more shocked by photographs of a woman naked from the waist down than by the horror of what was actually happening. As one witness said: "We are all Zambians here. We all know this is not allowed in our culture."


The word you're looking for is 'prudish', and it applies to a lot of African popular culture. Never mind what's actually happening. We don't want to hear about it, and we certainly don't want to see it. The Zambian elite has been devastated by HIV/Aids and yet nobody wants to talk about sex, let alone about the links between sex, power and violence.



Go a thousand miles south to South Africa, and the gulf between appearances and reality is even wider. Last June, the country's Medical Research Council published a study on rape and HIV which reported that 28 per cent of South African men admitted to having raped a woman or a girl. (A further 3 per cent said that they had raped a man or a boy.) Almost half the rapists said they had raped more than one person and three-quarters of them said they had carried out their first assault before the age of 20. They didn't use condoms, and they were twice as likely to be HIV+ than non-rapists. This is a national calamity that is killing more people than a middle-sized war. Yet few South Africans are willing to talk about it. Many Africans will be feeling defensive at this point, but a lot of this reminds me of where I grew up. There was an amazing amount of low-level violence around and also a lot of sexual predation. In the boys' school I went to, male teachers molested boarders on an industrial scale, although day-boys like me were fairly safe. None of it was ever admitted or discussed in public.


I now live in a culture where we are no longer prudes. Everything is out in the open, including trivialized, commercialized sex on TV. Around half of all marriages end in divorce, but gays, once persecuted and forced to hide, can get married if they want to. You can still get mugged in the street, but the level of casual violence is sharply down. I bet that the real figures for rape are down a lot too.


I like the transformed culture I now live in a lot better. It occurs to me that what we are seeing in Africa may be as transitional as what I grew up with in Newfoundland. In that case, the moral and cultural changes that conservative Africans see as a descent into darkness may be a move towards the light.









Coming after 15 years, the revision of air quality standards, announced by the union environment minister Jairam Ramesh last week, has been much delayed, but is nonetheless welcome as an important step to clean up our cities and towns. Air pollution is a serious health hazard against which citizens have little defence. What is needed is preventive and remedial measures in the public sphere.  Fast urbanisation, increased industrialisation, exponential growth in the number of motor vehicles, absence of effective rules to check pollution and tardy implementation of whatever there are have all combined to cause a steady deterioration of air quality. Respiratory diseases are on the rise and air pollution is estimated to result in over five lakh deaths every year in the country.

The new standards are on par with those in Europe and higher than those in the US. The permissible level of pollutants in the earlier list has been lowered and six new pollutants have been added to measure pollution. Another  important change is that the rules are the same for industrial and residential areas, with no relaxation for the industries. They also provide a legal framework for enforcement, with the citizens being empowered to approach the courts for necessary action. However, enforcement is not easy and the combined efforts of governments, local institutions, corporate and other bodies are needed for that. The government has planned to implement better auto emission and fuel efficiency standards and automobile manufacturers will have to comply with the safety norms. Public transport systems will have to be improved and urban planning reoriented to meet new requirements.

All this will call for more investment and action on the part of many agencies. More importantly,   attitudes and habits also need to change. Increased public awareness and commitment on the part of official agencies are required. But the challenge is not impossible to meet, as the Delhi experience has at least partially shown.

The key to clean air is effective implementation of the standards and monitoring of the results. The strategy should be a mixture of liberal incentives for compliance and strict penalties for violation. The proposed Green Tribunal Bill, which envisages setting up of tribunals which have the same powers as civil courts for settlement of environmental disputes, should be passed expeditiously for better enforcement of the new standards. The adoption of the new standards will also make the country's position in the climate change negotiations stronger.







The process of bringing to justice the killers of former Bangladesh President, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman has received a boost with the country's Supreme Court upholding the death sentence awarded by a lower court to five of them. Sheikh Mujib was assassinated barely four years after he led his people to freedom from Pakistani rule.

Almost his entire family was wiped out in the massacre. His secular beliefs and close ties with India prompted his killers to eliminate him. The Supreme Court decision upholding the death sentence to the assassins  has taken Bangladesh 34 years to reach this point. Successive governments, especially those led by the generals and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, did their utmost to protect the killers, even rewarding them with diplomatic assignments. It is the persistent campaign of secular Bangladeshis and the determination of the Awami League that has resulted in the verdict.

However, only two of the killers are in the governments custody.  The whereabouts of the others are not known. They are rumoured to be living in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Libya. Unfortunately, Bangladesh does not have extradition treaties with these countries. Whether they will admit to the sanctuary they have provided the assassins remains to be seen.

The death sentence to Mujibs killers will provide hope for those who are anxious to see the 1971 war criminals brought to justice. They participated in the mass rapes and massacres against their own countrymen. As in the case of the Mujib murder, the collaborators -- many of them belong to the Islamic parties and were allies of the BNP government -- have been roaming free for almost four decades. An early attempt to try the war criminals was snuffed out with the assassination of Mujib.

Last year, a platform of 1971 war veterans revealed that 11,000 indicted war criminals were released from jail a few months after Mujib's assassination. Clearly, there is a link between the war criminals and those who wanted to see Mujib dead. The sentencing of Mujib's killers must be taken to its logical conclusion. The wounds inflicted by the events of 1971 and 1975 are yet to heal. Justice will speed the healing process.









Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's American month began with a warm lunch for George Bush in Delhi and will end with a more constrained dinner with Barack Obama in Washington. Always happy to oblige on cosmetics, the White House has awarded this meeting the status of a State visit, although in India's parliamentary system the prime minister is not head of state.

But there is a hard question behind the glitter. Singh signed a landmark nuclear deal with Bush last year. Was that a mere sentimental knot with a 'best friend' or was it a substantive document capable of survival beyond the predilections of a president?

The value of the nuclear deal, which was about much more than peaceful nuclear energy, lies in its tactile strength, but Delhi and Washington have begun stretching in different ways.  Singh expected it to be the launchpad of strategic and economic privileges. Condoleezza Rice did, a trifle gratuitously, promise to make India a superpower.

But that was so last year. This year, the broad Democrat view is that Bush surrendered too much on core issues like proliferation for too little, and this is payback time for India. This is compounded, in Delhi, by the apprehension that India does not occupy primary space on the specific Obama agenda. The cynical interpretation is that India has been allotted 1.5 billion words a year and Pakistan 1.5 billion dollars.


Behind the smiles demanded by 'teleview' international relations, Singh and Obama will find their flexibility hedged by compulsions. Obama inherited an economic catastrophe and a military crisis. He took advantage of both to win his election, but his victory was someone else's punishment. Answers are more difficult to get than votes. It is evident from the time invested during ten months in office that Obama's axis of interest is a direct line between Beijing and Islamabad.

He has been forced into a tightrope walk between his banker and his security subcontractor. It was entirely appropriate, therefore, that while Obama was walking the talk on the Great Wall, his national security adviser General James L Jones dropped in to scold Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari.

The Pakistani armed forces, it seems, are so busy eliminating the extremist threat to Islamabad that they seem to have forgotten that American money is meant to solve America's problems. Jones carried a letter asking Zardari to broaden the war to those elements of the Afghan Taliban who were using Pak territory as sanctuary. America is discovering what India has known for a while: all terrorists are not equal.

Those who serve Islamabad's interests are kept in play through screens. It is common knowledge that Obama is increasing troop levels reluctantly, and wants to leave the Afghan battlefield as soon as possible. Hillary Clinton was candid recently on ABC's This Week programme: "We are not interested in staying in Afghanistan. We have no long-term stake there. We want that to be made very clear."

Pakistan, conversely, does have a long-term stake in Kabul, and America's current foe, the Afghan Taliban, was its most useful regional ally till 9/11. It can hardly be lost on either Singh or Obama that they will be meeting exactly one year after India's 9/11: a year ago Pak-based terrorists launched an audacious and bloody attack on Mumbai.

Doubtless there will be some variation of the two-minute silence in their talks, but tokenism has long past its sell-by date on the subcontinent. When American officials like  Ambassador Timothy Roemer in Delhi urge Islamabad to get serious about the masterminds in Lahore, it sounds worse than tokenism. America, which launched two wars in search of the perpetrators of 9/11, displays fleeting concern for accountability when India demands some from Pakistan.


Pakistan treats terrorists who attack India as 'freedom fighters': Islamabad may need the Afghan Taliban for strategic reasons; it supports anti-Indian terrorists for ideological reasons. China has a vested interest in the Kashmir dispute, since its own border disputes with India extend across the Himalayas. China has even tried to block efforts in the sanctions committee of the United Nations Security Council to name known terrorist organisations like Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Jaish-e-Muhammad.

Obama seems to have little interest in the complex regional conflicts in the nations south and north of the Himalayas, apart from what is necessary to pursue the American agenda as he has written. You do not have to be psychic to read Obama's mind: he needs China on-side to prevent a collapse of the dollar; and his ideal end-game in Afpak would be to outsource the fighting completely to Pakistan so that American soldiers could return home.

Obama was happy to project China as a benevolent partner in the effort to resolve disputes in South Asia, including Kashmir. Islamabad has not heard any music above the gunfire recently, so this particular aria must have sounded particularly mellifluous. But Obama's next Asian engagement is with the Prime Minister of India. Delhi has already asked America and China to stay out of the Kashmir dispute.

For the last decade, since Atal Behari Vajpayee became prime minister, each bilateral between India and America has been preceded by high expectations and succeeded by an expanding comfort zone. Singh has invested hugely in the America relationship. He goes to Washington, however, engulfed in uncertainty. There will be pomp and circumstance enough to please television crews. The hard news could tell a more muted story.








Vital business investment in clean technology to tackle climate change is being threatened by delays and doubts over the Copenhagen deal on climate change. Without urgent progress which will stimulate funding for renewables, nations could be locked into high-carbon energy and transport technologies for decades, inflating another unsustainable economic bubble, they fear.

Achim Steiner, the head of the UN environment programme, said: "Far more worrying (than formally ratifying a treaty) is that every month we delay we send a ambiguous signal into the world economy, the markets, investors and R&D." The markets had not yet had that strong signal, said economist Lord Nicholas Stern of the London School of Economics. "That's what we can give in Copenhagen with a strong political agreement. If we get nothing then it would be very damaging to confidence."

All participants have accepted that it is impossible to seal a legally binding climate treaty at next month's summit. The question now is whether leaders will be able to set firm 'politically binding' targets for carbon emission reductions and the funding that rich nations need to provide for poorer nations to cope with global warming and develop green technologies.


"Delinking GDP from emissions is premised on the fact that developed countries will assist developing countries," said Steiner. He said the funding figures on the negotiating table were "exploratory" and "transfomative and on a magnitude that would send a major signal to the market" on clean technologies.

The EU has adopted Gordon Brown's figure of $100bn (£60bn) a year by 2020, but Stern said: "This is right at the bottom end of enough and will not be credible unless there is $50bn by 2015." The danger of uncertainty over clean technology investments was an immediate problem, according to Steiner: "Many countries have to make decisions right now where they are going to invest in, say, coal-fired power stations or renewable energy sources which have a premium up front, and these decisions are being influenced certainly by uncertainty on a price on carbon."

"Take a country like South Africa, which is planning on investing billions in new energy infrastructure over the next 10-15 years – you can't put those decisions off ad nauseam," he added.  There was a 'real risk' that countries, especially developing ones, would invest in existing 'off-the-shelf' technologies that would lock in high carbon emissions for 20-30 years, he said. "Furthermore, a delay in investment is obviously the worst piece of news you can have in terms of getting out of a recession."

Stern argued that Copenhagen was the moment to begin the transition to a low-carbon sustainable economy, which would be cleaner  and more secure. "We could by wise investment and policies now set the world on a course where we would see arguably the most dynamic period of technologically driven growth in economic history ."

"We might see Asia leading the charge on this new technology and China is certainly seeing this as the big growth story of the next 2-3 decades." The risks of missing the opportunity were great, Stern added: "Let's set ourselves on a path of growth that has a real future and not just high carbon growth and a new bubble, because high carbon growth will kill itself, firstly on the high price of hydrocarbon (fuels), and secondly on the extremely hostile physical environment it creates."


Business-as-usual scenarios created a 50 per cent chance of a 5C temperature rise by the next century, Stern said: "We haven't been there for 300m years. It would redraw shores, patterns of rivers, where deserts are, most of the reasons why we live and work where we do. There would be huge migrations and conflicts that would be global, prolonged and severe.

Stern acknowledged that electricity prices would go up by 20-30 per cent, but said that would be "a very reasonable price to pay" for the reduction in climate risk such green energy would deliver, given appropriate price protection for poorer consumers.

Figures released by UNEP in June showed that in 2008, clean technologies attracted $140bn of investment compared with $110bn for gas and coal for electrical power generation. But investment has fallen significantly in 2009, with green technologies suffering disproportionately.

Nonetheless Angus McCrone, of analysts New Energy Finance, remained upbeat on the clean technology investment picture, if not the broader one: "There are a lot of positive things going on (in relation to Copenhagen). But whether that's enough to deal with climate change is another question."








In Jeffrey Archer's recent book 'Paths of Glory' a Lt in Royal Artillery asks his corporal "A letter to your wife, Perkins?" "No, sir.It is my Will." My mind immediately raced back 38 years to Dec ember 10, 1971.

Having fought a ferocious battle and pulled back to east of the river, the division was consolidating. It was to be a day of lull. Suddenly at about 10 am, there was confusion, as unverified information came: 'Huge enemy tank-column crossed the river at crossing "D" and heading towards the nearest town.' While that was being checked, as a precaution, reconnaissance of a gun area for the artillery brigade, further to the rear commenced, we being on the possible ingress route.

Just then my friend Major Pakrasi from Corps HQ landed close to my fire direction centre in an Air-OP aircraft with a message for the division. Seeing the 'fog of war' and as the aircraft was urgently required back, he wanted to leave. I quickly wrote a letter (my last will and Testament?) to my young wife, then with her parents at Dehra Dun, in case the worst happened! I gave it requesting him to post it in the corps field post office for faster delivery.

I had mentioned the negligible bank-balance; advising her not to be sentimental but to re-marry for the sake of our (then) only daughter, just a year-plus (in case...)?


Information about the tank column was found to be false soon. With the arrival of the corps commander, reconnaissance rearward was stopped. A counter attack went in at D. The situation stabilised. Ceasefire came on 17th and I had my first weekend pass, after a month, on 15/16 January 72, to be with my wife then summoned to our vacant flat at Pathankot. Soon the postman delivered a forces letter (re-directed from Dehra Dun).

Looking at Corps-FPO stamp of 10 Dec, I snatched the letter from her. She insisted on reading it and cried a lot. She then told me how Radio Pakistan had announced on 7 Dec, the names of my commander, me & two others as POW....a white lie: (We had just vacated our previous position west of the river). Luckily she had got a letter from me subsequently.

It was good that this 'Last-will cum-last-letter' from me was delayed by a month; for once I thanked the Indian Posts! We visited Durbar Sahib in Amritsar that Sunday, before I drove back to forward area on Monday morning.








Arab press reports, echoed in Israel, claim that Gilad Schalit's long ordeal in Hamas captivity may be nearing its end, perhaps even this weekend to coincide with Id al-Adha, the Muslim holiday marking the end of the Haj.


There are other hints something is a afoot. Shimon Peres was in Cairo yesterday to see President Hosni Mubarak. Guido Westerwelle, the new German foreign minister, is here today to meet Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The Germans are acting as brokers between Hamas and Israel. Lastly, perhaps to stabilize conditions pending a prisoner exchange, Hamas said it had reached agreements with the other Gaza terror groups not to attack Israel without coordination.


That news came after Kassams slammed into Sderot on Saturday. But the IAF's retaliation against weapons factories and a smuggling tunnel in Gaza prompted Hamas's own military wing to threaten further attacks. And Islamic Jihad denied it was party to any arrangement in the first place.


Since the conclusion of Operation Cast Lead in January, 270 rockets and mortars have been lobbed at Israel from the Strip.


WHEN IT comes to Schalit, it's hard to know where the spin ends and the news begins. According to the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat, Israel is poised to free hundreds upon hundreds of Palestinians in exchange for our young soldier.


From the time he was taken in June 2006, Hamas has been holding firm to its demands that it will free Schalit only in exchange for 1,000 of its operatives held by Israel. The present haggling, Arab reports imply, is partly over whether, once at large, the masterminds of the Sbarro, Moment Cafe and Dolphinarium bloodbaths, and of the Netanya Pessah Seder massacre, will be required to seek asylum outside Gaza and the West Bank. Some reports have Israel refusing to release these men or east Jerusalem prisoners sought by Hamas. If true, that probably means no deal.


Plainly, Netanyahu is loath to have hisgovernment approve a lop-sided prisoner exchange that requires setting free some of the most dangerous terrorists Israel has ever encountered. Yet he may be telling himself that any such deal would be the absolutely, positively, honest-to-goodness, very last time Israel capitulates to Hamas or Hizbullah.


Hamas begs to differ. It's already offering a $1 million bounty to any Arab citizen of Israel who abducts another Israeli soldier.


An ill-considered prisoner deal could also bring down Mahmoud Abbas's already tottering Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. That would set the stage for Hamas to fill the political vacuum. As it is, with Hamas breathing down his neck, Abbas is being more obstinate than ever, even hinting that he might pursue popular resistance instead of negotiations. Fatah "redeemer" Marwan Barghouti, incarcerated for orchestrating numerous 20 murders, has put out the word that any future negotiations with Israel ought to be accompanied by terrorism. If Israel yields to Hamas, as an offset, Barghouti could be released to "help Abu Mazen."


TOO BAD Israelis can't look to Egypt to play a constructive role. For the sake of expediency Cairo is ready to disregard the principles set down by the Quartet as a prerequisite for Hamas participation in a Palestinian unity government.


Mubarak's regime is once again turning a blind's eye to Palestinian arms smuggling beneath the Philadelphi Corridor which has now reached pre-Operation Cast Lead levels. Mubarak is also doing everything possible to harden Abbas's heart, telling the Egyptian parliament Saturday that Israel alone was to blame for the paralysis in the peace talks.


He insultingly called on Israel to stop "Judaizing" Jerusalem and demanded it reconcile itself to the Arabs' refusal to recognize its right to exist as a Jewish state. With a straight face, Mubarak demanded that Israel end its blockade of the Strip - as if Cairo did not maintain an identical (surface) embargo between the Sinai and Gaza.


AS MUCH as we Israelis ache to see Gilad Schalit home with his family, the emotional blackmail of campaigners who say the country should do "anything" to achieve his release could unleash on our home front the very same sociopathic killers Israel's security forces worked so hard to capture in the first place.


We urge the premier to leave no stone unturned in trying to bring Gilad home, while placing the national interest above all.










The Obama administration keeps making big mistakes that have a devastating effect on its own goals and interests. What is most amazing is how the implications of its actions are just not understood. Already, the current US policy has destroyed any chance not only of progress on the Israel-Palestinian front but of even holding talks at all.


Let's review the situation.


Israel announced in 1993, at the time of the Oslo Accords with the PLO, that it viewed construction on existing settlements as completely in line with the agreement. The Palestinians, during the ensuing 16 years, never made this a big issue. The US government, while it can say it opposed this, was pretty quiet about it and never did anything.


Then President Barack Obama came to office and made the construction issue the centerpiece of his Middle East policy; sometimes it has appeared to be the keystone of his whole foreign policy. It may look like an exaggeration but often it seems like the administration believes that if Israel only stopped building 3000 apartments, all the region's problems would go away.


So far, the administration has wasted almost ten months pursuing this. First, it shouted at Israel - as if it were some servant - to do it fast or else. Then when Israel didn't, the administration realized that perhaps Israel should get something in exchange for the concession. So it went to Arab states and asked - presuming, wrongly, that they are desperate for a peace agreement - for some compromise but got nothing.


IN FACT, the Obama administration had destroyed its own policy because, as a result, the Palestinian Authority (PA) refused to negotiate until there was a complete construction freeze. How could it be less hardline than the president?


But there was a solution; sort of. Israel agreed to stop all construction once the apartments currently being built are finished, except in Jerusalem.


The United States accepted the deal, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton exulting about what a huge concession Israel was making. The US government knew how big a risk Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was taking with his coalition.


So what happened? The PA couldn't stand to see Israel being praised and doesn't want to negotiate peace anyway. So it threw a temper tantrum: riots in Jerusalem, threats by PA leader Mahmoud Abbas to resign, refusal to go to negotiations with Israel, and clamor for a unilateral declaration of independence.


The hubbub about a unilateral declaration of independence was almost universally described in the media as arising from Palestinian frustration. Not at all.


It is based on their core strategy: Why make compromise peace with Israel when you can just claim everything you want, ensuring the door is kept open for a future struggle to wipe Israel off the map entirely?


What did the administration do? It backed down on everything except the independence bid! Having made a deal with Israel, having gotten Netanyahu to take an enormous risk, it then pulled the rug out from under him. Now it said: Well, maybe it wasn't such a great deal after all.


Those who always advocate Israeli concessionsas the solution should take note: Once again, we've seen that a concession doesn't lead to a concession by the other side nor does it lead to progress. It just produces a demand for more concessions without giving any real credit to the last one.


THE LATEST act in the drama is that after an announcement of a plan to build apartments in the Gilo section of Jerusalem - which is quite within the US-Israel deal - the administration complained bitterly, showing not only that it wouldn't respect agreement others made with predecessors but it wouldn't even respect the agreements it made itself.


Obama complained that the Gilo construction complicates administration efforts to relaunch peace talks, makes it harder to achieve peace and embitters the Palestinians.


Funny, he never said this about: PA incitement to terrorism; failure to punish terrorists; negotiations with

Hamas despite its hardline positions, genocidal goals, anti-Semitic views; refusal to return to talks with Israel despite Obama's express request to do so; breaking its promise on not using the Goldstone Report to punish Israel; and other such actions. Each of these individually is more dangerous than the Gilo construction.


Moreover, having sabotaged negotiations by highlighting the construction-on-settlements issue, the administration has now escalated even higher: no construction in Jerusalem is the minimum demand.


Of course, Arab states and the PA will echo this, refusing all talks unless that happens. And since Israel won't

stop building in Jerusalem and the Arab side won't - unlike the administration - back down, Obama has just guaranteed a dead peace process for his entire term in office. In fact, he's probably ensured no comprehensive negotiations will take place.


Here's another problem: By blaming Israel repeatedly for every failure, the administration is not only signaling to the PA and Arab states that they can do anything and pay no cost, it is also unintentionally encouraging them to sabotage any progress. Why? Because the worse and slower things go, the more they can blame Israel and expect the United States and Europe to do so also.


The administration is making its own failure far more likely. If the United States gets angrier with Israel every time the Arab states and Palestinians sabotage negotiations, why shouldn't they do it?


One final point: The same loss of US credibility and reliability that affects Israel also hits the relatively moderate Arab states in the administration's dealings with them.


No doubt we will soon be hearing that if Israel stopped building apartments in Gilo there would be Arab-Israeli peace, no terrorism, Iran would give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons, and Obama would get the Nobel Peace Prize.


Oops, that last event has already happened. How about giving him the Nobel Peace-Fumbling Prize?








In the November 23 edition of The Jerusalem Report, New York-based writer and feminist icon Anne Roiphe moans, "I am concerned that the Israel I love appears to have abandoned hope of reconciliation, and is now behaving like Britannia when she was the ugly, undisputed colonial mistress of the known world. I worry that the decision to continue settlement building in the West Bank creates more facts on the ground. It blasts the prospect of an honorable peace into a distant galaxy."


And, indeed, Roiphe and I seem to be living on different planets. While we both desire peace, we obviously have different opinions on what blew the possibility of a decent diplomatic solution to the Middle East so off course. From the outset of the Oslo Accords, I was skeptical. I found the very phrase "Jericho and Gaza First" ominous. It seemed obvious to me that Jerusalem, if not second, was not far down the list, perhaps just after the Etzion Bloc and the Golan Heights. At what point we were meant to get the actual "peace" part of the "process" was not so clear.


Roiphe admits that the view from her New York progressive world is different from the one that many Israelis have. About as different as the view from her window and what I see from my tenement in Jerusalem's Katamonim area, I expect.


"Of course 'honorable' is a preoccupation of the safe, the luxury of those out of range of rockets and of enemy armies, regular and irregular," writes Roiphe. "Knowing all this, I still say more is at stake here than military control of a restive people or fulfillment of biblical edicts. What matters here is that Israel survives with its moral center intact and its democracy vibrant and its people able to look in the mirror without shame."


Well, when I look in the mirror, I see - like most of my middle-aged friends, I suspect - a face with a few more worry lines and gray hairs than used to be there. Most are attributable to normal aging. I don't know how many I can blame on motherhood, but giving birth at the height of the "second intifada" maybe left its mark on more than just my psyche.


SOME PEOPLE I know might have aged this week for a different reason. Some of my best friends, as they say, are settlers. Suddenly a lot more of them, it seems.


The Jerusalem Municipal Planning Committee's approval of a plan to build some 900 units in the capital's southeastern Gilo neighborhood has caused ripples way beyond the confines of City Hall in Jerusalem's Safra Square. You might have thought Iran had dropped a bomb.


Leaders in the US, the UK, Russia and the European Union immediately condemned the plan as an obstacle to returning to the negotiating table. I can't help but wonder, however, if Israel is forced to freeze building in the capital as a prerequisite to resuming negotiations with the Palestinians, what price are we expected to pay for yet another promise of peace?